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What To Wear When Backpacking Through SE Asia

As we climb aboard our little ferry shipping us from Koh Tao to Koh Phangan with a thousand of our closest friends, I began to take notice of the types of people and more importantly the clothes that all of the backpackers around us were wearing. It was as if it were a stock-standard uniform that all backpackers must wear in order to travel through Southeast Asia.

We waited for our ferry, as it was 30 minutes late to the game, and more and more travellers started queuing up in a very disorganised haphazard mess. I sat there in my J. Crew White Chinos, which have been around the world and back, and will always be my favourite shorts (Shout out to my sorority for forcing me to buy them back in 2011 for recruitment!) I was in a bright blue v-neck and my converse sneakers. I wore my hair in a low bun, and had my circular-shaped sunnies on. As I looked around at my fellow travellers, I felt like I didn’t belong in the club.

So to all of you newbie backpackers out there – Here is the sure-fire way to “fit in” with the backpackers club through Southeast Asia, from head to toe.


When all else fails, wear a bathing suit!

1.) Headband/Bandana

Ahh the headband. Guys and and girls alike don the headband, possibly in an effort to hide the hair that hasn’t been properly washed in a few days. Either way, you have a wide variety of prints and styles to choose from – tie-dye, elephant, solid, thin, thick, cotton, polyester. Whatever your style, grab the closest headband, whip it over that pile of hair thrown on top of your head, and act like you couldn’t give a shit. BOOM – First step of SE Asia Backpacker Transformation complete.

2.) Super flowy, extra large tank

Again, guys and girls both wear this style – the kind wear the sleeves are completely cut down showcasing your ribs. Usually, the girls accompany this top with a super trendy bandeau, sports bra, bathing suit, etc. Something thats loose, allows air flow on hot days and also gives off the aura of zero shits given.

3.) Pub Crawl/Bar Tanks

Alternatively to the plain tank, you may also wear the many tanks you’ve regretted buying over the course of your travels as your backpack weighs more and more. Proclaiming loud and proud that you’ve been to Sakura Bar in Vang Vieng, or went tubing in Laos or attended the Full Moon Party in Koh Phangan. Any and all types of these “I party” statement tanks are encouraged if you want to fit in.


Note: Headband, Flowy Tank & Elephant Shorts. Nailed it.

4.) Elephant Shorts/Pants

This is an absolute must if you want to look like a tried and true backpacker. You can pick up one of these elephant-printed items pretty much anywhere around Thailand for around $4-10 USD. The price is worth it. You can mix and match with any colour – the more dysfunction the better. The shorts and pants are super baggy and loose, allowing room to breathe. I actually own two pairs of the shorts, because they’re the perfect combination of breezy and “I couldn’t care less about how I look.”

5.) Fanny Pack

I’m not too sure why, when or how the fanny pack came into style. I totally understand it’s practicality at a music festival or if you’re a mother of 9 at Disney World, but under no circumstances should it be a fashion statement. Yet, every backpacker I’ve seen wears one. You have your purse right there on your arm. What else could you have possibly not fit in your bag that you needed the fanny pack! Nevertheless, fanny packs come in all shapes and sizes, and similar to the elephant pants, the more colour and dysfunction the better.

6.) Sarong

If you don’t feel like putting on all of those clothes in the 100% humidity, wrapping a sarang around you will do just fine. But not just any sarang. It has to be the Backpacker approved Sarang, aka – elephant print, tie-dye, tribal, etc. Not only is it fashionable, but it’s also practical. You can use it as a dress, a skirt, a towel, a scarf, a cape.. If you’re not wearing it, you should have it with you at all times in case an opportunity arises to use it.


Rockin the sarang in Koh Tao.

7.) Anklets

Anklets. You need them. Buy them all. The less skin on your ankle showing directly correlates with how much of a “Backpacker” you are. That’s all.

8.) The “Someone Just Ran Over My Dog” Look

Maybe because it was 9 in the morning and everyone was hungover, but it seemed everyone hadn’t slept in four days and just heard the worst news of their life. The look of constant bewilderment was cast across all of their faces. I can attest to my days of backpacking of always feeling a bit lost, hungover and hungry at all times. All of which contribute to the look – the look that you too will soon master.

Basically, the more you look like you couldn’t give a shit about how you look, the better you look. Counter-intuitive I know, but I promise this is 100% guaranteed to get you into the club – a very coveted and special club to which I am only a partial member. Partly due to the fact that I care a little bit. At any rate, keep calm, wear your anklets and explore SE Asia with confidence and heaps of elephant print!

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  • Reply Zita July 15, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Hahahaha… This is funny because after spending about 8 weeks in Asia at the start of the year I know it’s true!! But I can honestly, hand on heart say that not one pair of elephant pants were purchased and I would have been similarly dressed as you!

    • Reply KP Schwan July 15, 2015 at 10:12 am

      Haha glad to hear you understand! It’s everywhere!!

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