5 Most Valuable Packing Tips for Backpackers
So you’re taking a month and a half to backpack South America. No doubt it’ll be good times. You’ll experience Iguacu, Machu Picchu and a little Chilean surf village all with new friends and tasty local drafts. The question now is what to bring and how to bring it.
Plenty of blogs tell you what you should and shouldn’t pack. I’m not going to tell you what to bring, so much as the best way to bring it if you're a backpack traveler.
But don’t worry. It’s travel. There’s no wrong decision. One thing might be a little heavier or less convenient than another. But you’re out there to see the world and make friends. And you’ll do that no matter how you pack.
1. Don’t Bring Half. Bring One Quarter
You’ve probably read travel tips that tell you to lay out everything you plan to bring and then half it.
That’s a good start but you need to do that twice. Seriously, you just don’t need the vast majority of items you plan to bring. Unless you’re heading to the remotest corner of the Brazilian Amazon, there’s a good chance there are people already there. And guess what? They wash their hair, feed and clothe themselves, and live just fine with what they have right there.
And you can too. And likely for a lot cheaper than you would buy it back home.
My ultimate travel goal is to leave for a months-long trip with an empty pack.
2. Rent or Buy Adventure Gear
Whether you’re hiking Machu Picchu, surfing Brazil or scaling a snow-covered peak, you don’t want to lug a bunch of adventure-specific gear around for six weeks to accommodate a four-day activity.
Friends of mine spent five days braving knee-deep snow and howling winds trekking the Torres Del Piane National Park in the Chilean Patagonia. It’s a massive wilderness with weather that can kill you. And they didn’t bring a single thing.
They were spending six months in South America and weren’t about to carry for five months everything they needed for one week in Torres Del Piane. And neither should you.
Everything they needed -- and likely everything you’ll need – can be found right where you’re going. Even the most obscure adventure sites have been visited before and cottage industries of used clothes and equipment have sprung up to outfit visitors. The best part is you can sell it back after you’re finished.
It’s actually possible to pack only board shorts and conquer a glacier.
3. Plan Your Trip
The other thing that can really lighten your load is strategic trip planning.
If you’re an experienced surfer, musician or just someone who loves their personal stuff, you can still have it with you. Just don’t lug it around for the whole journey.
Planning your trip allows you to mail the items you need for particular parts of your trip to the hostel where you’ll be staying. Hostels are happy to accept your stuff via mail in exchanged for the guaranteed booking.
Meeting your band mates for a week in Buenos Aires? Don’t lug your bongos across the continent. Plan and ship.
4. Group Similar Activities and Climates Together
Multi-month and adventure trips often cross differing climates with great variations in temperature, altitude and rain. Group as many similar climate activities together as possible and then ship home what you no longer need.
The same goes for activities. You’ll need your hiking boots for the Amazon and the Inca Trail, but not for La Paz or Rio. So get your hiking out of the way, ship your boots home and then hit the beach.
5. Choose Carefully What You Do Bring
Travel is about seeing the world and making friends. And you can do that nearly naked. So there’s not need to stock up on lots of fancy travel gear.
But – particularly for shorter trips – you also don’t want to waste half a day trying to find needle and thread to repair your bag or pills to calm your stomach. So bringing a few key items can save time and make life easier.
What you decide is critical to bring is up to you. But I will say that it should all be ultra-lightweight, quick dry and designed for travel. Items such as quick-dry travel towels, or a folding brush and mirror designed for travelers can really lighten your load. So take some time to think about what you really need – whether its travel speakers or ear plugs for the hostel -- and then buy the best and lightest item for the task.