If packing a carry-on sometimes is a challenge, you can imagine for a five month trip…
Yeah, the start of my longest trip to date is finally here.
I’m going to Southeast Asia for five months. Yes, five months, visiting Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, India…
I believe this is going to be one of the most important journeys of my entire life, and I’m getting so excited. OMG!
So much to do… draw up itineraries, make reservations, contact overseas friends, and also… packing. Surely, I can’t be the only who gets excited but also a little overwhelmed about an upcoming trip?
I’ve gone to Europe twice with just a carry-on: once for a month and once for 40 days! In fact, the last time I took a trip with a big piece of luggage was in 2010. Then I went to 10 countries in 35 days, and I was constantly pulling my luggage on the streets of the old continent. Never again!! Ever since then I’ve been traveling light.
But this time is different. Five months. That’s more than 150 days! And I’m only taking a carry-on suitcase and backpack.
It always surprises me when I see people taking a big suitcase for just a few days. Filled with too many shoes and clothes that they won’t even have a chance to wear… So many people don’t know how to pack and waste a lot of time, energy and money.
That’s why I decided to write this post and make a video packing for southeast Asia to share my packing skills with you, so next time you go away, you will know how to pack to travel light.
Selecting the clothes
1. Pick lightweight fabrics
We all have clothes of different fabrics and weights, but when we travel, we should definitely select the lightest ones.
Forget that thick cotton t-shirt and choose a lighter one. Denim may be easier to match but chino trousers are much lighter and more comfortable.
Oversized jacket? No way. Select a few longer sleeved shirts as a base, then layer sweaters and a looser, lighter jacket. For me, cashmere is the best option if you’re packing for a cooler destination.
I’m lucky because the weather is warm in Southeast Asia, and I’m taking mostly shorts and t-shirts. But I will also take a few shirts and even a blazer, albeit a summer one.
2. Choose items that coordinate
If you truly want to travel light, you must make your wardrobe work twice as hard. That means choosing items that are easily paired with each other to give you multiple options.
Avoiding distinctive logos, novelty designs and fabrics like rubber and leather that will limit your options is a good way to go. And choose simple, understated jewelry that can be worn with different outfits.
Even if you love bright colors like I do, you can incorporate some into your wardrobe, but remember to mix them up with neutral tones. For example, I would combine a neutral t-shirt with a bright pair of shorts or trousers, and vice-versa.
3. Choose the right shoes
You don’t need to be a frequent traveler to know that the wrong pair of shoes can ruin your day.
For sightseeing, exploring and basically wandering around all day, you need comfortable shoes. So, forget high heels, rain boots, or flat shoes with no support, and stay away from all-white trainers that will just get dirty.
Generally speaking, the key is to pick comfortable and supportive shoes in neutral and darker colors.
And how many pair of shoes you should take? No more than two or three: one pair of dress shoes and one of pair of comfy shoes.
I’m taking two pair of shoes: athletic shoes that I can wear with shorts for sightseeing, exercising and outdoor activities; and a sneaker that I can wear with shorts and trousers.
Backpack vs Suitcase
It’s very common to see people taking a trip like this with a backpack. And you might be wondering why I’m traveling with a carry-on instead.
The main reason is in a suitcase, items are much more organized, easy to find and with fewer wrinkles than those in a backpack.
The other reason is that if you have a suitcase that fits in the overhead lockers of the airplane, you may not even have to check it, thus saving time and money. That is much harder to do with a 20Kg backpack.
So, while you could fit more things in a carry on backpack, and it may be easier to carry, I still prefer a carry on case, always.
How to pack a carry-on suitcase
After selecting the clothes wisely, you can follow this step-by-step on how to pack a carry-on suitcase properly.
1. Starting placing all the clothes on the bed and folding collared shirts like you see them in the stores.
2. Stuff shoes with folded sock balls to save space, and keep the shoe’s shape. Use rubber bands to keep them together.
3. Use vacuum bags to compress the clothes, it will take less room in your suitcase and keep you organized. Alternatively to vacuum bags, you can use packing cubes, and here is the best packing cubes guide.
4. Put similar and light clothes together. For pants and shorts lay them on alternating sides.
5. Start packing shoes from heel-to-toe side by side, on a side of your suitcase. Make sure to conserve space to put your toiletries bag on the side, and place odd shaped items between the frames of the suitcase, such as chargers, cords, etc.
6. Place heaviest items at the bottom of the suitcase, followed by lighter ones.
7. To finish, place items such as underwear and swimsuits, in any pockets, zippered areas or spaces there aren’t filled yet.
* Remember to use the available space the smartest way possible. Packing can slightly vary depending on your suitcase design.
Inside my carry-on
I’m listing all the things that I’m taking on this trip, so you can have a better idea of how many items one can fit into a 15kg carry-on case.
- Shorts: 5
- Beach shorts: 5
- Trousers: 2 Pairs
- Tank-tops: 7
- T-shirts: 10
- Shirts: 4
- Polo: 4
- Blazer: 1 Summer Weight
- Shoes: 3 Pairs (2 sneakers and 1 flip-flop)
- Underwear: 11
- Socks: 8 Pairs
- Swimsuit: 3
- Backpack: 1 foldable backpack
- Bracelets: 5
- Case for cell phone: 2 (1 for running + 1 waterproof)
- Toiletries’ bag: 1
- Shampoo: 1
- Conditioner: 1
- Leave in for the hair: 1
- Soap for the face: 1
- Deodorant: 1
- Lip protectant: 1
- Toothbrush: 1
- Toothbrush case: 1
- Facial pomade: 1
- Hair pomade: 2
- Razor: 1
- Razor Blades: 2
- Shaving gel: 1
- Perfume samples: 2
- Sleep mask: 1
Total: 90 items
That is what is going into my carry-on suitcase, leaving my backpack for my travel accessories, electronic gear, personal effects and paperwork.
Those two bags are more than enough to let you spend a month in any destination, and I’m betting that it will also be enough for the five months that I’m spending in Southeast Asia.
- Suggested read: How Much is it to Travel for Six Months in Southeast Asia?
Traveling with too many bags can cost you time and money, and every additional bag increases your chances of having a piece of luggage lost or stolen – a nightmare for every traveller.
For these reasons, learning how to pack a suitcase wisely will not only save you time and money, but also make your trip much easier and enjoyable.
However, it always pays to have travel insurance, which can literally be your lifeline if your luggage is lost or stolen. I always use World Nomads Travel insurance for independent travellers. It’s easy to buy, extend & claim online, even after you’ve left home. Get yours here.
Watch Video: How to pack a carry-on for a 5 month trip.
- Book Your Flight Find deals on airlines on my favorite search engine: Skyscanner. Be sure to read my How to find cheap flights article.
- Rent A Car Rental Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal.
- Book Accommodation Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. But Hotels.com and Hilton Hotels have very interesting reward programs. If you prefer to rent locals’ apartment, the best option is undoubtedly Airbnb. Here is US$ 30 credit towards your fist booking.
- Protect Your Trip Don’t forget travel insurance! I always use World Nomads for short-term trips and SafetyWing for long-term ones. Find out why Travel Insurance: Much More Than a Precaution, a Necessity.
- Book Tours in Advance Book unforgettable experiences and skip-the-line tickets with GetYourGuide or Viator .
- Book Ground Transportation BookaWay offers a stress-free experience with secure payments and no hidden fees. You pay online and receive your itinerary by email.
- Luggage Solutions Rent your luggage with Cargo or if you need to drop off your own luggage and enjoy your time without dragging it all over a city, find a LuggageHero shop here.
- Get a Travel Card Revolut Card is a pre-paid debit card that enables cash machine withdrawals in 120 countries. I’ve been using my Revolut Card for over a year and never paid foreign-transaction fees again. Get your Revolut Card with free shipping here.
- Packing Guide Check out my How to Pack a Carry-on Luggage For a Five-month Trip to help you start packing for your trip. Don’t forget your camera, chargers and other useful travel accessories.