Pack this, not that

Backpacking Gear
Kentville, Canada

So 18 months ago I packed for my big Latin American adventure and I shared my backpacker packing list wondering if I had packed too much.

I wasn’t sure what to pack for travel in South America. Backpacker packing lists are one of the most searched posts with travelers because everyone has anxiety that they’ll end up in some remote area and have forgotten some essential item.

 

I did that too.

 

So have a look at my old post on what I took to Latin America and then hop back here and I’ll let you know how I fared. But here’s a hint:

 

I took too much.

 

I just wasn’t sure what I would need, I had never been to Latin America and didn’t know how developed it would be or that it was much cheaper to  buy the same items

 

What I loved

Packing cubes
I will never travel without packing cubes again. These changed how I viewed packing my bag. Instead of rummaging through my bag it was simple and quick to take them in and out. If you don’t have them believe me you need them.

HP Mini 311
I thoroughly researched netbooks and this was perfect for me as it allowed me to edit photos on Lightroom. It was a bit slow when I tried to run multiple programs but only $250 and you can’t beat that.

Chacos
I once hated these sandals and thought they were ugly but they are perfect for long days on cobblestone.

Canadian stickers
I bought them at a dollar store and tucked in my journal and gave them to kids and fellow travelers who loved picking between flags, beavers and polar bears – so much for crushing stereotypes!

 

What I didn’t need

Travel wash bag
The awkward size took up too much room. I thought the hook at the top would be practical but most places did not have somewhere for me to hang it. I got rid of it at 7 weeks.

Expensive travel clothes
I was so excited at this big trip I went out and bought a bunch of fancy travel clothes. If you are an adventure traveler you may need this but if you realize you hate hiking you should spare yourself the $100 merino wool sweater because you are only going to hang it up at some hostel in Panama and lose it and then wonder why you buy nice things.

My zip off pants were very practical and I did wear them places like Machu Picchu but not in cities as I felt like a grungy gringo backpacker.

Rain poncho
I didn’t bring any rain gear at all. I only got stuck in the rain once and wore a garbage bag. I did buy a 99 cent poncho and didn’t wear it until month 13. I should have worn another garbage bag.

Medications
I rarely used anything in my medications bag and it was a small fortune. Most of the medication I could have gotten in Latin America where many countries sell by the pill, in Panama I bought motion sickness pills for 10 cents a pop.

Mini first aid kit
I ended up taking the band aids and throwing out the rest.

Multitool
I once used it for a mango, that’s the only time I used it. Next time I’ll just bring a corkscrew.

Sewing Kit
Every traveler has one but the only time I needed to sew something I just dropped it off at a seamstress and she fixed it for $2.

Mini flashlight on key chain
I had a head lamp, which was recommended by many and I used it quite a bit, even if just to enter dorm rooms at night.

Silk sleeping bag
I did not need to use this once, hostels in Latin America are quite nice and if I had seen one that required the bag I didn’t stay there. It was a lot of money so if you really want one save yourself some money and sew up a sheet.

How about you, what have you lugged around and realized you did not need?

 

This isn’t the only post I’ve written about packing, if you want more advice check out:
The art of packing light
Did I pack too much again? 
Do you think I packed too much?

 


Comments

    • Ayngelina says

      You know in Latin America as soon as it starts raining all of these people appear selling umbrellas. I have learned not to pack an umbrella.

  1. says

    I would only say that I had a poncho from a Euro trip in ’05 that by some miracle still fits me, its tiny and purple so I carry it in the backpack. I was def. glad I had it in the jungle this year when it rained like crazy. It did double duty protecting my camera from getting wet (the rain cover was not doing as good of a job.) But I think a lot of people travel with a little towel and I swear I had one and left it at home. And I can’t live without my cubes-really my all time favorite travel item. We have cubes for everything, including organizing our electronics. This year I didn’t even bring those cut-off pants, I agree they make you look so touristy! Better to wear leggings, so comfy.
    Mica recently posted..My 3 most awkward hotel moments

    • Ayngelina says

      Yeah if I had been in the jungle for so long like you I would have needed a poncho as well. Although would have just picked one up in town.

  2. says

    I don’t think I’ll ever pack a sewing kit with me because I don’t sew. I took Home Ec in junior high but the sewing part caused nothing but failure and frustration. If I’m traveling long term I think I’d do like you did, send the item off to a seamstress.
    Alouise recently posted..The Amazing Moving Forest

    • Ayngelina says

      Ceri my best advice to you is to pack light. They really do have all the things from home in Latin America. Pack for one week and you will be fine.

  3. says

    Jeans are not useful for me. If it is cold, they make me feel cold; if it is hot, they make me feel hot. I preffer leggings and cargo trousers.
    My luxurious item is my pair of tango shoes. I always take them just in case I find a milonga to go.

    Have lots of fun! We all support your choices!

  4. says

    I completely agree about the packing cubes – I don’t know how anyone organises their bag without them. It means we can pack our worldly possessions in under 10 minutes!

    After a few years of travelling we have whittled things down to the minimum now and all of my stuff fits into a 30 litre carry-on backpack. I think the biggest mistake people make is taking things “just in case” and then they never use them. We also manage without a sleeping sheet, multi-tool and much first aid/medications.
    Erin recently posted..Learning to Cook Japanese Buddhist Cuisine in Kyoto

    • Ayngelina says

      Do you just do the 30L or do you have a daypack as well. I downgraded to 48L and have a little satchel bag for electronics but my rule is that everything in that bag must fit into the 48L as well.

    • Ayngelina says

      Yes! Although I had to give mine up, 65L was too big. I just downgraded to a 48L from MEC and it’s been great so far.

  5. Laura says

    I agree about the packing cubes…will never travel without them again! I guess mine weren’t really packing cubes, just cheap mesh bags I bought at a dollar store, but made organization sooooooo much easier. My friend I was with would take forever to unpack her whole bag to find one thing and then pack it all back up again, I could pack my bag in a matter of minutes! Great list, Ayngelina!

    • Ayngelina says

      I first used ziploc bags and thought they were awesome and then when they all ripped I found out about the bags. You don’t need the fancy ones, just anything to help organize. I wish I had bought mine at the dollar store because they aren’t cheap!

    • Ayngelina says

      I always over pack on clothes, things I don’t like and will never wear. I need to learn to only bring things I love.

  6. says

    Just returned from an 8 day trip to the UK. Packing was definitely one of the biggest considerations.

    Forgot a few things and definitely packed a few things I didn’t need.

    It’s the ones you forget that really sucks!
    Curt recently posted..Beer Mustard Marinade

  7. Mary Bailey says

    I now carry duct tape and find it’s totally worth the space it takes. I could prob buy it wherever but not nec when I need it.
    If you’re going to Hong Kong or Mexico get your laundry done out — a cheap and fabulous treat esp compared to washing in a sink.

  8. says

    Great lists! I’ve learned about not lugging those things around the hard way, too.
    I would have to add butterfly band-aids. If you are ditching the first aid kit, at least take some butterfly band-aids. It’s worth the tiny real estate they take if you ever need them.
    Erin recently posted..Top Costa Rican Souvenirs

    • Ayngelina says

      I did pull out my bandaids and tucked them into the make-up bag but then they were so cheap I had to buy new ones. Butterfly bandages would be good.

  9. says

    why was i so tempted to say, “my ex!” in response to your final question?? LOL kidding of course ;) i’m so glad you did this, because it’s so true that we just don’t know if we haven’t done it before. and it changes by place, weather, personality, activities. so helpful to read when you identify with someone who’s gone to the same place. i have some catching up to do with you my friend! scanning through your posts and realizing my honeymoon phase ;) has put me completely out of touch! miss your “voice” and can’t wait to read up. :)
    Lorna – the roamantics recently posted..Never Say Never- What I Learned From Rock Stars

    • Ayngelina says

      I hadn’t even thought to write this post until a reader asked me and then I realized there was so much specialty travel gear I thought I needed and now I don’t want any of it!

      • says

        I love my silk sleeping bag liner! I have an abnormally low body temperature, so even when everyone else thinks it’s warm I use it along with blankets because it keeps me that much warmer! Plus it’s great for those overnight trains and packs down so small!

        When packing you really have to consider personal preference, where you are traveling and what you will actually be doing. I have friends who pack hair dryers and straighteners which I find insane, but they think I’m ridiculous for my sleeping bag liner and medical kit (which I actually have used on various occasions).
        Aryn recently posted..Oh The Places You’ll Go!

    • Ayngelina says

      It was a 65L for South America but I just downgraded to a 48L for my next trip.

      Thing in South East Asia are so cheap I would never buy specifically for a trip there because you can buy great clothes for just a few dollars.

  10. says

    Really informative post, thanks! After a week in South America I am already very aware of how much I have overpacked (and I thought I did pretty well!). I have never heard of packing cubes before but my stuff is all divided into brightly coloured plastic bags which do the same job I guess.

    I am very grateful for the silk liner though, I used it every night in Uruguay as it was freezing cold in the hostels and the provided blankets were really thin!

    My biggest problem is the wash kit and make-up I have packed, I have way too much but it breaks my heart to throw away my Benefit and Dermalogica products. I’m just trying to use them all up quickly now!

    • Ayngelina says

      I did the same as well. I didn’t know what would be there and then realized I could have bought it all as I needed it.

      Oh and if you are ever in a hostel where it’s cold, just ask for another blanket. I do and they always give it to me.

  11. says

    The biggest lesson learned for us was that “less is more”. We actually sent a package home with our excess items that we didn’t need, but didn’t want to throw away.

    It’s pretty easy to do laundry on the road and its amazing how little you really need… especially when you’re in tropical climates and wearing bathing suits all day!

    • Ayngelina says

      Yes in fact the one thing I would say I wished I had bought at home was a bathing suit, it seems in other countries they aren’t made as well.

    • Ayngelina says

      I use my backpack to sleep on too. I did have my sister sew a pillowcase with a zipper and though if I really wanted a pillow I would stuff clothes in it but I couldn’t be bothered with that either.

  12. says

    We’re still struggling with how to pack – we’re going to every climate imaginable and are going to be gone for an indeterminate amount of time (years?), that it’s difficult to limit ourselves to one pair of zip-off pants and three shirts to be used in rotation.

    After just a month on the road we know we’ve brought too much, so now we’re in the process of getting rid of some things!
    Christy @ Technosyncratic recently posted..How much does it cost to live in London?

    • Ayngelina says

      Unless you are in Europe it is almost always cheaper to buy clothing as you go. When I landed in Peru it was a bit chilly so I bought a few $3 sweaters and when I left I gave them to the hostel cleaning staff. I knew if I went somewhere cold again they would have cold weather clothing. This is especially true in warm weather climates, clothing is so cheap.

    • Ayngelina says

      I carry a gorillapod, it’s pretty light but I only ever use it for night photography and to be honest I’m wondering if I could just get around that. I am heading to Jordan next so I think it will be good for the sand but otherwise I probably don’t need it.

  13. says

    Great tips Ayngelina. I so agree with them all. Medications we can get anywhere, headlamp is a must and we always overpack, even though we try not to. We trek a lot so our zip off trekking pants are always a must, but it all depends on the type of travel. We’re mostly adventure travelers and going through temperature changes throughout each day. But if you don’t do a lot of adventure travel, I agree, not needed.

    • Ayngelina says

      You know I really didn’t think a headlamp was necessary but so much more useful than a flashlight. I will never travel without one again.

  14. says

    100% agree on the packing cubes. They take up some extra space but absolutely worth the trade-off in my mind.

    I don’t need to use it a lot, but whenever I am in a hostel without lockers (why, oh why, do people keep designing a hostel without them?) I absolutely rely on my security cable/lock for my netbook. Wrap it around my bed post or something solid and it’s secure.

    I have only had my Amazon here in Buenos Aires so can’t speak from experience but I am very sure it will become one of my must-haves.

    I like my zip-off pants. Don’t disagree with what you wrote, but in certain parts of the world I am going to look like a foreigner/tourist/backpacker no matter what I wear.

    Something I pack and really love on the long bus rides is an inflatable neck pillow. Weighs nothing and takes up very little space (always in my day pack). A real lifesaver for sleeping on buses, trains, planes. Hard to find in many parts of Latin America so buy yours at home.

    Finally, I always pack a lot of underwear. Doesn’t take up much space/weight but can really help you prolong those annoying laundry days.
    Jeff recently posted..Getting a Visa for Brazil and Paraguay in Buenos Aires

    • Eliza says

      Can you tell me more about this laptop lock? I’ve been going back and forth on whether or not I should bring my laptop to Peru because I’m worried about it getting stolen, but I’ll totally bring it if this laptop lock actually works…

      • Ayngelina says

        I have never traveled with one. I lock my belongings in a hostel locker or in a hotel room and hope for the best. All you can do is get insurance and don’t bring anything you may not want to lose.

  15. 1Vikinggirl says

    I bring things that can’t be bought locally. Leave shampoo and toothbrushes at home, they can be bought everywhere and makes great souvenirs too.
    Personally, I bring clothes.
    My body is 184 cm tall and I am not a man.
    That makes it difficult to dress at a Thai market. Tailors? Well, this is what happened the last time in Guatemala:

    - Yes, yes indeed, I do want the trousers to go all the way down to my feet, yes, please.

    - Yes, yes, I understand that it will require all that fabric.

    - Yes, yes, I am so sorry for the trouble and the changes and … and yes, of course, I will pay extra.

    The length turned out to be perfect but unfortunately the waist was increased proportionally.
    He gave me a piece of string and recommended a good restaurant.

    • Ayngelina says

      It is not easy being tall in Central America. I was in Panama with a girl who was 6 ft tall and another who was from Hong Kong. One day in Panama city half the people yelled out random countries trying to guess where one friend was and the other people yelled out comments about my friend being tall.

      There was no blending in.

  16. says

    Hey Angelina, this is such a great post!
    The only thing I would add is a travel skirt. It might sound funny, but I’ve got this super comfortable long black loose polyester/rayon/spandex skirt that’s awesome for traveling. It’s perfect for flights, and exploring, goes great with a tee shirt or something a little more dressy. It hardly takes up any space and doesn’t wrinkle much. The tummy part is stretchy too because sometimes when you’re traveling . . .
    We have used the rain ponchos,they’re wonderful for kids, they saved us in the Galapagos.
    I’ve got to check out these travel cubes!
    Dena Haines recently posted..Weekly Photo – The Beach in Salinas Ecuador

  17. says

    Agree with you with most things, thou the silk sleeping bag can come handy in Asia (didn’t need it once in South America). The best thing I had with me was my kindle, no need to drag around heavy books! But it broke a few weeks ago, so I am back to buying books again for now :(

    But I’ll definitely have to check those packing cubes, I’ve heard about them now for few times.
    Jarmo recently posted..Hoi An, an Illusion of a Traditional Vietnamese Town

  18. says

    Good list and good notes. You’re right about the travel sheets though. We never needed them in South America. I tend to over pack no matter what, but it definitely helps narrowing down what you will and won’t use. I’m a habitual garbage bag-wearer for rainy situations. It’s a poncho, but cheaper- and the black ones are quite slimming!

  19. says

    I started with a Pac-Safe that I gave away 2 weeks later.

    Also had a big padlock for lockers that I eventually got rid of in exchange for small combination locks. No point lugging around a lock that’s stronger than the containers themselves!

    Same thing with medications, I ditched my malaria pills and antibiotics.

    As for zip-off pants, I just roll my long pants up. Instant shorts! ;)
    Matthew Karsten recently posted..Tiger Heron in Corcovado [PHOTO]

  20. says

    Funny running into this post. I have been thinking about this very topic all day! I am so tired of carrying around way too much stuff. I am doing a major overhaul before my next trip next month. Heading to Mexico :)

    I’m trying to cut down my gear and only carry clothing that is multifunctional and not a “just in case” item. It’s such a waste of space and added weight.

    I’ve recently thought about packing cubes but i’m not sure if they’d work for me. I only pack clothing on the external compartments. If it doesn’t fit there, it doesn’t go in the main area either.

    agree with you on medication and first aid kit. stuff like that is pretty easy to come by if you do need it.

    love your blog name by the way :)
    LAbackpackerChick recently posted..The 30 Day Countdown Begins TODAY

  21. says

    Great tips, I’ll have to take all of these into consideration when going to SA next year. I already knew about the medicine, although my wife was wondering about BC. And I’m not sure about chacos but Havaianas are the way to go for me, only my last pair gave out a few weeks ago. As for the corkscrew, great tip and the stickers too. I’ve also heard an inflatable globe is a great travel tool when trying to show where you are from.
    Cornelius Aesop recently posted..New Brew Tuesday: Pillitteri Estates – I Baci

  22. says

    My Must-Haves:

    Travel Quillow: I used to travel with a travel pillow, but now i have an inflatable travel pillow that folds/zips up into an accompanying travel blanket. Never leave home without a travel pillow for those long bus/train/mini-van rides! Get one with a “handle” so you can tie it to your backpack.

    Electric toothbrush: This is my foo-foo luxury item. Only useful on three-week trips, but it’s my mental comfort in $2 hostels.

    Nice soap. Nice shampoo. MUST bring conditioner. Also luxury items, I guess. But they take up very little room. And you’ll understand why you’ll want them after many a night in grungy hostels. Many countries don’t have conditioner in most stores. It’s not a vanity issue. It’s an “I don’t want to have to cut off my hair at the end of trip from so many tangles” issue.

    Quick-dry zip-off pants in a dark color (brown or black) that zip off in THREE places, not two (!) are a must-have! When you’re scorching, but have to wear below-the-knee pants in religious sites, or you’re freezing on the plane…you’ll understand! The dark color is so that they can double as “dress pants” at night.

    Two or three travel skirts. I hike in below the knee loose-fitting travel skirts. They’re much better/more comfortable in the heat… much more flexible for maneuvering over big rocks, etc. Perfect for wearing out to a club. Below the knee for religious sights.

    Don’t bring more than 2 short-sleeved shirts, 4 tank tops (for layering and warm weather and sleeping), 3 travel skirts, 1 pair of 3-place quick-dry zip-off pants (Don’t bring jeans. They’re heavy and not versatile.), 3-6 pairs of super-comfy undies (you can wash them in a sink or just buy more locally and they take up a precious amount of room), 1-2 pairs of super-comfy socks, buy a scarf locally for air-conditioned places, 1 long-sleeved shirt to go under your short-sleeved shirt, 1 heavier fleece.

    If you’re traveling in a place that will be CRAZY hot, like India in the rainy season, a must-have is a misting squirt bottle. They’re hard to find locally, and I carried mine with me EVERYWHERE, misting myself, making my trip so much more manageable!

  23. says

    I probably will pack too much when I leave for SA in July, but ehhhh! I’ll do the same you did when I realize I don’t need this or that, I’ll throw it away or give it away.

    Thanks for the little hints.

  24. Jenna says

    When I traveled to South East Asia I realized I packed way too much as well. Luckily I had a home base at a friends house in bangkok and after a few weeks of traveling I checked back in and quickly ditched: my blow drier, most dressy things (take one or two ‘nice’ (light) outfits and you will be grateful later). I ALSO ditched my incredibly bulky, not-so-handy toiletries bag. I did find that first aid stuff was definitely helpful (bandaids, polysporin, tylonal, gravol, Imodium!, after bite cream, tea tree oil and cold pills) guess it depends on the type of traveler you are and where you adventure to but I used everything I just listed and I’m super grateful I had it.
    The other thing I would stress to bring is a smallish DARK towel. My white towel(s) got filthy so quickly and took up way too much space but it is SO worth bringing a real towel. Those small trip towels suck in my experience.

    Ladies: not yet sure what it’s like in SA yet but in south east asia tampons were few and far between so STALK UP! Depending on what youre into, Pads aren’t the most attractive thing going…especially in bikini land.

    My final word of advice go light, with the basics: good rain shell (jacket), comfy/cute shorts, running shoes if you’re into hiking, light comfy long pants just in case, one pair of socks, a hoody, a few tanks/tees, SUNSCREEN, bathing suit, towel, first aid/meds kit, sewing kit, sandals(chacos are good!). For the gals (or guys who are into it) I found little sundresses were perfect- cute, pack nice and small!!!, nice in hot weather, nice over a bathing suit. Lg. tube of toothpaste, a small flash light …Blah blah and the rest you can figure out or purchase there.

    Happy Travels!!! I’m off to SA in 4 days!

  25. Arthur Clark says

    Very useful, thanks!

    One question, what did you go about travel adapters and the varying current and voltages of different countries?

    • Ayngelina says

      For the most part I just bought the plug adapter in each market. Most electronics have converters so I didn’t need to worry about voltage.

  26. Coco says

    Does anyone use thier camelbacks too? We arent going to hike, but we r going to stay for 3 months in a rental house, and use backpacks or should i just use regular luggage?

  27. Vanessa says

    Hi,

    Im travelling to South America in Sept for 3 months. Could anyone advise me on what kind of clothing to pack? Any tips on anything else?

    • Ayngelina says

      South America is a really big region, it really depends on what countries you are going to and what you plan to do.

      • Vanessa says

        Going to Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia,Peru and Chile. Im doin the Inca Trail in October so goin to bring hiking boots and instead of wearing heavy trousers i was thinking of maybe leggings?

        • Ayngelina says

          Wow that is very ambitious for only 3 months. September is early Spring so it will still be cool and a bit wet. I think you could get away with leggings. If you need anything more you can buy it in Peru, it’s very easy to find great but cheap clothing there. When I arrived in January I bought really nice sweaters for $5 as it was a bit cold.

          • Vanessa says

            I no 3 months is nothing to get round to all the above but hey im just gona go with the flow & enjoy every moment of it. i just turned 30, newly single, Job is goin nowhere and im leaving everything to find out what my life is about and to laugh again!

            Thanks for the advice

  28. says

    It is simply an awesome blog, I am from Colombia and I do love backing around my country, I really want to travel abroad but I must wait until next year, what do you think is better to visit first Europe or Africa? I mean I want backpacking for at least 1 month next year. I really appreciate your suggestion.
    Bus Colombia recently posted..Experience Nightlife in Cali Colombia

  29. nicole says

    I will be travelling to south america well, did you only pack those sandals? or did you pack boots/shoes as well? also, girl to girl what did you use for birth control? I will be travelling with my boyfriend for 6months in S. America and 6 months in SE Asia and Europe, not sure if i should just pack a years worth of pills or try and buy em along the way??

    • Ayngelina says

      I brought chaco sandals and hiking sneakers but I never wore the sneakers. You can get birth control pills along the way. I think I paid 4 bucks for them in Peru- just keep a package of what you use so you can show it at the pharmacy.

    • Ayngelina says

      Well people seem to think we will melt in the rain! In nearly 4 years of travel I haven’t even had a rain jacket and I have been fine.

  30. Ludmila says

    Just wondering about the packing cubes… how many did you use and what would you put in them? I am bringing a bunch of little zippered bags (kind of like make up bag type things) and I was thinking of putting everything except like clothing in them. Is that what you did? Grouped things together one to each bag so you just knew which bag to grab for?

    Thanks!

    • Ayngelina says

      I travel with 2 or 3, one for tops and one for bottoms and one for underwear. It makes it so much easier rooting through a suitcase or backpack because it’s all organized.

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