I often get asked for Indonesia packing tips, and while I’d credit anyone who reads my blog with enough intelligence to choose and pack a bag, maybe it will be useful after all.
Travelling in Indonesia can present some challenges. The challenges come from:
- Indonesia is an equatorial tropical mountainous archipelago. This means that it is hot, frequently wet, and humid at low altitudes. However, it’s also cold at higher altitudes, and has lots of islands and potential for boat travel. You can freeze like a popsicle on a mountainside or become fried crispy on the deck of a boat.
- Much of Indonesia is populated by fairly conservative people. This means that in any one day, you could be moving through cosmopolitan people going about their business, scudding through choppy seas on small canoes, wading through knee-deep mud in a rice paddy, and then sitting down to dinner at a mountain restaurant. (This would be a fairly long and strange day, but you get the idea!) Most of the travel I do ranges widely in formality. If I meet local officials like the walikota (mayor), bupati (regional leader), business people or military staff, they generally wear, and expect you to wear, smart clothes like chinos, trousers, shirts, batiks or uniforms. Jeans are probably not acceptable. I also try to dress properly for other occasions like restaurant dinners, snorkelling trips, hiking or shopping. I’ve heard from many people that it’s important not to look like ‘bule miskin’ (poor foreigner) if you want to be accepted and welcomed.
- I’m from northern Europe. My eyes are blue and my skin is fair. A typical hot summers day in my hometown is about 25°C., the wind is usually noticeable and the air is dry. Indonesia is frequently 30-35°C or hotter, dropping to about 28C at night. There is often little wind. If you are from hot or Mediterranean places, you will fare better, but for me, it’s hot, sweaty and close-feeling with humidity a lot of the time. If it’s not like that it’s going to be hot and dry, or cold, or wet. What is certain is that there will be weather of some sort and it has the potential to be remarkable in one dimension or another.
- If you are going to high altitudes, it will be cold. Beaches will be hot. Forests will generally be hot and wet. Nearly any place could have heavy precipitation at any moment. If you are going to urban areas, most people will be wearing ‘normal’ clothes. Outside of major cities, you won’t be able to buy sunscreen, or insect repellent of any real strength.
Unless I’m hiking, I prefer a small suitcase and hand luggage. If hiking, a backpack of around 40L is generally enough. For multi day hikes, you’ll probably hire guides and porters to carry food and water unless you are Bear Grylls, or on a budget that is so tight you don’t care if you die alone, far from home.
- Two long sleeve shirts. Columbia , Jack Wolfskin, Rohan
- One Batik shirt
- One pair light trousers. Rohan
- One pair knee shorts. Gap
- Two t-shirts
- Swimmers – speedo
- Travel towel
- Travel Umbrella – Life Venture
- Undies and socks – try to pack as many undies as possible, socks depends on footwear choice.
- Sandals – Keen
- Formal trainers – I like DC shoes. Comfy, smart, but not too stiff.
- Medical kit (fast n light first aid, plasters, iodine, Diatab and Ciprofloxacin) – Don’t expect your medications, first aid kit etc to last forever in hot conditions. Try not to hurt yourself, or travel with people who have a cavalier approach to longevity.
- Swiss Army Knife – Camper
- Head torch – Petzl
- Toiletries – Don’t forget ‘normal’ things like soap and toothpaste are widely available. Special deodorants or fragrances less so!
- Sunblock, sun cream (SPF30 minimum), insect repellent.
- Hat, sunglasses, buff.
- Length of string. 4mm diameter 5-6 metres.
- Selection of dry bags to keep everything in.
This is the basic kit that I take. swapping items in or out gives versatility. Trainers, for example can be swapped for formal shoes, or for hiking boots. T-shirts can be the ‘sports’ variety for hiking.
I no longer bother taking ‘proper’ European market waterproof clothes because the heat and the humidity mean the breathable layers don’t work and you’ll get sweat-soaked anyway. Instead, for me, a poncho and umbrella approach works well. You can use them to shield from the sun as well as the rain – especially on the deck of a boat.
Personally, I don’t enjoy packing everything into as small a space as possible. It doesn’t allow you to add anything during your journey, and makes rooting for items difficult. I like to let my luggage breathe a bit, and I think this also stops clothes sprouting mould. Think airy!
You’ll find that internal airports in Indonesia are a bit more relaxed than international ones, but you still won’t be able to carry many things in hand luggage. Along with obvious things like knives, liquids and lighters, camera tripods have made it onto the banned list, so I always put mine in hold luggage.
Got any killer kit that you think I should include in Indonesia packing tips? Let me know in the comments!