My Peru and Ecuador packing list was a detailed confession of my overpacking addiction. Unfortunately my proposed support group, tentatively titled Yes In Fact I do Need Both Styles of Jeggings Thanks For Asking never came to fruition and along the way I grudgingly admitted that in certain categories I would have been better off packing lighter, or just differently.
Along the way I sent home or pitched a pair of leggings, a pair of exercise shorts, a tee-shirt, some socks and underwear, my camera case, my sunglasses case, and some other random items. I’ve also done a decent job of avoiding adding weight along the way — so far, the only things in my backpacks that I didn’t have with me when I left home are a new bikini bottom, a free t-shirt from a hostel, and two new pairs of earrings.
After fourteen weeks of travel in Peru and Ecuador, my Eagle Creek Afar Backpack, a new addition to my luggage family that I use as a frontpack and carry-on, has held up beautifully and was a trusty companion along the Inca Trail. My Osprey Aether 85L Backpack, sadly, is not faring so well. It has a major tear along the zipper-line that I’ve been patching up and whispering encouragements to along the way, hoping to sweet talk it into staying together until I get home, when I can put Osprey’s lifetime warranty to the test. Considering the abuse I subject my belongings to (I’ve also ripped the zipper tags off of some of my Eagle Creek packing cubes), that warranty was a big part of why I shelled out such major bucks for a bag in the first place.
I updated my original post to note the changes I made, so if you’re interested in specifics check there, otherwise read on for what some of my major misfires and victories were in the packing department — and to win some goodies of your own!
What I Did Right
• Packing Cubes. I will never travel without packing cubes again. I had hear other travelers talk about how I NEEDED TO USE CUBES and I was like, yeah, thanks for your concern but my system of total chaos is working just fine! Guys. YOU NEED TO USE CUBES. They kind of work as a portable closet in my backpack, allowing me to stay organized as well as unpack and repack in seconds. Best of all? I no longer have to dynamite my bag looking for a pair of underwear. In total, I have seven cubes — two Pack-It Half Cubes which hold my socks and underwear, a Pack-It Specter Compression Cube Set which hold my tops and bottoms and a Pack-It Specter Cube Set which hold my shower stuff, bikinis, and dress clothes. In the future I’ll combine socks and underwear to one cube and use the leftover one for electronic cords and chargers.
• Solid Shampoo. I don’t think I’m even exaggerating when I say that solid shampoo changed the way I travel. I will never go back! No more exploded shampoo after a long flight, no more hauling heavy liquids, no more plastic bottles I can’t find a place to recycle. I love this stuff so much I’m hoping to do a major giveaway of it sometime soon.
• Shoes. I brought five pairs of shoes and I don’t regret any of them. My running shoes were perfect for hiking, running, and hitting the gym, but I would have felt like a dork walking around big cities in them. My Keds gave me something comfortable to walk in that I didn’t feel self conscious about. My black flats and dress sandals were perfect for wearing when I wanted to feel a little fancier, especially in the evening (the flats were key for colder temperatures when sandals would have been ridiculous) and no one travels without flip flops, right? And I’m so glad I didn’t pack hiking boots!
• Lululemon Jacket. I loathe spending money on clothes and don’t put much stock in having brand-name items. I will think pretty long and hard (and look for a coupon) before buying a $30 dress from Target. Yet my mom surprised me with this Lululemon jacket as a bon voyage gift and it has been far and away the most worn and loved thing in my backpack. It’s lightweight and compact and feels as appropriate on a hiking trail as it does out to dinner.
• Scottevest. This is one of the heavier and bulkier clothing items in my bag, and another one I didn’t buy for myself (I received it at TBEX) but I’d pack it all over again. For all the hiking I did in Peru and Ecuador, this was key. No stopping to take off your backpack and dig through it, just reach into one of the bazillion pockets to grab the essentials. Not to mention, it gives off a certain air of hardcore badass hiker coming through please cede the trail to me immediately, don’t you think?
• Jeans. My decision to pack jeans was met with a lot of negative comments which caused me to momentarily reconsider. Um, I don’t know how I would have made it through Peru and Ecuador without them. Perhaps other travelers are confident enough to wear hiking pants into a nightclub or to a nice dinner — and bless their vanity-free hearts — but I just cannot. Locals wear jeans, and so can you! I did however pack an incredibly super thin $10 pair from Forever 21, which were barely bigger than a pair of leggings.
• Travel pillow, eyeshade, and earplugs. I really can’t imagine having made it through some of those bus rides without committing homicide had I not had these items. The travel pillow is a bit bulky, but worth the space.
• SteriPEN. While I’m embarassed to say I didn’t use it 100% of the time, I did put my SteriPEN and refillable water bottle to good use. It saved me money, and it saved the earth from being overrun with more plastic bottles. Win-win!
• Eagle Creek Packable. In the past, when I wanted to go on a daytrip or hike or whatever that required a backpack, I’d have to completely empty my carry-on which is stuffed with all my electronics and other valuables and repack those items elsewhere. Now, I just pull out my palm-sized Packable and fill ‘er up. It’s also great to take along if I think I might be hitting a market or a grocery store throughout the day.
• My medicine bag. Another controversial one — why not just buy what you need at local pharmacies? But I’ve been so grateful I had the little things I’ve needed (ibuprofen, band aids, neosporin, vitamins) along the way on hand, and so have my fellow travelers.
• My zoom lens. I debated whether or not to bring my Canon 70-300mm lens, and yes, I still sometimes resent its weight in my bag and how rarely I use it. But my two trips to the Amazon would not have been the same without it. Um, hello, how else would I prove I saw a jaguar?!
What I Did Wrong
• Too many warm weather clothes. I think I was deluding myself about the temperatures in Peru and Ecuador. I had to buy some cheap and ultimately disposables in Cusco — a fleece jacket (tossed when I got to Panama City), a pair of fleece-lined leggings (tossed after the Inca Trail), and a hat (lost in the Colca Canyon). And my skimpy skirts and dresses were total deadweight until I reached Central America.
• Too many socks and underwear. You would have thought I was planning on starting a sock puppet theater for how many pairs I packed. I don’t know what I was thinking. Also, I don’t know why I bothered packing a threadbare sports bra that I ended up throwing away a few weeks in and why I needed two different bandeau tops. Packing panic!
• Too many pants and shorts. I sent home a pair of shorts and a pair of leggings, and eventually had to throw away the lightweight cotton pants that I wore in the jungle due to staining. That brought me down to a much more reasonable six — one pair jean shorts, one pair khaki shorts, one pair workout shorts, one pair jeans, one pair full length leggings, and one pair capri workout leggings.
• Too much jewelry. This is a problem I always have and will likely continue to repeat. I love the idea of having a few accessories but in reality I wear the same earrings constantly and rarely more.
• Solar USB charger. I don’t know if it was our bad weather or what but this just didn’t really work for me. It was too heavy to carry when it wasn’t very effective so I sent it home.
• Bum cell phone. In Southeast Asia I always traveled with a simple unlocked Nokia phone with a local SIM card — I wouldn’t have survived without it. I bought a slightly fancier version on eBay for Latin America. I don’t know if it was because it had more features or because it was used but the battery barely lasted a day and made the phone useless. Should have stuck with the simple black-and-white-screen Nokia — or at least tested the new one before packing it.
• Collapsible tupperware. I still think this is a great idea in theory and I wish I had had it for all my travels in Southeast Asia (and I will take it when I return). But my travels in South America did not involve eating take out, which made this a useless — albeit small and light — packing misfire.
• Canvas bag. This was stupid to bring as anything other than a beach bag. I felt nervous without a zip-closed bag when I was on buses and other transit. I ended up using my Eagle Creek Packable (see above) most of the time instead. I really need a good travel purse.
• Pacsafe. I maybe used this five times tops on this trip. I mostly stayed in hostels with safes in both dorms and private rooms, or in hotels where I felt secure leaving things out. Now that I have a tiny, lightweight laptop lock this is basically just for locking up my cameras on the rare occasion I stay in a guesthouse without a safe… and I’m not sure it is worth the extra weight.
As a partner of Eagle Creek, they have sent me some great products that have made me a happier traveler. I want to share the love so I asked if they could send some goodies to one of you too. One Alex in Wanderland reader will win three of my favorite Eagle Creek products, worth a total of $79 (plus immeasurable improvements to your packing system). The prizes? An Eagle Creek Pack-It Specter Cube Set worth $38, an Eagle Creek Packable Daypack worth $27.50, and an Eagle Creek Silk Undercover Bra Stash worth $13.50.
Note: This giveaway is open only residents of the USA and Canada. You guys know I do everything I can to open my giveaways to all readers, but occasionally sponsor limitations are out of my control. I promise to make it up to my non-North Americans with the next one! a Rafflecopter giveaway
What have been your biggest packing victories and misfires? Let me know in the comments!