Everything I Packed For South America

In October 2018 I set out for a multi-month trip to South America of undetermined length.  With me I brought only a 40 liter backpack, the clothes on my back, a purse, and a desire to learn Spanish.  Luckily the desire to learn Spanish didn’t take up much room (unlike my ridiculously bulky towel), but here’s a breakdown of everything else I packed.

I’ve made post-trip update notes in purple below: What was useful, and what wasn’t? 


  • 1 long-sleeved Merino wool shirt
  • 1 long-sleeved cotton shirt
  • 1 3/4-length synthetic fiber shirt – can be dressed up if needed.
  • 1 camisole
  • 1 thermal shirt
  • 2 cotton tees
  • 1 quick-dry tee
  • 1 light pullover sweater
  • 1 rain jacket
  • 1 wide-brimmed sun hat
  • 1 multi-purpose scarf
  • 1 cold weather earband
  • 1 pair gloves
  • 1 towel/yoga mat – brought this to use at hostels that don’t provide towels, but is actually made by Gaiam and can also be used as a (very thin) yoga mat because of its size.
  • 1 pair jeans
  • 1 pair hiking pants
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 1 pair athletic shorts
  • 1 swimsuit
  • 1 pair sneakers
  • 1 pair hiking boots  I waivered on these, but was so glad I brought them in the end.  I wound up hiking almost every weekend for five months. 
  • 1 pair Chaco sandals
  • 4 pair regular underwear
  • 2 pair ExOfficio underwear
  • 3 pair low-cut socks
  • 1 pair high hiking socks
  • 2 regular bras
  • 1 sports bra
  • 1 necklace & 1 ring
  • Digital watch

I packed almost all of this in four packing cubes.  One packing cube held my sneakers and sandals (I wore my hiking boots in transit since they were the bulkiest footwear), the second held undergarments, the third held my shirts, and the fourth held my lower-body wear.

I read dozens of too many packing list blogs prior to taking my own trip, and while all of them were slightly different, a common theme among them was an unabashed reverence of packing cubes – because these things really are lifesavers.  Imagine trying to find a pair of socks at the bottom of your backpack.  You would have to pull out every. last. item. in your bag to find them.  With packing cubes, you pull out a couple of cubes and whamo! – there you have your sock & underwear cube!  If you don’t believe me, try them for yourself.

Overall I was very happy with my clothing selections – they were able to take me from the beaches of Santa Cruz, Ecuador to La Montaña de Siete Colores in Perú.  I did tire of wearing the same clothes over and over again, but I didn’t have room for many more clothing items.  Plus, the monotony of clothing is a common feeling among long-term travellers – when I came home I didn’t touch my South America clothes for months!


  • Toothbrush & toothbrush holder
  • Floss
  • Ear plugs x 2 – because I’m a light sleeper and plan to sleep in hostel dorm rooms.
  • Solid deodorant
  • Bar of soap
  • Shampoo bar – this thing is amazing and easily lasts me 3 months, plus cuts down on liquids (important when flying without checked bags).
  • Razor
  • Tweezers
  • Nail clippers  These doubled as scissors on the road.
  • Comb
  • Small hair brush
  • Retainers – gotta keep those pearly whites in place!
  • Medicine – this will differ by person, but I brought any prescription medications I needed plus multi-vitamins.
  • Small medical kit – includes the basics: bandages, gauze, alcohol wipes, antibacterial ointment, etc.


  • Coconut oil – multi-purpose moisturizer.
  • Dr. Bronner’s castile soap – for washing clothes in hostel sinks as needed.  I barely used the concentrated soap and at the end of the trip the bottle exploded in my backpack and made everything very, very, soapy.
  • Contacts and contact case
  • Contact lense solution
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Bug spray  I mostly stayed in the Andes mountains and therefore didn’t use much of this spray.
  • Anti-itch cream – because even with copious amounts of bug spray insects love to bite me.  See above; I could have done without.
  • Toothpaste
  • Eye drops for dry eyes
  • Sun screen – everything I read explained that sun screen is hella expensive in Latin America, and I can confirm it may be cheaper to buy the newest Tesla model than to purchase a bottle of sun screen in Ecuador.  This was completely true.  I begged B to bring me sunscreen from the U.S. when he visited, and he showed up with seven (7!) bottles of travel-sized sunscreen.  Talk about a pale-skinned princess being rescued by her knight-in-UV-ray-protected armor!

Since I flew with carry-on luggage only, all liquids were placed in containers of less than 3.2 fluid ounces.


  • Power outlet adapter – I wasn’t sure which countries I would be visiting and some in South America don’t use the same types of outlets as the U.S. (I’m looking at you, Chile and Argentina!)  Both of the countries I visited did not require adapters, so I sent it home.
  • Camera
  • Camera battery x 2
  • Camera battery charger
  • Camera memory cards x 3 – in case I lose one.  Or two.
  • Unlocked cell phone
  • SteriPen Ultralight  This was AWESOME and saved me from buying plastic water bottles all the time. 
  • Kindle 5th Generation – because it’s lighter than schleping around 5 books and I can download e-books from my library account(s) back home via wi-fi as I travel.
  • Headlamp w/ batteries
  • Charger – since my phone, Steripen, and Kindle are all charged with micro USB cords, it didn’t make sense to bring a charger for each.  Thus, one cord to charge them all!


  • Luggage locks x 2
  • Exercise band – yes, I do have physical therapy exercises I have to do multiple times a week.  Yes, I have actually done them while in Ecuador.
  • Spanish phrase book I barely touched this and sent it home.
  • Sleep eye mask
  • Glasses
  • CamelBak Chute water bottle – I typically use a stainless steel water bottle in the U.S., but this bottle has a wide enough neck for using my SteriPen and weighed a bit less than my stainless steel bottle.
  • Foldable day bag
  • Journal
  • Trtl neck pillow I wound up switching this out for an inflatable hood pillow that I could use in my sleeping bag during my trek to Machu Picchu
  • Ankle wrap – I have a weak ankle and use this wrap when I know I’ll be hiking.
  • Laundry bag
  • Dry bag
  • 2 caribiners

In My Purse

  • Reusable napkin
  • Wallet
  • Fake wallet – you know, in case I get mugged.  I was much more likely to get pickpocketed than mugged, so this was not at all helpful. 
  • Passport & passport copy – to be kept separately from each other in case I lose the original.
  • Pens x 3
  • Spork
  • Earphones
  • Personal safety alarm
  • ChicoBag
  • Handkerchief

2 thoughts on “Everything I Packed For South America”

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