Wondering what to pack for South America?
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 there.
Now I wish I had gone with a carry on backpack.
What I loved: Here’s What to Pack for South America
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.
I once hated these sandals and thought they were ugly but they are perfect for long days on cobblestone.
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.
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.
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.
I once used it for a mango, that’s the only time I used it. Next time I’ll just bring a corkscrew.
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.
What’s your best advice for what to pack for South America? 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?
This is surely very useful information. I hope I get to use this when I travel to South America!
Instinctively, we always end up packing extra when we travel to a new place…
Good list. I don’t backpack, but I do travel a lot and never get it right, mostly weather related. I end up having too many clothes for the wrong kind of weather, and not enough for the weather I’m actually encounter.
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.
This was all extremely useful and a big thanks to everyone who contributed. Especially Miss Footloose—i’m exactly the same. Always take too much, half of which i never use. Going to Argentine and Chile in April to June and going to have to really try to get it right this time.
Good luck, stay safe and happy travels.
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.
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.
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.
I don’t sew either, what was I thinking….
That’s the funniest answer I’ve ever read. *LOL*
Just getting ready to pack my bag for Latin America so this post is wonderfully helpful. 🙂
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.
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!
Leggings do make jeans less practical and they take up far less room.
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.
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.
Great list :]
I think that we have the same backpack! Except mine is the blue version..
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.
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!
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!
I remember my first stop backpacking was the post office to mail stuff home. Now, I would just toss it. I remember using my sleeping sheet thing a lot! But I agree with all the rest. Dying to know more about packing cubes…
Get the packing cubes, they will change your life!
This is priceless information. Thanks! The only long trip I have done was a 3 month trip to Europe in the winter and I certainly packed things I didn’t need (metal water bottle that always set off the X-Ray machines!) but I never over packed on clothes. I think I threw them out as soon as I got home!
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.
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!
What did you forget?
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.
What do you use the duct tape for?
And agree about the laundry, in all of Latin America you can drop it off for a couple of dollars. I will never do it on my own.
Even I am interested to know the use of duct tape.
Duct Tape is great to fix anything and everything. I’ve used it to attach things to my rucksack in an emergency, or patch up holes in said rucksack. In a pinch i’ve had friends use it to keep walking boots on until they’ve been able to get new laces.
I’m not going to lie, I have duct tapped my shoes before as well. Except sadly it was in Toronto at a bar and my shoe broke in half! Fortunately the kitchen had duct tape.
Good timing with this post because I am re-packing this weekend!
Hilarious that you are bringing a corkscrew!
Well I know you should bring one!
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.
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.
Loved this list! I won’t even tell you about the duffel sea bags we lugged around Europe back in 1995. sheesh…no internet back then, so we weren’t very wise. 🙂
We did quite a bit better for our backpacking trip on the Appalachain trail.
Duffel bags would have been killer!
I love packing posts – and seeing what everyone brings. I”m almost where I want to be with the packing routine.
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. 🙂
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!
Will try the cubes…use different colored waterproof bags — and I usually pack for a couple of activities (sail/hike)…but quite simply I over-pack; I’ve just come to grips with that…
I tend to be very minimalist in nature so I’m pretty good with clothing but electronics are my downfall.
This is a great guide. I have a feeling I’d be the type to overpack, but I would also hate the additional weight.
You really start to look at your shoes and hate them, they are just too heavy to lug around.
I really regret taking a silk sleeping bag liner with me too… Haven’t used it once and doubt I ever will!
I really regret paying $80 for mine, when will I ever use it!
I believe I am the one that paid $80 for the silk sleeping bag!!!!
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).
Oh man, is that a MEC 60L I see? I have the same one! Unfortunately, I went for a smaller 40L on this trip because I was worried all that extra space would just give me the opportunity to pack too much.
Even with a 40L, I find myself tossing out stuff daily. Like those three pairs of wool socks. Ya, those certainly aren’t necessary in Thailand…
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.
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!
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.
That’s a cool idea about the Canada stickers to hand out! People seem to swear by packing cubes, I’ll have to try them. I agree about the silk sleeping bag; if the hostel is that grungy I wouldn’t stay there either!
I don’t know how you guys did in Brazil but I found the rest of South America to be really clean.
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!
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.
I am the *worst* packer in the world. Most of the stuff I have in my suitcase/pack is not necessary. I need to be smarter about it!!
I love packing cubes too! I like the idea about packing some stickers too!
People LOVE stickers, at first you think its for kids but travelers love them too.
WOW that’s a lot of stuff, although I’d rather pack too much than go somewhere then realise that I’d forgotten something important.
I need my passport, camera and computer, other than that nothing is so important I can’t get it on the road for less than in Canada.
Yes, I totally agree with you though I’ll add wallet to your list. 🙂
I like the idea of stickers ^_^
I agree that sleeping bag is not needed, I just use my coat. I have a coat that is big, thick, warm and I use it as a blanket or something to lay on during the long train rides.
I have seen people bring pillows before too….I just use my backpack as the pillow when needed. I am usually not that desperate though.
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.
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!
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.
I’m quite good a packing light. Bring half the clothes you think you need (and twice the money) seems to work.
I know but I always throw in too many ‘what if’ clothes!
My boyfriend brought a full on metal extending tripod….on a four day….83 km hike once. How many times did we use it? Zero times.
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.
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.
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.
For us, it’s always clothes. We’re pretty tight packers, but if we have space we’ll throw in more clothes. Stupid! You’d think we were never going to see a washing machine.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
Packing cubes are my favorite too. Here is what I carried for my backpacking trip to Thailand & Malaysia.
But there is always room for improvement. We learn by experiences.
P.S.- many of these things are not available in India.
We’re heading to South America end of this year, and we’re sooo ecstatic. I think I’ll be overpacking as well, but then again… We got a toddler in tow so I guess that’s inevitable 🙁
Great list — I particularly liked the stickers… especially that you had a range of different ones for people to choose among. Great idea!
The stickers are always the favourites, if you go before a national holiday you can usually get them at a dollar store.
I emailed my MP, they sent me 25 Canada pins for free.
They are usually pretty good that way.
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!
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.
Lot your posts and practicality of packing – I love over packing and prefer a car because of that – flying and getting it all in one suitcase is work LOL
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!
Hahaha… So funny that I put stuff like medical kit & sewing kit to my stuff as well for longer road trips. I didn’t know that I was able to sew! lol
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! 😉
I no longer own anything that is travel specific. Which is probably because travel is just life now…
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 🙂
“Next time I’ll just bring a corkscrew.”
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.
I always take a huge medical kit, but hey, in this case if I go home without ever touching it then I’m very happy. It’s really like travel insurance. You need it ‘just in case’ and for peace of mind but you hope you don’t need to use it.
I prefer using compression sacks to packing cubes, but I still make them color coded for each different kind of clothing. Packing light is the way to go!
I’d love to use compression sacks too just to gain some extra room.
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!
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.
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!
Very useful, thanks!
One question, what did you go about travel adapters and the varying current and voltages of different countries?
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.
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?
It depends on where you go but if there is cobblestone I recommend a backpack.
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?
South America is a really big region, it really depends on what countries you are going to and what you plan to do.
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?
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.
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
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.
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??
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.
A great post! I wrote my own packing list before I went to South America and have just written a revised post on what I actually ended up needing and what I didn’t use at all… you can definitely only learn through experience hey! This is my post: (http://sasekula.wordpress.com/2013/11/10/what-you-should-and-shouldnt-pack-for-south-america/)
Thanks for sharing!
I keep telling people I dont need massive rain gear! Nobody believes me… Thank god there are more of us 😉
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.
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?
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.
What great advice… thank you for this!
I’m about to take my first backpacking trip alone (6 months to a year in South America). As it’s my first, I know for a fact I’ll make huge packing mistakes. I’ve read up a lot on how to pack light and efficient, but needs are different for everyone.
Am facing a huge challenge right now about what to pack for different climates/weathers. I was originally planning on doing a counter-clockwise loop: start in the north of Brazil, make my way down to Iguaçu, Argentina, chile, then back up to Peru, Colombia, etc. Starting to think this itinerary doesn’t make much sense in terms of what I’d have to pack. Going from hot, to cold, to hot weather again.
Haven’t planned anything yet, I’m not leaving for another 2 months or so. Gonna have to think really hard about what I need and where to start my trip :-/
Any advice for me, newbie backpacker?? Thanks!
Yes, you don’t need to pack for every climate. Pack for Brazil and warm weather and once you hit the cold weather activities you can buy clothing for much cheaper than in North America or Europe – remember people who live there need to buy clothes too. Warm weather clothes are small so its okay if you bring too much but cold weather clothes are heavy and bulky.
Also on a big trip like this you think you have a set itinerary but serendipity steps in and you’ll find you have offers to do different things. Everyone always packs too much the first time and then is jealous of travelers in 35L bags. Just remember there are malls, and pharmacies and clothing stores in South America. If you need something you can buy it on the road.
Dorian! Brother we’re on the same boat! In February I’m heading to south America myself for a year-long trip. Never done it before. Little helpless 20 year old over here just desperate to see cool things. Can we exchange emails or something? If you cared to take the time I’d love to hear your trial-and-error knowledge.
Hey Shelby Rae Key, yes you can email me at [email protected] 🙂
I’d be happy to also share my packing mistakes, but I think it’s a very personal thing. Some will need a medical kit, others won’t, some will need warm clothes and others won’t… you know 😉
Can we talk about shoes?
I’m doing a year-long to SA and want to do as much foot exploring as possible, so a good pair of boots are necessary. Does anyone have any absolute immovable favorites to suggest?
I think that’s great advice, thanks. I’m very aware that I can buy stuff there, as you said probably for much cheaper, and also maybe much more adequate clothing for each place I visit than what I would normally pack from home.
I just tend to forget it, as do many backpackers, because we all tend to want to be “ready” for every situation I guess. So yeah, I’ll keep it simple and for warm weather then! 🙂
I also took a hanging travel wash bag. Loved it for the first month, but when I got to the point where I was having to spend five minutes just to zip my suitcase closed, I was regretting bringing it. I also was stupid and packed last minute (literally an hour before I left for the airport) and brought all sorts of useless things that I ended up sending home after one month such as a jean jacket, two pairs of long pajama pants (it was summer. in the middle east. who needs long anything at that time!?), and a camera bag that I never even use at home.
Hey! Thanks for the tips! Did you bring a smart phone with you? Would you recommend bringing an iphone?
I didn’t bring a smart phone in the beginning but I definitely would now.
Wow, awesome post! My partner and I are about to head on a journey to South America – any tips on what would be a good time? We had initially thought 6 months to cover USA and South America, now we are thinking just that long for South America!
South America is a gigantic region so I’d definitely suggest at least 6 months for the region as it is gigantic.
Any time of year is good but remember that they have the opposite weather to North America so Argentina and Chile can be quite cold in May/June/July.
Packing cubes are great, I use a combination of cubes and compression bags to keep my clothes organised and compact 🙂 it’s definitely best to get the ones with the mesh panels on them so you can see what’s inside each one…and it stops clothes getting musty!
This is such a fantastic blog, it’s so helpful! Next month, I’m heading out on my first backpacking trip to Central America – a month with a group from Cancun to Costa Rica (ridiculously fast but it was my taste of every country) then a month solo in Nicaragua. By then, it’ll be mid-March so I was only planning on flip flops and walking sandals, but since I love hiking, climbing, and pretty much all adventure things, I caved and added my sneakers.
So I was just wondering what shoes you generally wear around cities/towns. I was going to try to avoid looking like the typical gringo tourist, but my sandals are a pretty big giveaway. On the topic of blending in (as much as possible), what kind of daypack for you carry, if any? Thanks so much!!
thanks for amazing tips 🙂
I´ve just have a question, we r going to Ecuador, Galapagos and Peru for 2 months in May. And because I dont really want to carry more than sandals and proper hikking shoes. Do u think it will be enough? If will need extra pair can buy it there, right?
You definitely don’t need them for the Galapagos. In Ecuador and Peru I only wore chacos when in the amazon and I never had an issue. But yes you can definitely buy hiking shoes if you really them, but unless you’re hiking a Cotopaxi or one of the highest mountains in Ecuador you shouldn’t have an issue.
huff….too much for packing for traveling…..
Hahaha, my last trip totally left me wondering why I buy nice things. I decided to do a bicycle trip through Central and South America with no prior experience and splurged on a bunch of Merino products…. none of which I used. What I wore most were my cheap clothes from TJ Maxx and Goodwill. Also, my expensive bicycle panniers ripped, my Big Agnes sleeping matt had a defective valve, and my Surly Long Haul Trucker’s breaks didn’t work. Lesson learned.
How funny, i had a toiletry wash bag that had a hook and lots of compartments, it seemed awesome and useful, but i got rid of it 2 months in! Too bulky when packed!
What a great list! I have a few questions for my trip to Colombia and Ecuador next week. I’ll be backpacking (hostels not camping) from July 8th to the 28th . This is the colder season there, but I’ve been told it’s not too cold because you’re near the equator. I was thinking of bringing layers and if I end up in a very cold area in the mountains, I can purchase warmer clothes there. Would you agree?
Regarding rain, I was told it rains a lot in the Amazon and I should bring a poncho. I also read that the hostels can be really gross and I should have a sleeping bag, but you had a different experience. Around how much do clean hostels usually cost?
Any advice would be so helpful! I’m getting mixed messages here.
Ecuador is Spring weather all year long, never too hot or too cold. There are plenty of shops with warm sweaters, hoodies, jeans etc for a fraction of what you would spend at home. You’ll be shocked at how much Hollister clothing and other brands you’ll see there.
Most hostels in South America will not allow sleeping bags because there’s too much of a chance of bed bugs, that said I’ve never seen or heard of them in Ecuador or Colombia. But there’s absolutely no need for a sleeping bag. Clean hostels are $8-10 a night in Ecuador and $15 in Colombia. Stay away from party hostels and you’ll be fine (P.S. I have posts about my fave hostels in Ecuador).Hostels in South America aren’t like South East Asia, you can usually get your own room for only a few dollars more.
It does rain a lot in Ecuador in general, usually once a day for a small fraction depending on if it’s rainy season or not. A light raincoat is fine.
Hope this helps!
Packing cubes are a blessing. Also, you need some travel friendly bottles for all your toiletries. If you can buy it, then just don’t bring it. It will help you pack lighter.
One thing I can NEVER travel without in my backpack is a pencil box – yes one of those plastic pencil boxes you used in elementary school to store everything in your desk. That way, when I picked up little trinkets that I couldn’t do without (whether they’re shells from my favorite beach day, or ticket stubs from a memorable train ride), I could put them all in there and not worry about breaking them or losing them in my pack!
That is an amazing idea!
Very helpful! I have spent the past four months in Brazil (in an apartment, not backpacking) and have cursed myself more than once for not discovering packing cubes before I left. Never again!
Omg thanks for the break down! I’m going to South America (Peru and Bolivia specifically) for my honeymoon in two weeks (for one month) and this helps alot! Just bought some chacos 🙂
I’m bringing my 90L bag (thankfully packs up a lot smaller – i took it with me to India and found it really useful as I could buy all sort of clothes, souvenirs, etc and it just kept expanding, so no need to try and find a post office to ship stuff back).
I do have a question though – what’s your thoughts on clothing? I know I should pack small, but I’m also a very curvy woman (250pounds) so not sure how easy (if at all) it’d be to buy clothing there, and last thing I want is that one pair of shorts tearing and me being left high and dry. How many shorts/shirts etc would you recommend packing?
Buying clothes there could be tough depending on your height as people there are shorter. I always pack for 5 days of travel with 7 days of underwear.
I would pack two pairs of shorts, you can wear one and send the other to the laundry, which is only about $1/lb and you get it back folded the same day. The chance of clothes tearing is probably quite low in just one month of travel. To be safe you could pack three, but definitely no more than that. Don’t pack more than one pair of jeans. Take 5 shirts and just do laundry each week, it’s really so easy. If you stay in hostels they have people who do it or they’ll send it out. At hotels they can tell you where to go, you just drop it off in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon. I’ve never had it cost more than $10 and its better than lugging it all on your back.
Let me know if you have any other questions!
Thanks for posting!
I’m curious how you went with a 65L pack? Did you find it too big, or just right? Did you find that you had a tendency to overpack it?
I wouldn’t travel with 65L again, right now I use a 40L and if I didn’t have to take so many electronics around for blogging I could go smaller. I highly recommend just buying cheap clothes on the road rather than buying expensive clothes at home for every possible occasion. I’ve never traveled with a raincoat, when it rains I just get a cheap umbrella on the street.
My boyfriend and I are preparing for a trip to South America and I was just doing some research when I came across your blog. Thanks for sharing your tips. I’ll check some of your other posts now :).
If you have any questions let me know!
Packing cubes are the best thing which was invented last 10 years. They are sooooo useful that I can`t imagine travel without them. I hope you enjoy South America! Best regards!
Agreed packing cubes are my number one recommendation.
Very interesting post! I haven’t been in South America, but I would like to visit it one day. Your list of packing suggestions is great.
Reading along there were many times I was nodding my head in agreement – yep done that!
Carried a towel, Swiss Army knife , umbrella and makeup around when should have left them all at home.
I have a master packing list I look over and decide what to pack based on the destination/ climate.
About a week before departing I start putting out all the stuff I THINK I will need- then eliminate between 25-50 % . Sometimes I pack things I am ready to donate, then as the trip goes on I leave them behind (if the items are still in usable condition) I find those free shampoo samples are great items to take instead of bottles that can leak. Empty plastic containers make inconspicuous jewellery boxes.
A good travel bra ( like brave betty) is a must – for use in place of a money belt and for hiking/ yoga etc.
Thank you for these amazing tips.
I was buying a lot of things part of the i don’t really need thing.
Do you really think that I don’t need this (the silk sleeping bag) : https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00DUQ9B4M/ref=ox_sc_act_title_14?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=A2KUKHS52EIZXC
Thank you for your answer 😀
Do not need to answer this. I read all the comments and I am taking this off from my buying list :D.
I am a frequent flyer and I do go travelling a lot. Yet recently, I usually take my daughter with me. We both love nature and being a part of nature. In deed, in this early Jan 2017, we plan to take a trip to enjoy the atmostphere when the spring comes.
Thank you for sharing these info and please keep it up.
Quite helpful information there especially for packing a pack. Many times, I have found myself with many unwanted stuff, lugging all that extra weight around is no fun at all. Nice post!
I’m with ya on the Chacos! They’re so versatile that I use them as a stand alone travel shoe on many of my trips (depending on the climate). I don’t care if I look like a bit of a dork when I wear them, I love my damn Chacos.
Love your travels and can’t wait to see where you go next. You should visit Alabama and write about your trip. We have a ton of cool things to do here. Keep up the great work!
Thanks so much, I’m actually interested in doing a road trip in the state sometime in the future.
Just stumbled upon your article regarding packing list for South America. In my opinion, packing list depends upon various factors like number of days you are staying, your trip theme (For example, if you are trekking to Machu Picchu there must be something extra you need to pack or unpack). These are just my thoughts.
Being a travel agent, I generally recommend my clients the packing list depending upon duration of stay and activities they are commencing during their trip.
Anyways, hey great information here. Keep on the good work.
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