If you have ever ventured away from the comforts of home for a long period of time, you’ll understand how difficult it can be to pack your entire life into a bag. As I plan for my upcoming adventure, I remember back to preparing for my first long stint overseas when I was 19. With my lack of worldly experience, I decided to pack everything I owned. Over the course of the following year, I ended up wearing a third of it and throwing the rest out.
As I look forward to my upcoming six moths in South America, my mind is racing, and my anxiety levels rising, at the daunting task of preparing to go. On previous trips, the task of packing has been quite easy as I was confident on the weather and activities I’d find myself doing on the trip. This trip however will see me travelling the length and breadth of the South American continent, experiencing everything from the heat of the Amazon to the freezing temperatures and driving wind and rain of Patagonia. We’ll be trekking through hot jungle, relaxing on tropical beaches and traversing ice fields. While it all sounds like a tonne of fun, my small backpack isn’t quite big enough to accommodate the extreme differences in season and all my camera gear.
I’ve come up with my top 5 ways to prepare for a trip that involves the seasonal extremes and everything in between. I’d love to hear your tips on how you pack and even your stories on how you have got is oh so right, or wrong, in the past.
Tip 1: Pack light! Sure, sounds simple but how do you squeeze in your winter woollies while maintaining strict weight restrictions? This has been a major hurdle that I’ve had to overcome for this trip. I did a lot of online research and decided to invest in a new lightweight winter wardrobe. I bought lightweight, waterproof and wind resistant GORE-TEX jacket and hiking pants. In addition to these items, I invested in a pair of GORE-TEX hiking boots from The North Face and some reliable thermals to get me through those cold nights of camping in Patagonia. Of course this approach requires you to outlay a bit of money but if you’re smart and shop when the sales are on, you’ll save a bunch of money.
Tip 2: Layer up! I’m leaving my big snow jacket at home for this trip. While it will be cold down in the southern parts of South America, I’m relying on layering to keep me warm. Big items of clothing take up a lot of room in your bag and if you don’t need to wear it everyday, I recommend wearing layers to combat the cold as they fold up tightly in your pack or bag.
Tip 3: Pack enough clothes to get you through a week (except for underwear…always pack extra underwear). I usually aim to pack enough clothes to get me through a week. I won’t be doing any hikes, or other activities that last longer than one week, so I’ll be able to wash my clothes on a regular basis. My one and only exception to this rule is underwear. Always pack spare underwear. Falling into a river or having an airline lose your bag can really throw your life into chaos when you find yourself without a clean pair of jocks. As extra insurance, put a pair in your carry on luggage or in a friend’s pack if they are willing to do so.
Tip 4: Be willing to sacrifice your gear. This is a tough one. We all have that favourite tee-shirt or jacket but I strongly recommend donating cheaper items of clothing to those in need when you no longer have use for them. Let’s be honest, there are always people in this world who can do with new shoes, warm jackets or a trendy hat. By ridding yourself of these items, you’ll free up space in your pack, feel good about your charitable deed and have an excuse to buy new clothes at the end of the trip or when you arrive home.
Tip 5: If you don’t ‘need’ it, don’t pack it. Many of us have items or products that we wear or use that we don’t really need. The beauty (or curse, depending on how you look at it) of Western culture is that we are taught to think we need things that we don’t. It’s ingrained in us. Travel is a time to grow as a person and experience new cultures, not to spend hours each day fixing your hair or face. You don’t need the hair gel, 12 layers of makeup or five pairs of shoes that you’d normally use at home. Simplify your life by packing only those things you will truly need and not the things you want or think may come in handy at some point.
I hope you find these tips useful. It took me a lot of time, trial and error on previous trips and heartache to figure this out the hard way. Hopefully this little post saves you the pain.