Packing for a backpacking trip is hard. You are travelling for an extended period of time, with very limited space. I’m the type of person who would bring two suitcases to Mexico for a one week trip. You can only imagine how tough it was for me to figure out what I would bring with me, and what would be left behind. It felt like every time I looked at my bag it was getting smaller and smaller.
After an extremely difficult process of elimination, I managed to decide what clothes and other necessities would come with me to South America. But what about the extras? Most people are more than likely going to toss a few other things in their packs that they will either be extremely grateful for, or resent having to carry around.
Here is a list of some of the things that either I brought, wish I brought, didn’t need to bring but glad I did, or looking back, did not need at all.
Genius things I didn’t bring but will next time:
- Leggings – I still don’t know why I didn’t bring a pair, but when I finally bought some in Bolivia halfway through my trip, I wore the crap out of them. They’re comfy and versatile, can be dressed up or down, and barely take up any space in a backpack.
- Compression bag – I didn’t even know these existed, and I already bought one for our upcoming trip to Southeast Asia. A friend that I met on my trip had probably five hoodies and three pairs of jeans in this magical little sack, compressed into a tight, little package taking up a quarter of the space they would have otherwise. Normally meant for sleeping bags, you can find them at any camping supply store.
Genius things I brought:
|Nuun Electrolyte Tabs|
- Electrolyte tabs – The nurse who gave me my shots actually recommended these. You dissolve them in a 16oz bottle of water, and it’s basically like Gatorade, minus the sugar and with more electrolyte rehydrating powers. I like to call them hangover cures. Also recommended for other stomach “dehydration” issues. You can find them at any camping store, and they come in tons of flavors.
- Mini Febreeze bottle – this was one of those randomly bought items that I was so grateful for. As a backpacker, you aren’t exactly washing your cloth on a regular basis. Give your clothes a spritz and they’ll smell nice and fresh. Especially handy after a night of being in a bar or club where smoking is permitted (which was basically every single one).
- Tide to go pen – like I said, as a backpacker you aren’t going to wash your clothes every time they get a little dirty, which is often if you’re like me and end up wearing your meals half the time. This handy little guy is perfect for removing stains.
- Quick dry towel – a little pricey, but so worth it. I almost cried when I forgot mine at a hostel in La Paz. They fold up super small, and actually do dry really quickly, so you don’t have to worry about putting a soggy towel in your bag. Just don’t expect anything soft and fluffy.
- Toms – trendiness aside, these shoes are just so versatile. They’re comfy enough to walk around all day in, so I didn’t have to wear my clunky trekking shoes. Plus they pretty much go with anything, so you can wear them with nicer outfits when going out at night.
- Travel blanket – although it was annoying to carry around, I was so grateful to have this on chilly night buses.
- 1L Nalgene water bottle & water purification tabs – unless you’re planning a ridiculous, completely off the beaten path, middle of nowhere trek (and I wasn’t), these tabs aren’t going to do you much good. Bottled water was available everywhere I went, and it was dirt cheap. Sure, having your own water bottle is more eco-friendly, but tap water in South America isn’t drinkable, and even when I bought big jugs of water and refilled my own, a 1L bottle was a huge hassle to carry around everywhere I went. Either bring a smaller bottle, or just reuse the small plastic bottles you can buy anywhere, like I ended up doing most of the time.
- Tide detergent packs - I brought a bunch of these, and never used them once. Self-service laundry is unheard of in South America, and laundry services were so cheap it wasn’t worth the trouble of washing my own clothes in a sink.
- Some first aid things – this was mostly because I have a paranoid mother who wanted me to be prepared for anything. But I think I could have gone without the pink eye drops. You can find most first aid things you would need in any pharmacy, and likely much cheaper than they would be at home.
- 100 days-worth of Malaria pills – my doctor prescribed me enough pills for my entire trip. The thing is, I was only in malaria zones for probably less than two weeks total. I even took them every day for the first half of my trip, until I realized you only have to take them two days before you’re in a zone, while you’re in the zone, and 7 days after, not three whole months. That many costs $500 , and even though I had insurance, that amount still cost me around $100. I still recommend taking them if you’re going to be in a malaria zone, but make sure you know when you’re actually going to be in the zone and approximately how long, and save yourself from taking unnecessary pills and a few hundred dollars.
“Luxury” things I brought – even if you’re roughing it with nothing but a backpack, you should still allow yourself a few luxuries. In my case, it was:
- Mini hair straightener – I sacrificed my hair dryer, but I can’t go without straightening my wild bangs. Travel straighteners are little and have dual voltage, so they aren’t the most outrageous things to bring along.
- Lap top – a lot of people are making room for these, and with free wifi readily available in most hostels, it’s not even hard to stay connected. I have a netbook, which is the perfect size for travel, since it weighs almost nothing and barely took any space in my daypack. Skype and photo storage are among the many pros of having your own computer, just as long as you limit yourself. You didn’t travel halfway across the world to sit on Facebook all day!