Packing for South America – A Minimalists Guide

Tips for Backpacking South America

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Knowing what you need and what you don’t need can make a huge difference when packing for South America. As you will be moving around and lugging your bags with you, it is important to pack light, which is much easier said than done, but the advantages are beyond belief. After my experience of backpacking South and Central America for three months I have put together a guide on what to pack for South America.

Firstly, what size backpack will you need when packing for South America?

50 Litres plus a small daypack (15-20L) will be plenty of room. Search for backpacks by clicking the photo below.

What to pack for South America


5 Pairs of legging/spandex, Short and long

8 shirts/singlet’s

3 shorts/shirts

3 Summer dresses

1 big jacket

1 jumper

1 pair of jeans

10 pairs of underpants and 10 pairs of socks

2 bras


Good Hiking Shoes

Comfortable walking shoes – these are the ones I travel with 

Thongs/Flip flops

Toiletry items

A bar of soap

Small size shampoo and conditioner

Moisturizer (instead of carrying face and body lotion get one that you can use for both)

FACE WIPES (Shower in a bag)

Hand sanitizer


Makeup items (Minimize products using less than you would at home)


Insect repellant


Nail cutters/Tweezers


I put all my toiletry items in a big ziplock bag as it is lighter.

First aid kit

I prepared my own with:

Band-Aids Disinfectant cream

A bandage

Altitude sickness tablets

Malaria tablets

Travellers diarrhea tablets

Spare tissues

Spare pawpaw/lip cream

Cold and flu tablets

Panadol / Tylenol


These are the only items that I thought would be practical and therefore the only ones I wanted to take, so I opted to make my own first aid kit instead of purchasing one. Not only did I save money, I saved space. I put all my first aid items in a Ziplock bag as they are weightless.

Money belt They are totally unfashionable but give you peace of mind when you know no one can get to your passport and credit cards. I only used mine on long overnight bus rides.

Locks Locking your bags when you leave it in the hostel, or when you catch public transport will give you peace of mind.  Carry enough locks for each bag.

Camera You must carry a camera; you don’t want to miss any of the many photo opportunities.

Laptop I packed a laptop so I could continue blogging and working on other personal projects. If possible avoid bringing a laptop.

Travel adapter/converter

Copies of important documents Passport, travel insurance, visas, credit cards etc. It is also a good idea to email these documents to yourself so you can ALWAYS access them.

Pen and paper

An Umbrella

A hat

A headlamp Headlamps are great when staying in hostels as instead of turning on the light you can use the headlamp to help you find your things.

A filtered water bottle I have purchased so many bottles of water and feel terrible, as there is minimal recycling in South America.  Not only that, I have spent way more money than I would have if I purchased a filtered water bottle. The cost is about $100 but over a 2-3 month trip is worth it.

Tips for keeping your luggage safe

*Label your luggage with a name, contact number or email and home address.

*Don’t pack your passport in your luggage, keep it on you at all times.

In South America, you can get your clothes washed, dried and folded for a low cost so don’t worry about running out of clean clothes.

The advantage of travelling light is unbelievable

This list is exactly what I would pack next time I go South America.

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