What to take with you to South America

Whether we were planning for our three month backpacking trip or for our year long stay in South America, we found that our list of what to take with us was about the same. On both occasions we went with the same sized backpack, so we were limited to what we could take. Although it may seem obvious, a bit of forward-planning and organisation to make a kit list will make your life easier and put your travel nerves at ease. It will also make your trip more enjoyable, more comfortable and a lot safer.

Below is a recommended list of what to take with you. Of course, each individual will have their own ‘essential’ items to add, however, bear in mind that you have to be able to carry it all on your back. Although you won’t be carrying it all the time, when you’re tired and have been travelling for a while, it starts to feel heavier and really becomes a pain in the arse. Also, you are likely to collect a llama jumper or two along the way, so make sure you leave extra space for all the souvenirs you’ll be buying.

The vast majority of backpackers that we’ve spoken to, including ourselves, always regret having taken so much baggage with them. You’ll meet someone along the way who brought just a small rucksack with them and you’ll notice how happy, light and fancy-free they are. You’ll become overwhelmed with jealousy, wish with all your heart and soul that you had been thriftier with your packing, and start to hate your backpack and yourself! Less is best.

Happy packing! 🙂 

A recommended list of what to take with you to South America:

  • Backpack – I’d suggest 60 litres absolute maximum. Remember less is best!
  • Day pack – something that can be squashed or folded down
  • Sleeping bag – not essential, but handy on cold bus journeys!
  • Mosquito net- depends when you’re going, but we have never used ours! Where necessary, we were always provided with one.


  • Toiletries – razor, toothbrush, toothpaste
  • Soap/shampoo
  • First Aid kit
  • Medication ( incl. contraception, inhaler, allergy tablets)
  • Sunscreen -I always recommend ‘P20’ – best one around!
  • Vaseline – for lips, dry skin, blisters etc.
  • Tampons (they are not always easy to find & are expensive! – or get a Mooncup)
  • Insect repellent
  • Bite relief cream
  • Antibacterial hand gel
  • Anti-diarrhoea tablets – essential!
  • Rehydration salts
  • Anti-malaria tablets – consult your nearest travel clinic at least a month in advance
  • Aspirin/paracetamol


  • Warm waterproof jacket – some people are surprised how cold it can be! At altitude, it’ll get below freezing at night.
  • Tshirts – long + short sleeved.
  • Shorts + trousers
  • Warm jumper
  • Shirt / something mildly smart for more formal occasions
  • Work clothes (smart trousers, shirts), if necessary – although we never needed them
  • Underwear – enough to go 3 or 4 days without washing
  • Pyjama bottoms – useful if staying in shared dorms or rooms with shared bathrooms, so you are not walking around in just your underwear!
  • Swimwear
  • Towel – thin quick-dry one.
  • Flip flops
  • Walking shoes
  • Other shoes – perhaps a bit smarter if working
  • Thick socks
  • Sunglasses
  • Hats – 1 for sun protection + 1 to keep warm (although you may want to buy a llama wool one when you get to S.America)


  • Camera – I’d recommend taking a few memory cards with you so don’t have all your photos on one, in case it should get lost or stolen.
  • USB stick – if working, it comes in very useful
  • Phone – unblocked so you can buy a SIM when you’re out there.
  • Chargers – for phone, camera, laptop etc.
  • Laptop – if you will be working. If just travelling, I wouldn’t bother.
  • Mains adaptor – one that can fit several plugs.
  • Headphones
  • Mini speaker – to plug into phone or laptop to play music.


  • Pens
  • Journal / diary
  • Notepad – for playing Hangman on long bus journeys.
  • Reading book – one is enough as there are always book exchanges in hostels.
  • Mini magnetic chess board – surprisingly we’ve used ours a lot!
  • Pack of cards

Practical things:

  • Travel guide – Footprints or Lonely Planet etc.
  • Water purification tablets – not always essential, depends where you’ll be travelling
  • Ear plugs – handy when staying in cheap thin-walled hostels!
  • Torch – for power cuts and nights in the jungle!
  • Penknife – with bottle opener & corkscrew is always handy!
  • Duck tape – useful to fix everything and anything!
  • Drinking cup
  • Spoon
  • Soap flakes / soap for handwashing.
  • Plug for sink – can get ones that fit all sizes.
  • Rope/washing line
  • Pegs – useful for sealing food packets too!
  • Sewing kit – a couple of needles, threads + safety pins.
  • Money belt
  • Plastic bags / bin liners – line your backpack with one.
  • Binoculars


  • Passports – with at least 6 months before it expires.
  • Insurance documents – at least have your policy number + telephone number on you at all times.
  • Flight tickets
  • Visas, if necessary
  • ESTA – if travelling via the U.S
  • Spare passport photos
  • Vaccination certificates – Yellow Fever is essential when travelling between South American countries.
  • Photocopies of degree/teaching certificates – if you will be working.
  • Copies of above documents – email them to yourself!
  • Cash – I’d recommend a bit of currency ($100) for each country
  • Cash card/credit card – to withdraw cash when abroad. PLUS, make sure you know your PIN! Click here for more travel money advice.
What to take to South America
What to take with you to South America

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