How to Pack for Three Months in South America

I’m about to embark on my largest backpacking trip to date. I purchased a one-way ticket to South America, but estimate traveling between 2 and 3 months. Things I keep in mind each time I travel: pack as light as humanly possible, stay well under the carry-on weight limit (most airlines restrict it to 22 lbs/10 kgs), and leave a little room for purchases along the way.

The biggest challenge I face, apart from the length of the trip, is the vastly different climates within the continent. I plan to travel from the beaches of Cartagena, Colombia to the Chilean Andes, all the way down to Ushuaia, Argentina, the southernmost city in the world. Temperatures along my route will range from 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 celsius) to 37 degrees F (3 degrees C). Sunshine in Cartagena, rain in Bogota, clouds in Santiago, and wind in Ushuaia.

Many people have asked me how I manage to fit everything in a small backpack (I carry a 50L Orange Gregory Jade backpack), one that I’ve used since my days studying abroad in Paris. Last year I wrote a post on how to pack for Southeast Asia . While traveling through Thailand, Myanmar,Vietnam, and Cambodia, I not only learned what I really needed, but also what I didn’t even use (the cocoon sleeping sack, for example, lay at the bottom of my bag only adding weight). I am taking on the challenge of packing even less than before. Below is my packing list in my greatest attempt, with some packing tips for any backpacker, regardless of destination.

I’d also like to note that I am not packing any camping/hiking specific gear apart from my hiking boots. Unfortunately size constraints don’t allow me to bring a sleeping bag, kitchen camping equipment, a tent, etc. I plan to rent these items at outposts at the base of each hiking circuit.

Pre-Trip Checklist:

-Scan the front and back of your credits and debit cards that you’ll be bringing with you. Send yourself an email of these scans, in case you lose your card and need to contact the bank.

-Scan your passport and email yourself the passport information as well. Also make a photocopy of your passport and keep it with your original passport.

-Call your bank and credit card companies to let them know when and where you’ll be traveling to so you’re not flagged for credit card fraud.

-Buy travel insurance. The best one out there is World Nomads. You can specify the duration and types of activities you’ll be engaging in to determine the level of insurance you need.

-Visas: Check U.S. Dept of State website to see if you need a visa to any specific country.

-Money: Cash is more important in South America than in any other region I’ve been to thus far. In Argentina, for example, the exchange rate when you take out cash from an ATM is almost double than if you exchange cash on the black market. Be sure to bring enough cash with you. Keep it in a money pouch and attached to you at all times.

My Top Two: Just as in Southeast Asia, there are two items that I couldn’t do without and that have traveled with me around the world. They are listed here again:

  1. Sherpani Small Ultralight backpack. This is the single best travel purchase I’ve ever made. I’ve used this backpack so much. It’s stylish and lightweight, and it fits everything you need for the day, no more, no less. The $60 is worth every penny.

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    Photo from Sherpani.com
  2. I’ve also been all over the world in my purple Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Parka (with hood). It folds into a nice pouch, and I use it as a pillow on the plane and at night. It’s a great jacket for all types of weather and is waterproof.

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    Photo from Uniqlo.com

Essentials:

-The backpack. My 50L Gregory Jade backpack from REI is a perfect size, and forces you to stay light as you pack.

-Passport: I will bring both of mine – the Brasilian one may be of better help than the American one as I travel. Argentina normally charges Americans $100 upon entry, and with a Brasilian passport that fee is waived.

-Money belt with cash. Make sure to buy a comfortable and good quality money belt, as you’ll be sleeping with it on the plane, in buses, and in some cases at hostels. Often the ones you get for free are scratchy and not fit for actual carrying around long distances.

-The boots. I have a pair of Lowa Renegade GTX Mid-Hiking Boots. They aren’t cheap, but they’re waterproof, one of the most comfortable boots out there, are light, and will be with you for many years.

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Photo from REI.com

 

Gadgets & Gear: 

-Canon Powershot 12MP with charger. I carry this around to avoid taking photos with my iPhone.

-Long and thin wallet that can fit lots of cash bills and less credit cards. Mine has different compartments to separate my US dollars from foreign money.

-Small coin pouch

-Two TSA approved combination locks (I have on from REI and the other from Swiss Army)

-ASUS mini chromebook, soft foam case, and charger. This is so that I can keep you all up to date by writing in my blog!

-My iPhone 6 and charger

-My Moto E Global GSM smart phone and charger. I use this phone so I can buy a SIM card with a data plan when I travel to countries for a week or more. It can be a drag to buy a new SIM for each country, but if you’re there long enough it’s well worth it should you want to stay connected. Never turn on your data roaming from your American phone, it will cost a fortune.

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Photo from Motorola.com

-Three round pegged adapters for my chargers. Colombia uses the American pegs, but Argentina, Chile, and elsewhere on the continent the round pegs are used.

-Two medium packing cubes (One by Muji, the other by Sea to Summit). This is wear I pack all of my clothes. One is for my lower temperature items, the other for those hot and humid days along the coast.

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Photo from Muji.com

–Eagle Creek quarter cube. I carry in this cube my medications, multiple sets of earplugs, extra adapters, a pen, chapstick, two sets of ear-bud headphones and two eye masks.

–Eagle Creek toiletry hanging pack

Sea to Summit pocket towel. The micro fiber makes this towel fast drying and ultra absorbent. It’s also antimicrobial which allows use for extended periods without washing.

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Photo from Amazon.com

Clothing & Shoes: 

A tip for choosing your clothes, which has always been a challenge for me: always go through everything two to three times, and create a very specific scenario where you plan to use each item. This will help you take things away.

You’ll have to do laundry multiple times – it’s unavoidable. Many hostels nowadays have a laundry service, and it doesn’t cost very much. When I went to Peru I paid only a couple of dollars for my laundry to be sent out, washed, dried, and folded.

-2 bikinis

-2 bras, 16 pairs underwear, and 8 pairs of warm socks.

-1 pair compression socks. These are great for long flights or for those long bus rides.

-1 night tshirt

-1 dressy tank top x

-1 pair of shorts

-1 day/night black jumper

-1 casual day/night dress

-3 tank tops

-3 tshirts

-1 pair of hiking pants.

-1 belt

-1 cashmere short sleeve shirt. This is a great layering item. The combination of cashmere with short sleeves is perfect for moderate to cold temperatures.

-1 pair of jeans

-1 workout top

-1 workout short

-2 thermal heat tech uniqlo leggings. All of the Uniqlo heat-tech branded clothes are great for retaining heat. They’re light and soft, and I love wearing their products when spending long days outdoors and doing a lot of physical activity.

-2 thermal heat tech uniqlo long sleeve shirts 

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Photo from Uniqlo.com

-2 sweaters, one for moderate temperatures and one heavy for colder temperatures.

-Birkenstocks (1 pair): comfortable, light, and durable.

-Flip-flops (1 pair): my Havaianas are essential for the hostel showers and the beach.

-Flats (1 pair): all purpose black flats for when you can’t stand wearing hiking boots anymore and want a dressier night out.

Accessories:

-One set of matching hat and gloves.

-One warm scarf. I brought one that I bought in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s a great multipurpose scarf because it’s warm and practical but can also be draped over your shoulders like a pashmina.

-One small purse for nights you want to ditch the backpack. Mine has long straps and is large enough to fit my phone, wallet, ID, and a few other little items.

-Sunglasses (2 pairs): don’t bring your favorite $300 Chanel sunglasses, but don’t bring cheap $7 ones either. Make sure you like how they look on you because they will show up in all your photos!

Toiletries & Makeup:

I won’t list everything, except a few items worth noting. Remember you will eventually have to buy items along the way as you run out, so don’t bring a large bottle of shampoo that you want to last you 2 months.

-Travel pack of makeup remover wipes. Especially when you hiking and can’t shower, these will save your face.

-Dry shampoo. Ditto above – great for those days you won’t get to a shower.

-Moleskine bandages. These are great for long hiking trips – they help prevent blisters and are far superior to regular bandages as they provide padding and added comfort.

Jewelry: I don’t bring anything valuable. I have two of my favorite rings, one necklace, two bracelets, and two pairs of earrings.

Makeup: A personal decision, but I packed just the minimum. When I travel I rarely wear makeup.

–Hair ties, you can never have too many.

–Lip balm (2), with SPF 15. This is especially important when you’re changing weather conditions and at high altitudes. You don’t want your lips to be dry or to burn!

Medications & Miscellaneous: 

-Mini set of all purpose medications: This does not include any prescription medications you individually must bring with you. I like to take the following with me in small amounts just in case: ibuprofen, emergen-C, lactaid, sleepy-time/melatonin, and antihistamines.

-Probiotics: I highly recommend taking probiotics (ones that are shelf stable and don’t need to be refrigerated) with you. This will help your gut adjust to the changes in diet and foods you’ll be consuming.

-1 mini flashlight.

-2 carabiners.

-1 small blanket. I have one I bought on a flight – they are small and easy to fold.

-1 large black trashbag. I like to have one in case I need to cover up my backpack when it rains.

-Two 1 gallon ziplock bags. I always like to bring these with me for whatever may come up that I need to pack.

-One paperback book and two magazines.

-Small notepad and a pen

Here’s a photo of my bag, all packed and ready to go! Total weight: 25 lbs/ 11 kg.

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One thought on “How to Pack for Three Months in South America

  1. Kim Efthimiou

    I love your sense of adventure! My favorite quote, and one that is relevant to your travels is : ‘ Leap and the net shall appear’.

    Be safe, trust your instincts and enjoy this life changing experience!

    Love Thea Kim

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