Carry-On Travel: Thailand and Malaysia

Traveling with only a carry-on has gotten quite the hype through the years on many  hip travel pages.  I even mentioned how I packed for a weekend trip in a tiny little Deuter Citylight backpack plus handbag while living in Italy.  We have had many experiences where traveling with checked luggage has been a necessity, especially when traveling to the States and bringing presents for people on the way there, and stuffing the bag full of things to take back with us on the way back.  (This was more common when we lived in Uzbekistan… Now we can find it all on!)

I’d like to show you how I packed for a trip to Thailand and Malaysia for the Christmas/New Years season 2017-18.  We were traveling from Tashkent, Uzbekistan to Bangkok, Thailand, but had a stopover in Almaty, Kazakhstan on the way to Thailand, which included an overnight stop on the way back from Thailand.  I chose to pack in a 40 liter backpack, the Osprey Trailkit Duffel.  This backpack was not necessarily made for travel purposes, but for mountain bikers to put their gear in and place in whatever vehicle would meet them on their next stop.  Still, it has worked beautifully on many trips and been easy to take on airplanes.

Our reasons for traveling all carry-on and with backpacks instead of wheeled luggage for this trip included:

  • We knew we would be going on planes, buses, ferries, and encountering rough terrain in some of our locations.  (Not an ideal situation with wheeled luggage.)
  • We stayed in 5 different locations in 3 weeks and didn’t want to forget anything or spend a lot of extra time packing stuff up, or generally worrying about stuff.  Also, that means a lot of picking up luggage and carrying it around.  We wanted to be able to handle it!
  • We knew we would be flying a lot, so we didn’t want to spend extra time and money checking a lot of luggage.
  • We didn’t want to be tempted to shop and accumulate a lot of material things.

The trip was amazing.  The itinerary sounds grueling, however don’t be deceived.  Although we were able to pack a lot in, we spent an entire week in paradise.  It just took a few steps to get to paradise!  We met our favorite travel partner, Mike, in Bangkok and saw several sights there for a few days, then flew to Surat Thani in order to catch a ferry boat to Koh Phangan where we spent Christmas week on the beach.  After not enough time in Koh Phangan (there’s never enough time on the beach!), we took another ferry back to Surat Thani, where we stayed overnight.  The next day, we caught a flight to Penang, Malaysia, connecting through Kuala Lumpur.  We enjoyed staying in Georgetown over New Years and taking in the historic, beautiful sights and tastes.  I also spent a lot of time in Batu Ferringhi visiting my godson, who lives there with his beautiful family.  After our jaunt in Penang, we separated ways from Mike: he went to Kuala Lumpur to re-define his travel plan, and we took a flight to Bangkok to spend a few more days there before traveling back to Tashkent, with a stopover in Almaty.

So, with all of the climates and activities in mind, here is what my packing list looked like:

  • Outerwear: REI packable down jacket, Columbia rain jacket packed into an Eagle Creek packing cube, beanie and gloves, packable sunhat.
  • Shoes: Pearl Izumi running shoes (worn on the plane and travel days), Teva sporty casual sandals, Rainbow flip flops, Butterfly Twist ballet flats.
  • Bottoms:  Ann Taylor Ponte trousers (could pass as dress pants, or jean-like pants), 1 pair Nike running shorts, 1 pair printed casual shorts, 1 pair jean shorts.
  • Tops: 3 “dressy casual” short sleeved tops/t-shirts, 1 Lululemon sports top, 1 lightweight pink pullover.
  • Dresses:  1 printed sun dress that falls below the knee (wore to temples with a top over it to cover my shoulders), 1 casual dress that I usually threw on over my swimsuit.
  • Clothing extras:  bikini, scarf, sports headband, buff, nightgown, underwear, socks.
  • Personal Care Items:  travel hair straightener, toiletries separated by liquid vs. not liquid, emergency first aid kit, feminine hygiene products.  All separated into smaller bags/cosmetic cases to make it easier to find them and pack.
  • “Social”/Entertainment Items:  Exercise resistance band, collapsible water bottle, and several card games: Uno, Exploding Kittens, and one normal deck of cards for any other conceivable game.
  • Into the Longchamp Le Pliage Backpack purse went:  Electronics organizer with smartphone, kindle for beach reading, headphones, and necessary chargers; wallet, passport and other travel documents, cosmetics case, handkerchiefs.

Now that you’ve read about all of my packing, I’m sure you’re wondering how I managed to fit that into a 40L backpack.  Please enjoy my packing video.  This was shot on an iPhone 5S, on one of the rainy days in Koh Phangan.

As you can see, there was no way to get around doing laundry on this trip.  Drew packed our Scrubba Wash Bag in his 40L Timbukt2  Wingman Duffel, his carry-on bag of choice.  We washed out our clothes every day or every other day, and hung them to dry.  It is humid in Southeast Asia, and so we tried to wash something every day so we could easily cycle through our clothes and have them dry in time.  Once in Penang, we sent all our laundry out to a laundry service to pamper ourselves just a bit.  This worked well and helped us cut down on extra clothing clutter.

I know what at least some Michigan friends are going to ask:  Did I really need those jackets?!  The answer is YES!  Bangkok was actually pretty cold at night and I wanted the down jacket when we went up to the rooftop bar.  It rained for several days while we were in Koh Phangan, and I was happy that I had a rain jacket.  Finally, we spent a night in Almaty and wanted to venture out while we were there.  Almaty in January.  I wore both coats, the hat and gloves, and as many of my clothes as I could get on so that we could walk around and go to a beautiful Italian restaurant, making the bitter end of the vacation a bit sweeter.  So yes, I really did need those jackets!

Seeing several amazing places, friends, and the wonderful experiences that we had made this trip one we aren’t likely to forget!

2 thoughts on “Carry-On Travel: Thailand and Malaysia

  1. I like this a lot, A! Especially the packing cubes for clothes – I never do this and that makes things a mess. It was great to hear your voice again, and you’ve inspired me to pack lightly for my upcoming road trip to Tasmania!

  2. Funny enough, I was just thinking about you the other day when I ran across a rolled up pair of workout shorts. Guess I haven’t used them since our trip. Thanks for the advice on packing in a “conventional” suitcase as well!

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