I’ve been living out of two backpacks for 6 years now, and my bag is definitely my home. Sharing what’s in there is kind of like showing you the insides of my bedroom. It’s intimate. But I’ve also developed a system over the years that I think you might find helpful, which is why I’m inviting you inside for a look around. Everything has its place and there’s a place for everything. Usually, I can pack up and have my travel bag organized and ready to go in about 20 minutes. I like that.
My travel style is lightweight backpacker. Both my bags typically fit as carry-ons, so I don’t have to check them when I fly. That saves money and time, because with mobile check-in I can just head straight to security.
Ready for an intimate peek into my stuff and how I organize it? This is how my brain works, and what’s important to me to carry when I’m traveling long term.
I think of my bags like my house. They’re my closet and my bathroom cabinet and office desk combined into something I can throw over my shoulder. So having the right bag is the foundation of staying organized and you know, nesting.
Home is where your stuff is.
I have 2 bags: Osprey Porter’s 46 Liter Travel Pack and my very cool spiky durian day pack.
Sometimes I carry the violin, sometimes I don’t.
I like the Osprey Porter because
a) fully packed it weighs about 13 lbs, just under Air Asia’s 7 kg carry-on limit
b) the compression straps make it look extra small so it fits in overhead bins or on my lap and
c) it can be opened like a normal suitcase, so you can actually FOLD YOUR CLOTHES and you don’t have to dump all your stuff on the floor to reach that one sock that migrated to the bottom.
Mine is from REI, but you can also get it on Amazon or Lazada.
Main Compartment (The Dresser/Wardrobe)
I think of the main compartment of my bag like my dresser drawers. It’s main function is for my clothes, but I also keep my yoga mat and my computer power cord in there for easy access.
I admit it that my fashion sense is trapped somewhere between 7th grade boy and that phase every girl goes through were pink is the best color ever. But, I have learned a few things about dressing myself in Southeast Asia. The most important thing is that clothes be lightweight and modest. My cornerstone clothing items are:
Ultra-light Travel Pants This is so Rick Steves but it’s worth it, I promise. Because mosquitoes. And leeches. And this horrible cactus-like palm. If you’re going to be spending much time in orchards or tramping through jungle, you need a pair of pants that are durable but won’t take up too much space or make you feel like you’re wearing a rubberized suit (oh, you fashionable jeans). In general, you can buy clothes for really cheap in Asia, but I find outdoor clothing to be the exception. Mine are these from REI.
Durian T-shirts. I carry 3-4 t-shirts with sleeves and 2-3 tank tops. These days most of them have durians on them. Check out my designs.
One Long Sleeve with Hood You need something for the airplane and Malaysia’s weirdly frigid buses, but you don’t want to waste space on warm clothing when you’re traveling in the tropics. Get something lightweight with a hood for warmth efficiency. Mine is from REI.
Running shoes. I run 6 days a week, but I also like a lightweight pair of runners as a daily walking-around shoe. They keep your feet comfy and cool as you explore, plus don’t runners look really cool with everything? My current pair is New Balance’s Fresh Foam Zante (the purple ones). I’m on my second pair, after covering over 1,000 miles in the last pair (I compared the new and old in this Instagram post).
Travel Yoga Mat After my Kindle, this is my favorite possession. I’ve slept on it in airports, used it as a blanket on a few very cold nights, and — oh yeah — maintained the practice that keeps me a happy, mentally healthy person. It’s decently lightweight and a great way to keep a steady practice on the road. Mine is a HuggerMugger that I bought on sale at REI, but it’s also available on Amazon.
Tennis Ball Helpful for rolling out those knots that inevitably happen on long distance travel.
Side Pocket #1 (The Bathroom/Kitchen)
Garmin GPS Watch Usually this lives on my body or next to my bed, but on the few occasions it’s not it lives in this pocket. Amazon or Lazada.
- Toothbrush (usually I have fold-up travel one, but I forgot it this trip)
- Natural toothpaste (in Malaysia I buy Grant’s brand)
- Preservative-free contact solution (in Malaysia I buy AO Sept brand, I haven’t found any yet in Thailand)
- Organic shampoo and conditioner + hand lotion for curl control
- Sante All-Natural Eyebrow pencil and coverstick
- Human Nature’s yummy-smelling face wash
- Lemon essential oil
Vegan Protein Powder (Vanilla) I like starting my day with a few spoonfuls (not scoopfuls) of vanilla protein powder with something green, like Spirulina or Moringa powder, and some vanilla stevia to make it all taste good. I like Garden of Life’s Organic Vegan Protein Powder.
Vitamin B12 and Zinc I think it’s important to supplement these.
Tea I <3 tea, what can I say? It’s the best thing to bring on airplanes, because you can always ask a flight attendant or a Starbucks to fill your water bottle with hot water for free. My favorites are Yogi Tea’s Kava Stress Relief and Runi’s Guayasa (I can usually find these cheaper in US stores than online).
Interior Side Pocket #2 (The Random Electronics Drawer)
Admit it, you have one of these. It’s the dark shameful place where you dump all the cords and plugs that you don’t really know how to organize but need on a nearly daily basis. I have one too. Mine is just in a side pocket.
Seagate External Hard Drives Last year I learned the hard way that hard drives can fail. Now I carry two to keep all these lovely pictures of durian.
Brix Refractometer This helps me measure the sugar content of different fruits, which is just super nerdy and enjoyable.
All-In-One International Adaptor: I bought mine on my first trip abroad in 2010, and it’s one of the few things I haven’t lost or killed. With prongs that slip in and out of a plastic chassis, it’s like the Swiss Army knife of electronics. New versions even have USB portals! How cool is it land in an airport, casually scope out the socket and whip out the appropriate shape and number of prongs? So suave. Mine is old, but this is the new version.
Tiny Power Strip – I don’t know why, but often there is only ONE electric socket in a hotel room, and either it’s in a really strange place (the ceiling?!) or it’s the socket where the fan plugs in so you have to choose between dying of heat and using your device. If you carry far too many electronic devices like me, get a splitter so you can charge it all at one time while you’re out of the room having a good time (maybe eating durian? hmmm?)
All Da Cords Micro USB, Garmin Watch cradle, camera charger…
Extra Camera Lenses I have three lenses, and I keep the two I’m not using in here. I have the micro 4/3 40-150mm, a 14-50mm, and a flat 50mm.
Exterior Pocket (The Desk)
File Organizer I use a cardboard document envelope with tabbed dividers to keep all my papers (USDA seed permits, tour contracts, etc) smooth and unwrinkled.
Notebooks I journal every day, keep to-do lists, and record interviews on paper, so I always have a stock of used, partially used, and new notebooks.
Colored Pencils Because I can.
Pouch with leftover currencies, photocopies of my passport, International Driver’s License
Seed Packing Supplies Envelopes, plastic ziplock bags, permanent markers, cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide or Dettol. See How to Mail Durian Seeds.
Random Tiny Top Pocket
The Osprey pack has a small pocket on the top of the bag for easy access to…whatever is important to you. The only things I keep in there are my Headlamp and sometimes the Travel Towel.
Petzl Headlamp From navigating the hostel dormitory after lights out to midnight durian hunting, I use my headlamp every day. Using the red filter to read at night helps me fall asleep. Mine is a Petzl, because it’s spelled almost like Pretzel and I like that. It’s also one of the cheaper headlamps.
My Day Bag (Nightstand? Hallway Table?)
My day bag is basically the surface near your bed where you deposit the contents of your pockets every day. It’s a collection of both my most valuable possessions (wallet, passport, camera) and junky trinkets I keep because I like them.
I pack it all inside an awesome, spiky, durian-y day pack.
Phone I have the Motorola G3. It’s cheap for a smartphone (only $130 USD ) and it has a 5 megapixel front camera and a 13 megapixel rear camera. Good enough, but to be honest I wouldn’t recommend it and don’t plan to buy Motorola again.
Computer Mine is an Asus S7 Ultrabook. It’s a little dated now, but still going strong. I love that it has an internal solid state drive, which means it doesn’t overheat as easily in the frickin’ hot weather, boots up quickly, and is really slim and lightweight. After 2.5 years on the road, it still has never had a problem.
Camera I bought a new camera over the summer after my Olympus EPL1 finally died after an admittedly rough life. I stayed with Olympus, mostly so I could keep using the lenses. Mine is the Olympus OMD EM-5 II, which is what I use for everything you see on this blog.
Kindle On my first trip abroad in 2010 I traveled with a copy of the Ramayana, a 720-page cement block. In my defense, that was the equivalent of forever ago in terms of electronics and there wasn’t an eVersion available. Now people traveling with hardbacks just perplex me. I got mine on Amazon.
My Passport, Wallet, and International Driver’s License
More OddsnEnds Flashdrive, hand sanitizer, spoon from home, statue of Ganesha…
Do you feel like you know me a little better now that you’ve explored my bag?
I hope you now have some ideas on how you want to pack your bag, and some things you’d like to tuck in there.
What you bring with you on your trip to SE Asia is really personal. It depends not only on how long you’re planning to travel (is this vacation or a lifestyle?), but on your personality and priorities.
I think I’m a middle-of-the-road person. I want my bag light enough to fit on carry-on and easily be slung over my shoulder for a wander, but I like all my creature comforts. I live out of this bag. It’s taken me until now, 6 years after starting this adventure, to figure out how to balance these two needs.
Make sure to get more travel resources for your durian hunting adventure on the FAQ page.
Get in touch Of course, if you have any questions about traveling in Southeast Asia, don’t hesitate to get in touch on Facebook or by sending me an email to durianyearATgmail.com
Note: Many of the links on this page are Amazon or other affiliate links, meaning that if you make a purchase, at no extra cost to you, I’ll earn a small commission, and I thank you for it.