How to Pack for 3 Months with a Carry-On to Southeast Asia

Does packing light seem as impossible and as painful as walking on hot coals?  I’m here to help!   People often ask how I manage to look put-together while traveling without overpacking. I’m always so flattered to hear this because I feel that I am a sweaty dirty mess in most pics, but luckily people don’t look that closely! I have been trying to travel lighter and lighter but I’m always taking notes to pick up new tricks.  My greatest success thus far was managing to pack everything I needed for an extensive trip to Southeast Asia with just an international-sized carry on (20 inches) and a small backpack(#Humblebrag). I will try my best to explain how to pack for 3 months with a carry-on.

Reasons Why You Should Travel Light

Overpacking is the worst. Can we just talk about that for a moment?  Traveling with more than you truly need adds nothing to your trip and takes away much.

1.  The unwieldy-ness of having a large or heavy bag can be problematic. Often while traveling you will find hotels or subways with no elevators or broken escalators and be forced to (gasp) carry your bag up and down stairs or lug it on and off of trains, buses, ferries, camels, or whatever your mode of transport is.

2.  You will find that small cars may not be able to fit your ridiculous gigantic suitcase. Oh sorry, Judgy McJudgerson rears her red head sometimes.

3.  You will find yourself walking less and paying more for taxis even when you are just a short distance from your lodging. Don’t you want to eat more gelato? Walk people, walk!

4. It keeps everything simple.

I hope I’ve convinced you to pack light. I have been trying to improve upon this for years and I’m by no means perfect.  It just takes strategy.  Trust me, it is worth it.

Lightening your load equals more portability and more freedom.

Strategies for Packing Light

What Activities Will You Be Doing?

The first thing to do is to figure out what you need clothing for. Are you climbing a mountain, hitting the clubs, stuffing your face at Michelin star restaurants or lounging on a beach with an umbrella in your drink?  I am usually doing all of the above!  I suggest choosing one entire outfit of each type you need and lay it on your bed with the shoes for it on the bottom. Take a look at everything and see if the various items coordinate and allow for mixing pieces. Can you wear your “walking around the city” shirt to a bar or party in the evening? Can the hiking shirt double as an “exploring temples or museums” shirt or at least be slept in?

Obviously, your athletic gear may not coordinate with dressing up clothing, so use some common sense. If things clash too much, go back in your closet and redo those 3 outfits until they all somewhat coordinate. Now we’re talking.  You can build on these basics. Maybe the trip is beach heavy with only one hiking trip planned. Ok, then bring two bikinis and coverups. They don’t take much room anyway, right?  Pick a few shirts of various sleeve length that go with the bottoms. Maybe throw in a dress or two.

What is the Weather at Your Destination?

If you are traveling to a place with only one type of weather, no brainer. If you have multiple weather situations, it will be more challenging.

Cold Weather

This is the toughest because it requires larger things. Pick one jacket, preferably one that is warm, matches everything and will look nice when you go out for a dressier occasion. If you are doing more sporty outdoor activities, you may want a warm jacket that is also waterproof. If you bring two outwear items, one could be worn on the plane. Pick one pair of rugged boots for outdoors and one more refined for indoors. Done. Add a couple of scarves, hats, and gloves for color. The rest doesn’t matter as much because it’s not really seen in pictures very often. It’s vital that all your tops match all your bottoms so you can have more options with less items. Wear the largest or heaviest shoes on the plane.

Warm Weather

Combination tank top and short sleeves plus a lightweight rain parka is how I roll. One scarf or wrap for when you need to cover your shoulders for religious places or if it is cold indoors such as on a plane. You only need three shoes. One sporty/rugged, one comfy sandal that can be walked in all day and maybe a flip flop for the beach.  You can find flip flops that are pretty enough to be “going out” shoes. Forget those heels. I’m vertically challenged and used to galavanting around Miami in 5-inch stilettos. If I can give them up for travel, anyone can!

All Weathers

This is where super strategery is needed. Yes, I said strategery (Thanks Dubya!).  If you need clothes for all weather conditions including hot, cold, and rainy, you need to be incredibly selective. One pair of shorts, one dress, one pair of jeans or other pants plus a variety of tank tops, short sleeve and long sleeve tops that all coordinate should do the trick. You can bring a tiny lightweight fold-up rain parka and one warmer jacket. Everything needs to match if you want to pull off a small suitcase.

Read More: What’s In My Carry-On?

Choose Your Shoes Wisely

A good comfortable walking shoe may double for light hiking. If you plan on more rugged hiking, you will need an appropriate shoe or boot. A pair of ballet flats is easy to pack and makes outfits look slightly dressier. I suggest no more than 3 pairs of shoes maximum for a short trip and 4 for a long trip (and I’m including ballet flats and flip flops in this longer trip). For my 3 months in SouthEast Asia, I was planning to do some hiking, lots of beach and boating activities but also lots of walking in cities. These are the shoes I took.

Merrill Aerosport Trekking Shoes

These are rugged, light and meant to dry quickly so they are great for trudging through streams or whatever you get into. Furthermore, they keep your feet cool in hot climates. Perfect for southeast Asia. They are so comfy that  I sometimes wear without socks.

Grendha sandals

This brand is inexpensive and lightweight. It is a flip-flop that you can wear to the beach or out to dinner because they are so pretty!

Born Sandals

This brand is incredibly comfortable. They are called Born Eva Gladiator Sandal.   Honestly, I lived in them. I walked all day in them, did light hiking in them and walked in water with them. If they die, I may have a meltdown.  Please Born, keep making these!!!

Converse Chuck Taylor

Everyone loves these. They are light, easy to pack, can be thrown in the washing machine, plus they go with everything. Also. I love all the cool colors they come in. Perfect travel shoe. I have worn these frequently on every single trip in the past few years and mine literally died from overuse in the middle of this trip. RIP light grey Chucks.


Paring down toiletries is always tough for the ladies, especially when our daily beauty regimens involve enough products to fill up an entire room! How does one take that hydrating, purifying, de-puffing, anti-aging, anti-ugly skin care and hair regimen on the road, not to mention makeup and the brushes? Women’s bathrooms seriously look like a complicated science project.

Read More: Ultimate Skin Care Tips for Traveling

Tiny Bottles are Your Friends

Ok…breathe. Go get yourself some tiny bottles. The 4 oz bottles that are usually sold for travel are too big. There may be one product that you need that much of (for me that’s sunblock). The rest should be only 2 oz. These are harder to find. A trick is to empty out little 0.79 cent Purel or other hand sanitizer bottles, rinse well and use those. Perfect size. Also, get tiny jars. These are great for that hair serum you only use a teeny bit of or for eye cream.   If you can’t find them, use a contact case. These can have multiple uses. I put triple antibiotic ointment on one side and hydrocortisone cream on the other side and it goes with my first aid stuff.

This is a fantastic travel-sized skincare set that includes cleanser, moisturizer, and anti-aging serum. These are medical grade products developed by a plastic surgeon in Miami using stem cell technology. That is science talk for it makes your skin look younger! It’s called RxGenesys and available on Amazon.

Look for combination products. I use the IT Bye Bye Foundation moisturizing sunblock with mild coverage, sort of like a light foundation. Boom…3 products in one! This is a favorite of mine and it is cruelty-free.

Some other hacks that I use to simplify the make up regimen is to use my everyday lipstick shade also as blush.  I add gloss to lips to snazz it up if I’m feeling fancy. During the day, I sometimes just use balm with SPF.  I take a basic waterproof mascara and one smaller sample of a more dramatic one.  ONE neutral eyeshadow that goes with everything and just one travel-sized shadow brush is all I bring. I have compact powder (with SPF) in my handbag. Done. What more do you really need? Nobody knows you when you travel. Nobody knows how fabulous you normally look and is thinking, “boy did she let herself go”.

Game the System

To pack for 3 months, I try to cheat whenever possible. I cheat with the liquids. I put sunblock, eye cream and eye drops all in the makeup bag. Shhh, don’t tell TSA!

Call me crazy but if you are really low on toiletry space, consider leaving your body wash, body lotion and shampoo at home. These products are provided at most hotels. If they are not, they are easily found. I find the conditioner the most vital part of my hair routine. If you are staying in lower budget accommodation, you should bring your own.

Find a product that doubles as both shampoo and body wash! A great product to have for hair and skin is either coconut oil or argan oil. You can use this to moisturize the ends of your hair if it is straggly, as an overnight moisture mask for hair or face, as cuticle oil or even as body moisturizer.

Other stuff I take is mosquito repellent (the individual pads are nice for avoiding annoying liquid carry-on regulations)  and laundry detergent. I recently discovered these environmentally friendly laundry detergent paper sheets. They are light as a feather and no liquid, no packaging!!!

Exactly What I Took


Pack 3 months carry on

All the techie stuff is the heaviest and most valuable. I make sure these things are never checked.

Pictured here:

  • Lightweight 11-inch laptop
  • headlamp
  • various outlet adaptors
  • backup phone charger
  • waterproof phone case
  • Sony alpha-6000 mirrorless camera with zoom lens, portable tripod and back up batteries
  • Kindle (my baby)
  • GoPro with all of its accouterment including
    • stick with detachable tripod adaptor
    • cell phone adapter for GoPro stick
    • red filter
    • back-up batteries

Whew! All of this goes into my backpack for transit because this stuff is pricey and I want it with me at all times on buses, planes, etc. FYI, I don’t always schlep all this stuff everywhere once I have lodging and can lock things in my bag or a safe.

The grey packing cube holds all the chargers plus some of the smaller things shown.  These all fit easily into my backpack.


Pack 3 months Carry On

This is the backpack I use. It is designed for women and has space for a water bladder (I purchased a 2 L Camelbak).  J’adore this backpack.


In general, choose fabrics that don’t wrinkle easily (or look ok wrinkled), are lightweight, easy to wash and quick drying. Roll clothes to save space.
Pack 3 months carry on

Pictured above:

  • two rompers
  • one sundress
  • one pant
  • one long dress
  • two shorts
  • two tanks

Not shown (because they didn’t fit in the picture):  two short sleeve shirts, one white and one blue, both nice enough to walk around in but they are meant to be athletic as well. Thank you Fabletics!  All of these went into the largest packing cube.

Pack Carry One 3 monthsPictured here:

  • one pair black athletic yoga pant leggings
  • one long sleeve UV rash guard for snorkeling
  • two bikinis/two cover-ups (one doubles as a sundress, the other as long top)
  • two sports bras
  • two tanks for sleeping or hiking or whatever
  • one yellow fold up rain jacket
  • one travel towel
  • one pair rubber flip-flops that look dressy

I spent over 5 weeks in beachy places, hence the vast amount of beachy stuff. I always like to be ready for rain, but with the heat, I only needed the lightest smallest rain jacket I could find.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Pack 3 months carry onShown here:

  • First aid kit comprised of band-aids, blister pads, Neosporin spray (has lidocaine for pain relief) and triple antibiotic cream.
  • powder detergent packets  *Note I took many more of those packets but couldn’t show them all.
  • mosquito repellent packets
  • dry sack and wet sack (Clear one keeps the phone from getting wet and the grey one keeps wet stuff away from other things)
  • aqua shoes for beaches with coral or rocks
  • outlet expander (very necessary in places with one outlet in the room)
  • water treatment drops…just in case!
  • Not pictured:
    • nail polish remover wipes
    • various packets of samples of products I hoard and travel with
    • 2 travel hangers
    • travel sink stopper and clothesline

All of this goes into one packing cube.


How to Pack for 3 Months:  Putting it All Together

Pack 3 month carry onTop Row: My toiletry bag and Shoes. I love the Truffle brand clear pouch. It fits TONS of small bottles and has a handy ring for hanging on a hook.
Bottom Row:  From the left, the small grey bag holds all the miscellaneous stuff in the previous picture. The next bag is all the bathing suits, athletic stuff and cover-ups.  The third bag is underwear, socks, and some t-shirts.  In the last bag are all the bigger clothing items.

Plane/Travel Outfit

Pack 3 month Carry on

Let’s face it, not many of us can pull off stylishly sashaying through the airport like Victoria Beckham. I like to be comfortable, but not look like I’m ready for a wild night on my couch with Netflix and wine popcorn! I wore this same outfit on trains, buses or anytime I needed to be somewhat warm (which isn’t often in Southeast Asia).  The little purse was mostly only for going out at night and I packed it into my backpack for travel as to not have more than 2 items of carry-on.

Yes, it all fits!

Everything smushed in there and strapped and I didn’t even have to use the expander.  Voila!

A Few Caveats

I’m going to share a few secrets. I bring “disposable clothes”. I’m not advocating being wasteful and buying something that you plan to dispose of. This means things I already have that I don’t mind saying good-bye to. Cheap clothing, old clothing, or things I never liked that much but want to use fall into this category.  Thus, I can replace things along the way and make room for new things.  This is how I keep my wardrobe fresh on an extended trip. I was lucky to be in Asia, where buying new clothes is affordable. I never just throw clothing away.  I sometimes donated clothing to a maid. Some cites had donation centers like one in Chiang Mai, Thailand where they helped refugees from Myanmar. After I went on an impulsive “crack-addict-like” shopping spree at a night market in Thailand, I ended up shipping stuff back to the US. Some of my clothes literally fell apart from overuse. My point is, traveling light doesn’t mean you can’t look cute or buy new things. There’s always a way!

Regarding toiletries, not all of my products lasted 3 months so I did have to replace certain items along the way. In my efforts to be environmentally responsible, I attempted to refill my bottles rather than purchase new small bottles. Sometimes buying a new bottle couldn’t be helped, but I always try to recycle those containers somehow.

Regarding weight, many Asian and European airlines have weight limits for carry-on, anywhere from 7 to 10 kg. Hence, even with my lightweight suitcase, it was very hard to limit my weight. Mine weighed 10 kg but I still was forced (at gunpoint) to check it. However, having a smaller bag definitely made my life easier on this journey!

Shop My Gear


Camera plus accessories

Sony Alpha 6000 Mirrorless


Zeagoo Lightweight Rainwear Active Outdoor Hoodie Cycling Running Windbreaker

Packing Cubes


Osprey Tempest 20


Travelpro Maxlite 4 International Sized

I hope this is helpful and that I was able to convey my crazy jumbled thoughts (aka strategy) coherently! If you have any questions either comment or contact me. I’d love to hear your tips as well since there’s always room for improvement!

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Pack for 3 Months in Carry On

About The Author

Cherene Saradar

Cherene is a travel expert with 30 years of experience in over 100 countries and 7 continents. She has traveled solo to over 50 countries. She is also a nurse anesthesiologist with over 20 years of healthcare experience. Her passions include wildlife travel and visiting wine regions of the world.


  1. My 15 Travel Essentials - Wandering Redhead | 9th Jan 20

    […] How to Pack for 3 Months with a Carry-On to Southeast Asia […]

  2. cynthia282 | 18th Jun 17

    I am SO impressed! Thanks for the great tips…i will pick your brain more when I see you tomorrow!

  3. Hannah | 18th Jun 17

    I have to admit- I am not a great packer! But I am slowly getting better, and having recently done a couple 2 week trips (rather than my usual 4 month trips) its SO much easier. Especially with the cost of luggage today too.

  4. lincalinca | 17th Jun 17

    I went to read this article for the tips and noticed the Grendha name, thank you for reminding me of this amazing brand! This were my absolutely favorite sandals I ever had, they broke last year and I somehow didn’t think then to take a picture of them to keep the size info at least, so had totally forgotten about them. Going online shoe shopping now!

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      Grendha has so many cute shoes. I want all of them!

  5. Maša | 17th Jun 17

    Wow this one is really useful! Will use it the next time when traveling with a carry on (for much less days :D)

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      Haha glad it could help!

  6. Meg | MeanderWithMeg | 17th Jun 17

    I am so impressed this came in at only 10kg! It’s so liberating to travel light; it saves so much time and hassle in all aspects of travel. I am a recent convert to packing cubes and i love them. I’ve never been brave enough to travel for an extended trip with just a carry on. I have always taken a larger backpack that weighs around 14kg. One day I’ll have to test myself and do the carry on challenge for 3 months!

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      Mine gained weight throughout the trip and eventually weighed 14 kg. LOL. I would love to take backpack but haven’t found one that doesn’t hurt my back.

  7. trilingualtraveleram | 17th Jun 17

    I am super impressed!!! Even when I take just a week or 2 week-long trip, I feel like I don’t even know where to start! I’m very intrigued by those Born Sandals you mentioned…I may have to look into getting a pair 😉

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      I’m obsessed with my sandals. I should have bought several pairs!

  8. aniahalama | 17th Jun 17

    Great tips here, I love the small tripod you have, I’m in a market for a lightweight one.

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      I got it at Best Buy and it is super light and about $40, but honestly it’s a starter tripod. It is not the sturdiest thing. I may invest in a better one.

      • aniahalama | 18th Jun 17

        Dang, thanks though 🙂 I have a slightly bigger one than yours but it’s so bulky, even though its small its still super too bulky if you’re traveling light

  9. Ellie Mae | 17th Jun 17

    I can see myself accomplishing this with the planning you’ve outlined. We are going to SEAsia next year for five months – or longer! You’re all weather ideas are common sense and practical, and I too replace things as needed as I go. (I’m in Central America at the moment.) We use old, crappy bags at the moment and I’m going to give yours a closer look- they look handy and other travelers seem to like the osprey 20.

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      That backpack is the bomb and I throw it in the washing machine when it gets too grubby. SE Asia is nice because only one weather situation for the most party. And lots of inexpensive clothes to buy:) Good luck in SEA. 5 months sounds heavenly.

  10. chikonahoka | 17th Jun 17

    OK It seriously never occurred to me to re-use my old contact lens cases as travel size containers. That’s a good tip! I’m contemplating packing for a Nepal trekking trip where I’m looking at subzero at 4000m followed by with Uttar Pradesh where presumably in August it won’t be… that. It all has to fit into one 50L backpack. Ha!

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      I love the contact lens case for travel!!! Nepal sounds amazing !!!!

  11. Kavey Favelle | 17th Jun 17

    We’ve had to pack light occasionally, but not for such a long trip. However, for one of ours, we had a hard limit of 12 kg per person including carryon and we wanted to take a lot of much heavier camera gear, so we had to be creative, much like your advice above!

    • csaradar | 18th Jun 17

      Those weight limits are soooo hard. Usually put your heavy stuff in a backpack. It’s rare to have the backpack weighed. Usually it’s out of sight and they ignore it!

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