How to pack for Indonesia largely depends on which of its 17,000+ islands you’ll be visiting. With that many islands and countless more cultures each adhering to a very set collection of fashion faux-paus, packing for this country can be a little overwhelming. And as a woman, when packing gets tough, the tough get over-packing. I brought way too much with me, leaving me in quite a predicament as I now try to pack all my souvenirs, gifts, and clothes to take home.
Here’s a packing list I’ve constructed by learning from my mistakes:
It’s important to note that although Indonesia is located in the tropics of South East Asia and is as hot and humid as primordial soup, it isn’t all tanks, bikinis, and shorts. In fact, on most islands those items would be considered very offensive to wear in public. On the most popular islands of Bali, Lombok, and the three Gili islands it’s perfectly acceptable to show some skin, and those items may be all you need to pack. However, if you’re going to travel a little deeper into the country while being culturally sensitive, you’re going to need a bit more.
1. A Bikini
Chances are if you’re going to Indonesia, you’ll be hitting the beaches of the main tourist islands, and hey, there’s no shame in that! They are gorgeous islands with rich culture and a lot to offer, so go ahead and pack a bikini…or two if those are the only places you’ll go.
2. Tank Tops
It’s hot, hot, hot in the tropics, but again these will really only serve you on the less conservative islands such as the Gili Islands, Bali, and Lombok.
Short shorts are fine at tourist hot spots. If you’re going to Java some of the more conservative islands, your shorts should be at least knee-length to avoid disapproving stares.
4. Sandals with Tread
Rain loves Indonesia, but Indonesia loves marble tile. Most flip-flops have little to no tread and this will be a problem if your idea of making an entrance is not sliding in on your bottom. Also, rivers of rainwater have been known to sweep flip-flops right off of the feet of unsuspecting pedestrians (me). I suggest strapping in.
5. A Maxi Dress with Sleeves
This will be a great item to dress up on any island appropriately. Even most Balinese temples won’t allow women in if their shoulders and knees are not covered. A long dress with some sleeves will get you admission to the temples and look great in photos. Double Whammy!
T-shirts are pretty universally appropriate, just make sure your neck-line isn’t bearing cleavage.
Jeans will protect your legs from mosquitoes and will come in handy if you visit higher altitude places such as Mount Bromo on Java where the sunrise is breathtaking, but chilly. If you plan on visiting mountains I’d bring a long sleeve shirt and a jacket too.
8. Long or 3/4 Sleeve Rash Guard
Java has some of the most beautiful beaches that are often less crowded than those of Bali, but the catch is that if you want to experience the beaches, you shouldn’t be wearing a bikini because the Javanese culture calls for a more conservative dress code.
9. Knee Length Board Shorts
These will compliment your rash guard quite nicely for appropriate swimwear on Java.
10. A Lightweight Rain Coat
Sometimes it rains, sometimes it pours, sometimes it seems like the sky is a relentless waterfall, and then sometimes it floods. Even though the sky will be falling on you, it’s hot so keep it lightweight.
11. Athletic Shoes
Many people only imagine themselves laying out on beaches in tropical paradise, but hiking in the jungles or climbing the craters of volcanoes also beckon. Don’t let not having the right footwear limit your adventures!
1. Snorkel Gear
The sea life is just about as amazing as you’d expect it to be, thus the rental gear is just about as used as you’d expect it to be. Investing in your own mask and snorkel is a smart move.
2. A Go Pro
The Go Pro records HD video and pictures and is waterproof. It’s definitely one of my very favorite things to bring to beach adventures. I do suggest a DSLR for the best quality photos on land though.
3. A Good Backpack
There are countless opportunities for day trips, adventures, and excursions in Indonesia and a good backpack will get you through them all.
4. Travel Power Adapter
Different types of outlets can come as a total shock for a first time traveler (pun intended). The outlets in Indonesia generally conform with European plugs. An adapter with multiple options is a great investment for any traveler.
5. A Kindle
Waiting is a part of traveling plus Indonesia operates on rubber time. Having a good book will make long waits go faster and be great to dive into while you’re laying out on those tropical beaches sipping on a coconut.
6. Hair Ties
If you’re picky about your hair ties, bring your own. The ones that are in style in Indonesia are reminiscent of the no tie shoelaces: tight coils of plastic formed into a ring.
If you use tampons, you should BYOT. With the exception of tourist hot spots, you won’t be able to easily locate tampons.
What NOT to Pack
1. Shampoo/ Conditioner/ Toilet Paper/ Mosquito Repellent
Don’t go overboard on your toiletries as most can be bought in Indonesia at a fraction of their western price. Unilever has made its way over to this side of the world and brands like Ponds, Pantene, Loreal, and many others are widely available. Toilet paper may not be typically used in Indonesia, but it’s in every convenience store. Remember to BYOTP to most public toilets.
Why take the risk of losing your Ray-Bans when you can buy a pair of knock offs almost anywhere for around $3?
5. Anything Suede or Leather
Rain + Humidity = Moldy Ruined Leather Products
6. Thong Underwear
After living in Indonesia for a year and a half, long gone are the days when I used to worry about panty lines. When you travel, so does your gastro-intestinal tract. Instead of getting into graphic detail, I’ll leave you with this: just bring boy-shorts. Lots of them.
7. A Towel
You can pick up a towel at almost every Indomart convenience store.
8. Expensive Jewelry
Indonesia is not a rich country and wearing expensive jewelry will serve as a bulls-eye for pick pockets and work against you in negotiating a price for souvenirs.
Pack Wisely. Bon Voyage!
My Pinterest packing list: For the brands and links to the items shown