Staring at an empty suitcase, you're probably wondering: what to bring to Asia? Unless you'll really be going into the wild, chances are that you can buy whatever you forgot to pack. There are, however, a handful of items that may be tougher to locate, more expensive, or unavailable altogether in Asia.
Consider bringing these items with you
Although there are exceptions, it's best bring them from home:
▪ Deodorant: The deodorants in Asia rarely contain antiperspirant; many are just sticky perfumes. Others contain whitening agents — check ingredients carefully if they're listed in English.
▪ Sunscreen: Although whitening creams are common, locals may prefer to cover skin or carry an umbrella rather than apply sunscreen. Much of the sunscreen that you find will either be expired, will contain whitening cream, or will be expensive and less effective.
▪ Insect Repellent: Despite the prevalence of mosquitoes and dengue fever in tropical parts of Asia, the local insect repellent may or may not work effectively.
▪ Passport Photos: Some countries require one or two passport photos when you apply for visas, permits, or mobile phone SIM cards. Bringing your own official-sized photos will save the time, hassle, and expense of having photos made on the spot.
▪ Tampons: Women should bring tampons from home; they can be difficult to find outside of big cities in Asia.
▪ Small Compass: No need for anything fancy, just a small ball-style compass will do fine when your Smartphone maps aren't available or reliable. Sometimes directions come in the form of "turn west at the end of the road."
▪ U.S. Dollars: No matter the current state of the economy, the dollar still works well as a source of emergency funds in much of the world. The dollar is used frequently in Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos.
▪ Rain Cover: Luggage is sometimes put on top of buses and on the decks of ferries. A pop-up storm could leave your stuff soaked, even if you're not travelling during the monsoon season. A lightweight rain cover or simply a plastic garbage bag comes in handy for protecting backpacks.
Medicines and first aid
Pharmacies can be found throughout Asia, but your prescription medications may be sold under different names and labels. For convenience, bring a few medical essentials along. If carrying a lot of pills on an extended trip, bring along copies of a prescription or doctor's order. Many prescription medications can be purchased directly over the counter in Asia.
Items to carry at all times
▪ Toilet Paper: Many countries in Asia do not provide it in public toilets. Always keep some handy for encounters with squat toilets. Don't flush toilet paper unless you're certain doing so won't cause a problem.
▪ Hand Sanitizer: Those same public toilets that do not have toilet paper also will not have soap for washing your hands afterward.
▪ Smartphone or Small Camera: The most random things can be seen when wandering the streets of big cities in Asia — be prepared!