When packing for a four-month long journey to Southeast Asia, it’s difficult to know what to bring and what to leave at home. Especially since you still have a 50-pound weight limit on the plane. I had to pack, weigh, and repack about three times until I thought I had all the necessities. Liquids always weigh more, so I tried to cut down on those. And a good thing to note is you can get most of the same shampoo, lotions, conditioners, and such in Vietnam. After living in Hanoi, Vietnam, for a month, here is my list of things that I’m glad I packed and some items I wish I would have left at home. First, let’s go over what to pack.
Glad I packed:
Wash cloths: They just don’t really seem to use them here. We don’t get them in our rooms and towels are at a bare minimum. I wish I would have packed more wash cloths. I also have not seen anywhere to buy them among the thousands of vendors and small shops lined up and down the crowded street.
Hats: It’s too hot and humid in Asia to do anything with your hair. I basically wear these on a daily basis.
Ear plugs: You will need these! Construction, dogs barking, or roosters crowing through the night and early morning. Yes, it’s loud everywhere.
Noise-canceling headphones: Great for the airplane and the workspace. I can’t write with distractions, so these are a lifesaver. These are the ones I purchased on Amazon.
Sweat-proof makeup: Another must-have in SE Asia because you’re gonna sweat your ass off! Also makeup that has sunscreen is a bonus. My favorites are:
- COVERGIRL AquaSmooth for powder/ foundation: It has sunscreen and does not sweat off. Goes on thin and isn’t clumpy. Amazingly enough, with all the sweating and still trying to look somewhat decent, I have not had any pimples from wearing this. So that’s a great benefit!
2. Revlon ColorStay creme eyeshadow: I’ve used this for years in the Florida heat and just absolutely love it! Colors pop and don’t smudge or run in extreme humidity. It will stay on until you take it off.
3. Almay waterproof mascara: Another tested and tried in Florida before I came to Asia. This stuff does not smudge and make you look like a raccoon by mid-afternoon.
My medicine cabinet: No joke, I packed a lot! But I’ve used almost all of it.
1. Neosporin & Band-Aids for blisters. You are going to walk a lot! I’ve tracked on my iWatch that I usually get in about 5 miles a day, give or take.
2. Lots of hand sanitizer!! Bathrooms here are pretty gross. Sometimes I want to bathe in sanitizer after exiting bathroom stalls. Their health codes are not quite up to par with the US’s. I like the ones that come with clips so you can latch it onto your backpack.
3. Travel-size Kleenex.
4. Antibacterial wipes.
5. Rags or anything to wipe the sweat off while you’re out and about.
6. Bug spray with DEET. You will get bit by mosquitoes—it’s inevitable. But at least try to protect yourself.
7. Lots of sunscreen.
8. Vitamins. I have not seen them around anywhere either. I don’t think the Vietnamese are as obsessed with taking pills as we Americans are. However, any immune boosting ones are good to have as you are going to be eating lots of weird stuff and doing a lot more activity than normal because you will want to see and do everything! I personally like Emergen-C.
9. Cold meds and thermometer. Used this within the first 2 weeks here. Almost everyone in my group has gotten sick within the first 3 weeks of living in Vietnam.
Clothes and other helpful items:
- Clothes that are made of quick dry, breathable technology. Cotton just doesn’t work in Asia. It’s hotter and shows the sweat. Plus some apartments don’t have dryers. So, when washing clothes, this type of material is easier to hang dry versus cotton that could take a few days to fully dry out.
2. Downy Wrinkle Releaser spray helps get wrinkles out of clothes without an iron.
3. Really comfortable shoes. I brought four pairs of sketchers. Two cute sandal types and two tennis shoes.
4. Waterproof rain jacket. So glad I invested in a good rain jacket! You don’t need an umbrella if you have a decent jacket. I carry mine with me everywhere because you never know when a pop-up shower will occur. Plus, it has zipper pockets, which are great to carry your phone, money, and key to your place and not risk them falling out. Also note you want to make sure its waterproof, not water resistant. There’s a big difference. You will get soaked wearing just a water resistant jacket.
5. A portable, battery-operated fan. Yes, I brought a fan. It’s HOT here so I wanted to make sure I had something just in case the AC didn’t work as well as back home. It has come in handy so far. Such as getting ready in the bathroom, because there’s not much airflow in there. It’s pretty lightweight too. I got one at Walmart for $15. I have it for hurricane season in Florida when the power goes out.
6. Snacks for the 27-hour journey to the final destination. I actually didn’t eat them on the plane and saved them, which I’m so glad I did. I got into Vietnam at midnight and was hungry. Then the first day I had no idea where I was and didn’t have local currency on me. All the street food vendors only take cash. I survived on my snacks for the first day until I met with my group and they took us to lunch. I packed stuff like trail mix, cashews, and sesame sticks.
7. A second iPhone. I have two, one personal and one for work. I ended up having to get a Vietnam SIM card in my personal iPhone because T-Mobile did not work here like they said it would. So when that SIM card goes in, you get a Vietnam number and people from back home cannot text you. But I can still use my work iPhone on Wi-Fi with T-Mobile to text and make Wi-Fi calls. It’s also convenient because then I can call out on my 727 number so clients have no idea I’m out of the country. It’s also good if you break or lose your phone—it’s handy to have a spare. We have not found any Apple stores in Vietnam. A travel friend in my group dropped his phone while biking in the countryside and then a car ran over it 😟 that was within the first two weeks of a four-month trip. Another friend got his phone wet while kayaking in Ha Long Bay. So having two phones isn’t a bad idea. Even if you have an old model just laying around, pack it because it could come in handy.
8. Tampons are good to bring with you. They are not easy to find and apparently expensive in Asia. I packed a four-month supply, so I’m good! Another note that stuff like this or cough drops etc. you cannot just buy in a grocery store. The grocery store is exactly what it says—food. It’s not like in America where at Walgreens you can get a little bit of everything. Pharmacies are kind of bizarre too, which is where you would have to go to get cough drops. Yeah, you need a pharmacist for cough drops. But you can’t get normal Halls, these are medicated and actually numb your throat. The pharmacists are not very friendly, and it’s hard to communicate what you need. I had to show a picture on the internet of what I needed while she looked totally annoyed with me while the other pharmacist slept on the counter. She never even lifted her head up the entire time I was there.
What Not to Pack:
- Hair blow dryer and straighter. I’ve haven’t had a lot of time to do my hair here nor would it probably even stay given the 99% humidity. Plus, they’re heavy. You can buy them here too as well. Which I admit I did breakdown and buy one after a few weeks. It was only $16 for a straightener. It does an okay job. But my hair is usually curly again after an hour of walking around outside. Oh, well, I tried to look pretty…
- Four months’ worth of clothes. Our apartments that we have all been living in have washers, some dryers too. So, you will be able to do laundry, which is a bonus. Especially since you might wear two different outfits a day because you will sweat through each one thoroughly.
- Rain boots. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but they’re bulky, heavy, and gave me blisters. It also didn’t rain as much as I thought it was going to in April in Vietnam.
- The book I had on my nightstand for a year, which is now on my nightstand in Vietnam for a month. Still haven’t opened it.
- Liquids like shampoo, conditioner, and lotions. They have pretty much all the brands we use, so it’s better to buy it when you get here. Unless it’s something specific you like. For example, I brought purple shampoo for my blonde highlights to tone. I would not be able to find that in Vietnam. Sunscreen is one thing I have not seen anywhere. Maybe that’s at the pharmacy too? Guess I would have to wake up the sleeping pharmacist to find out.