If you’re an experienced veteran of the travelling world, then you’ve probably got your backpack contents down to a fine art. Through trial and error, you’ve realised you don’t need five pairs of shoes, or the big jumper just in case it gets a bit chilly in the tropical country. But if you’re just setting out exploring the big wide world (like I once was), or feel the need to pack for every eventuality (like my girlfriend currently is), this guide might help you lighten your pack.
Here are my five general tips, as well as a (very subjective) recommended pack.
Tip 1 – You don’t need it
As mentioned in the intro, there are many things you think you’ll need, but you won’t. Examples:
Yes, you might experience the odd torrential downpour, especially if you’re visiting in the rainy season. But a 20 THB plastic poncho (available from every convenience store and entrepreneurial salesman) does a much better job, and is disposable after a couple of uses.
I’ve made this mistake. The thought of being without a few good layers is a thought not worth having for many, especially the British. But Thai weather will ensure it remains at the bottom of your rucksack for the entire trip, and will happily insist on being lugged around everywhere. If you’re going to the north, perhaps a visit to Chiang Mai, then you’ll see temps as low as 18c. Should this be too cold, you’ll find a cheap top for 100 THB.
Toiletries and medications
Any rumours that Colgate toothpaste or Sure deodorant doesn’t exist this far east are nothing more than whimsical ignorance. You’ll find every toiletry you’ll ever need at every convenience store in the country – it will be cheaper than home, plus you won’t have to worry about flight liquid allowances. As for medications – by all means, make sure you pack any prescription meds you need! But things like paracetamol, immodium (you’ll need it), even antibiotics – they are available over the counter, on most streets in every city.
Tip 2 – Don’t bring it, buy it
I realise that most people have saved hard for their upcoming adventure, and many of the posts on this website encourage you to save money. But when it comes to clothes, especially clothes more suited for a much warmer environment, don’t pre-buy them. I’d go as far to say don’t bring everything from home.
You see, clothes are very cheap in Thailand. For example, you can find high quality Ralph Lauren ‘replica’ polo shirts for 150THB. A pair of lightweight ‘traveller trousers’ are about the same, and t-shirts start from 50 THB. Not only will you be able to choose attire more suited to your rough itinerary, but you’ll be able to carry less around to begin with, and take some material memories home with you.
Tip 3 – Your rucksack matters
Whether you have your entire month or two planned out, or you’re more of the ‘get there and see’ sort of guy/girl, everything you own in this corner of the world will be on your back. Ensure that your backpack…
It sounds stupid – but an uncomfortable backpack means a miserable experience every time it’s hugging your back. Try yours on for size, fill it with books and clothes, and leave it on around the house for an hour. You’ll soon appreciate properly adjusted straps and padding means.
You don’t need to spend a fortune. There is very little a high end bag will do that a low to mid range bag won’t. But when you go for the cheapest possible, that’s when you’re likely to discover how upsetting a large rip that forces your very dirty laundry to fly all over a busy boat deck really is (I’ve been there). The bag outer should be firm enough that catching it on a fence or a rusty bit of boat/car/motorbike won’t destroy it, leaving you begging for carrier bags.
…is spacious enough
What size rucksack should I take travelling? How many litres should I go away with? It is a fiercely argued point! The wisest, most experienced (and often the dirtiest) wanderer will proclaim that a 20 litre bag is overkill, and you only need the clothes on your back. The over-planned will insist on taking the 90+15L bag, with enough pockets to lose half your possessions. The pint sized, 5ft girl fresh from college will insist on taking the pink bag, but won’t stop to think that it’s either too small to pack half her things, or big enough for her to take a nap in.
Size matters, and it’s a personal decision based on what you want to carry and how much you can comfortably lift. As a very rough balance, I find a 60L bag is ample for a few months of travelling with everything I need.
Tip 4 – Laundry
Without your parents/other half/servant girl doing your clothes wash, it falls to you. Luckily, Thailand has an abundant supply of Thai laundry places in every city – and they are fantastic! Read the Laundry article for more information, but to TL;DR it – it will generally cost you 40-60 THB per kg of dirty clothes. In exchange for this relatively cheap price, you’ll have your elephant trousers and Chang tshirts back brilliantly clean, smelling fantastic and folded perfectly.
Tip 5 – Bring a small bag
A small backpack for a chap, or a little day handbag for the ladies – these are essential. You’ll keep your big rucksack in your accommodation when you’re staying somewhere, but you’ll need somewhere to keep your phone, your camera, your money, your bottles of water and enough room to bring back amazing pad thai from the local street vendor. The bag should be light, and ideally lockable – although crime in Thailand is much less than you’ll find in any European or American country, there are still pickpockets, especially in tourist heavy areas such as Khao San Road or Phuket.
What to bring
The contents of my rucksack when travelling for a few months (very subjective, adapt as necessary!)
- 3 tshirts (buy more on arrival)
- 1 polo shirt (buy more on arrival)
- 1 shirt (for the evening meals that frown on flip flops)
- 1 trousers (for the above)
- 2 long shorts
- 1 swim shorts
- 5 sets of underwear (one thing I always make sure I have enough of)
- 1 comfortable lightweight shoes/trainers (flipflops are ridiculously cheap in Thailand)
Electronics to take:
- Phone (unlocked so you can use a Thai simcard) and charger
- Plug adapter/converter
- Portable battery pack
- Kindle/eBook reader (worth its weight in gold)
- Lightweight travel towel (perfect for the beach, cheap beach huts etc)
- Contact lenses/glasses (sunglasses are very cheap in Thailand)
- Initial medications – especially immodium and paracetamol.
- A very small first aid kit (just in case)
- A single duvet cover (this sounds unusual – it folds down very small, you can happily sleep in it, works as a pillow)
That’s about it – an insight into what things you need to bring to Thailand. As you can see, the vast majority is available when you get here, but it is still reassuring to bring enough for the first five or so days without having to worry.
If you feel we have missed anything, or you have your own suggestion, please do comment below.