Every trip has its own set of packing requirements. For short weekend trips it’s easy to throw stuff in a bag last minute, long backpacking treks require more planning ahead and items that can serve different duties, and moving to a new country is too overwhelming to to think about.
How can you pack for all seasons at once? What household items should you bring to help set up your new life? While you be able to find the correct medicines you need? What about cheese?
When I was getting ready to first move to Thailand I was stressing out about what to take with me, particularly what clothing I should have for working as a teacher in Thai schools. I had no idea what to expect and all the information or advice I came across was either vague (I read teachers are supposed to wear ‘polite clothes’ over and over — what does that even mean??) or contradictory (one girl told me she wore modest dresses from Urban Outfitters and cardigans – sweaters in tropical Thailand?! – and an owner of a language school said she expected her female teachers to wear nylons and heels). I also wasn’t sure what I would be able to buy once I was in Thailand. Of course I knew there would be plenty of clothes, but would I be able to find items that I actually liked and that fit me? I still have never even tried to buy shoes in Thailand figuring my feet are just too big.
While you can get practically anything you need in Thailand, and throughout much of Southeast Asia, certain things are definitely more difficult to find, more expensive than they would be at home or just not quite…right. Many things also seem to break, tear, stretch, fall apart quickly, so purchasing something is always a gamble.
The items below do not make up an exhaustive list of what to pack when you’re moving to Southeast Asia, but they do help eliminate some uncertainty about what to bring and what to not worry about. While many of the suggestions are geared toward women, there are also several items that are just as relevant to men – the skin whitening craze over here isn’t limited to just girls…
(If you’re just traveling through Southeast Asia, check out this post for what to pack and what to leave behind.)
It’s quick and easy to get medications, many over the counter, throughout Southeast Asia. In fact, for most minor ailments people simply go to the pharmacy and pick up what the pharmacist recommends instead of visiting the doctor – you can even buy birth control pills without a prescription. However, it’s always important to stock up on any prescription medications before you travel. While you may be able to find what you need while abroad, make the move with plenty of refills to give you time to figure out your next source.
Depending on your size (and style preferences) you’ll want to bring pants and shoes from home. Since it’s hot all the time, people often wear sandals and flip flops but it’s good to have a couple pairs of closed toed shoes, sneakers, or dress shoes too, especially for working. Also, while you may have just worn shorts and flowy Aladdin-style harem pants traveling through Southeast Asia, living over here is slightly different. You get more used to the heat…and realize how ridiculous most of the travelers look. You will wear real pants and jeans (I now wear skinny jeans through most of the year) and have occasions where you need to look nicer than when you were traveling, particularly for work.
Yes, there’s deodorant here. However, it seems like places only sell the liquid kind with a roller ball (which is not commonly used in America), and the women’s deodorant almost always has whitening agents in them. You can find non-whitening deodorant in larger stores or shopping centers (like the large Tesco Lotuses in Thailand), but you often won’t even get the option in smaller shops.
There are plenty of skin products available – and many of them have whitening agents. Cleansers, lotions (for men and women), and make up all have whitening effects. Also, if you have space, I’d bring sunscreen from home too. You can get it here, but it’s only for foreigners and the prices are jacked up.
Bring any must-have make up items with you. I tend to bring foundation, powder and bronzer from home (bronzer doesn’t exist in Asia since all the girls want to be whiter) from home but buy eyeliner, mascara, eye shadow etc. here.
Bra shopping is rarely fun. It’s even less enjoyable when you’re in a foreign country, don’t know where to go, and many of the grown local women still wear an A-cup. Sizes are also sometimes listed differently which just adds to the frustration and confusion. Stock up on good quality bras and underwear when you’re at home that will last you a while – it’s just easier.
For some reason, tampons are not widely used here which means they’re much more difficult to find, if you find them there are few options, and they’re pricier than sanitary pads. All the women I know living in Thailand buy extras when they’re home or request them when people visit.
Considering how long you’ll be away from home, and how much space you have in your luggage, think about some small, random things that you either can’t live without or that would be a nice reminder of home. For non necessities, I tend to bring back chocolate chips, big jars of peanut butter, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and splurge on some good smelling candles that remind me of being back in Seattle. Other common things I’ve heard of people bringing are wine, vitamins, and socks.
What did I miss? Do you live in Southeast Asia? What do you bring or miss from home? Let me know in the comments below!
Hey! I'm Alana and I've spent nearly the past decade living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, working as a writer and photographer. I started Paper Planes as a place to share local insight, special places, and how to travel well through a range of experiences — from hostels to high-end hotels, street meat to multi-course meals.
New places are always calling my name...
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