Thailand’s reputation as a backpacker haven is derived from its incredible hospitality, navigable public transportation, cheap food and accommodation, relaxed take on life, and exotic adventures. Luckily, Thailand is just as easy to pack for as it is to explore. With some foresight and restraint, you can prepare efficiently the first time around!
Here are my tried and tested packing tips and lists for living out of one 50-L backpack. These methods got me through one month of travel in Thailand in September and I was very happy with the results. A 50-L pack is a sufficient size, manageable to travel with, and is smaller than what I saw most others lugging around. These packing tips will help you be more mobile and save you from being one of those weighed-down dorks with a second backpack strapped to your chest.
8 Tips for Thailand Trip Packing
1.) Only bring things that are emotionally disposable to you
Leave your favorite items and clothes at home. Don’t bring anything that holds sentimental value. Consider bringing items that you actually want to get rid of, such as books to trade in or a drawstring bag on its last leg. The bookstores are overflowing and make for an interesting stop while in cities. As someone with a habit of collecting more books than I actually read, the experience of exchanging one book at a time for a new one while on the go made me wonder why I keep boxes of them at home. The markets are vibrant with vendors that offer ample opportunity to replace bags, wallets, watches etc. if something you bring doesn’t last the whole trip or if you’d like to upgrade for a fraction of the U.S. cost.
If you are bringing something expensive, such as a camera or laptop, make sure to have traveler’s insurance to cover your items. If you can, back up your photos as your trip progresses, so if your phone or camera becomes damaged or lost, you will still be able to cherish the pictures.
2.) Pack for rainy weather and wet conditions
Although Thailand experiences a dry season for part of the year, spells of rain still occur. A rain cover to protect your backpack, a raincoat, and a small folding umbrella are good to shield against rainy weather and other unexpected circumstances. While taking public transportation, such as a songthaew or ferry, your pack may end up riding on the roof of the pickup truck or on the deck of the boat. Being able to quickly protect your bag with a cover is important.
Organizing the items inside your pack into waterproof bags will also make life easier. That way, you know everything in your pack is safe from damage without having to scramble to protect specific items when the raindrops start to fall, or if you’re like me and almost dunk your whole backpack at the beach. Waterproof bags are rolled thrice and then clipped to seal them, such as the black and camo bags pictured. They can be purchased at outdoor gear stores and are invaluable for travel, hiking, and camping. A waterproof phone case and a small hard-sided waterproof box for souvenirs or snacks is also recommended. Rain gear is light and packs up small, so it’s always reasonable to bring.
3.) Decrease single-use waste
As fun as all of the street food and markets are, the reality is that they are incredibly wasteful and recycling is scarce. Street vendors love little plastic baggies, straws, plastic cups, styrofoam boxes, and plastic containers. Plastic baggies sloshing with tea or soda hang from motorbikes and clutched fists zipping down the streets. Every small treat you pick up on the street will come with a plastic fork, spoon, chopsticks, etc. The one item that I didn’t pack and wished I had was a small reusable tupperware container. Because most of the food is made to order, you can curtail the plastic waste by offering your own container for the sellers to put food in.
4.) Be ready for the ins and outs
Some people adjust to dietary changes gracefully and some…don’t. Save yourself a desperate trip to 7/11 and pack some stomach aides. Pepto bismol, Tums, herbal teas, whatever works for you. Packets of electrolyte drinks are also good to keep on hand to stay hydrated in the heat and/or stave off dehydration from diarrhea. I brought Emergen-C packets because they have electrolytes and vitamin C.
Be ready to be self-sufficient when visiting the restrooms. While most that I encountered did have toilet paper, some did not and most did not have soap. So make sure to bring a roll of toilet paper (protect in a plastic bag), wet wipes, hand sanitizer and a good attitude!
5.) Sensible clothing and footwear
Bring a good pair of walking sandals because your feet will get wet and you will have to leave your shoes outside at the door. Strappy sandals such as Chacos take longer to get on and off, but I found they were worth the extra support and comfort while walking long distances. They also double as a watershoe, which came in handy for exploring rocky sections of beach, caves, and waterfalls. I also brought a pair of sneakers for hikes and longer treks, but my partner got away with just wearing sandals.
Thailand is a more conservatively dressed country than the U.S. or European countries. It is also very hot and humid. Out of respect for the local culture, I would leave crop tops, thong bikinis, and super short shorts at home. Plan to bring about 4 tanktops, 3 shorts, a dress, and something to sleep in.
Women are required to cover up at temples, so make sure to bring at least one shirt that covers your shoulders and one pair of pants. There are tons of opportunities to purchase lightweight, eccentric pants in Thailand for about $4, but it’s a good idea to bring an initial pair of pants or leggings so you don’t have to rush to buy pants for a temple visit.
6.) Prepare for a few overly air-conditioned nights
I brought a sweatshirt that I would have been ready to part with had I decided to stop carrying it around. The sweatshirt and cocoon sleeping bag liner were worth bringing. They made it possible to get a bit of sleep during one particularly frigid night in a hostel when I couldn’t change the A/C settings. The sweatshirt also made the plane rides more comfortable.
7.) Bring something to share
Stories, memories, travel tips, and photos are best, but small mementos are also appreciated! You will make friends along the way and people would love something to remember you by. Consider bringing something lightweight and easy to gift to others. I brought a handful of paracord bracelets that I had made to pass along. These folks brought a deck of cards and taught us a new game over Chang beers.
8.) Most importantly, leave as much space as possible!
Carry less and leave room for more. More mobility, more freedom, less worry, and the opportunity to purchase gifts and souvenirs.
Packing Lists by Category
Wallet + passport
Phone + charger
Water filter (*purifying tablets)
Emergen-C drink packets
Waterproof backpack cover
Cocoon sleeping bag liner
Needle + thread
Waterproof rollup bag
Thai language book (*wait to purchase in Thailand, much cheaper)
Travel guidebook (*wait to purchase in Thailand, much cheaper)
Entertaining book (tradable)
Should I bring a tent or hammock?
I pondered over this question before I went and am happy that I did not lug around my tent. My answer would be yes if you are planning to visit national parks with a motorbike and spending most of your time at them. If you won’t be using a motorbike, getting to the more remote parks is extremely limited or expensive. The more popular parks (Erawan, Khao Sok) have public buses or minivans to them that are cheap and also usually have tents or cabins there to rent. I would leave the hammock at home unless you must absolutely have it at the beach, although of course there is no guarantee of beach-side trees. There are usually already hammocks set up by resorts, restaurants, etc. if its a prime spot for it. Because of the rainy weather and lush understory foliage, I would not recommend camping in a hammock as it would require also carrying tarp and rope.
Toiletries and First Aid
Small microfiber towel
Electric toothbrush + charger
Mini bottle of Dr. Bronner’s soap
Dramamine for motion sickness
Roll-up bag to keep organized
Notes: DO bring Dramamine if you are prone to car sickness. You will need it for minivan bus rides. DON’T bother bringing lotion. I usually have dry skin, but the climate is so humid there I never needed lotion. Also, remember to take care of your feet! You will likely get blisters from all of the walking.
Waterproof rollup bags (one small for socks, underwear and sports bras and a larger one for the rest)
1 pair of pants
1 pair of leggings
1 plaid button-up
1 flowy coverup thing
3 pairs socks
8 pairs underwear
3 sports bras
This is the bag all packed plus with souvenirs I purchased in Thailand! Before that, the top third of the bag was empty. I did spend the last few days being a double-backpack-dork (drawstring bag on my chest), but it was intentionally planned as I filled up on goodies for friends and families.