What to Pack for Long-Term Travel to Ecuador, South America and Beyond
Back in 2010, packing for my first long-term backpacking trip, I had no idea what I was doing. I’ve made many packing mistakes; leaving piles of clothing in hotels, carrying around snorkelling gear I seldom used, bringing big bottles of lotion I can purchase for pennies on the road, and even donating a digital camera to a Thai hotel bellboy.
I’ve analyzed and tweaked my packing list over time, carefully selecting only the things I truly find useful or will make me more comfortable while abroad. And through trial and error, I’ve come to the realization that it’s not about carrying as many things as possible, it’s about carrying the right things.
This time around I’ve ditched my top-loading ‘backpacking’ backpack in favour of a smaller, carry-on compliant backpack, limited my toiletries — especially liquids, and brought some damn cold weather clothing because I froze my butt off in New Zealand and I hate being cold.
Luckily, traveling as a couple means you get to share certain modules such as first aid kits, some toiletries, and camera equipment which lightens the load a bit, but also just allows us to pack even more tech gear. Nonetheless, most of my packing list is mine alone and I would bring regardless of being with my boyfriend.
So, use this list as a guideline for your own packing requirements. Everyone is different and should pack what they feel will be of use while wandering the world, and of course each location has it’s own specific things that could be of use. This is my packing list for Ecuador and South America and beyond; I’m not sure when the next time I’ll be home is, so it’s also kind of my life-list of what I need to carry-on my days while living and working from a backpack. Phew… sit tight or bookmark it for later because this is going to be long.
Clothing & Accessories
My clothing is limited to what I can fit in my two packing cubes. I don’t tend to buy much travel-targeted clothing because most of it is just plain ugly. Yes, I want to go trekking in the Andes, but why must hiking pants be so heinous? I do love Lululemon for activewear because their clothing is both flattering and stylish, and then some specific brands for certain things, but just regular, everyday clothing for the rest.
- 5 tank tops — These are mostly old and threadbare and will get thrown out and replaced along the way. I wear tank tops everyday so I like to bring a lot of them.
- 1 t-shirt — I’m more of a tank top girl so I went easy on the t-shirts because I don’t end up wearing them nearly as much.
- 1 dressy top — For nights out or days in the city, it’s nice to have something a bit fancier that could go both ways.
- 1 long sleeve top — For layering in chillier climates, I like Icebreaker for their under armour.
- 1 plaid flannel — A bit bulky, but I love throwing on a flannel when it gets a bit nippy on the beach at night.
- 1 cardigan — 100% Merino wool, super warm yet really lightweight and breathable.
- 1 hoodie — Plain, comfy hoodie. I carried a ‘sporty’ hoodie before and sorely missed that big, cozy warmness of a hoodie on cold nights in the mountains.
- 1 skirt — A simple, cheap, jersey tube skirt that can go with anything. I bought it from Forever 21 for approximately $5. I would have brought more skirts but I sorta packed too many dresses.
- 1 pair of jean shorts — My go-to when traveling, I would never leave home without a good pair of jean shorts. While traveling Southeast Asia my jorts lost their life and it was near impossible to find some that fit me due to my being a giant by Southeast Asian standards.
- 1 pair casual shorts — Some simple, black, lightweight cotton shorts that can be worn with pretty much anything.
- 1 pair of running shorts — Good for running, hiking, beach-going and comfy-casual wear.
- 1 pair of capri workout pants — I purchased these from Lululemon just before leaving. They are made from their specialty “luxtreme” fabric which is super lightweight and breathable. They have mesh paneling throughout adding extra air-flow behind the knees and in between the thighs. My favourite part about these capris is that they have not one, not two, but THREE secret pockets! That’s a win in my books.
- 1 pair of long pants — I brought my Lululemon skinny groove pants, they are thick enough to keep me warm when needed yet super comfortable.
- I would have brought a pair of lightweight jeans as well but in the end I see myself wearing my Lululemon’s more often. Plus, I forgot to buy jeans when I was doing my pre-travel shopping and I didn’t own a pair worth bringing.
- 1 everyday dress — Plain, jersey, princess-seamed dress, can be dressed up or down.
- 1 tank dress — Perfect for hot days, layering and throwing over a bikini.
- 1 party dress — A lightweight, dressier dress from ASOS. Packs up tiny.
- 1 maxi dress — Not necessary… but Rory insisted, plus it’s really comfy.
- 2 bikinis — I like to have two in case one is wet.
- 14 undies — Do laundry every two weeks and you’re set.
- 5 pairs of socks — Five is ample, I spend most of my time in flip-flops.
- 1 pair of thick wool socks — Good for hiking, I always like to have some woolies incase I’m up in the mountains — a lesson learned from many cold nights camping in New Zealand.
- 2 bras — I think one would be enough, but I packed another last minute.
- 1 sports bra — I’m a big fan of the Ta Ta Tamer.
Shoes & Accessories:
Shoes are hard to limit if you’re anything like me, but there’s really no need to carry around multiple pairs that serve the same purpose. Accessories are the same. The less the better, so bring few items that serve several needs.
3 Pairs of shoes:
- Running Shoes — I recently bought the Nike Women’s Zoom Terra Kiger running shoes; they are a super lightweight trail running shoe that I can wear hiking as well as running.They have a water resistant toe, sticky rubber sole, a fly tongue and soft heel grip blending the best of both worlds without the bulkiness of a traditional trail shoe. I’m not a hardcore hiker, so I don’t often do treks that require more robustness.
- Comfy-Casual Shoes — TOMS in black crochet— I love Tom’s as a comfortable shoe, just make sure to put washable insoles in them or they start to stink after a while.
- Flip-Flops — I basically live in flip-flops in hot countries, I buy the $2 ones from Old Navy, but it’s worth getting a good, comfortable pair.
- Packable rain jacket — I had my eye on the Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, but my budget didn’t allow for it so I bought a cheap one from Mark’s Work Warehouse that’s taking up far too much room.
- Hat — As much as I look dorky in hats, I’m going to the equator where the sun is stronger than a sumo wrestler and I would look terrible as a tomato.
- Sunglasses — One pair is enough, you can always buy another for $5 on the beach. I still have my fake Ray Bans I bought in Vietnam three years ago. I wouldn’t splurge on a pricier pair as they tend to disappear along the way.
- Sarong — Beach towel, blanket and bikini cover-up, enough said.
- Thin Belt — For jazzing up an outfit.
- Cold weather wear:
- Gloves — Nike Women’s Lightweight Tech Run Glove for cold activities in the mountains, with touchscreen capable thumbs and a little palm pocket for a key. How clever!
- Toque — I like toques, I’ll even wear them when it’s warm if I’m not going to sweat too much. I suggest a cashmere one to keep you warm and dry without stinking.
- Snood — A cross between a scarf and a hood, because I get a cold neck. Nobody likes a cold neck.
- Watch — I ended up getting my mom to ship me my watch in Australia because I missed it so much, so I just brought my Fossil watch this time. I like having the time on my wrist, though I’d probably suggest something a bit sportier and waterproof.
- 6 Necklaces — I think 2-3 would be sufficient but I couldn’t decide between six, and a couple of them were teeny-tiny… soooo I brought all five. Don’t judge.
- 5 Pairs of Earrings — Again, probably too many, but they’re so small!
As far as toiletries go, it’s important to remember that the majority of these things can be purchased wherever you are going. If you have a specific product you cannot go without, stock up, but be careful because all the little things. You may not be able to find your favourite brands abroad, but it’s a small sacrifice for the sake of weight and space.
- Toothbrush + Charger + Extra Head — I carry an electric toothbrush because my teeth are really sensitive to cavities. It’s actually not as much of a hassle as I thought it would be and keeps my teeth squeaky clean.
- Dental Floss
- Handheld Mirror
- Nail Clippers + Buffer
- Diva Cup — I can’t recommend this enough for women traveling. No bulky boxes to carry around, plus it’s good for the environment AND your body.
- Baby Powder — I use baby powder instead of dry shampoo, works a treat.
- Moisturizer — I can’t stand dry skin.
- Lush Solid Shampoo — I love the Lush ‘Seanik’ Solid Shampoo, they say it gives you mermaid hair 😉 . But seriously, this stuff lathers up nicely and leaves your hair smelling delightful. They say one will last you two months, I’ve been using the same one for three and still have some left. The trick is to let it dry out after each use.
- Lush Solid Conditioner — The ‘Big Solid Conditioner‘ is better than the ‘Jungle’ as it’s more creamy, but neither one penetrates my ends as much as I’d like, leaving it tangly and and a bit dry. If you get dry ends, you may not like these so much.
- Bar of Face Wash — Manuka honey and goat’s milk bar I bought from the Granville Island market, it’s lasted me six months and is much easier to travel with than liquid-based cleansers.
- Bar of Soap — I’m usually a liquid gal but I’m trying this out, for carry-on’s sake.
- Loofah glove — So much better than carrying around a pouffy loofah!
- Razor + Extra Blades — I’ve been using the Schick quatro razor forever and don’t see any need to change.
- Travel Towel — I replaced my bulkier Eagle Creek towel with a super lightweight Packtowl and was able to get the biggest one available without worrying about weight and size. It doubles as a yoga mat when I’m staying somewhere with towels provided.
- Face Moisturizer — I use Nuxe Crème Fraiche, but once it runs out it’s usually a case of whatever is available.
- BB Cream — I’ve tried so many but Garnier BB Cream does the trick for me. It’s lightweight and non-greasy, with subtle coverage and SPF.
- Face Cleansing Wipes — Great for on the go and after long journeys.
- Small Hair Brush + Comb
- Leave-in Conditioner — My hair gets super dry when I’m constantly in and out of the ocean, so I just use leave-in conditioner to add some extra moisture back in.
- Hair Elastics, Bobby Pins, Clips — No need to go wild, just put them somewhere you won’t constantly lose them.
- Makeup Palette — I made my own palette by de-potting all my makeup and putting them together in a flat, compact tin so I could bring a nice supply without the space-occupation guilt.
- Varied Makeup Brushes
- Black + White Eyeliner — White for the bottom, black for the top.
- Mascara — Definitely waterproof, though I hardly wear mascara when I’m traveling anyway, this is a special occasion thing.
- 2 Lipsticks + 2 Lip Liners — One bold, bright pink and one more subtle, everyday pink.
- Sharpener — Small and necessary for the liners.
- 1 Small Perfume Bottle — It’s nice to smell nice.
Medical Supplies and Useful Items
There used to be a lot more to my first aid kit, but I found that whatever I was needing at the time I would end up having to go buy anyway. People cut their knees in other countries too, so just a few to initially patch up the wound will do. Sewing supplies aren’t totally necessary, but do come in handy as your things become threadbare. Bring them only if you think you’ll use them.
First Aid Kit
- Ibuprofen — A general painkiller of your choice is highly advisable.
- Bandaids — A variety of sizes but you can always buy these as you need them.
- Antiseptic Wipes
- Antibiotic Cream
- Wound Dressing
- Arnica Gel — For sore muscles.
- Witch Hazel — Good for soothing burns, bruises, rashes, and I also use this as a skin toner.
- Bug Spray — With deet for malaria zones. You can stock up on location, so one bottle will suffice.
- Hand Sanitizer — I carry this around in my purse and daypack.
- After Bite — I don’t use this often, but Rory gets eaten alive and uses it frequently.
- Duct tape — At some point this comes in handy and you’ll be happy to have it. Like when the airline loses your guitar and returns it with a hole in the case. Keep the insurance money and patch that sh*t up!
- 3 Needles
- Various Mini Threads — In the colours of your clothing!
- Mini Seam Ripper
- Water Bottle — I bought the Vapur Element Water Bottle before leaving and love, love, love it! No leaks, no weird tastes, it packs up super small, and clips onto your stuff – I carry it everywhere and it saves a lot of money by refilling when possible and not buying plastic bottles all the time.
- Headlamp — Always bring a flashlight, sometimes streetlights aren’t as common as we’re used to.
- Raincover for Backpack — It’s really depressing when you get caught in a downpour and all your possessions get drenched.
- Packable Shopping Bag — My strawberry tote bag always give me a smile, and comes in handy quite often.
- Laundry Detergent packs — You can often get your laundry cleaned for super cheap in developing countries, but sometimes you need to do things by hand. I only brought a few packs because you can stock up as needed.
- Clothing Line — A travel clothing line with suction cups is useful for sticking on the windows or the bathroom when hand-washing your clothing.
- I’m kicking myself for forgetting to buy another sink stopper after losing mine.
Apart from the physical copies of important documents and cards, you should keep digital copies somewhere safe where you can access them if your stuff went missing.
Important Documents & Cards
- Passport — Make sure you renew it! Also, scan a copy to bring and one to leave at home somewhere safe in case you need the number.
- Written record of your travel insurance plan number and phone numbers in case of emergency.
- International Driver’s License — I paid $25 for this and it lasts a year, woohoo!
- Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate — You may need to show this as you enter yellow fever affected countries.
- Small Wallet:
- Driver’s License
- Government Issued Health Card
- Debit Card — As far as I’m aware, Canada doesn’t produce any of those magical no-fee international debit cards that all the American travellers have, so I just have my usual card and it kills me every time I need to withdraw money. If anyone knows a better solution for us North of the border backpackers, please divulge!
- Credit Card — I only have one so that’s all I bring, but if you own several I’d bring a backup in case you lose it!
- Notebook — I like to write things down by hand.
- Small Notepad — Fits in my purse for note taking and Spanish vocabulary I pick up while out and about.
- 2 Pens + Pencil + Eraser
- Mini Ruler
- Coloured tabs — For organizing my notebook and bookmarking.
Other Useful Stuff
- Journal — With corner stickers for keeping clippings and mementos.
- 1 Book — You can always swap at hostels or book exchanges.
- Guide Book — The latest edition of Lonely Planet Ecuador, for logistical purposes.
- Map — National Geographic map of Ecuador — not totally necessary, but I’m a bit of a map nerd; I like to see the whole picture. Plus, I’m going to be there a while, I wouldn’t get a map if I was just passing through.
If I carried no technology, I would have no need to carry my second daypack, or ‘techpack’ as I call it. Yes, I probably went a bit overboard, but every item has it’s use and couldn’t bare to part with any of them. For anyone not working while traveling, this is overkill — a light laptop and a smartphone would do the trick just fine, plus a few accessories for storage and entertainment.
- 13” White Macbook + Charger — My laptop is six years old but still hanging in there, I’m going to have to upgrade with its imminent death looming ahead. I used to carry a Netbook when I wasn’t working on the road but I don’t think those are available as much anymore with all the new super lightweight laptops coming out.
- iPad mini + Charger — I wouldn’t have went out and added this to my already hefty list of electronics, but I already owned it and love it for reading ebooks, playing games and watching movies on long bus rides. It’s my Kindle with added benefits.
- iPhone 4Gs + Charger — I’m really happy to be bringing along an iPhone, they’re so, so useful for travelling. I have a few travel-related apps and use it as my small point-and-shoot camera when I’m not carrying my big one around. I’m still working on a way to unlock it so I can get a data SIM card on location.
- iPod Mini — This is so teeny, tiny, I couldn’t help but bring it. Rory bought this for me before we left for Southeast Asia because I didn’t have a music playing device for the beach and running. I like having it because I don’t always want to bring my iPhone out for fear of losing it. Thanks Rory 🙂
- Wacom tablet + Wireless Kit + Charger — I do illustrations and designs using a small Wacom drawing tablet for clients and personal use. Again, most people wouldn’t need this but I love it and use it and it’s actually much lighter than carrying around a sketchbook.
- Joey Battery Pack — A battery charging pack that came with my backpack. I don’t have to worry about my devices running dry when I’m on the road as I can charge anything that has a USB connector.
- Wireless Mouse — I use the Logitech wireless touch-scroll mouse and find it perfect. It’s small, light and works well.
- External Hard drive — While I’m a big fan of backing up on the cloud, quick internet is not always available for backups and my computer can’t handle the massive photo files I throw at it. So, I have a 1TB hard drive to backup things I don’t necessarily like to store on my computer, such as my movie collection or old designs.
- USB — 32GB Verbatim micro USB key, the key loop on my USB gets attached to the key clip built into a pocket in my backpack and (hopefully) never wanders astray. It’s good to have a decent sized USB for transferring files in internet cafes or exchanging photos and music with fellow travellers. Just keep them somewhere safe, and don’t pull a me and put the only copy of your photos on there.
- USB Splitter — Sometimes two ports just isn’t enough. I don’t know if I’ll need this as much when I don’t have my monitor and keyboard setup, but you never know.
- Headphones — Just a fresh pair of the Apple ones that come with an iPhone.
- Headphone splitter — I like to bring this so Rory and I can watch movies together on buses, etc.
* I’ll buy a cheap local phone on location and use that for local calls only.
DSLR Photography Equipment:
- Canon EOS 70D Body + USB Cord + Charger — This camera is amazing. Neither of us are pros, but I love taking pictures and Rory loves taking videos and this camera delivers both with exceptional quality.
- Standard Lens — Canon EF-S 18-55mm Lens — This is my go-to lens.
- Zoom Lens — Canon EF-S 55- 250mm Telephoto Zoom Lens
- Extra Battery — Canon batteries are expensive, so I got a fakey and it’s working well so far. I use the Canon battery the camera came with for general use and this one only as a backup.
- Rain Cover — Just in case.
- Extra Lens Caps — I’ll probably lose one and not be able to find a replacement, this one comes with a string so it’s un-loseable.
- GoPro HERO3+: Black Edition + Remote + Cord — GoPros are like a traveller’s dream come true in a camera. They’re lightweight, great for action sports, waterproof, robust, and take awesome HD photos and videos.
- Various GoPro Accessories — Floaty back door, anti-fog inserts, bobber hand grip, headstrap and quick clip, tripod mount, grab bag.
- GorillaPod — Initially I wasn’t going to bring this as it doesn’t hold the DSLR, but then it seemed perfect to use with the GoPro so it made it on the list.
- Mini Tripod — Tripods can get pretty bulky and heavy, but they’re necessary if you want to do any night photography or video recording so I was super stoked when I found this Velbon compact tripod. It’s sturdy enough to hold my heavy dSLR, but packs up to only 11 inches and weighs only 1.27lbs. It doesn’t get the height of bigger tripods, but I just place it on a table or whatever is around and it does the trick. I’m able to stick it in my backpack’s water bottle holder for quick access and it even comes with a great little carrying case.
- 2 x SanDisk 64GB Micro SD Card — I get the micro SD cards so I can use it in the GoPro and have the adapter to use it in the Canon. SanDisk is quick enough for HD video recording on either device.
- Main Backpack — The North Face 41L Router Charged Backpack was a big investment for me. It’s not cheap, but has all those little added touches that make a difference; soft, padded front pocket – perfect for sunglasses, a cord management system so you can be charging your ipad in the back compartment connected the Joey battery pack in the front, a pocket for your laptop charger, internal organization, easy access full-zips, and so much more.
- Daypack — I’m using my dad’s old work backpack. I had a nifty packable daypack before and used it all the time, but the flimsy straps broke after only 3 weeks of use! I figure since this is something I use all the time it’s worth having a real backpack — NOT one that folds into a cute little pocket. It never got folded up anyway due to constant use.
- Small Purse —A compact purse with a cross-body strap and zippered pockets. Don’t make it easy for people to steal from you.
- Dry Bag — Dry bags are good for putting your camera in at the beach, in your backpack and for general use during water activities. I’ve broken a couple cameras from water and sand getting in and would hate for that to happen again.
- Clear Vinyl Toiletry Bag — For your carry-on liquids while flying. You’re allowed to have up to 1L so get the closest one to that size you can find.
- Various Other Packing Bags — All of my other packing aids were found around the house, I don’t see the need to purchase travel-specific ones for everything. For example, the vinyl bag that new linens come in is great for spare shoes, net laundry bags are good for keeping the airflow through my cold-weather gear, and toiletry cases you get for free when purchasing a promotion from the makeup counter generally suffice.
Still there? Can you believe I pack all that stuff and still manage to carry-on? Me neither.
Here’s the thing: by bringing a 41L backpack, and having a smaller daypack I’m able to claim one as my carry-on item and the other as my personal item. As long as the smaller backpack is able to fit under the seat in-front of you, it’s generally a go. Unless of course you’re flying on one of those super cheap European airlines that makes you pay to use the toilet, then you’ll have to check it, but otherwise it’s pretty solid . My smaller daypack holds most of my valuables anyway so I like to have it with me while the other one is below in transit and prefer wearing it on the front where I can keep a close watch.
So that’s it. A work in progress, the ever-evolving list of lists in a quest for packing perfection.
What have I missed? Is there something I’m forgetting?
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