O.K. a better title might be – How to pack for a 6 month trip around South America and still get to carry your bag on a plane.The photo on the lead page? Absolutely, nothing to do with packing. They are “The Kelpies” spectacular sculptures just outside of Edinburgh where we spent the last weekend with friends. Well worth a visit if in the vicinity. http://www.thehelix.co.uk/things-to-do/the-kelpies/kelpies-tour/#.VyX78NR4WrU
Anyway, we shortly set off on our next trip which is around Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Argentina. One of the main problems facing us is packing all that we need for the wide variety of climates and terrain we will encounter, from minus 20c on the Bolivian altiplano, to 30c and high humidity on the Caribbean beaches of Colombia. A nice problem to have, but somewhat challenging when everything has to fit in a 40 litre backpack measuring 56cm x 45cm x 25cm. This is our third trip to South America so we have hopefully now made most of the packing mistakes possible and learnt from those experiences.
One would have thought that by now, airlines would have got there acts together and standardised baggage limits. Sadly it is not to be.
Our intercontinental flight to Lima is with British Airways who, very generously, allow us two carry-on bags each weighing no more than a very generous 23kg (I don’t think I have ever checked in that amount of luggage, let alone carried it on board!). At the other extreme Aerolineas Argentinas permit just 5kg carry-on. The BA limit is absurdly generous but to get within the Aerolineas Argentinas limit we would have to wear every piece of clothing we posses and still have to leave our electric toothbrush behind!
Travelling around Asia last year, we checked in online and printed our boarding passes thus bypassing the check-in desk and avoiding the potential risk of being stopped and our bags weighed . At the boarding gate we just pretended our bags were as light as a feather and sauntered through. In over 20 flights, didn’t get asked to check in our bags once. We were generally carrying around 10 kg compared with the allowance of usually 7kg. Let’s hope it is as easy in South America.
So what do I pack into my Lowe Alpine TT40 Carry-on?
These clearly make up the biggest volume of stuff in my bag and include:
2 pairs hiking trousers (pants if you are American!)
1 pair Rab travel jeans (best, most comfortable jeans ever!)
1 pair hiking shorts
1 pair swim shorts
3 tee shirts
1 short sleeve shirt
2 long sleeve shirts
3 merino base layers
1 pair merino long pants
1 merino mid-weight fleece
1 Marmot waterproof jacket – packs really small, completely wind and waterproof
Carolyn discovered merino years ago. I only started using it last year in New Zealand. Incredible stuff, amazingly warm, very light weight. A little mentioned attribute are its’ “no stink” properties – basically you can wear it for a week and it still smells as fresh as a daisy! What I have been missing! Should have listened to my wife years ago! These base layers are very thin so in ultra cold places I just wear more of them.
5 pairs of underpants ( 1 pair merino!)
4 pairs of socks ( yet again, merino!)
To keep things neat and tidy in our bags, we use zip-lock bags of varying sizes from IKEA. Far cheaper than those special is packing cubes from travel shops and much cheaper.
As we tend to walk everywhere we can, the right footwear is essential. Doesn’t have to be expensive, just comfortable, hard wearing and have plenty of grip. I confess to being a Keen junkie and have been wearing their boots, shoes and sandals for years. This time my main footwear is a pair of Keen Targhee 2 hiking shoes:
For hotter weather on the coast these are supple tied by a pair of Keen Newport H2 sandals
Toiletries and first aid
Very limited on what we take because most it all has to fit into a small plastic bags together high security. Most stuff is readily available in supermarket in large society’s so it is easy to by on arrival. However I do start off with a basic stash;
1 razor plus 5 blades (1 blade pm – can’t be bothered to shave every day)
1 set of small hair clippers
1 tube shave cream
1 tube aftershave balm
1 tube of favourite toothpaste
1 anti perspirant
1 50ml bottle of 100% deet mozzie repellent ( dilute to use)
1 100ml bottle of Riemann P10 sunscreen – fantastic stuff. Apply once and last all day. Water resistant too
Eyedrops for the plane
Antihistamine tablets and cream for bites.
Sundry bits and pieces
These make all the difference on a long trip.
1 “Buff” – a stretchy tube which can be used as a hat, face mask, eye shade, scarf hair band ( not that I have any hair!) and a lot, lot more..
1 Kramar – a Cambodian cotton sarong which doubles as a scarf, towel, pillow, even a bed sheet at times -we have stayed in some rough places over the years!
Rayban Aviator sunglasses – essential in the Andes where the high altitude makes the sunlight and glare incredibly intense. I like this style mainly because they are big and cut out virtually all the glare.
Reading glasses – it’s an age thing! One of the reasons I prefer an iPad to an iPhone is that I can’t read the phone without getting my glasses out.
A piece of string – mainly used as a washing line
Gaffa Tape – for all sorts of repairs.
In addition to my main bag I also take a Muji day pack. Ultra light and, being made out of the same stuff as hang gliders, is incredibly tough. Still fits into a pocket when I am not using it.
- iPad Air 2 – couldn’t travel without it! Used for:
FaceTiming family and friends
booking transport and accommodation
backing up photos to a cloud server whilst on the road
Reading UK newspapers
- I also use a Netshade VPN app which provides additional online security and allows me to stream and download TV from the BBC etc. when out of the U.K. Essential security for online banking and emails on non-secure wifi networks.
- Sony Soundcube. A small, portable Bluetooth speaker that enhances entertainment experience no end when listening to music or watching films.
- Bose earbuds. Not sound cancelling but they fit so well they have virtually the same effect. Great for listening to music on planes and buses.
- In the past we have never felt the need for a smartphone but are taking one this time. We will see how much we actually use it. The main reasons are for navigation (I am hoping Google Maps lives up to the hype) and for taxi services like Uber and Easytaxi which are becoming the norm in many larger cities.
- For taking photographs I gave up on a DSLR years ago and use my Panasonic Lumix TZ70. It does everything I want it to and a lot more besides. Most importantly, it slips into a pocket. The best camera is the one you have with you when you need it!
- finally an abundance of chargers and leads is required for all of this stuff. Why can’t electronics manufacturers standardise these things? Sure it can’t be that difficult.
I have never really got in with downloaded guidebooks and much prefer hard copies but there is no getting away from the fact that they weigh a ton. This time we are taking books for Ecuador, Peru and Colombia. Did think about taking our “Rough Guide to South America on a Budget” but whilst it covers all the countries, it really doesn’t go into enough detail on each one. I usually prefer Rough Guides to Lonely Planet but this time I bought the LP Colombia as it seemed more detailed and we do plan on getting off the beaten track.
We are both avid readers and so bought a couple of 50p paperbacks from our local library which we will swap along the way in hostals. Amazing how many books we get through and how many new authors we discover on a long trip. Also incredible to find out how many books John Grisham has actually written!
We used to take a travel Scrabble with us on every trip but, after being consistently beaten, year after year, by my wife, it is staying behind. There is only so much humiliation a man can take.
Our entertainment for this trip consists of:
A pack of cards and a cribbage board – we were taught to play recently by Carolyn’s parents. We assumed it was just an English pub game but it seems to be popular with many nationalities – especially Canadians for some reason?
Yahtzee – a dice game (although we have the German version which is called “Kniffel”. No idea how we came to possess that!
Dominoes – not sure whether this will make the cut or not.
Start playing any of these games in a bar or hostel and it is not long before the locals or other travellers ask you what you are doing and want to join in.
There are inherent risks in playing cards though. Playing crib at a street side bar in Saigon, Vietnam, last year we were warned by the owner to put it away before the police saw us or we would be arrested. Oops!
We will take a few hundred US dollars as an emergency reserve – secreted in several different places
Our main source of funds are travel debit cards with http://www.fairfx.com . We have them in Sterling and US Dollars. We take two cards in each currency so if one gets lost or stolen we can just transfer the balance to the other card. The fx rates and charges are extremely competitive and t customer service superb. I top up the cards online as and when required. The cards can be used just like a normal debit card in ATMs or anywhere that has a card machine like restaurants and hotels. Great if you bank in the UK but American and Aussie friends tell me they are very expensive in those countries
Common sense and a innate tendency to trust no one, are the best ways to stay safe on the road! We also read up on places we are visiting. The various travel websites like Tripadvisor are a good starting point (although the can sometimes tend toward the scaremongering). The one I most rely on is https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
We take a couple of combination padlocks to secure our bags. These double up as cable locks so we can lock our bags to a bed in a room, or a seat on buses etc.
Small cable ties are useful for the rare occasions we do have to put our bags into the hold of a bus or plane and are used in addition to padlocks.
Copies of all our important documents and contact details are scanned and emailed to ourselves in draft form.
I always keep copies of our passports in my wallet and use these to check in to accommodation rather than hand over our actual passports.
We never travel without comprehensive travel insurance which covers us for medical treatment, lost bags, delays, death, injury, repatriation etc. In fact just about anything you can think of ( including getting our camera stolen in a bus station in Ecuador on our last but one trip!)
So there we have it. Have I forgotten anything? Almost certainly, but one thing I have learned over the years we have been travelling is that you can pretty much buy anything anywhere these days. In someways good, but in other ways, quite concerning really…