When people ask me our favorite place that we visited on our trip around the world, I point to Vietnam. It’s a preternaturally cheerful country — I got hustled by the little old lady selling pastries in Ho Chi Minh, but she was so charming that I couldn’t even be mad. The food is amazing, healthy, and cheap. It has two bustling cities linked by overnight train and beautiful natural vistas in between. Even though we visited in the rainy season, we just loved it. I can’t recommend it enough!
So what should you pack for your adventure in Vietnam in the winter/rainy season? I got you. As always, this packing list is geared toward the 25-to-40-year-old woman who wants to pack light and be comfortable, but also wants to look nice. If you’re a backpacker, there are plenty of other packing lists out there for you. And also, as always, this list is a treasure trove of sustainable and ethical fashion.
Before we get into it, some general packing tips for Vietnam in the winter:
Down south on the island of Phu Quoc it will get up to the 80s, and as a vacation spot it’s a big more casual. But as you travel further north, it will get a little cooler. The mist rolling over the center of the country and Halong Bay is magical, but pack for rain! And know that it can feel a bit damp in Hanoi in the winter.
Vietnamese women tend to dress a little more modestly. Stick with shirts that at least have a modest-ish neckline and don’t have spaghetti straps. Plus, you may want to visit a temple or two, which would require you to cover your shoulders and legs.
Make sure nothing you bring is dry clean only. Seems obvious, but if you get sweaty you’ll want to be able to wash your stuff in the sink or drop it at a laundry place.
Got all that? Here’s what to pack so you’re prepared for every adventure in Vietnam, from spelunking in some of the biggest caves in the world to sipping cocktails on a luxury cruise.
I asked this woman if I could take a picture of her. You can see a bit of the current update of classic Vietnamese style
Your Traveling Outfit
I’m assuming you’re traveling from the U.S. or Europe, and you’ll be on the plane for many, many hours. But this outfit is also great for taking the overnight train in Vietnam which is extremely comfortable!
- Ably white t-shirt – Has stain-resistant technology, which is crucial if you’re traveling.
- Soft cotton yoga leggings – I recommend these. They’re so versatile and comfy!
- Sports bra
- Comfortable undies in natural fabric
- Wool socks – I love merino wool because it wicks away moisture and odor.
- Sweatshirt – Something fairly fashionable but in cotton.
- Trail running shoes – I would pack these if you think you’ll be doing any long hikes or spelunking (cave hiking). In black, these aren’t super dorky looking, and are smaller and lighter than hiking boots. But if hiking is really not your style, then I would suggest just simple white sneakers.
- Bumbag – I got into the habit of strapping a hip bag across my chest when I travel, because it gives me quick and secure access to my passport, wallet, and tickets, without me having to take off my backpack.
- Passport and Passport case
- Charging cord
- Mini wallet – There’s lots to choose from at O My Bag.
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses.
- Casual watch – You’ll be happier checking your wrist rather than pulling out your phone constantly. Here’s a list of sustainable watch brands.
- Uniqlo ultralight down jacket – This stuffs down into a tiny size so you can shove it in the bottom of your suitcase when you’re not using it.
Clothing and Accessories:
- Long-sleeved blouse in breathable fabric – this was great for visiting temples and is also nice to have if you are out at night and the mosquitos are trying to join you at dinner. Tradland has some great versions, and Sourcery has some washable silk options.
- 2 tank tops – in white and your other favorite color or pattern. Try Jungle Folk, Ziran, or Ohsevendays for some tanks that can go from the beach to the city and still look chic.
- Black-and-white striped long-sleeved tee – As a former French colony, Vietnamese still has a lot of that flavor. Try a Saint James tee.
- Reversible washable tie top – Tie it in the back and it’s a lovely top that goes with any bottom, from jeans to a skirt. Tie it in the front and it’s super sexy. Try Elizabeth Suzanne or Whimsy & Row.
- Long, loose, pants in lightweight fabric (a.k.a. pajama-style pants) – Many backpackers buy those cheap “elephant pants” you see everywhere, but I have a very strong feeling those are made in exploitative conditions. Instead, I suggest MATTER Prints, Par en Par, Forsythia, or Ziran’s silk petal pants.
- Sleeved knee-length or longer lightweight dress or romper – Par en Par does a great one, or check out Mirth, Ziran,or Accompany.
- Silk midi skirt – Vietnam loves silk, and this is versatile and lightweight. Try Whimsy & Row or Reformation.
- Lightweight cotton jacket – Try Par en Par or Akashi-Kama
- Workout tank for hiking and doing yoga – Find a good selection on Alternative Apparel, Asquith, Inner Fire, Prana, and Tasc.
- Merino wool zip-up – A dark grey color ensures if you layer it under a scarf or poncho, no one will know it’s for hiking.
- Athletic shorts – For hiking or other outdoor activities
- Cotton sarong – for drying your hair, wearing, and using as a beach towel in a pinch.
- Brimmed hat – This one rolls up so you can pack it instead of wearing it on the plane!
- Rain jacket with hood – Folds up tiny. You’ll definitely want this for rainy season!
Rachel Chuang and Linda Mai Phung, the managers of ethical factory Evolution3, are fresh and professional.
- Pajamas – I chose this set because I could wear the t-shirt separately out in public (and did!), and the shorts to the beach.
- Skinny belt – This one from Nudie is the perfect size for me because the last hole lets me use it for my jeans, and the first hole lets me wrap it around my waist.
- Flat-pack day bag – You could do a leather backpack from Raven + Lily, which I personally prefer, or pack an attractive reusable canvas or cotton bag that you have lying around.
- Swimsuit – Here’s a list of sustainable swimwear brands.
- Silk or cotton scarf – for tying back your hair or wrapping around your shoulders at a temple. I like Miss Pom Pom.
- Tevas – for short hikes, water sports, and showering in shared or outdoor bathrooms.
- 2 pairs of short wool socks
- One pair Birkenstocks – you will love me so much for suggesting these. They are incredibly comfortable and well-made, to the point where you could wear them every single day of your trip and be perfectly happy. I suggest you get them in simple black leather straps, so that you can wear them out to dinner or even to a bar without looking too much like a tourist.
- Hobes shoes – They flat pack and look super cute on.
- Neutral nice sandals – for something a wee bit fancier but still comfortable. Find a big selection on ABLE.
- Underwear – Here’s my 5 rules for packing undies for travel.
- Mpowered Luci light – I like this better than a flashlight because it’s lightweight, collapsible, will float on water, and is generally just like a pretty lantern, instead of the high beam of a flashlight that blinds anyone you accidentally train it on.
- Portable phone charging battery – These by Nimble are ethical and eco-friendly
- PurSteam traveling iron/steamer – this thing is tiny, but crucial!
- Travel yoga mat – So you can get a good long stretch in every morning, regardless of where you are. I fold mine up and pack it inside the suitcase
- Universal sink plug – So you can wash your clothing in the sink. I used mine constantly.
- Travel dry line – I like this one because it comes with a stuff sack.
- Waterproof reusable laundry bag – Things will get wet and you’ll want to put them in something waterproof…so synthetics wins out on this one.
- Travel sewing kit – I used this several times.
- Reusable sealable bags – I got these on the recommendation from a digital nomad blog, and I’m so glad I did. We’ve been using various sizes already for things that come up, but they take up no room in my suitcase side interior pocket.
- Luggage locks – Bring two! When we were in a camping situation with no safe, I put one on my suitcase and one on the tent zippers when we stepped out.
- Travel first aid kit – Get a basic one, then add in medications you’ll need, like malaria pills, altitude medication, ibuprofen, Imodium, etc. You can always get more medicine where you’re going, most likely, for cheaper than in the U.S.
- Plastic laundry bag – you could bring a real laundry bag, but many laundry places will take it and hand your stuff back to you in a sealed plastic bag. So just go with the flow on this one.
This waterproof and pickpocket-proof backpack is the best for travelers. If you’re taking a boat through choppy seas, or it’s raining, this will keep your stuff dry.
- Portable phone charging battery
- Lifestraw purifying water bottle
- Books/magazines – Put away your phone and indulge in some old-fashioned reading and relaxation.
- Earbuds – get the Bowery’s by LSTN
- Ear plugs – Get them on a string so you don’t lose them when they fall out
- Camera and lenses, extra battery, battery charger, extra memory cards – I love my compact but powerful Fuji x-t10, with a wide angle lens for landscape, architecture, and room shots; and a 50 mm lens for portraits and food.
- Camera battery charger
- Lens bag and camera bag
- Moleskine – for jotting down your deep thoughts
- Travel pen with carabiner
- Chico reusable bag with stuff sack
- Wide-mouth reusable coffee cup with sealable lid – Can be used for coffee, or also as a to-go container in a pinch for soup, fruit, snacks, etc.
- Sunglasses – here’s my shopping guide to the best eco sunglasses
- SPF chapstick
- Mini tube of SPF cream – It’s so handy to have this in day bag all times in case you find yourself in full sun. Here are my favorites.
- Hand sanitizer – It’s common that there’s no soap available, or you’ll fall in love with a stray kitten that you want to pet!
- Bamboo travel utensil set – so you don’t have to use disposable one in areas that have terrible or non-existent waste disposal. Make sure it’s plastic or wood (not metal) so it doesn’t get confiscated by airport security.
- Reusable straw – Most drinks don’t need straws, but mojitos and coconuts do!
- Pack of tissues – this isn’t for your nose, so don’t think I’m advocating this over a reusable handkerchief. It’s for bathroom emergencies.
- Reusable handkerchief – Yup, this one is for your nose, or you can use it as a napkin.
- Portable pillow
- Keychain wet bag
- Eye mask
- Adaptor – you could order this, or just pick one up in the airport as soon as you land, which I think is the simpler solution.
- Basic toiletries – Micellar water and cotton round, moisturizing face oil, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant (see below) – When spending more than 24 hours on planes, you’ll be happy to have access to these.
- Argan oil – I can’t live without argan oil for making my hair shiny and smooth, plus sealing in moisture on my face after a shower.
- Coola Tinted SPF BB cream – This is my absolute favorite tinted SPF moisturizer. It’s not too thick and makes your face glow!
- 1 lip tint – Something subtle and beach-appropriate
- Micellar water – I love traveling with Micellar water because you don’t need to use water for it. I like Yes to Cucumbers, which you can find in the travel size in your local CVS or Walgreens.
- Reusable cotton rounds
- Travel toothbrush and toothpaste – I have to admit, mine is plastic because I wanted a compact toothbrush with a protective cap.
- Deodorant – here’s my roundup of my favorites.
- Mesh shower bag – Having all my shower stuff in a separate bag is crucial to ensure I don’t leave things behind in the shower, because I see the empty shower bag when I’m packing and remember I need to fill it up.
- Shampoo and conditioner in travel size – I use conditioner for shaving, too. I refilled the mini bottles whenever I was in a hotel or place that keeps large bottles in the shower.
- Preserve razor made from recycled plastic
- Shower cap – I got one from Shhhowercap that wouldn’t be thrown away by the cleaning people the way small plastic ones are, but it came in over-the-top, wasteful packaging, so I don’t recommend it. But once I had it, I stuffed it in a little cotton bag.
- Sunscreen – Here’s my guide to non-toxic sunscreen.
- Dr. Bronner travel sized soap – Great for if the place you are staying doesn’t provide hand soap, or if you need to wash your clothes in the sink.
- Bugspray – My absolute favorite
- A Sea-band anti-nausea relief bracelet if you get seasick
- Menstrual cup – reusable, therefore you won’t have to go on a pilgrimage for tampons. Once you use it, you’ll never go back.
- Nail file – great for both filing and digging crud out from under your nails.
- Mini hairbrush
- Hair elastics
- Mini nail scissors