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!)
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!