How to pack a backpack and what to bring?
Before I went on the first backpacking trip of my life, I was the type of traveller who liked to bring a huge suitcase everywhere I went, to have EVERYTHING with me “just in case”. That’s why I couldn’t even imagine how some people can survive months or even years of travelling with only a backpack’s worth of stuff. Because of that, it was a real challenge for me to figure out what and how to pack for the three months of backpacking in South America.
I watched countless YouTube videos to get some advice from people who are more experienced in this topic than me. So to help others who are in the same shoe as I was, I put together a list that I would have found very helpful when I was planning my journey.
(full packing list at the end)
First and foremost, you have to find the perfect bag for you. It seems like an easy task, but there are many criteria that you need to take into consideration. When you don’t have a proper backpack that’s comfortable for you, that can ruin your whole trip.
First of all, there is the size, which is one of the most important things that you need to think of. I would suggest you bring a bag between 50-65L, which I found is the best size for me. I loved my 60L backpack because it was big enough to fit all my stuff in it, and there was always extra space. It wasn’t too big to be uncomfortable or impractical to carry. If you are more minimalist than me, it is always good to strive for the smallest bag that you can fit into. That’s because – the lighter bag you have, the easier your travel will be.
Nowadays you can find a backpack anywhere between 60 and 500 Euros. How much you want to spend on it, depends on you. But if you’re going to take my advice, don’t get too caught up on the popular brands that want to sell you amazing backpacks for a fortune. If you spend a lot of money on your bag, you will want to take care of it, which is not always possible on a trip like this. Because trust me, it is going to get dirty and wet and sandy and the people working at the airport or on buses will throw it around without any mercy.
I personally travelled with the cheapest option I found from Decathlon and I loved it! It had waist straps that made carrying it more comfortable, zippers that enabled me to open it fully, and it served every purpose I needed it to. This was proof for me that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Packing clothes for a trip like this can be tricky. Try not to overpack, but keep in mind the different situations and conditions you might travel in. In my opinion, the most important thing to remember is that you can ALWAYS wash your clothes. Packing a new T-shirt for every day is not necessary. What you should think about while packing, is what activities you want to do, and what climate you can expect, especially in South America. If you are going to places where the weather can change drastically, try to pack many layers instead of one really warm one, so you can always take off or put on more depending on the climate. I would also suggest you prioritize comfort and practicality – try to find the most compact and light clothes.
For example, I wouldn’t take a pair of jeans, because they are heavy and take up a lot of space, but you can bring some stretchy jeggings or hiking pants instead. To be ready for many situations is nice, but remember that you can always buy some things along the way too. So don’t stress too much about it, and don’t forget to leave some space in your backpack in case you want to buy a few new pieces while you are there.
My philosophy with electronics is the less you have, the better. Because the more technological objects you have, the more stressed you are going to be. Just think about how many things can happen to these items while you are travelling. The first and maybe the worst one is theft, which can occur everywhere. If you have a camera dangling on your neck, you will instantly become a bigger target for it. But even if you have your valuables in your backpack, it is going to make you more nervous to trust people around it; or just leave it at your hostel. And they can also get wet during an unexpected storm, break while your bag is thrown in the trunk of a bus or disappear because you accidentally left it plugged in at your hostel. So, my suggestion is to bring the bare minimum you can which for me is my phone, a charger, headphones, my analogue camera and a power bank.
In the last part of my post, I wanted to share some things that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought about while packing, but I found them to be useful because without these items my trip would have been very different.
1. A water bottle with filter:
In South America, the tap water is not drinkable in many many places, which forces you to buy water in plastic bottles every day. This method is awful for the environment and also not too practical, so I would suggest you bring a water filter with you. The best type of filter, in my opinion, is the one that is already inside a bottle, because with that you can instantly drink from an undrinkable water source safely. (I bought one called LifeStraw Go, which worked properly, but I would suggest you buy another kind because this one always spilled in my bag.)
I think at this point everybody knows about Revolut. But if you don’t have it yet, make one before you start your trip. It is a debit card that enables you to switch the currency of your money within seconds and to send it to anybody who also has a Revolut card super quickly.
This will help you a lot during your travels because if you buy things together with the team (you share a taxi, buy ingredients to cook together etc.), you won’t have to count coins to give the money back that you owe each other. After all, you just have to push a few buttons, and it’s done. This way, you can also save a lot of money because you don’t have to exchange your money in a bank.
3. Sleeping bag
When I was packing for South America at home, it didn’t even cross my mind to bring a sleeping bag with me, but after my teammates convinced me, I ended up taking one with me. It was the best decision I could have made! Although I planned to sleep mostly in hostels, I got many opportunities to spend a night in exciting places, where having a sleeping bag was the key (on the beach under the sky, on the floor of a house of a stranger, in a hammock etc.).
Although it takes up some space and makes your bag a little heavier, I think it is absolutely worth it to bring it with you because it makes you more independent and opens up a whole new world for you. I bought mine in Decathlon and it is the one that is good until 15 degrees Celsius, but I would suggest you to try to bring a warmer one because it’s always better to be too hot at night than to freeze.
4. Packing cubes:
Packing cubes are definitely not necessities when it comes to what to bring on your trip, but for sure they will make your life a whole lot easier. They are basically little bags in which you can put all your rolled-up clothes. They are super handy because this way when you are looking for something in your backpack, you don’t have to look through all your loose clothes, you just have to take out the packing cube that you put it in, and you will instantly find it. If you pack this way, you can also save some space and have an organized backpack at all times.
What I took with me to South America:
(Everybody’s list is different and this just an example of what to pack, but if you look at the pictures you can see that there are many other ways too)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 2 pairs of flowy pants & 1 pair of leggings
- 4 short sleeve & 1 long sleeve shirt
- 3 tank tops
- 1 summer dress & a bathing suit
- 1 light sweater and, 1 foldable jacket & 1 rain poncho
- 10 p. of underwear to do & 2 bras
- 6 pairs of socks
- Birkenstock slides
- Gore-Tex hiking shoes
- Fanny pack
- Small backpack
- Foldable tote bag
- 2 chargers
- Charger adapter!
- Extension cable
- Power bank
- 1 bar of soap
- Toothbrush & paste
- Reusable razor
- Nail scissor
- Menstruation cup
- Hand sanitizer
- Lip balm
- Pocket mirror
- Cream for injuries
- Stomach pills
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping mask
- Water bottle(+filter)
- Mini sewing kit
- Cutlery set
- Small Tupperware
- Raincoat for backpack
- Bug spray
- Travel towel
- Packing cubes
- Playing cards
Veronika LTTL 2019
Read more how Veronika hitchhiked in South-America