What to Pack for South America (for 6 to 12 Months)

“The biggest favor you can do for yourself when trying to decide what to bring, is to buy – and this is no joke – a very small travel bag. This small pack, of course, will allow you only the minimum” – Rolf Potts, Vagabonding

Introduction

“Is that all you have!?” This is a question I find myself constantly asked by other travellers. The funny thing is I don’t really feel like I am missing anything. Traveling (relatively) light , has been one of the best decisions I made from the outset of my trip. It allows me to get from A-to-B with a lot less effort and also gives me the freedom to board flights and buses without checking in any luggage (should I wish to do so).  In this post I will:

  1. List the contents of my bag (everything I had for 12 months of backpacking South America)
  2. Give information and reasoning around my choices, and
  3. Provide the specific models I use, where appropriate

I hope this will help some of you decide exactly what to pack for South America.

Happy travels! 🙂


First, what I did not bring

I think it’s important to draw attention to some items that I did not bring. Taking any of the following will greatly increase the amount you have to carry with you. Unless you are planning to spend a significant amount of time in areas which require this type of gear, I would suggest instead  that you “rent-as-you-go” and leave this stuff at home.

  1. Any type of camping gear (tents, sleeping bags, cooking utensils, etc.)
  2. Sporting equipment (surfboards, ski equipment, etc.)
  3. Clothing for very cold conditions (snow trekking, etc.)

Now, what I did bring

First, I will provide a quick bullet point summary of everything I packed. This can be used as a basic top-level checklist and is ideal for those who don’t want the nitty-gritty details. For those who would like additional information around my choices, specific models and further breakdowns of some categories (e.g. what’s inside my toiletries bag), keep reading beyond the summary.


Packing List – Summary


SECTION ONE – STORAGE

  • Primary Backpack
  • Secondary Backpack (daypack)
  • 4 Assorted Sized Packing Cubes [GAME-CHANGER]
  • Document / Passport Holder (breakdown of items listed below)
  • Toiletries Bag (breakdown of items listed below)
  • Wallet
  • 2 Padlocks + 1 Security Cable
  • Rain Cover for Backpack
  • First Aid Kit (breakdown of items listed below)
  • Spare Plastic Bags

SECTION TWO – CLOTHING

  • 1 Mid-Weight Jacket
  • 1 Shorts
  • 4 T-shirts
  • 1 Button-Up Dress Shirt
  • 1 Pullover / Jumper
  • 1 Beanie
  • 1 Woollen Gloves
  • 1 Quick-Dry Travel Towel [GAME-CHANGER]
  • 1 Sunglasses
  • 1 Thermal Base Layers [GAME-CHANGER]
  • 1 Thongs (aka flip-flops)
  • 1 Shoes (versatile)
  • 2 Long Pants (versatile)
  • 1 Cap
  • 1 Swimming Trunks
  • 5 Underwear (quick drying, low odour technology preferable) [GAME-CHANGER]
  • 4 Socks (low odour technology preferable )
  • 1 Sleeping Mask & Earplugs [GAME-CHANGER]
  • 1 Raincoat
  • 1 Sarong [GAME-CHANGER]
  • 1 Hidden Money Wallet

SECTION THREE – ELECTRONICS

  • Universal Power Adapter (with surge protection & USB ports)
  • Power Bank (portable USB charger) [GAME-CHANGER]
  • Small Torch or Headlamp
  • Kindle or E-Book Reader [GAME-CHANGER]
  • iPhone or other type of Smartphone
  • Durable Charging Cable for Smartphone
  • Earphones
  • 2 USB-to-Micro Cables
  • USB Thumb Drive
  • Spare Batteries
  • Laptop + Protective Case (optional)
  • Portable Hard Drive for Backups (optional)
  • Camera + Protective Case (optional)
  • Portable Bluetooth Speaker (optional)
  • Correct charging cables for any of the above devices

SECTION FOUR – ANYTHING ELSE + SOME ITEMS I WISH I BROUGHT

  • General Notepad or Travel Diary
  • Umbrella
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Mosquito Net
  • Travel Clothesline
  • Travel Pillow

Below: A time lapse of me packing the above mentioned gear into my bags at an Airbnb in Medellín, Colombia. Interesting side note – although we didn’t know it at the time of booking, this Airbnb was directly across the road from the rooftop where Pablo Escobar was shot and killed! It turned out, however, to be a very nice apartment in a chilled and safe neighbourhood :). It was also a strange moment when our host, Esteban, was showing us how to use his Netflix and a preview for Narcos came on (no, I am not kidding).

Screenshot of Whatsapp Coversation with Airbnb host about Pablo Escobar


Packing List – Detailed Breakdown


SECTION ONE – STORAGE

Primary Backpack

My model:
Osprey Farpoint 40 Travel Backpack (M/L)

Thoughts:
Excellent high quality backpack (note – the M/L size is the only model that is the full 40L, the other size is only 38L).

Additional info:

  • Make sure your bag is not a top-loading backpack (one you can only access from the top), but rather that it is capable of opening like a suitcase. The people I’ve met with top-loading backpacks say it drives them nuts having to take everything out just to get to one item in their bag.
  • If possible, try it on in a store with some weight added to it. This way you can make sure it’s going to be comfortable before you commit. Any good travel store will assist you with this.
  • Try to find one with waist straps. This helps with weight distribution and makes it easier to carry when walking long distances.
  • Try to choose one that is the smallest possible size for you. This way you will restrict yourself to bringing only what you absolutely need and will be a lot more comfortable for it. For me, this was 40 litres. I definitely wouldn’t want to go any smaller than this, but I am still able to fit everything I need into this size.
  • A perceivable downside to having a smaller bag might be that you can’t really buy souvenirs or other items to bring home with you because you won’t have enough space to store them. Buying stuff like this at the start of your trip, however, means you will be lugging these items around with you everywhere you go for the remainder of your travels. You also risk losing them, or getting them damaged or stolen in the process. In my opinion, it’s a much better idea to buy anything like this, along with a cheap bag to store them in, towards the end of your trip. This might mean that you miss out on a few things along the way that you can only buy in certain places, but for me the benefit of traveling light is well worth the sacrifice.

Secondary Backpack (daypack)

My Model:
Osprey Daylite Daypack 13L

Thoughts:
Great bag, but at times I wish it had just a little more room, particularly for hikes or short trips where I’m staying overnight.

Additional Info:

  • Basically this bag is for day trips such as hikes or just getting around the city. You would leave your main bag at your hostel and pack the essentials for the day into this pack.
  • I sometimes empty this bag and flatpack it into my main bag when it’s not being used (tip – my model stores away better if you turn it inside out).
  • I also use this bag to carry my valuables. For example, if I’m taking a bus, I’ll put all my valuables into this bag (laptop, passport, camera, etc.) and take it with me onboard. I’ll put my other bag with everything else in it, into the storage compartment. I could take my main bag on the bus with me if I wanted to, but I find it more comfortable to just take my smaller bag. I’ll usually only take my whole kit if I’m particularly worried about the security of the bus’s storage compartment.

4 Assorted Sized Packing Cubes [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
eBags Packing Cubes – 4pc Small/Med Set

Thoughts:
A great combination of cube sizes and a good breathable design (these fit perfectly inside the Osprey Farpoint 40L).

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? These make organising your bag, and packing it, so much easier. As an analogy, imagine your bag is a cupboard. These packing cubes are like the drawers of that cupboard. Imagine having one giant cupboard at home without any way to separate your stuff. It would be a nightmare. These make a massive difference to organising the contents of your bag.

Document / Passport Holder

My Model:
Osprey Document Zip Wallet

Thoughts:
Excellent, with great compartments. Also has RFID blocking protection.

Breakdown:

This is where I store most of my important documents. I store some of the items listed below in my wallet, but to simplify things I have listed everything here.

  • Drivers licence
  • International drivers licence
  • Debit card (get one with no annual fees, free overseas ATM withdrawals and no international transaction fees)
  • Backup debit card (ideally on a different network to your main card)
  • credit card (get one with no annual fees and no international transaction fees)
  • Backup credit card (ideally on a different network to your main card)
  • Enough cash to start out with in the currency of your destination country
  • Backup cash – It doesn’t hurt to have some backup cash, ideally in USD as it is easy to change and also used in some countries in South America
  • Passport – Make sure you have enough pages available for entry/exit stamps for the places you intend to visit and that it won’t expire at least six months before your expected return date
  • Vaccination logbook (including yellow fever certificate, if required)
  • Pen
  • Small container to store sim cards in + pin to eject them from your phone. I buy a prepaid local data sim in all the countries I visit. This way I can order Ubers, send WhatsApp and Facebook messages and do other things on the go when I’m away from WIFI. The WIFI at hostels is also terrible sometimes, so it allows me to revert to my sim if required (tip – the website prepaid-data-sim-card.wikia.com has very useful information on prepaid sims worldwide).
  • Copy of flight / itinerary information
  • Copy of travel insurance information

Toiletries Bag

My Model:
Sea to Summit Travelling-Light Hanging Toiletry Bag (Small)

Thoughts:
Great model, good compartments, good water resistant material and hook is very convenient.

Additional Info:

  • I’ve found many bathrooms have absolutely nowhere to put your stuff. Having a hook on your toiletries bag so that you can hang it up makes a huge difference.

Breakdown:

I don’t store everything directly in this bag, but once again, to simplify things, I have listed everything that falls under the ‘toiletries’ category here.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Floss
  • Liquid Bodywash (less messy than carrying around a bar of soap)
  • Shampoo
  • Shaver (disposable razor type)
  • Electric shaver (for facial hair)
  • Electric shaver (for body hair)
  • Tweezers / Eyebrow  pluckers
  • Hair gel / wax
  • Roll-on deodorant
  • Moisturising cream
  • Lip balm
  • Nail clippers
  • Sunscreen
  • Insect Repellent
  • Contraceptives – in case you get lucky 😉 – and please don’t have sex in a dorm room.. *sigh*
  • Cologne
  • Toilet paper (very handy to keep a roll on you in South America)
  • Multivitamins (helpful for when you’re traveling and aren’t eating your usual balanced diet)

Wallet

My Model:
Nothing special here. I just have a standard leather wallet.

Additional Info:

  • If you are concerned, you can get one with RFID blocking and a strap that attaches to your belt to make it harder for people to pickpocket you. For example, a friend of mine uses the Pacsafe v100. I, however, don’t have any of these features and, fortunately, haven’t had any issues so far.

2 Padlocks + Security Cable

My Model:
Lewis N. Clark TSA-Approved 3-Dial Combination Lock With 48in Steel Cable (+ another similar lock)

Thoughts:
Good quality lock and cable, and a suitable length.

Additional Info:

  • I use combination padlocks. This way I don’t have to carry around a key and risk losing it.
  • I have two padlocks as, in some situations, you’ll need more than one.
  • The main use of my padlocks are:
    1. locking valuables in hostel lockers, and
    2. locking the main compartments of my bag when I put it into bus or aircraft storage
  • The cable is an item I invested in during my trip so that when I put my bag into storage rooms I could “chain” it to a secure fixture, making it harder to steal. This might seem over-the-top, but the fact is that many storage rooms are poorly controlled. For example, at many places I have been, I could simply tell a staff member that I need to collect my bag and literally walk in, pick up any bag I liked and walk out. Unfortunately, a friend’s guitar was stolen in this manner. With the cable, I have just a little extra peace of mind. Some examples of where you might want to use a storage room include when you check out from your hostel and want to explore the city before you catch your night bus, or when you go for a hike and want to leave the bulk of your gear in town.
  • Additionally, there are some hostels that don’t have lockers. When this is the case, I use my main bag as a kind of “portable locker”. I will chain it to my bed in the hostel and then use my other padlock to lock the main compartment of my bag. Again, it’s not a foolproof method, but I think it definitely reduces the risk somewhat.

Rain Cover for Backpack

My Model:
Osprey UltraLight Raincover (Medium)

Thoughts:
Great, but only use it for what it is intended for. For a while, I was using it as extra protection when I put my bag into bus storage, but it ended up tearing slightly.

Additional Info:

  • A rain cover for your bag is very handy to have. I was caught out in Thailand once when I didn’t have one of these and the contents of my bag (a different bag at the time) became damp 🙁

First Aid Kit

A simple way to stock your first aid kit is to see a travel doctor, buy one of their standard kits and then fill it with any other specific items you need. I’ll list the contents of my kit below to give you a general idea of what I have. However, make sure you see your travel doctor directly, around 6-8 weeks before you leave to get a kit tailored for your own needs and get your vaccinations done at the same time. Warning: This is not a game. Please see your doctor directly, as taking medicine without knowing how it reacts to your body personally is very dangerous and potentially fatal. 

Breakdown:

  • Buscopan (for stomach aches and cramps)
  • Panadol (paracetamol)
  • Vicks Vapodrops (for coughs and sore throats)
  • Antiseptic powder
  • Nasal spray
  • Gluco-lyte powder (to help with dehydration)
  • Malarone (malaria tablets)
  • Azithromycin (for chest infections)
  • Avomine (for allergy, hay fever, nausea)
  • Ciprofloxacin Sandoz (diarrhoea tablets)
  • Gastro-stop (diarrhoea “stopper”)
  • Stingose (for bites and stings)
  • Acetazolamide (for altitude sickness)
  • Coloxyl (laxative for constipation)
  • Disprin Direct (aspirin / heart attack tablet)
  • Dramamine (seasickness tablets)
  • Bandages
  • Eye Wash
  • Gloves for treating wounds
  • Island Dressing
  • Bandaids
  • Iodine Swabs

Spare Plastic Bags

Additional Info:

  • These are always good to keep spare. Handy for dirty and wet clothing and to store your thongs (flip-flops)
  • Larger plastic bags (the type used in garbage bins) can be used to help protect your things from getting wet when traveling by boat or sailing
Enjoying the beauty ‘Cajon del Azul’ in El Bolson, Argentina
Enjoying the beauty of ‘Cajon del Azul’ in El Bolson, Argentina

SECTION TWO – CLOTHING

Because South America has both warm and cool climates, depending on where you are and when, it’s actually not that straightforward to pack for. I ended up buying ALL the warmer clothing I have listed during my trip as I had only brought summer gear with me (silly). After freezing my ass off the first few nights in Chile (during the summer), I realised I had underestimated my requirements to rug up. In the end, I have found that “layering” (wearing multiple layers of clothing when cold) works best. As I am a guy, most of the models listed here are in men’s. Many do, however, also come in women’s.

1 Mid-Weight Jacket

My Model:
Patagonia Nano Puff Hoody

Thoughts:
Excellent jacket and has a hood. When it’s a little cool, just wear it with a t-shirt underneath. When it’s really cold, use all your layers (thermals, t-shirt & pullover). The jacket can also be compressed into a pillow shape for storage, which is handy.

Additional Info:

  • Basically, the keywords here are “mid weight”. Don’t buy something that’s not warm enough and don’t buy something that’s too warm. Layering will help you adjust to the different temperatures accordingly.
  • Try to get one with a hood! It makes a big difference.

1 Shorts

Additional Info:

  • Except for in the coastal regions, very few men in South America wear shorts (even when it’s very hot). Almost all the people I see wearing them around town are gringos (non-offensive term for foreigners). Of course, you don’t have to subscribe to this. You could be like one of my Aussie mates and wear your shorts and thongs everywhere 🙂

4 T-shirts

My Model:
AS Colour Men’s Staple Tee

Thoughts:
Comfortable and cheap to buy.

Additional Info:

  • There are many technical options for t-shirts which are probably quite good. In the end, I just ended up bringing standard 100% cotton shirts and they seem to work fine. I rotate them and do laundry if they start to smell or get dirty.
  • Dark colours work best for not looking dirty too quickly.

1 Button-Up Dress Shirt

My Model:
One I bought at a second hand store as I was about to enter the Amazon to protect myself from mosquitos. I then ended up keeping it for more formal occasions.

Additional Info:

  • Try to find the sort that doesn’t wrinkle much so you won’t have to iron it.
  • Can be used for protection against sun and mosquitos when required (white works best).

1 Pullover / Jumper

My Model:
An Alpaca hoody I bought in Chile. Very warm and doesn’t ever seem to smell (mine is not one of those gimmicky tourist ones 🙂 )

Additional Info:

  • Buy a pullover that is quite warm. I mostly use this when layering in fairly cold conditions.
  • Also try to get one with a hood, as mentioned, with the jacket. It makes a big difference in keeping you warm.

1 Beanie

My Model:
One made from Alpaca I bought in Chile.

Additional Info:

  • Very useful to have in cold areas. Another item that makes a difference in keeping warm.

1 Woollen Gloves

My Model:
Alpaca gloves I bought from a street vendor in Bolivia.

Additional Info:

  • You can buy wool, alpaca and llama gloves for cheap in many places throughout South America.

1 Quick-Dry Travel Towel [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
Sea to Summit DryLite Towel (Large)

Thoughts:
Amazing

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER?  Do not bring a normal towel. They take up way to much space and take ages to dry which means your towel and bag will stink. These travel towels, when hung up, dry in a few hours and take up very little space. At first it may seem weird with their “shammy” like material (I was hesitant at first), but you will very soon get used to them and will be glad you made the choice.

1 Sunglasses

My Model:
Ray-Ban Justin Sunglasses (Polarised)

Thoughts:
Great

Additional Info:

  • There is a lot of sun in South America. Get some sunnies.
  • Invest in a decent pair, preferably with polarised lenses
  • Try not to make them look too flashy. Mine are authentic, but they sell so many similar looking counterfeit pairs on the street that most people probably assume mine are fake (which I’m cool with).

1 Thermal Base Layers [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
North Face Long-Sleeve Zip Neck (Top)
North Face Warm Tights (Bottoms)

note – I have a different pair of pants but they aren’t very good, so I have listed the pair that matches my top here as my top is great.

Thoughts:
Great.

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? These are very important. Considering how little space they occupy and how warm they can keep you, they are a no-brainer. Bring the warmest you can find as you will be using them for layering and will be very thankful you have them.

1 Thongs (aka flip-flops)

My Model:
Reef Flip Flops

Thoughts:
I just bought these because they were the ones available at the store I walked into. Because they are slightly different to the most common pairs of Havaianas, they are less likely to get mixed up with every other traveler’s pair.

Additional Info:

  • Use these for the beach and showering in hostels that don’t look as clean as they should
  • DO NOT buy a pair that has a material based strap. Make sure they are rubber! I originally made this mistake and, as they take a long time to dry, they end up smelling if you put them in your bag while they are still wet.

1 Shoes (versatile)

My Model:
Globe Men’s Dart Lyt Skateboarding Shoe (All Black)

Thoughts:
Excellent, but after what I have put them through (a lot) they were starting to show signs of wear about 7 months in. They are also not waterproof, but dry very fast. I would happily buy the same pair again. In my opinion, they are a great shoe.

Additional Info:

  • Most people bring two pairs of shoes, casual and hiking. This is fine, but I just chose to bring one pair. I have used the same pair of shoes for trekking mountains, walking around the city, dining at restaurants and dancing in nightclubs. It’s not the most fashionable to wear one pair of shoes but it does save a lot of space.
  • I chose an all black pair because they don’t look dirty as easily.

2 Long Pants (versatile)

My Model:
Prana Men’s Brion 30-Inch Inseam Pant

Thoughts:
The best pair of pants I have ever owned. These are amazing because I can wear them hiking or to dinner. They are actually designed for rock climbing but you would never be able to tell. They are lightweight, dry quickly and are very stretchy and comfortable. I still remember one guy in Patagonia, Argentina who became very excited when he noticed we were wearing the same pair, lol.

Additional Info:

  • Buy something along the lines of the above. “Versatile” being the key word, so you can use them for multiple scenarios.

1 Cap

My Model:
A fake Levis cap I bought from a street vendor in Bolivia

Additional Info:

  • I actually didn’t wear hats much in Australia, but when you’re traveling you are constantly outdoors getting roasted by the sun, so bring some sort of basic hat to help with this.

1 Swimming Trunks

My Model:
Globe Mens Dana V Boardshorts

Thoughts:
Awesome. Unfortunately, someone else shared this opinion and stole them when I left them to dry at a hostel (who the hell steals another man’s shorts!). I should mention the internal mesh of one of the pockets did tear. This didn’t bother me, however, as I only used them for swimming. I now have a replacement pair of “genuine” Tommy Hilfiger shorts which I bought from a street vendor in Colombia.

Additional Info:

  • DT’s might save you space, but may also ruin someone else’s holiday. Please be considerate 😀

5 Underwear (quick drying, low odour technology preferable) [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Sport Mesh 3″ Boxer Brief

Thoughts:
The best pair of underwear I have ever owned. Extremely comfortable, low order and dry very fast.

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? The good thing about this type of underwear is that they don’t smell easily and you can wash them in the shower or sink and then hang them up and they will dry quite fast. I have about 3 pairs with this technology, the others are just my normal underwear that I used at home.

4 Socks (low odour technology preferable)

My Model:
Icebreaker Men’s Hike+ Lite Crew Sock

Thoughts:
I have two pairs of this model. They are the best pair of socks I have ever owned. Extremely low odour. They are designed for hiking, but I also use them for everyday use. I actually have a hole in one of them now, but for how much I have worn them, I am not at all disappointed. Watch this video.

Additional Info

  • Invest in good socks! You are going to be on your feet a lot so they are important.
  • Find some that have low odour, sweat resistant technology. It’s worth it.

1 Sleeping Mask & Earplugs [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
Cocoon Eye Shades Deluxe with Ear Plugs

Thoughts:
Very Comfortable.

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? For long bus rides or flights, for hotels or hostels where the sunlight just blasts in and for noisy environments. You will get much more quality sleep if you invest in a set of these. I only got them halfway through my trip and the difference they made was astounding.

1 Raincoat

My Model:
Patagonia Torrentshell Jacket

Thoughts:
Great, but you could easily get away with a much cheaper option.

Additional Info:

  • If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, definitely bring a raincoat. You will need it on multiple occasions.

1 Sarong [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
One I bought from a guy walking up and down the beach in Chile

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? This might seem like a strange one, but they are very handy and take up very little space.
    • You can use it as a beach towel
    • It can be used as a ‘curtain’ in hostel dorms where you want to get some privacy
    • It can be used to block out (some) sunlight and to get more privacy on windows in private rooms where they don’t have very good curtains

1 Hidden Money Wallet

My Model:
Pacsafe Coversafe V100 Anti-Theft RFID Blocking Waist Wallet

Thoughts:
Good, basic and slim.

Additional Info:

  • I don’t use this much anymore to be honest. I did at the start of my trip when I was still adjusting to South America, but now that I’m a bit more relaxed I don’t use it much. It’s still handy to have, however, for some areas and the times that I do need it.
Looking out over the incredible landscape at ‘Valle de la Luna’ in the San Pedro de Atacama Desert in Chile.
Looking out over the incredible landscape at ‘Valle de la Luna’ in the San Pedro de Atacama Desert in Chile.

SECTION THREE – ELECTRONICS

Universal Power Adapter (with surge protection & USB Ports)

My Model:
Skross World Travel Adapter MUV USB 2-pole Adapter & USB Charger 1302150

Thoughts:
Excellent. Fits into sockets all over the world. Only occasional downside is it’s a little bulky and I sometimes have issues plugging it into every wall outlet, as some are in awkward positions. Also, because of its size, it sometimes blocks the next outlet from being used. Still, despite all this, I’m happy with my choice. It also has a fuse to provide extra protection from power surges.

Additional Info:

  • I like universal power adapters because they have a connection type for almost every country in the world. The power outlets throughout South America are not all the same so this saves me having to buy a new one for each country.
  • You should try to get one that has some form of surge protection. This basically means it “should” protect your equipment if the electricity spikes. You still need to exercise common sense, however. For example, don’t charge your equipment during a storm. I’ve met a few people on this trip who have fried their equipment from dodgy power sockets or during storms.
  • Get one with USB ports.

Power Bank (portable USB charger) [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
Jackery 12000mAh Gaint

Thoughts:
Excellent. Has two ports, one charges quicker for devices that can handle it. Also has a built-in flashlight (but to be honest, it’s not a very powerful torch).

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? Very handy for long bus rides / trekking / camping
  • Also handy when you’re in a 10-bed dorm and there is only one power outlet for everyone to share
  • I chose a model that is able to charge my iPhone roughly 4 to 5 times
  • Can charge any devices that use a USB cable

Small Torch or Headlamp

My Model:
A small LED torch that I had at home.

Additional Info:

  • For most basic things I just use the torch on my iPhone, but it’s still handy to have a standalone torch on hand for when it’s required.
  • It has proven useful when camping, trekking through caves and when my phone was dead for a week.
  • I’ve seen other travellers using headlamps and, as silly as they look, they are actually quite practical. In the future, I would probably opt for one of these over a handheld torch.

Kindle or E-Book Reader [GAME-CHANGER]

My Model:
Kindle Paperwhite

Thoughts: Excellent!

Additional Info:

  • WHY GAME-CHANGER? I’m surprised to find that the majority of people I meet traveling have paperbacks. If you are planning on reading during your travels, this is probably one of the biggest ways to save space and reduce the weight of your bag. Yes, you miss out on “book exchange” at hostels, but that’s not a big deal to me.
  • Finding the books you want on the road, let alone in your target language, may prove difficult in South America.  This is why Kindles are amazing. You can download practically any book in the world within seconds.
  • They also have a number of other benefits over normal books, but that is outside the scope of this post.

iPhone or other type of Smartphone

My Model:
iPhone 6

Additional Info:

  • Some people choose not to take their smartphones with them on their trip because they are worried that it will get stolen or they will lose it. I understand that, but a bit of common sense and taking out the appropriate travel insurance are ways to counter this.
  • The list of apps and things that your smart phone can assist you with when traveling is huge and for that reason I definitely prefer to bring my phone with me. Banking apps, maps, social media, WhatsApp, Skype, Google Translate, internet research, and the list goes on.
  • Unless you want to completely distance yourself from technology and go old school (which is also cool and what one of my friends did), I would suggest bringing your phone.

Durable Charging Cable for Smartphone

My Model:
Belkin Apple Certified MIXIT Metallic Lightning to USB Cable, 4 Feet (Black)

Thoughts:
Good, but I haven’t used it for long yet. I hope this one lasts.

Additional Info:

  • I say “durable” because they need to be a bit tougher when you’re traveling. I have gone through about 3 cables (some of them were not genuine) on this trip. I’m hoping this one lasts longer!

Earphones

My Model: Standard issue iPhone earphones

Additional Info:

  • I just brought the stock standard ones that came with my phone. For me, these do more than a good enough job and save me a lot of space compared to headphones

2 USB-to-Micro Cables

Additional Info:

  • Just a very handy cable to have in general. Chances are that more than a few of your devices use this connection type (for me it’s my Kindle, camera and portable speaker).
  • Bring two so you can charge two devices at once

USB Thumb Drive

My Model:
SanDisk Cruzer Switch 8GB

Additional Info:

  • Handy to have for:
    • swapping files with other travellers
    • when you want to print travel tickets off, or
    • when you want to print photos at a shop

Spare batteries

Additional Info:

  • For your torch and any other devices that require them

Laptop + Protective Case (optional)

My Model:
Macbook Pro 13″, Early 2015.

Thoughts:
Excellent. Not as light as the newer models, however it was the last 13″ Macbook Pro model made that still had USB ports, so I opted for it.

Additional Info:

  • Laptops are obviously optional. They add significant weight and value to what you are carrying, so unless you need one for things you can’t do on your smartphone I would suggest not bringing one. For me, however, I wanted to work on music and blogging while I was gone so it was a must.
  • If you do bring a laptop, obviously make sure you choose something small and lightweight.
  • Encrypt your laptop hard drive in case it gets stolen

Portable Hard Drive for Backups (optional)

My Model:
WD 1TB Elements Portable External Hard Drive

Thoughts:
Good

Additional Info:

  • I use this to backup my laptop in case it crashes or it gets stolen. I have my hard drive encrypted and I also try to store it in a different location to my laptop.

Camera + Protective Case (optional)

My Model:
Sony Alpha a6000 Mirrorless Digital Camera with 16-50mm Power Zoom Lens

Thoughts:
Excellent quality mirrorless camera. I spent quite some time researching options before choosing this one. It also has an interchangeable lens type which gives me the option to upgrade and use different lenses should I wish. I’m currently still just using the kit lens which produces great photos, but they could be greatly improved by upgrading.

Additional Info:

  • I say “optional” because, obviously, you can use your smartphone to take pictures. I am interested in photography, however, and the quality difference I have achieved between my camera and smartphone has been worth it for me. It is a little bulky, but isn’t quite as big as a DSLR so it’s fine.

Portable Bluetooth Speaker (optional)

My Model:
JBL Flip 3 (the 4 is now out)

Thoughts:
Excellent sound quality and volume capability for it’s size. Good battery life.

Additional Info:

  • Another optional item. However, this is the party starter! The amount of fun I’ve had with other travellers I’ve met at hostels because of this bad boy has been more than worth it.
  • It’s also cool when you have your own space and want to listen to some music that isn’t through your earphones, for example in your own room or at the pool or beach.

Correct charging cables for any of the above devices

Additional Info:

  • Sometimes you might be able to use one cable for multiple devices and save some space, but make sure you check that they use the same voltage so you don’t damage your equipment.
Testing out my echo at the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, Peru.
Testing out my echo at the Colca Canyon in Arequipa, Peru.

SECTION FOUR – ANYTHING ELSE + SOME ITEMS I WISH I BROUGHT

General Notepad or Travel Diary

Additional Info:

  • Back home, I would use The Five Minute Journal. On the road, however, I use the app version of this.
  • A lot of people I’ve met simply have a plain old notebook which allows more freedom for travel entries.
  • Whatever you choose, it’s just a great way to keep a record of the people you meet, places you visit and feelings you have on your travels for you to look back on later.

Umbrella

Additional Info:

  • I don’t have one and I’ve been caught out a few times. I definitely think it’s worth bringing a small one along, I just haven’t gotten around to getting one. Occasionally, I’ve borrowed them from hostels.

Swiss Army Knife

Additional Info:

  • I didn’t bring mine because I wouldn’t have been allowed to take it as carry-on luggage. It would, however, have been extremely useful for a trip like this.

Mosquito Net

Additional Info:

  • Another item I don’t have, but there would have been a few occasions where this would have come in handy.

Travel Clothesline

  • I didn’t bring one, but, for the space it would consume, I think it would be worth it as they can be quite useful at times.

Travel Pillow

Additional Info:

  • Probably one item that I long for most on long bus rides. I think they could make a big difference in the comfort of trips and ability to get some sleep. Again, this is an item I don’t have and I am hesitant to get one as it may add a bit of bulk to what I am carrying. If it could fully compress, however, I think it would be worth it.

Closing

Before I left Australia, I had a little bit of buyer’s remorse. I felt like I had spent too much money buying gear. After a few months on the road however, I realised that investing in some good quality equipment before I left was a good decision. It’s not always easy to find exactly what you’re after on the road, and besides, who wants to spend time doing that when you’re travelling. Having said that though, I did still buy a considerable amount of stuff on the road as I needed it. If you don’t have everything you need before you leave, don’t panic. There are plenty of shopping malls and markets in South America. On top of that, there are many travellers who don’t buy anything at all and are still fine. Work within your budget and your own style. The goal is to see the world. The gear is just there to help you do that in the most optimal way. Thanks for reading and I hope this has helped you figure out what to pack for your awesome adventure to South America!

Buen Viaje!
Shanon

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