How I Travel Asia With Just a 7kg Carry-On

After two years of travel, I’ve finally fine-tuned the art of lightweight packing. So much so that I often have room to spare in my 7kg suitcase when I close the zipper for good!

I’ve travelled Indonesia with nothing more than a small backpack filled with bikinis and sunscreen. I made my way around the Thai islands and then home to Ireland dragging behind a small 7kg carry-on. I even went on a week’s trek through the jungles of Sumatra, directly followed by eight-day  stint in the Maldives, with nothing but my little luggage in tow; now that was a packing challenge!

It’s safe to say, I’ve got the skills for minimalist packing. Next week, I’m going to be embarking on a two-month backpacking trip around SE Asia, where I will be visiting Vietnam, Indonesia again, Northern Thailand, Laos and Sri Lanka.

I’ve been planning this trip for a while, as well as mentally preparing what I will pack on this trip. Below I will outline a few tips, tricks and rules that I live by when packing light.


The general rule I live by when packing clothes is to bring practical, versatile clothes, while trying to balance the style element.

I try pack clothes that will see me through any scenario. While travelling through Asia, you can find yourself visiting temples, sunbathing on the beach and trekking through forests all in one day! When packing, I pick up a garment and ask, can I do these three activities in this outfit? If not, it doesn’t make the cut.

Remember to pack with comfort in mind. Again, make a decision with an item when packing, and try predict whether you will wear it in the searing heat, or sitting for eight hours on a bus. For me, I’ve learned my lesson, and never pack denim shorts anymore. They are heavy in the suitcase and can be uncomfortable in the heat.

The main rule for packing for Asia is to dress appropriately. For this trip I am packing plenty of long maxi skirts. They’re comfortable, lightweight and stylish and you won’t feel out of place in while wandering around. There is nothing worse than seeing us Western tourists wandering around local villages in crop tops and booty shorts!

Makeup and Hair Appliances

The short and simple? I don’t bring them. I don’t pack hair dryers or straighteners, as they’re just completely pointless in serious humidity anyway. I usually just embrace the messy, matted curliness that is my hair and just deal with the aftermath when I return home.


As for makeup, I bring a small zip-lock bag of a few simple products that won’t weigh a tonne. I usually being a foundation and concealer with a compact of bronzer. I’ve given up on packing mascara, it just escapes down my face anyway ten seconds after applying it.

There are a lot of sacrifices to make when packing light, but my main mantra is “you don’t miss what you don’t pack”.


This may seem like a weird one, but I never pack a towel. Ever. They are big, bulky and unnecessary. Instead, I opt to being a sarong or two. Sarongs are so versatile, doubling up as a skirt/cover-up and a beach towel. They’re great for entering temples also, for covering your knees or wrapping around your shoulders.

The vast majority of accommodations these days, even the cheap ones, supply your room with towels. If I still really need a towel, I just buy one at my destination for a couple of dollars.


Again, I don’t pack these. I bring one pack of baby wipes for the plane as well as travel size deodorant and toothpaste to keep fresh. I just buy absolutely everything else I need when I arrive, including shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, moisturisers and body wash.


What is with us women and packing underwear like we’re preparing for the Apocalypse?!

I have one rule that I now live by when it comes to packing my intimates: it doesn’t matter how long I am travelling for, whether is two weeks or two months; I pack seven days’ worth of underwear. After day six, I simply go to the laundrettes or wash them old school in the sink…no shame!

Before I changed my packing ways, I used to fill every nook and cranny I could find in my suitcase with underwear, socks and bras! This alone will take up kilos and space, and with limited weight, this is something that can be cut from the budget!


This ain’t no poolside getaway to Ibiza ladies, be brutal and cut the swimwear down! Once you’ve cut it down, look at your stash, and cut again! This is always one of the hardest cuts for me as I live for my bikinis. While packing for this trip, I laid out all my bikinis (about twenty in total), and made the heart-wrenching decision to bring four!


NO matter what trip you are planning, there will generally be some form of activity involved. I always pack a pair of trainers for long walks and hikes. To keep the weight down in my suitcase while checking in, I always wear my trainers to the airport. This has often resulted in some questionable outfit choices, but as I said, sacrifices must be made!

As far as heels, fancy sandals, or unlimited amounts of Adidas Originals, forget about it. I limit myself to one pair of flip flops and one only.


I’m guilty of this section taking up a decent chunk of my 7kg. In my bag I bring a Kindle, iPad mini, phone, two portable battery chargers, my camera and my Sony waterproof camera.

There are small tricks I tend to do however to lighten the load. While checking in I usually carry my iPad, load my pockets with my phone and cables, and hang my camera around my neck. (I realise I’ve painted quite the sexy airport image of myself.)

I also use a three-way split charger to charge my appliances and I have invested in a multi-national plug adaptor also.

Other Tips

  • Packing cubes are a godsend when travelling for extending periods of time. They keep all your items neatly separate, so when searching for a particular garment, you don’t need to up-end your whole bag in the process
  • If you must bring liquids, buy a few travel-sized 100ml containers to fill with your lotions and potions
  • Wear your heaviest garments to the airport like shoes and jumpers
  • ALWAYS double-check your bag meets airport requirements of carry-on luggage. Not only are airlines strict on weight, they must also meet the required measurements to fit in the overhead compartments.

In the last year or two, budget airlines have become extremely strict on weighing carry-on luggage. If you do not get weighed at the check-in counter, do not think you are off the hook. Many airlines now weigh bags just before travellers board the plane, as to catch those who may have temporarily lightened the load to meet check-in requirements.

Bringing carry-on luggage has its benefits. Other than the obvious avoidance of luggage fees, the biggest perk in my opinion is not waiting at the carousel for your luggage to drift around.

Minimal packing is not easy, but once you get into the right mind-frame it can be done.

Keelin Riley
Keelin Riley

Keelin is an Irish travel writer with a degree in journalism and a background in the Irish media. Keelin’s travel writing has been published in various media publications, and when she’s not off gallivanting around the globe, she enjoys keeping Sun Scribes up-to-date for all those fellow budget travellers out there!

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