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Backpacking essentials for South America

Wondering about backpacking essentials for South America? Look no further, because this blogpost will tell you exactly what you need.

Can you see how tired I am in the picture of this blogpost? This is after packing my backpack for my big trip through South America. I was exhausted already – and the trip still had to start. Do you want to prevent this exhausting feeling? Go on and read this blogpost.

When I packed my backpack for my trip, I was struggling so much with what to pack (can you tell from the picture how tired I was when everything was finally packed?). What would I need? How can I ensure I have all the essentials? And what should I buy before my trip?

If you want to backpack through South America, you might have the same questions. In this blogpost, I hope to answer these questions. I made a list with backpacking essentials for South America, based on seven weeks of experience.

1. A backpack

The first thing you need if you want to go backpacking, is an actual backpack. I recommend taking a backpack with you and not a suitcase. The roads are not always good enough to roll a suitcase, so a backpack is easier to carry.

You need to think about what you want in a backpack. How big should it be? What is your budget to buy a backpack? Are there any other criteria that the backpack should adhere to?

What backpack to use for South America

From my experience, other travellers in South America have backpacks between 55 and 70 liters. This all depends on how long you want to travel, and what kind of stuff you want to bring.

If you are visiting South America in rain season, you might want to bring a sweater and a rain jacket. This obviously takes up more space than a bikini. Thus, you might need a bigger backpack.

I bought this backpack from NOMAD. It is 70 liters and there is a raincoat included. There is enough space to bring everything I need. Also important: you can zip the large compartment all the way! Some backpacks only have a zipper at the top and bottom. If you need something from the middle, you need to get half of your stuff out. I don’t have that problem.

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2. Packing cubes

I don’t know about you, but if I travel, my backpack or suitcase always ends up being a mess. And not only after a couple of weeks: nope, on the first day. My clothes, bikini’s, socks are e-very-where.

If you can relate to this, here is a hack for you. Buy packing cubes.

I had never heard of this, but it’s a life hack I can now never live (or travel) without again. Packing cubes allow you to sort all your belongings into categories, put them into the right cube, and then put the cubes in your backpack.

This way, if you need something from your backpack, you can just open the cube that contains the item. No more mess, no more stress (okay maybe a little mess, but still).

I got my packing cubes from Dream Travel, and they are amazing! They look cute, and there are different sizes. Big plus: they coincidentally fit perfectly into my backpack! Yay!

3. Locks for your backpack

This should definitely be part of your backpacking essentials for South America: locks for your backpack.

You never know exactly where you’ll go and how safe it is. Some places are pretty sketchy, and especially public transport is known for having thieves and pickpockets. Even if you put your backpack in the hold of the bus, you don’t know what might happen to it.

Also, if you plan on sleeping in a dorm room, you might want to use those locks. Hostels might have lockers, but they are rarely big enough to fit all of your stuff.

Personally, I chose locks with a 4-digit combination. I came up with a combination other than my birthday (because let’s face it – that’s the first thing you think about), and put them on my backpack. I also have a spare one for my smaller day-bag, just in case.

4. Small day bag

Which brings me to my next item on the backpacking essentials for South America list: a smaller bag. Of course you need a big backpack to carry all your stuff from destination to destination. But you also need a smaller bag, for day trips.

Make sure the smaller bag suits your needs. What do you want to take with you every day? Does it need to fit a laptop, a bottle, or just your phone and wallet? Does it need to have any other features?

For my trip, I wanted a small backpack. This comes in handy when you want to go for a hike and need to take some stuff with you: water, some food, your phone, your wallet and maybe even a sweater. I wanted to be able to carry it on my back, so I can keep my hands free.

I also wanted it to be waterproof or water-resistant. During my trip in South America, I was planning on going to the Amazon, to rivers, to the ocean… Plenty of water around. Some sort of protection against it woud not be an unnecessary luxury.

That is why I went for the ZILOU backpack with multiple compartments. It about 35 liters, so it has enough space for all my necessities (check), it is water resistant (check), and it can even carry a laptop. This comes in handy, because I work remotely. The perfect backpack for me!

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5. A hangable toiletry-bag

Have you ever heard of a hangable toiletry-bag? I hadn’t, but now that I do know of it, I never want anything else. This one is perfect for traveling.

Okay, I have to give my best friend credit for this – she introduced me to her hangable toiletry-bag during our summer vacation. As soon as I saw it, I knew it belonged with the backpacking essentials for South America.

A hangable toiletry-bag is a toiletry-bag that you can hang on a hook (duh). This is great, because hostel bathrooms often don’t have a lot of space. The washbasins are small and sometimes even dirty – not something you want to put your toiletry-bag on.

Honestly, this hangable toiletry-bag from TRVLMORE has been such a lifesaver. Wherever I go, I just hang it on one of the hooks you’re supposed to hang your clothes or towel on, and I’m done. It also hangs on eye-level, so it’s super easy to get something out of the bag. 10/10 would recommend!

6. An octopus tripod

Last but not least, you might want to think about buying a tripod. I am 1) really awkward about asking strangers to take pictures of me, and 2) not that good at taking selfies, so this is the perfect way to get those insta-worthy travelpictures.

Granted, you still have to do the awkward photoshoot in public. But at least the photos look great. And let’s be honest here – there are a lot of people with tripods nowadays. And the people who aren’t shamelessly taking pictures of themselves, are just too scared to do it. That’s what I tell myself anyway…

If you are to buy a tripod, I would recommend a tripod with octopus arms. Sounds strange, but totally works. You can bend the octopus arms around about any object. A lamppost, a bridge, a chair, a fence… Or you can just straighten the arms and place the thing like a normal tripod. Whatever you want.

That’s my six tips for you! I’m assuming you are reading this because you are planning your travels, so in that case: I wish you all the best and an amazing time. Hopefully this list of backpacking essentials for South America helped you with your packing struggles.

Have you been to South America? I’d love to hear about your adventures! Comment on this blogpost or send me a DM on instagram.

xx Nouk

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