Tips for backpacking Southeast Asia

Written by Maria Aardal

June 29, 2017


Traveling to Southeast Asia can be an amazing experience. You cannot properly understand what it is like until you have experienced it. It has everything; beautiful nature, kind people and great food. Though many things there can be very different for many, especially if you are traveling from western countries. While I spent time backpacking there I definitely learned some tips for backpacking Southeast Asia. These tips are from my own experience, and they are definitely tips and tricks that I wish I knew before I went there, and some that I did know, I just wish I had followed my own advice a bit more there.


Yes seriously. Always carry a roll of toilet paper or tissues around. Trust me. It will come in handy. If you are staying at a hotel you should be fine. However do not be too sure, and if you are staying at hostels, backpackers or guest houses toilet paper is a MUST. Also if you are traveling by bus, taxi, train or anything that is not a plane, as you will stop at gas stations to use the restroom. Toilet paper is my first tips for backpacking in Southeast Asia because it is something I really regretted not bringing when backpacking around in Asia.

The toilets in Asia can be a bit different, you know; the squatting, and combine that with no paper, it can just be a bit too much some times. I do however recommend trying out the “bum gun”, which is a kind of water sprayer that you use to clean yourself. Many countries swear by these, and they are supposed to be cleaner and mot hygienic than just toilet paper. It is different, but you should at least give it a chance. You can always use it and then still dry yourself off with toilet paper (there is a sentence I never thought I would write, but here we are).

But do not flush the toilet paper!

Important though, when I say bring toilet paper, I do not mean (seriously!) that you should disregard the signs that tell you not to flush paper. Those signs are there for a reason. I know that it does not come naturally for all of us to throw toilet paper in the trashcan, but just do it. The pipes in Southeast Asia are not made for flushing toilet paper. They are way smaller and just a little bit of toilet paper can clog them. Also, a little additional tip, if you do not fancy the squatting toilets, some restrooms have symbols on the door that show whether there is a squat toilet or a western toilet, so keep an eye out for that.

Backpacking in Asia tips and tricks toilet paper


Not just to update your social media. Everyone should have a power bank, and when you are on the road, make sure it is fully charged. It is important to have the possibility to make a call should an emergency occur. It is also important should you need any of your travel apps, travel documents or if you need to transfer money.


Two apps that I have found extremely helpful and easy to use is the app and the currency app. With you can download maps and use them offline. This app pretty much saved my life a few times. At least it kept me from wandering around lost at night and unfamiliar cities. While offline you can still search for places and get the directions there. It is also helpful when you are on some kind of public transportation so you can check where you are and how far you still need to go. The app also shows you how much time is left until you arrive at your destination.

Some kind of currency app is essential unless you are amazing at doing math quickly, and remembering currency rates. I have found it easier to use the ones where you can have multiple currencies at once. It is just good for comparing and finding what you need quickly without having to search for the right currency.


No, I am not going to remind you to bring your passport and keep it safe. I am going to give you a little tip about your passport number. Learn your passport number and write it down somewhere easily to be found like your phone, wallet, wherever you can easily find it. Also keeping a picture of your passport on your phone is a good idea. You will need it when you book flight-tickets online and often when attending attractions. Usually, they are very nice if you do not know it, but it is still easier to just learn it. I have spent way too much time looking around on my phone to find that one picture of my passport I know I sent to my mom like two years ago because I needed it to book something and did not have my passport around.

Backpacking in Asia tips and tricks passpoer


Always keep some change on you, even if you prefer to pay by card. Some places paying by card is not an option. Change is great especially for public transportation as you can use it to buy tickets from the machines and avoid long lines. It is also less stressful if you are doing laundry or when you sometimes have to pay to go to the restroom. I have noticed that you will need a couple of coins quite often. I also find it a lot easier to stay on budget with cash as you can put aside however much you have for each day.

Backpacking in Asia tips and tricks change


This one is quite obvious, but it can never be said enough. Especially in hot countries, you will need a lot of water, more than you think. It can be very easy to forget about when you are relaxing on a beach or traveling around. Always have some water at hand. In many countries, you can not drink the tap water so it is important to check the water quality in the country you are visiting. For example, you are not supposed to drink the tap-water in Malaysia and Thailand, while in Singapore it is no problem. Just remember to drink water. You do not want to get dehydrated.

It is great to carry a refillable bottle in your bag every day and fill it up whenever possible. The refillable water-bottle is not only great for the environment and saves the world from some plastic, but it also saves you a lot of money spent on water-bottles.

Backpacking in Asia tips and tricks water


Sunscreen should also be quite obvious yet it is so easy to forget. Remember that the sun can burn you just walking to the store. The sun is not just up when you are tanning on the beach. Just make it a habit of putting sunscreen on in the morning, no matter! You CAN also get burned even if it is cloudy. It is actually very easy to get burned when the sky is not clear and have a cold breeze because you do not feel the burn until later. Also remember to reapply, how often depends on what SPF you use, and your skin type.

Backpacking in Asia tips and tricks sunscreen

Chances are you are going to get burned and in that case, aftersun is amazing to have at hand. You can also use aftersun without being burned, it can make your tan last longer and helps prevent peeling. There are many different kinds, some just for after being in the sun while others are more for sunburn. Aloe vera is also great for this purpose and my personal favorite. Something I love is to put the aloe vera in the fridge for a while so it is cooling when you put it on your sunburn.


When backpacking in Asia there will be mosquitoes and other bugs. You should be prepared for that, and you will get bitten. However, there are ways to make the bites fewer and less itchy. Use mosquito spray! Do not be like me and just carry it around thinking it is too much of a hassle. You will end up having lots of itchy bites that turn into sores and eventually scars if you pick on them. I got better at using the spray by the end of my trip, and I wish I had started before. I really did help a lot and when you start applying it, you realize its not really a hassle at all. PS: Do research about your destination and talk to your physician if you need to take precautions for malaria and other diseases.


Having a tube of bite relief cream will also be great. Even if you use mosquito spray there are still other bugs. I actually got bitten by ants in Thailand once and it was definitely not a comfortable experience. There is also the possibility of wasps and bees and many others.

Do you have anything to add to this list of tips for backpacking Southeast Asia? What tricks have you learned from traveling?

Check out my itinerary for traveling through southeast Asia and read about why you should visit the Kuala Lumpur Tower


I am Maria, a 20 year old student. I am here to show you that traveling is possible for everyone, including you. I belive that traveling can be done in a lot of different ways and that you never have to limit.

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