A frequent traveler and product geek, I’ve discovered some practical luxuries that have completely transformed my travel experiences in Asia and saved me time, energy, and hassle. If you’re a consumerist like me who prefers to travel light but in style, here’s an essential packing list to upgrade your next Asian vacation for almost nothing with the best portable electronics, organizers, and travel gear.
Portable Power Strip
This handy gadget makes me really popular at the airport in Asia. If you’ve ever wanted to start a conversation with a stranger at your gate, look no further. How many times have you been short of outlets to plug in all of your electronics at an airport, hotel room, or coffee shop? It’s a major problem when you travel internationally and only have one adapter. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix: add compact, lightweight, travel power strips to your travel packing list. Now you only need to plug the power strip into a single adapter or outlet, and you’ll have plenty of USB ports and outlets for everyone’s phone, tablet, laptop, portable charger, camera battery charger, etc. Next time you’re sitting in an airport terminal with only one outlet and five nervous cell phone users with low battery, you’ll be a hero.
Foldable sunglasses used to be hard to find, but they are everywhere now and a key item on my travel packing list for Asia. Even Ray-Ban makes folding Wayfarers in a bunch of colors. These are really handy because they are small enough to slip into a pocket or a small clutch purse. Before I got these, I was always worried about scratching or breaking my aviators or wayfarers in my bag, and I don’t like the additional bulk of bringing a glasses case on vacation. Foldable sunglasses look exactly like regular sunglasses, and they are so lightweight and convenient that I’m going to get a second pair to leave in the car.
Fold Flat Duffel Bag
Like most minimalist travelers, I tend to only bring a carry-on suitcase to Asia whether the trip is 2 days or 2 months long. But the size of a carry-on can be confining if you find cool things on your trip that you really want to buy and bring home. That’s why I always have a foldable duffel on my travel packing list that can fit in my carry-on. I can easily pop it up, fill with goodies or dirty laundry, and check in for the flight home. Not all foldable duffels are made with the same rigor, so remember to get a more durable material (not just a thin gym bag) if you plan on checking it in.
With an ultra light portable charger on my travel packing list, I never worry about the battery level on my phone anymore. I take lots of photos and video clips on my Asia trips, which drains my battery pretty quickly, but I don’t care anymore. The most compact, lightweight chargers today weigh only 3 oz. and will carry enough juice to fully recharge your phone. Want to carry 2 or 3 full charges with you for multiple devices? That’s possible too at weights of only 5 to 6 oz. Portable chargers come in different shapes and sizes ranging from a lipstick tube to an iPod Nano shape. The heavier the battery, the more power it stores. I prefer the lightest chargers because I rarely need more than one full charge before I’m near an outlet again, but if your travel companions tend to ask you for a charge, you might want to get a larger one.
Hanging Toiletry Bag
This is a staple on my Asia packing list, though I started out with a larger hanging toiletry bag and moved to lighter, smaller ones as I whittled it down to the essentials. Disclosure: it’s very easy to overpack a toiletry bag. There are a lot of pockets, which help you stay organized but also tempt you to fill them. If your goal is to travel light, buy a small one and you’ll make it work. You could be shooting yourself in the foot with a toiletry bag that’s too big and ends up eating up space in your suitcase. There isn’t much differentiation between brands either. The hanging feature is very convenient and widely available; otherwise you are making a decision based on looks and size. You can everything from a waterproof nylon look to a charcoal wool or leather look. To be honest, I recently bought a new toiletry bag because it looked more stylish and modern than my old one, not because I needed a new one. And no one even sees my toiletry bag except for me!
Organizer for Cables and Cords
I’ve been able to keep my mess of charging cables and earphones to a controlled chaos when traveling between Asian cities thanks to this handy organizer. Before this, I used to carry around two sets of earphones that got tangled up with my charging cables, pens, wireless mouse, flash drive, and everything else in my bag. It’s nothing complicated – just a slim little pouch with pockets for all the cords and cables we bring on vacation, as well as portable chargers. If you travel with your significant other, you know what I’m talking about. This organizer prevents all those cords from getting tangled with each other, and it’s quick to reach in and grab what you need. The pouch is relatively light and surprisingly sleek too. The only drawback is that some pouches aren’t large enough to fit Macbook chargers, so if that’s what you’re looking to pack, put a larger organizer on your travel packing list.
Packing cubes struck me as totally unnecessary until I actually tried using them. Now I don’t travel without them. Even in a small carry-on suitcase, your clean clothes, dirty clothes, accessories, and electronic cables can get pretty tangled up. It takes too much time to re-fold and re-organize everything if you are on the go and staying in a different hotel every night. These handy pods allow you to keep everything organized, and it only takes seconds to re-pack. I was shocked how much stuff I could fit into my bag once everything was packed into cubes. They weigh almost nothing, are machine washable, and have mesh walls so you can see inside every pod without unzipping it. If your suitcase is usually a mosh pit of clothes and random stuff by Day 3 of your trip, you need these on your Asia essentials list.
Now let’s take packing pods to the next level. When you travel to Asia in the winter with bulky items like wool coats, parkas, ski pants, winter hats and gloves, and sweaters, they eat up a ton of space in your suitcase. If you plan to hit Phuket and Beijing in the same trip, sometimes you have to pack for both sun and snow. And if you have to fit all of those things into one carry-on, it may seem impossible. But these ultra light compression cubes have transformed the way I pack and made everything less daunting. They aren’t vacuum packed in the sense that the air is sucked out of them with a device. Instead, you pack your clothes into the bag and then use a second zipper to squeeze the air out of the bag. It’s quick and easy to do as long as you don’t overstuff it. You’ll be shocked how much more you can fit into your suitcase once the bulky items are compressed into little pods. Add these to your Asia packing list.
Wireless Earbuds or Headphones
The freedom of wireless earbuds, earphones, or headphones is amazing. All of the large brands like Apple, Beats, and Bose make wireless options, and they are totally worth it for the ease of use, sound quality, and great battery life. I was tired of the long earbud cables getting all tangled up around my neck and restricting my movement. If you plan on wearing them on the plane a lot, I’d recommend a Bose noise-cancelling pair for your Asia packing list as I’ve noticed it makes a huge difference.
Lightweight Down Puff Jacket
My puff jacket has been a lifesaver on more than one trip to an unexpectedly cold destination in Asia. Brands like Patagonia and Uniqlo make portable, ultra light, puff jackets that can be stored in a little pouch. These packable jackets are usually made with lightweight down or synthetic down, so they are warm but extremely compact when compressed into a pouch. They are perfect for your travel packing list because you can wear them alone as a jacket or as a shell under a thicker winter coat. The ultimate layering tool, you can easily slip them into a carry-on or even a medium sized purse without noticing any additional weight.
99% of neck pillows on the market are completely useless! The companies that manufacture U-shaped pillows have failed to understand that the purpose of a neck pillow is to support your head and neck in a neutral position. They are lucky to be competing in a sector that has experienced no innovation whatsoever in the last 30 years but continues to take advantage of desperate travelers who will try anything to avoid neck and shoulder pain.
But is a beanie bag neck pillow going to prevent your head from tilting to the side? No. It’s not. How about an inflatable pillow that isn’t even high enough to reach your ear? Nope.
Imagine that you’ve just broken your collar bone or had surgery on your spine and it is critical to hold your head and neck in a neutral position at all times. What kind of device would you have to wear to prevent your head from leaning over in any direction? That is the same kind of support you would need for a neck pillow to really work. Unfortunately, this means wearing a bulky pillow like you just had neck surgery, and a lot of people aren’t willing to carry that around.
In my experience, the most effective neck pillows look like neck collars and are made with a firm material like memory foam. I like the Cabeau neck pillow for my travel packing list. It’s not perfect but it’s helpful enough that I’m willing to carry it around even though it’s bulky. It does reduce my neck and shoulder aches if I fall asleep. Napping on the plane for more than an hour without a lie-flat seat is still impossible for me though. If these kinds of pillows work for you, remember that they are only one element of poor posture that can cause you aches and pains. Scoot all the way back in your seat so your spine is not curved, recline your seat, use a cushion for lumbar support, and use a foot rest (carry-on bag works fine) if your feet don’t reach the floor.
There’s always a ton of walking in Asia, no matter where you go. Shoes are such a personal decision depending on your comfort and style thresholds that they deserve another write-up altogether. I generally pack 2 pairs of shoes because of how much space they take up in my suitcase, but if I am traveling for a wedding that can tick up to 3 pairs. There are plenty of comfortable, low profile shoes that take up less space in your bag and look more stylish. I strongly recommend this list of comfortable walking shoes for ladies.
Most carry-on suitcases that claim to be lightweight are outright lying to you. Lightweight means 2.8 to 4 lbs. In other words, a petite woman could easily lift the empty suitcase with one finger. A lot of brand-name “lightweight” suitcases are actually 5-8 pounds, which is a borderline fraudulent label. Any suitcase that weighs 8 pounds with absolutely nothing in it should be used for weight training, not traveling. You can find lots of affordable, lightweight, 4-8 wheel suitcases these days online or at discount stores like Ross, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx. I personally like the IT Luggage brand for their affordable prices and ultra light suitcases – they are a regular on my Asia packing list.
Nail Clipper and Tweezer Set
I learned this lesson the hard way. I found myself needing to clip a nail at 11 pm and bought a cheap nail clipper from the hotel gift shop. If you didn’t think there was a big quality difference in nail clippers, let me assure you that there is. The primary flaw of a poor nail clipper is that it’s not sharp enough to cut through your nail. You have to squeeze hard just for it to cut through all the way, and then it leaves the edge of your nail in a raw and ragged state. Think you can simply run out to the drugstore and pick one up? Let me recount the time the local drugstore was sold out of packaged nail clippers, and the employee warned me not to buy an unpackaged nail clipper because people actually come in and use them in the store all the time. Keep a handy set like this on your Asia packing list, and you’ll never have to worry about forgetting these essentials.
I love arriving at the hotel and taking my shoes off after a long and tiring day of walking, but hotel room carpeting can be pretty gross. Hotel rooms are rarely vacuumed, even in the nicest hotels. Fortunately, most of the 4 or 5 star hotels in Asia will give you pre-packaged, cushy white hotel slippers. If I’m not staying in a 4-5 star hotel, I really enjoy this small indulgence so I bring my own hotel slippers. I have a bag of them that I have accumulated from fancy Asian hotels over the years, but you can also spend $2-5 to buy a pair. I prefer the ultra light, disposal slippers that you can easily toss and replace when they get worn out.
Lightweight, hands-free bags
Ladies: After carrying a trendy Longchamp bag on my shoulder for many trips, I made the transition to a cute cross-body purse, and I’m never going back. Ladies tend to carry purses on the same shoulder every time, which causes that side of the body to be more tense, build up more muscle, and subtly pull the alignment the spine in that direction. This leads to longer term aches and pains that are similar to what a kid carrying an overly heavy backpack would experience.
Fortunately, a number of designers make affordable, lightweight cross body bags that will give you a convenient and secure way to carry your valuables while looking good in your photos. You’ll immediately notice that your shoulders can fully relax with a crossbody bag while there is always tension in your shoulder when carrying a purse. If you are doing outdoor activities or need the carrying capacity of a backpack, there are also plenty of options for ultra lightweight (6 oz) backpacks that fold into pouches or larger (0.5 lb) backpacks that fit more stuff.
Gentlemen: You can also enjoy sleek, lightweight daypacks or messenger bags instead of bulky backpacks on your travel packing list. With all the walking you’ll be doing, you don’t need the added weight of a heavy bag on your shoulders or a sweaty back. If you want to go even more minimal and are in a city where you’d worry about pickpockets, try a wristband or wrist wallet like the ones runners wear. They are wide enough to stash cash and keys, but not your phone. Forget money belts or passport pouches that hang around your neck – they will be drenched with sweat within a couple of hours.
Individually Packaged Medicine
The thing about medicine is that you could take 10 trips before you actually need an Advil. The rest of the time, there is no point to carrying around a bottle of 200 pills or emptying a few into an unlabeled medicine pouch if it’s not something you take regularly. I’m a big fan of carrying some Advil with me just in case because I sometimes get bad headaches, especially when I’m sleep deprived in a different time zone. I also like to put allergy medicine and motion sickness medicine on my Asia packing list because you never know when allergies strike or when you’ll be on a questionable boat. The individual pouches are most convenient because I can always read the medicine label (including the expiration date) and they remain unopened until I actually need them.
High Protein Snack
Do you get shaky and irritable when you miss a meal? I do, and it’s no fun being stuck in an airport due to a flight delay at 11 pm when all the stores have closed and there’s nothing to eat. Or when you’re on a 6-hour cross continent flight, you haven’t eaten all day, and they hand you a bag of 2 crackers at 4 pm. I always put a high-protein snack on my Asia packing list in case I have to go hours without a meal. Eating carbs is pointless because you’ll get hungry again quickly. In my opinion, the best protein-rich options that are convenient for travel are nuts, beef jerky, peanut butter squeeze packs, and protein bars. All come in non-perishable, individually sized packets that are easy to eat on the go.
Universal Travel Adapter
This is a must for any Asia travel accessories list. Just carry this one item plus a travel power strip, and you’ll be prepared to charge your electronics in any country. Note that this is an adapter, not a voltage converter. It allows you to fit your electronics into other countries’ wall outlets, but it doesn’t convert the voltage. Most chargers that come with phones, tablets, camera batteries, etc. have built-in converters, so you don’t have to worry about it. But I’ll tell you from experience that you should never bring a hair dryer to another country and plug it into an outlet, even if you are using a converter. Travel hair dryers that have a voltage switch also tend be problematic even if they claim otherwise.