A first-timer’s guide on what to take
Before traveling anywhere, you’ll need to do some research on what to pack. Chances are the climate, culture and amenities are all going to be completely different to what you’re used to at home. If you’re heading to Southeast Asia, here’s a basic guide to what you’ll need as a Westerner.
A couple weeks before you leave, you’ll almost certainly need to start a course of anti-malaria tablets, which you’ll also take throughout your stay.
You’ll also want diarrhea medication – tap water might be ok depending on where you are, but your body will take a while to adjust. Even if you don’t drink tap water at all, a bad curry could have you man-down for a couple days. Pack the meds and hope you don’t need them.
Most of Southeast Asia is hot and humid. Pack loose, comfortable clothes – shorts and t-shirts are probably best, a swimsuit is essential. Take your sneakers for the days when you’re doing a lot of walking, as you definitely will. Flip-flops and comfortable sandals are also on the must-pack list.
Also bring a raincoat or poncho – at some point you will get caught in the rain. When it rains there, you don’t always get much warning. This is another reason why you should pack lightweight, quick drying clothes so that you won’t run out if a couple pairs get wet. The same goes for shoes.
Tissues, tissues and more tissues – you’ll be hard pressed to find a public restroom with toilet paper. You can pack tissues or toilet paper beforehand or buy on arrival, but they’re likely to become one of your most prized possessions, at least after your first encounter with the bum-gun.
Bug repellant. Mosquitoes are pretty prolific and probably bigger than the tiny nuisances you’re used to. Take bug-spray or a stick of repellant and don’t forget to use it.
Deodorant, preferably an antiperspirant. You’ll still sweat but you’ll feel a little more comfortable and you won’t smell quite so bad.
Hang onto your notebook, phone – whatever has your trip plan in it. If you need to contact places you’re staying or people you’ve made travel arrangements with, it’s your go-to method for planning. If your accommodation falls through, or you’d just rather not have to worry about it, consider renting an RV from a reputable website.
What not to take
Valuables – camera, ok, diamond necklace, not ok. Anything you can’t replace, don’t take with, you’ll survive without it.
Don’t take anything across the border that you didn’t pack yourself. I recently heard a horror story of a woman whose ‘friend’ asked her to collect some books while she was in Taiwan. The books were a ploy to smuggle heroin out of the country and she spent 16 years in jail – in Taiwan.
Even if you don’t speak the language, struggle with the currency and can’t sleep because of the heat or the bugs, it’ll be an amazing experience. Take lots of pictures, eat strange food, meet new people. Dive into the culture and come home with some amazing stories.