in Travel

How to pack for a year out backpacking if you’re a girl

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Faced with only a 60L backpack and a year (or more’s) travel to prepare for,  it was a pretty tough gig to think of how to pack everything one might need for travels in both South America and South East Asia. After some long hard thinking, I’d recommend the following (it’s certainly served me well so far!)

The basics
These are the things you’ll fall back on on a daily basis, and I would’t leave home without them…

Pants!- I’d take approx 10 pairs as this is how may days it’s likely to take before you run out of clothes, then you can do a quick hand wash in the sink with hand soap. Sounds basic but it works!

Shorts – 2 or 3 pairs. Great for hiking, sight seeing in hot countries, and what I wear most days. I’m normally a pretty girly girl but in most cities girls don’t get dressed up in pretty skirts and dresses so you feel a bit over-dressed in these, and shorts are a good middle-ground. Ditto dungarees.

Strappy tops and t-shirts – you need a good mix of these so you can a) work on your tan and feel a little more glammed up (strappies) and b) recover from your failed tanning attempts (sunburn!) and cover up on too-hot days. Only 100% cotton, no artificial fabrics, or you’ll sweat through your top in a matter of hours! (Primark, I’m looking at you). Not a good look, trust me.

Comfy dresses – essential! I have a long cotton beach dress that I bought in Bali a few years back and it’s one of my favourite items. It looks good enough to wear at dinner, but is also comfy and can be worn without a bra. I wear it on overnight buses because it’s warm, to travel in, on lazy days… whenever really. Day dresses are also good when you want to don some lippy and step up your look a little! Cardies/light hoodies – For when it’s slightly chillier I generally have a couple of cardies in bright, versatile colours for the evenings. That’s usually enough.

SCARF!! – I can’t emphasise enough how important this one is. An old, pretty pashmina style scarf is essential and so, so versatile. A make-shift blanket for cooler situations, a sunburn cover-up, a cute little neck scarf when rolled thinnly. Choose a really bright beautiful one, and base your wardrobe colour sheme around this. Finishes off any outfit.

Leggings! - I carry two pairs, so you always have some clean… Or cleaner! One for travel/slobbing, one for daywear. Grey or black/neutrals.

Kimono – this is super handy for when you need to dash out to the toilet in the middle of the night, or whenever you can’t be bothered to dress. You will almost certainly be in a ‘shared bathroom’ situation, and I’ve found my silky kimono (that I got for 2 quid from Oxfam) has been indispensable whilst travelling.

Shoes – you really need 2 pairs of shoes. Comfy sandals, and comfy pumps. Emphasis on the comfort! You will be walking hours a day – sightseeing, round town, to and from transport, falling out of bars, etc! You need comfort. If you pack heels, you won’t wear them. I have Hush Puppies – both sandals and loafers. They’re dreamy comfy, no matter how far I walk. I also have hiking boots which are essential for National Parks (which are EVERYWHERE in South America) so plan ahead if you’ll need these.

Lightweight cover-up – despite lots of sunshine in both South America and South East Asia, there are also significant cold patches! If you’re going to national parks, it’s freezing i the evenings. Hiking volcanoes, glaciers… things you’ll definitely get into when travelling (even if you don’t think so before!) require lightweight cover. I swear by Uniqlo – they have great heat tech tops and leggings which I wore permanently whilst hiking, as well as lightweight heat tech fleeces and padded down jackets. And all very affordable too! Add in a wooly hat and you’re good to go.

Microfibre towel - they’re amazing, light, tiny, and dry in about 5 minutes. Plus they come in loads of cute colours.

… plus the obvious – sunglasses, suscreen, SPF lipbalm and SPF moisturiser, etc etc. If you’re thinking about nail varnish, I’ve worn a glittery pink one that’s worked out well as you can’t really see where it’s chipped and you can just keep reapplying on the sly when it looks worse for wear!

Oh and a comfy women’s backpack to put it all in! – it DOES make a difference. I have a Baughaus women’s 60L hiking backpack, and it sits perfectly on the hips and has tons of padding. I wore it on a 5 day hike packed three quarters full and it was still comfy by the end. Plus it’s pretty and purple!

And here are some thoughts on things that I’ve brought with me and hardly used, so you can learn from my pitfalls!

‘Dressy dresses’ – dresses I’d wear to parties, club nights, swank restaurants.. You just won’t wear them here. You get stares on the streets for your day dresses, so anything short, bold or dressy, is probably overkill. Even on our weekly ‘date nights’ where we hit fancier restaurants, they don’t merit dressing up!

Accessories - I LOVE jewellery. Especially gold, vintage-inspired statement jewellery and colourful costume jewellery, but you just won’t wear it. I brought three gold necklaces and rings with me, and haven’t touched them. For a few reasons: comfort (it’s hot and humid, you don’t want green marks on your skin from fake gold or extra things making you sweat); safety (you don’t want to look too blingy and attract pickpockets), and also…sheer dam laziness! The same goes for makeup. I gave up on that in week 2. Now mascara is a pretty big deal! So you won’t need all that make-up removal gear either! Instant space saver :)

Overall, I’d say go with your instincts. But basic rules – keep it simple, comfortable, colour coordinate so it’s easy to pull together, and enjoy the liberation that comes with a more laid back attitude to dressing! Now excuse me whilst I go and buy some of those travelly pantaloon trousers…

Ciao for now!

5 Things British People Miss When They Travel

You’re so very far from home…

1. Rational well-thought-out systems

In Britain, we love a good system of order. A process. A form to fill in, an expected waiting time, and an expectation for how long things take. A sense of decorum. In other countries, however, they seem to vacillate between too many systems, or far too few. To buy icecream or bread, for example, it may be a multi step process: take a ticket, wait for your number to be called, make your order, pay, then (in the case of icecream), walk down the counter and order the flavour from someone else who serves. We literally got laughed out of an icecream shop in Chile for not understanding this process. Yet, for hostels they seem to barely need to know you’re there. You sign a book, you pay when you leave (or when the hostel guy remembers), and you come and go as you please, sometimes without even a key! Maybe testament to how seriously they take their food out here?

2. Apologies

We love saying sorry for everything in Britain. Even if someone’s trodden on your foot, you’ll probably apologise to them. Oh no, not in the world of travel. Your bus is hours late, you just have to suck it up. There’s no bread left in the supermarket, tough. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly, because they really are, and will generally do a lot to help you. But saying sorry just ain’t a thing like it is in Britain.

3. Proper queues

Classically British, but true nonetheless. In some situations, it’s fine (banks, supermarkets), but in others it’s unclear and can cause British Anxiety. We were once trying to catch a bus back from a national park, and there were TONS of people and only 1 (or 2 max) buses at 5pm to take people back to town. A crowd formed. We strolled near to the front and were instructed to go back because there was “a queue” (a British girl told us, obviously), so we anxiously shuffled near to the back of the queue. One bus came, and all the non-British / non-Americans surged forward, leaving us standing near the back, not knowing whether a second bus would come, or when. Luckily, by some miracle, a second bus turned up and backed around right next to all us Brits and Yanks. We all cheered, as it meant we’d probably get a seat for the 90 minute journey. One Brit guy uttered ‘what’s that quote? The meek will inherit the earth!’ and we all piled on. Trying to queue properly worked well (for once)!

4. A decent selection of international cuisine

This is a biggy. In capital cities it’s not as much of an issue, as there’s normally a decent┬áselection of food on offer, but JESUS CHRIST, in other places, it really starts to grate. It’s a stereotype but it’s true – that South Americans LOVE ham and cheese, bread, empanadas, meat, sugary sweets, and all kinds of fried goods. At first this is novelty, and on occasion, can be delicious. But boy, do you end up craving certain things. CURRY is a huge one. A decent M&S salad with feta and pinenuts. Sushi. Falafel. Wholemeal bread. Thai curry. Even writing this list is killing me! More in our food blog posts…

5. Pubs (and specifically, cider)

These don’t exist anywhere! You have bars (often overpriced) or you can drink in restaurants, but there’s nowhere to go, sit and wile away the hours over a few ciders. OH, cider is another huge things we miss. You can get it in (bizarre) Christmas-themed champagne bottles in Buenos Aires, but we haven’t found it since (despite promises of finding it in Chile). The search continues!

Pizza is about as exotic as it gets in South America!

The Traveller Mindset

The “travel mindset” and how to get off the tourist conveyor belt

When you’re travelling for a prolonged period, it’s easy to fall into the trap of just following the Lonely Planet trail to the tee, and gravitating towards similar people to you in hostels. We’re definitely guilty of this, and it’s easily done: when you stay in lovely comfy hostels with good communal areas and plenty of kindred spirit travellers (lovely chummy Brits, firey Latin American musicians and artists, charming Americans and Australians…) it’s quite easy to spend down-time in your hostel, and the rest of your time sight-seeing, hiking, etc. etc.

Although this is all fun and games, it’s also important to break through your comfort zone and get some more authentic experiences into your travel.

This is easier to do in certain locations, like the little working-class towns where you end up staying in B&Bs run by families, and learn interesting local facts, like in Chile they don’t drink milk beyond childhood (as I was told by the ‘mum’ of my hostel when asking for milk for my tea). In these kind of places you have breakfast with fellow travellers (often locals) and absorb some of the local flavour.

Other ways we’ve reached out more to locals include hitchhiking (enforced conversation for hours on end!); chatting to people in shops (one guy in Buenos Aires was so chatty he taught us a ton of food vocab, including ‘mani’ meaning peanuts, crucial for Sam’s allergies!) and putting days aside to explore towns on foot, which often leads to interesting discoveries. Some of the best so far include local fetes (music, dancing, marching bands), tracking down local eateries, watching day-to-day life like guys selling sweetcorn off trucks or crabs out of iceboxes.

We’re only breaking the surface of getting into ‘real travel’ (hindered by our very limited grasp of Spanish) but it definitely beats the relentless search for selfies and ‘tick-list mentality’ of simply following the Lonely Planet trail.