Packing Your Backpack for South America

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South America is a popular destination for backpackers, and when you consider that the continent is overflowing with rainforests, archeological remains, beautiful scenery, and vibrant cities, it is no surprise. With so much to see and do, adventurous tourists have plenty of unique activities and cultural experiences to choose from. However, preparing for a trip—especially a backpacking trip—can be difficult. Follow the tips below to prepare for a truly memorable and extraordinary backpacking adventure through South America.


One of the most important aspects of your trip is your passport. You will need this to get there and back, and if you are visiting more than one country, you may need it to cross the borders, though this is unlikely. Be sure to check the visa requirements for each country you will be visiting. Most countries in South America allow tourists from the United States to enter with just their passport for up to 90 days. However, it’s always better to do your research and play it safe.

Make sure that you make photocopies of your passport and keep them separate from your physical passport. This way, if you lose your passport or if it is stolen, you can replace it easier. It is also a good idea to scan your travel documents and e-mail them to yourself. This way you have a physical copy as well as an electronic copy.

Spanish-English Dictionary/Phrase Book

While you travel throughout South America, you will probably encounter a few people who speak English, but it is a wonderful gesture and also quite fun to learn at least some of the language you’ll be immersed in. If you’ve never taken Spanish before, consider buying a computer program or going to some lessons with someone who does speak Spanish. You can also look up videos on YouTube that will focus on particular phrases good for travelers. And while you’re on the go, a phrase book and dictionary will help a lot, even if you end up just pointing to words. Don’t stress out about communication, though! It’s surprising how much you can communicate even without speaking the same language.


You’re backpacking, so keep it light. Also, the clothing that you bring depends on which countries you’ll be visiting and when you’re traveling. However, it’s always safe to bring layers so that you can add clothing if you’re cold or take some off if it’s hot. Some people like to bring zip-off pants that convert to shorts. While these can be effective for changing climates and activities like hiking and sightseeing, just be aware that they do make you stand out as a tourist.

A good pair of shoes is essential, so choose a comfortable pair good for all of the walking you’ll be doing. Low-cut running shoes or sturdy hiking boots are two viable options. Packing a cheap rain poncho is a great idea. At 99 cents, a poncho is a bargain since it won’t take up much space in your pack, and it will keep you and your backpack dry in a downpour.

Most hostels and hotels in South America offer laundry service that is typically very inexpensive. Take advantage of this, and you’ll be able to further cut down the amount of clothing you pack. However, if you do plan to consistently use laundry service, make sure to pack inexpensive, replaceable clothing. This way you’re not losing your favorite pair of shorts to a too-hot dryer.


For the most part, you probably won’t need to bring many toiletries. You’ll be able to buy what you need over there quite cheaply, plus you won’t have to deal with the hassle of getting it through airport security. Leave the bulky bottles at home.

For prescription medication, you should bring as much as you’ll need for the whole trip. Talk to your doctor to be sure that you’re prepared. If you’re diabetic or need syringes, just know that you’ll probably have to check your bag in the airport since they don’t allow syringes on planes. For over-the-counter medications, you can probably find them there, but it might be good to take some common ones like Tylenol so you have it in case you need it on the plane.

Packing Your Backpack

Ayngelina, a travel blogger from Bacon is Magic, gives a great tip when she says: “I will never travel without packing cubes again. These changed how I viewed packing my bag. Instead of rummaging through my bag it was simple and quick to take them in and out. If you don’t have them, believe me: you need them.” Having packing cubes makes organizing your backpack a snap and really helps keep things tidy during your trip, not just at the beginning.

So there you have it! Have fun in South America, and don’t forget that packing light is better than being weighed down!


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