(This is what I pack as a man. If you'd like to see the female version, click here.)
I spent the last ten months living and traveling in Southeast Asia and my current packing list is very different from what I started with. I had traveled extensively before and had done plenty of research before my trip, but things still changed quite a bit.
In general, I try to pack as little as possible for any trip. I’ve often challenged myself to travel with the smallest bag I can get away with. It always makes for a more enjoyable travel experience. I love feeling light and unencumbered while visiting a new location. There’s something liberating about knowing that you can pick up and go in no time.
That said, I work from my laptop, so this latest trip to Asia would be different from trips I’d taken in the past. This wasn’t a mere vacation. Everything I owned went into my carry-on. I knew I needed extra equipment to get my work done. If I were packing for a vacation, I’d omit most of the electronics section.
Here is what I currently travel with. One thing to note is that I like being in warm places. If you go someplace colder, you’d probably add a fleece top or a jacket, but otherwise the packing list doesn’t change much.
- 3x t-shirts
- 2x tank tops (or vests for my British friends)
- 2x dress shirts
- 2x shorts
- 1x gym shorts
- 1x swim trunks
- 1x pants
- 4x underwear
- 4x socks
- 1x thermal top
- 1x fleece beanie
- 1x casual shoes
- 1x flip flops
- 1x packable rain jacket
This list will change a bit based on your tastes and preferences, but the key here is that this is the category where most people over pack. Pick items that match well. If every top matches with every bottom, you’ll never run out of things to wear while waiting for your laundry.
The brands aren’t that important. In fact, at least half of these items I picked up abroad for a quarter of the price I’d pay back home. I used to own a lot of “travel clothes,” but have since ditched them for more normal, versatile clothes. Synthetic (polyester/nylon) tops tend to get really stinky really fast. Merino wool is ok, but I find it’s more expensive than the value it provides. I used to have nylon pants that would zip off into shorts, but not anymore. They’re just too dorky.
My shirts are mostly cotton or a poly/cotton blend. I have synthetic underwear and a pair of synthetic golf shorts that I really like (they’re breathable and look more formal than cargo shorts). The trick to pants is getting something that looks sharp (you could wear it to a nice club or on a date) but is made of a lightweight fabric so you don’t get swampy in your nether regions. I picked up a lightweight navy blue pair from a store called NET in Taiwan for about $15.
I have a pair of black leather sneakers from Topman that are comfortable in the gym, but I can also wear them to a club. They do double duty, but most days I just wear the flip flops. I arrived with $50 Teva sandals I brought from the US, but traded them out for $4 sandals I bought from a street vendor in Saigon.
No matter what, it’s nice to have some items that will keep you warm. A lot of airplanes and coach buses tend to be colder because they blast the aircon. Also, if you visit or live in mountain towns like Dalat in Vietnam or Chiang Mai in Thailand, it can get chilly. A thermal/waffle top works well and can be layered with a rain jacket for extra warmth. I like my fleece beanie for comfort as much as for warmth and if I don’t feel like digging for my sleep mask, I’ll just pull it over my eyes and go to sleep.
- Noise-canceling ear buds
- External hard drive
- Wireless keyboard
- Mouse or Trackpad
- Laptop stand
As mentioned, I work from my laptop, so other than my passport and wallet, it’s the most important item that I carry. Make sure you have a bag that protects it. I also have an external hard drive. I know some people say this is optional. I use cloud services (Google Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, etc.), but I’m paranoid and I have a lot of heavy files like videos and graphic design work, so it’s nice to have a backup. It’s also not that big or heavy for an extra few terabytes of storage.
I can put in a decent amount of work hours, so I use a Roost laptop stand, wireless keyboard and trackpad. This is optional, but I prefer it to hunching over my laptop all day. If you’re traveling for pleasure only, I wouldn’t take any of this stuff. I’d just let my smartphone do all the work.
My noise-canceling headphones are one of the best purchases I’ve made. I use them so much for travel (plane, bus, car) and work (co-working spaces, coffee shops). Some cancel noise better than others and are priced accordingly. I went with Bose Quiet Comfort because they had the best noise-canceling I could find and were extremely comfortable. Also, I recommend ear buds over on-the-ear or over-the-ear headphones. They’re smaller and easier to travel with and won’t make your ears all sweaty (which happens in warmer climates).
- Tooth powder (not toothpaste)
- Razor with extra cartridges
- Small scissors (with a rounded tip)
- Nail clippers
- Pills (ibuprofen, anti-diarrhea)
- Diver’s towel
As you can see, no liquids or gels on this list. This simplifies moving through the security line at the airport. Also, I always buy those consumables at the destination. If you’re flying into any city, it’ll be easy to find a corner store that will provide shampoo, soap, shaving cream, etc. and usually for a lower price than back home. At the same time, if I get stranded somewhere, I know I can always freshen up by brushing my teeth, washing up in a sink, and rolling on some deodorant.
A cutting tool is useful, but if you’re only taking a carry-on, any blade is out. These little scissors (the kind you find in the cosmetics section of a store) have come in extremely handy to cut fabric, paper, bandages, tape, anything. Make sure to get a pair with a rounded tip. I’ve been asked about these scissors in some Asian airports and if they had a sharp point on them, they would’ve been confiscated.
I keep all of this in a DASH Dopp Kit. The dopp kit keeps my stuff organized, has a water resistant exterior, breathable mesh interior, and can hang anywhere like a door knob or towel rack.
- Wallet: ID, credit/debit cards
- Sleep mask
- Ear plugs
Most of this list is self-explanatory. Keep the paperwork close at hand. Don’t forget the sleep mask and ear plugs, though. It’s an easy thing to overlook, but makes bus/plane/car rides much more comfortable. Extremely high value-to-weight ratio.
(It all fits in a standard-sized carry-on bag. Laptop in its own padded sleeve in the back and electronics in the front pocket. This backpack is a prototype that I've been traveling with for the past 6 months. Coming soon!)
It’s good to have a carry-on bag that zips all the way open like a clam shell as opposed to top-loading camping backpacks. You won’t have to dump everything out to find that one shirt you like.
Also, if you work from a laptop and/or carry a lot of electronics, you’ll want something that protects your gear and keeps your cords from forming a bird’s nest inside your main bag. You’ll want something lightweight, but durable, that offers protection and organization. Here are a few good options.
Your packing list will probably change the more you travel. It’s a constant evolution. As I’ve traveled more, I’ve added and subtracted items to my list. I’ve mostly subtracted because it makes the whole travel experience more enjoyable. When you’re in a new place, the last thing you want is to be weighed down by a bunch of crap you don’t really need. It’s nice to err on the side of “less is more.”
That said, while I’ve been impressed by folks who do “no bag travel” or have the tiniest carry-on, you don’t want to exclude items that you need. If you work from a laptop, you’ll want to take items that will help you get your work done. Electronics are heavy, but they’re often necessary when work is involved. Striking this balance is key.
After speaking with a lot of fellow travelers, I decided to design and craft items that would make our travel lives easier. BOND Travel Gear products are the world’s toughest gear for seasoned travelers that need to protect and organize their kit. We’re constantly developing and testing new products based on feedback from travelers like yourself. Check back often to see how we can help you go beyond your comfort zone and travel the world.
Anything I should add to, or subtract from, this list? Let me know in the comments below!
Founder, BOND Travel Gear