Traveling South America is a lot more popular and easier now than it was 20 years ago. We’ve really had such an enjoyable and fulfilling experience that I would recommend a break-away journey like this to anyone!
Of course, it depends on you how rough and rugged you want your journey to be! The only thing you really need is your passport…but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of comfort…
Here are 17 things which made the backpacking easier for us:
Let me know if you think something else needs to be added.
1. Smart Phone/Tablet
Technology has really changed the way people travel! I probably could have written this post just about this point because I think this is what has changed traveling the most in the last few years.
Having an electronic device which has internet access (like an iPhone, iPad, tablet, laptop) makes many things much easier! Most hotels and hostels offer free wifi so you don’t actually need to buy sim cards. (We did buy one in Peru though.) The wifi in Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil is good. Bolivia’s is not always so good but they do have wifi.
All the possible uses for a device like an IPhone/tablet this is endless. You can book your next accommodation online after reading recommendations about the place. You can google what the best things are to do in a particular city. You can keep in contact with friends and family with emails, Skype and Face Time.
A Smart phone (and an iPad) can also be used as an alarm clock to wake you up when you have an early bus to catch. It’s also your map, your notepad and your GPS.
Most fancy phones these days have good cameras.
You can obviously also use your device for entertainment on the bus: watch a video, listen to music, play games, record your heart rate, drink fake beer, read, write, edit photos and make collages.
To keep in touch with family and friends:
Facetime – This app is similar to Skype. We use it to video call loved ones.
Viber – We use this when the wifi is not good enough for a video call.
Talkbox – Allows you to send voice messages
To help with Spanish/Portuguese:
Spanish Dict – this works offline too
Word Lens -works offline
Google translate app
Portuguese Dictionary free – This one is not as good as the Spanish Dictionary.
To help find our way around:
CityMaps2go -download maps before hand to use offline, if you have GPS you can use your phone to locate where you are on the map
To help with the exchange rate:
2. A Travel Book – The rough guide to South America on a budget
It might be quite strange that I suggest a book while everything can be found on the internet but sometimes there is no internet…Like on the bus, or in Bolivia.
This is the only “real” book we brought with us – recommended by Willem and Andie. It has maps and suggestions on what to do and where to travel. We often read it in the bus for ideas. Many travelers have this book or something similar.
Be sure to get an updated version! We have the 2011 version, which is 2 years old and although it’s still applicable, all prices for things are about double than whats written in the book.
A camera….seems obvious, but while we were packing I was considering leaving our bigger camera (DSLR) with its bigger lens at home because it seemed a bit bulky to carry around. But I’m glad we brought it with us because it takes much better photos than the little camera we have. There are so many beautiful views and opportunities for amazing photos. This trip has also taught us how to use more of our camera’s features. So if you have a good camera and like taking photos, take it with.
If you like reading, a Kindle is a good way to carry multiple books with you. You are then also able to download any book you like. Or you can get a Kindle app for your iPad/tablet.
5. Multi-Adapter Plug
The 2 point plugs (220V) which we have in RSA fit into most electric sockets we came across but a couple of times we needed to use our Multi-adapter which we bought at a travel shop in RSA. They also sell these plugs at the airport.
6. Photo adapter
I use this little device to put photos from our camera’s memory card directly onto the iPad. We forgot the one we have at home, luckily our cousin in Joburg, Bruce, had one which he said we could use. We would definitely not have been able to share our photos so easily without this device.
7. Our own Sleeping bags
We bought sleeping bags because it was almost the same price we would have had to pay if we hired them for the Inca Trail. Our two sleeping bags can zip together to make one big bag which is quite nice. We also used them on some bus trips and in a few hostels when it was either very cold or the blankets provided were uncomfortably heavy.
8. Convertible Pillows
The pillows we had with us are the ones my sister and I bought for India at Joburg airport. They are super cool because you can convert them from a neck pillow to a small rectangular pillow. This made the airplane trips and a few bus rides much more comfortable. Some hostels also provide lousy pillows. (We do often go for the budget hostels so we can’t expect too much but having a decent pillow helps a lot for a good night’s rest.)
I was not sure if we should pack a towel because of limited space but I’m glad we did. A few hostels don’t provide towels but you can hire them if you want for an additional cost. In Coroico there were not even towels for hire. We each packed a small towel. I don’t like those silky, fold-up-in-a-little-pouch travel-towels so we both had a real towel.
10. Toilet paper and wet-wipes
In Peru and Bolivia there is approximately a 98% chance that there will be no toilet paper available in the bathroom (it’s a surprise if there is), so its best you carry some around with you. This includes restaurants, busses and all public toilets. A few places charge you a fee to use the toilet and then usually give you toilet paper. In Chile, Argentina and Brazil you have a better chance of toilet paper. But not always.
We used wet-wipes for body-washing mostly on the Inca trail. They could also make you feel more fresh after a bus journey.
A small bottle of hand sanitizer is not a bad idea either.
11. 1st Aid Kit
We had quite a comprehensive yet compact 1st Aid Kit with us but we were fortunate not to need it much. I suppose it’s better to have it and not use it than to not have one and need it. (The same goes for the toilet paper.)
Most places have a pharmacy or clinic, so don’t stress too much.
What we did use: insect repellent, pain killers for headaches and some anti-histamine tablets
Contents of our first Aid Kit:
Plasters, gauze, bandage
Anti-bacterial cream, Allergex cream, anti-fungal cream, anti-septic wash
Broad spectrum antibiotic course, anti-emetic pills (for nausea), anti-diarrhea pills
Rehydration sachets (electrolyte replacements), pain pills, anti-histamines, insect repellent
Malaria tablets – we took 12 Malanil tablets with us. We did not travel in a high risk malaria area, but if one of us developed symptoms highly suspicious of malaria and there was no hospital/clinic nearby, we could start treatment with 4 tablets daily. But remember prevention is better than cure!
For more travel health advice about malaria areas visit: www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/advice/malaria.aspx
12. Mini hair dryer
This might seem like a luxury item but if you have long hair you will understand. It’s not nice sleeping with wet hair or walking around in the cold with long wet hair that takes forever to dry. My hair dryer is small and folds up. For me, this was quite an essential item.
13. Sunscreen and caps/hats
The sun can burn you like crazy if you are not careful. I’ve seen people burn blisters in Peru! You burn even when the weather feels cold and at a high altitude, it feels cold. We carried our caps and sunscreen in our hand luggage. If you burn easily get a higher SPF – we had SPF 30 but we should rather have had one with an even higher protection factor.
14. Comfortable backpack and day pack
Everything you take with and accumulate you need to carry with you so you need to make sure you have a comfortable backpack.
15. Water-proof jacket
We didn’t have water-proof jackets but it probably would have been nice to have. In Peru, for the Inca trail, we bought these cheap plastic covers in the main square. We used them once on the trail and they did keep us dry.
This simple piece of material can be worn around your neck like a scarf, and as head-gear. You don’t necessary need the brand name buff. The original fakes work just as well.
A She-wee (or Go-girl) is a plastic, funnel-shaped device which enables girls to wee standing up! Very useful if you are hiking all day or when toilets are unpleasant to sit on! No more squatting! This can be bought from Out-Door & camping stores.