What to pack…
Raise your hand if you like packing. Thought so. Packing for a journey, any journey, is not something to look forward to. Packing for a few weeks in South America can be even more problematic. The first consideration is that unless you travel in the shoulder seasons, you will fly from cold climates to (much) warmer ones and vice versa. No big deal, as many people travel to the tropics in the middle of winter, but it does have its challenges. Thick, woollen jumpers and other overcoats can be a real pain to carry, whether by hand or as part of hold luggage. So you should think in terms of a layered approach.
Layered approach explained
Several layers of light/medium clothing are far better and much more practical as you would be ready to face various climatic conditions, from heavy rain (waterproof) to cool evenings if you are up in mountainous regions or even where the air conditioning could be too fierce!
In the Travel Resources section of this website, we added some links to useful apps. My Luggage is a handy app as it can provide a starting point to plan your suitcase, especially if you need help envisage what you need. But you will need to adapt those suggestions to your needs.
We all tend to pack more rather than less, and nothing can be more disparaging than realising halfway through your trip that we have been lugging around half a suitcase full of clothes we will never wear. So be mindful of the following common sense rule:
Pack for layers
You can never bring too many T-shirts
Unless you have formal evenings or stay in some super de luxe accommodation, use the principles of taking a few high-quality garments that can be used both for informal and potentially more formal occasions (for men, for example, a good pair of chinos and a short-sleeved shirt with a top-notch light jumper should be sufficient for those more formal evenings out)
If you are comfortable wearing short trousers take at least a pair; long trekking trousers with several pockets are an absolute must. Jeans can be heavy to carry and surprisingly impractical. Cotton and linen are best.
Socks and underwear ad lib
Walking/trekking shoes, trainers or sneakers (or deck shoes), slippers or flip-flops - essential when staying in hotels or having a dip in the pool (swimming wear!)
Waterproof - good quality but a light one
Other accessories specific to your destination - we can advise accordingly
I also carry one or two cotton or silk scarves. A shemagh scarf is my favourite, incredibly useful when too hot or sunny or too windy and dusty! Sunglasses are another must—more on accessories in the other blog on medicines and toiletries!
On air travel days, having a good packing suitcase is essential. Resist the temptation to buy designer suitcases (or too glamorous ones); they will be damaged or even stolen. A well-travelled rigid suitcase from some well-known brands like Samsonite is ideal, complete, of course, with its four wheels, a must for whizzing in and out of airports. If you are concerned about being the same grey/blue as countless other suitcases, adding a sticker or ribbon would be extremely helpful when picking it up from the airport carousel.
You should also consider carrying a small rucksack or a reasonable bag that you could easily carry over your shoulders for all those essentials you will need to access when travelling, books, sunglasses, suncream, medicines, mobile phones, cameras, adapters and more! Go for a small rucksack with many pockets rather than a large one. It's far easier to carry something that could fit under the seat in front of you than in the locker above.
Don't forget your bumbag and other security layers!
Sometimes you wouldn't want to carry your trusted rucksack, for example, when you are going out in the evening or on other similar occasions. Yet you may still have to carry documents and other essentials. Investing in a bumbag is a lifesaver. There are some brilliant ones around that are both practical and even elegant.
We often get asked about security. In general terms, we will never visit areas of high crime so standard precautions would be acceptable, but there may be times when you need to transit from one hotel to the other, or your room may not be ready, and you would need to have valuables with you. A neck wallet for travel is the ideal solution. If you are really paranoid, there are other methods, like underarm wallets. When I travelled in some very remote areas, I also used a belt wallet (a normal-looking belt with an inside zip when you can stuff all your cash). Still, you must remember where your cash is afterwards, avoiding leaving it behind in your room with the rest of your dirty clothes! More on safety in a future blog…
This is often the reason why people pack too much. They immediately think about laundering clothing and packing more stuff just in case. Let me assure you that there are some very good laundries, even in the most remote areas of Chile and Argentina. Your guide or hotel can point you in the right direction, and some of them are so inexpensive you'd wonder what the reason for bringing too many spare garments was. I had a kilo of clothes (it goes by weight!) beautifully washed and ironed to perfection in Purmamarca (population 2000) for under £7, for example. However, the hotel laundry misled a T-shirt and socks in Salta - but no significant loss!
Nevertheless, you may wish to carry some travel detergent and one of those nifty lines you can easily find on Amazon. A very inexpensive and lightweight addition and an incredibly useful one!
To cube or not to cube
You may have heard of packing cubes and may be tempted to buy a whole set, thinking all your problems would be resolved, and your case would look spot on. Resist the temptation. While a couple of small packing cubes may be an excellent investment, especially for small items, don't get persuaded that you could possibly have the most organised suitcase just by using packing cubes. For one thing, having small items like socks or similar separately can be useful when filling in those empty areas around the suitcase. An empty cube could also be helpful to have to carry any dirty clothing in between trips. So a couple of cubes great, everything cubed, a mirage.
In the next blog, we'll talk about toiletries, medicines and first aid so watch this space!