Packing for a Year in Southeast Asia

What do you pack when you’re going to spend a year traveling Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore, The Philippines, and Indonesia?  We’re still not 100% sure about the answer to that question, but here’s a peek at what we brought along with us for our year-long adventure.

Folks close to us might be familiar with how picky we are about things we purchase.  When we registered for our wedding, we spent weeks researching and agonizing over the best products, appliances, housewares, etc, and we do the same with our travel gear.  Almost everything we linked to below (except where noted) absolutely has our endorsement and should be considered Kevin-and-Melanie-approved.  If you choose to buy any of these things for your own travels, we hope they serve you as well as they have us!



The Bags - this is everything we brought!

The Bags – this is everything we brought!

Our goal was to be able to carry everything we brought on our backs.  No roller bags allowed!  We also didn’t want to bring so much stuff that it’ll be annoying to change locations every few weeks.  We are based initially in Chiang Mai for 7 months, then we’ll be hopping around Southeast Asia, so we need to be mobile.  We’ll be getting rid of the black bag in the back when we leave Chiang Mai and will each have just our North Face duffel and our laptop bag.  The black bag in the back was filled with sunblock, half-used shampoo and soap bottles, and other toiletries we knew we’d use up during our 7 months in Chiang Mai.

The Bags:

  • North Face Base Camp Duffel Bags (Size Small) – We absolutely love these bags, and have taken them to Europe, Belize, and now all over Thailand.  They hold up great and are fabulous in somewhat wet environments (after a boat ride in Belize, we were the only ones in our tour group with completely dry clothes in our bag!)  They fit well in overhead bins on most airplanes.
  • Melanie’s Timbuk2 Laptop Bag – Perfect for a small laptop, can carry everything but a small child.
  • Kevin’s Laptop Bag – More manly, sans the sassy pink stripe that mine has


The Electronics

The Electronics

What can we say?  We love electronics…  Here’s what we brought and what we wish we had left behind:

  • Computers: 13″ Macbook Air & charger and 13″ Macbook Pro & charger.  (Very happy we brought these guys – their 8+ hour battery life is fantastic)
  • Reading: Melanie’s Kindle Paperwhite with awesome case, Kevin’s Basic Kindle
  • Kevin’s Sony Headphones (best headphones ever) & iPhone Headphones
  • Melanie’s Bose Noise Canceling Headphones and In-ear Headphones (I got killer deals on both of these sets of headphones, but would still only give them lukewarm reviews.)
  • Melanie’s Fitbit One – An awesome clip-on pedometer that syncs to an app on my iPhone.  This thing tracks steps, mileage, flights of stairs, calories burned, and can even track your sleep. It has been put in the washing machine and dropped in the toilet and still survives.
  • Apple TV & Remote (wish we had not brought – even our upgraded internet is too slow to use the Apple TV)
  • HDMI Cable (Kevin’s Macbook Pro has an HDMI port, so we can hook it up to watch online TV Shows and Movies through the TV in our apartment)
  • Mighty Mouse
  • Two iPhones (we got Thai sim cards so we have local phone and data plans), with cords & chargers.  These also act as our camera.
  • Voltage Adapter/Converters


The Shoes

The Shoes

The List:

Melanie’s Clothes

Melanie's Clothes

Melanie’s Clothes

Quick-dry is the name of the game for clothing in a tropical country.  Have you heard of swamp ass?  If you haven’t, where do you live, Alaska?!  Well, if you come over here with only cloth underwear and non quick-dry shorts, you’re going to be living in your own little swamp ass hell.  Trust me, quick dry is the way to go.  Plus, you can wash laundry in hotel sinks, hang it up, and you’ll be ready to roll the next day!

The List:

  • A hat, because I’m the whitest person ever
  • 3 quick-dry dresses – I searched all over the internet for other travel dresses, but nothing can beat these, so I just have three different colors.  Please don’t judge me.
  • 3 pairs of quick-dry shorts
  • 1 pair of quick-dry pants that roll up into capri pants (definitely will need these – you should have your knees covered to visit temples)
  • 2 quick-dry t-shirts & 5 quick-dry tank tops
  • 2 normal bras & 3 sports bras
  • 5 pairs of socks (3 would’ve been plenty)
  • 3 pairs of quick dry underwear (5 would’ve been better) & 5 pairs of cloth underwear (these are nice to have to just feel normal every once in awhile, and better for sleeping, in my opinion)
  • 2 running outfits, plus 2 extra pairs of gym shorts
  • 2 hoodies (because how could I come over here without at least one piece of Seahawks gear.  Turns out 2 was definitely overkill, though.)
  • A long-sleeve white mesh shirt rated at SPF 50, for snorkeling
  • 2 swim suits, a one-piece for snorkeling and a bikini for beach lounging
  • Rain jacket
  • Scarf (for covering my shoulders if we visit any temples)
  • Pajamas
  • Beach skirt

Kevin’s Clothes

Kevin's Clothes

Kevin’s Clothes

The List:

  • 2 pairs of quick-dry shorts with a hidden zip-up security pocket
  • 1 pair of pants, with zip-off legs to turn into shorts
  • 2 pairs of swim trunks
  • Rain jacket
  • Hoodie
  • 5 pairs of socks (too many!)
  • 4 quick-dry t-shirts
  • 4 regular t-shirts
  • 1 cotton polo, for “dressy” days
  • 3 quick-dry boxers
  • 3 regular boxers
  • 2 pairs of gym clothes
  • 1 pair of jeans (only wore ‘em on the flight here, it’s too hot here for jeans)
  • Leather belt with a bottle-opener belt buckle



The Drugs & Toiletries

The Drugs & Toiletries

“Western” toiletries are a little bit tough to find here, and you have to pay a premium when you do find them.  We brought along a LOT of toiletries, mainly because we couldn’t bring ourselves to just throw them away when we moved out of our house.  If you’re willing to use local brands, you’ll save a lot of money.  For example, you can find a Thai brand of deoderant for just $0.60 US!

The List:

  • Sunblock (7 bottles) – bring as much as you can fit!  It’s so expensive here!
  • Deoderant (Kevin brought 3 of his fave Old Spice brand, which we have yet to find in any stores here)
  • Electric toothbrushes and chargers – can’t go a year without these puppies
  • Daily Multivitamins – these are impossible to find here, and counterfeit versions run rampant. Best to bring along if you rely on these for your nutrients.
  • Birth control, 14-month supply – because seriously, WHO could stand to be pregnant in 90+ degree temperatures.  Birth control pills are available over the counter here very cheap, but it was also cheap and easy to stock up through my health insurance before we left.  I’m glad I did.
  • Bonine, the best motion sickness medicine out there.  Best to bring this along, I don’t think it’s easy to find here.
  • Ciproflaxin (prescription antibiotic for traveler’s tummy, we never, ever travel without this.)
  • Allergy medication
  • Excedrin, ibuprofin, and immodium
  • Chapstick, because Burt’s Bee’s isn’t sold in Thailand, so sad.
  • Electric Razor
  • Misc. lotions, shampoos, soaps
  • Hand sanitizer, because not all bathrooms here have soap
  • Melanie’s makeup
  • Foot scraper – really glad we brought this.  Wearing flip flops everyday doesn’t promote soft feet, need to keep those calluses in check!
  • Bug spray
  • Cortizone cream for bug bites
  • Bandaids and antibiotic ointment
  • Hair brush and comb
  • Note: don’t even think about bringing a hair dryer.  If you must have one, buy it here so you don’t have voltage compatibility problems, but you should know I think you’re crazy for blow drying your hair when it’s 90+ degrees outside.


The Miscellany

The Miscellany

The List:

  • Keen travel purse, with about six hundred hidden pockets
  • Bag for dirty laundry (someone gave me this for High School graduation a decade ago, it is finally having its 15 minutes of fame)
  • Vacuum pack bags, for maximizing your bag space
  • Sunglasses
  • Steripen, a UV light pen for sterilizing tap water if we’re in a pinch.  Highly recommend!
  • Head lamps (We brought 2, one would’ve been fine.  Power outages are fairly common everywhere we’ve visited, and these serve us well when that happens!)
  • A hat for Kevin
  • Travel journal, moleskin notebooks for writing down ideas, and pens
  • Kevin’s snorkel goggles and mask (Prescription masks are tricky to find here, but if you don’t need prescription lenses, you can easily borrow or rent them at any beach destination.)
  • Dry sack (small size)
  • Day pack (we swear by these day packs, they are cheap and awesome)
  • Travel lock and cable, to secure our bags to a stationery object in hotel rooms
  • Platypus pack-flat water bottle
  • Super portable external hard drive that doesn’t require an external power source
  • Money purse for occasions where we feel like we need to wear our valuables under our clothes (haven’t used it yet, you could easily skip this if you have clothes with a security pocket)
  • Travel kleenex, for those “Oh no, there’s no toilet paper in here!” moments
  • 2 books Kevin wanted to read: RESTful Web Services and Into the Wild (we will leave these in Chiang Mai)
  • One piano music book
  • Passports
  • 2 credit cards, 3 debit cards, $1,000 US Currency (for emergencies) and our driver’s licenses

It’s definitely easier to pack for a year-long trip when you’re facing just one climate: HOT.  We hope this list will be helpful to others thinking about making a similar trip.  If nothing else, we hope this list makes you understand why we seem to be wearing the same four outfits in ALL of our photos.

We want to hear from you!

What’s the one thing you never travel without?  Sunblock?  Ambien?  Chocolate?  Let us know!

Minimizing Your Losses When Obtaining Thai Currency

That's Some Legit Thai Currency $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht, depending on current exchange rates

Thai Currency
Today, $1 USD is roughly 32 Thai Baht

Did you know that a typical ATM withdrawal fee in Thailand is 180 Baht (about $6 US)? Did you know that many credit cards charge a 3% foreign transaction fee? Or how about that many establishments charge an extra fee for you to pay with plastic?  Aside from hotels and nicer restaurants that we don’t tend to frequent very often (such is the life of the unemployed), Thailand has mostly a cash-based economy, and you may get laughed at if you try to offer up a credit card when it comes time to pay.

So how can you minimize your losses when obtaining Thai Currency? Here are a few tips.

For Short Term Travelers:

  • Get a little Thai currency before you leave home, if possible.  Check with your local bank to see if they offer a reasonable exchange rate for Thai Baht. If they do, we recommend changing about $30 USD for Thai Baht. This should get you through your airport connection, and pay for any early transportation costs in Thailand. (This is especially true if you’re traveling to Chiang Mai – Taxi fares in Chiang Mai from the airport to any hotel in the city are currently pegged at a cost of 120 Baht, or about $4. So cheap!)
  • Identify at least 2 credit cards and 2 ATM cards you can use abroad, and call those banks to:
    1. Ask what fees apply to card usage / ATM withdrawals in foreign countries.
    2. Ask the bank to place a travel notice on your cards. Banks may suspect your cards were stolen and freeze them if you use them in a foreign country without notifying them of your travel plans! We all know they do this for our own good, but in a foreign country where calls to the US are expensive and confusing to make, this can be a nightmare!
  • Typically, the best exchange rates are obtained at an ATM.  The fee most foreign ATMs charge tends to be a flat rate regardless of the amount you withdraw, so you should take out as much as you can per transaction.  Many Thai ATMs can distribute a maximum of 20 bills at a time, which means a maximum of 20,000 THB (about $600 US).  This will last you a LONG time in Thailand.
  • In addition to figuring out how which ATM card is best to use in Thailand, it always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling to travel with a little extra U.S. cash.  Withdraw some crisp, new $100 bills from your local bank to bring over from the U.S. to exchange. There are places to exchange currency nearly everywhere you turn in Thailand, and they almost always offer a better rate for $100 bills than for $50s; some will even refuse old tattered bills.  The best currency exchange rates can be found if you go into a bank, rather than the kiosks on the street.

For Long Term Travelers and Frequent International Travelers:

  • Get an ATM card at a bank that refunds foreign ATM fees!  This is the single most important thing you should do if you spend extended amounts of time abroad.  We have a Schwab High Yield Investor Checking account.  In order to open one of these accounts, you also have to open a a Schwab One Brokerage Account and link the two accounts.  With these accounts opened and linked, neither will have any fees or minimum balance requirements.  ATM fees are refunded automagically at the end of each month.  Some helpful tips:
    • Start the application process for these accounts two months before leaving home so you can receive your new cards in the mail with plenty of time to spare.
    • Before leaving home, link the Schwab checking account to one of your other bank accounts so you can transfer money easily.  This requires mailing in a paper form. (I know, what is this, the 80’s?!  Is it time to bust out my stirrup pants and t-shirt rings?!)  Allow ample time for this step!  We sent in the wrong form the first time, of course.
    • As a rule of thumb, we aim to keep a zero balance in the Schwab account most of the time in case our ATM card gets skimmed/stolen.  When we need money, we schedule a transfer (which usually takes 4-5 days to complete) and withdraw the money as soon as its in the Schwab account.
    • Be sure you understand your daily ATM withdrawal limits and what happens if you try to overdraft.  This is important to know, especially if you need to take out large amounts of money each month to pay for apartment rent.  We specifically ensured that transactions would be rejected if the account balance was zero.
  • Get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!  We use the Chase United Plus card, which comes with perks like bonus miles, free checked bags, priority boarding, and 2 United Club passes per year.  The annual fee of $95 is waived for the first year, but Kevin has been successful 2 years in a row at getting this fee waived by calling and threatening to cancel the card.

Safety Tips

Here I am, acting suspicious at the ATMs.
If anyone sees this, I’m now in a Thai Jail. Please send money. (KIDDING)

  • Because ATM card skimming can happen anywhere in the world, you should follow a few precautions when withdrawing money.  Pick a non-sketchy-looking ATM, however you choose to define that.  We like to find newer ATMs that adjoin a bank, or look for ATMs the locals seem to favor using.  We avoid dark alleyways and ATMs near packs of young hooligans.  Always give the card reader a little tug before inserting your card, to make sure nothing extra has been attached to it to steal your card info.  And always, always, always cover your hand when entering your pin number at the ATM!
  • If you bring over lots of cash, protect it!  At hotels, we like to use a cable and luggage lock to lock up our bags up and secure them to something in the room.  This sure beats carrying a thousand bucks in your purse when you’re walking around unfamiliar places.


Future Posts

We want to post about things that interest you!  I know I’ve talked a lot lately about chapped asses and bathroom escapades, but blogging about those topics alone is not sustainable.  It also makes me feel like a huge weirdo.  In the future, we’re hoping to blog about what we do in a typical day, going to the dentist in Thailand, what we packed, and preparations we made before leaving Seattle.  If you have suggestions for future blog post topics, please leave us a comment to let us know!