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Five Things to Have in Your Pocket for a Trip to Southeast Asia

July 10, 2014 at 11:33 AM | by | ()

Ngoc Son Temple at Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi

It's a long trip from North America to Southeast Asia, so when you make the journey, you'll want to be as prepared as possible. For this travel writer, a few pocket-size things make all the difference, the value of most learned via baptism by fire. Stick these in your suitcase to make life easier next time you find yourself across the Pacific:

Pocket Poncho

Welcome to Southeast Asia, now prepare to get monsooned on at a moment's notice. This is especially true during the rainy summer months. Because the rain usually doesn't last long, carrying around a rain jacket or umbrella all day isn't exactly ideal. We recommend picking up some type of pocket poncho, small enough to fit in a purse or in a man's back/cargo pocket. After the rain, shake it out and return it to its packaging to keep your pants and purses dry.

Small Bills

Southeast Asia is very much a place where bartering is part of many financial transactions, especially those that occur at markets and on the street. The last thing you want is to talk someone down and have to ask for change. It will 1) annoy them and 2) mostly result in them saying they don't have change, thus forcing you to overpay or walk away. And even when there's no bartering, many shops, restaurants, and street vendors won't take large bills because they don't have the change. Be sure to break your big bills before heading out for the day to avoid such headaches.

Pen and Paper

Given the disconnect between the Asian languages and English, the common traveler might have a bit of trouble pronouncing things. To help with this, we humbly suggest carrying a small notebook, or at least a piece of paper, with you when you head out. This way you can write down recommendations and physically show them to people if you need directions. There is a big risk of miscommunication if you try to remember and recite everything by heart. A small inflection in your voice can make a big difference in the meaning in most Asian languages.

Plastic Bag

Even if you have a poncho, you'll still want to ensure your valuables are protected from the elements. Phones, cameras, cash, and a small notebook will all easily fit inside a quart-size plastic bag, which you can seal to keep the water out.


Even if you're writing down the names of places, the best way to communicate where you want to go is by providing an address, whether it's to a cab driver, concierge, or someone you stop on the street. It also is the way you will locate places on a city map - by the street name, not the business name. Get in the habit of pairing a point of interest with its address to help your navigational skills.

[Photos: Will McGough]

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