International Travel Packing List

After seven months traveling across South America, I have a good idea of what every traveler should bring. The purpose of this list is to maximize versatility, portability, and minimalism. Being versatile means that you would be just as comfortable in a rural mountain town as you would be in a big city. Being portable means that everything does not take up much space in your backpack. Portability also means being a minimalist and bringing only what you need and nothing that you do not. As such, it is important not to bring more than the recommended items without a good reason.

Everything that I carried at the beginning of my 7-month South America trip.


This clothing list is complete enough to let you trek through the jungle or sit down for dinner in a nice restaurant. The quantities of clothing should be sufficient for you to do laundry once a week. When it comes to clothing, less is more; if you are not sure if you should bring something, don’t. Clothing is generally cheap and widely available, so anything you find yourself needing you can buy along the way.

Legwear, 3 pairs of the following.

I recommend picking three pairs from the following options, depending on your needs. Three pairs, in my opinion, will give you sufficient versatility without taking up too much space.

  • Shorts – Shorts are ideal for hot places that do not have many biting insects. This generally means cities and beaches in hot places. Examples include the coast of Colombia and summer in Buenos Aires.
  • Jeans – Jeans are incredibly versatile and worn daily in many places that do not experience extreme heat. A good pair of jeans can double for both walking around town or going to many clubs and restaurants. If you find jeans uncomfortable, there are a variety of “travel jeans” out there that mix in some other fabrics to make them lighter and more flexible. Jeans are ideal for Andean cities like Bogotá, Quito, and many others.
  • Softshell pants – Softshell pants are a piece of technical outdoor clothing that breathe well yet are wind and water resistant. They are unparalleled for trekking and camping in the mountains, and some lightweight models are even cool enough to be worn in the Amazon.
  • Linen pants – Linen pants are fantastic in hot weather. They offer exceptional airflow and can keep your legs as cool as a pair of shorts. Their only downside is that they do not seem to be very common and in many places will, for better or worse, cause you to stick out.

Footwear, 2-3 pairs

I recommend one pair of each of the following, but you can skip the trail runners if you do not plan on hiking. In my experience, the three following types of footwear are sufficient for almost everything offered in South America.

  • Casual shoes – Whatever style you like.
  • Sandals – In my opinion, everyone needs a good pair of sandals. More comfortable and versatile than flip-flops, and great for hanging out by the water. They are also essential if you do not want to get athlete’s foot from a hostel shower (speaking from experience).
  • Trail running shoes – Trail running shoes were sufficient for every unguided hiking or backpacking trip I encountered in South America. The only places they fall short are particularly rugged activities like rock climbing, mountaineering, and Amazon trekking. Luckily, many popular mountaineering and trekking locations offer boot rentals, reducing the need to bring technical footwear from home.

Shirts, 4 of the following

I have included a few recommendations for shirts that work well for hiking in rugged environments. For regular wear, I recommend wearing whatever makes you comfortable. Also, it is best to bring shirts that can be worn a few times before they need to be washed.. In my experience, shirts that can be reworn are either very airy and loose-fitting, or are at least 50% wool, linen, or hemp. It is worth experimenting with your shirts before you leave to see how many times you can wear them before they start to look dirty and smell.

  • Wool base layer – Wool works great in cooler places, weather going for a hike or wearing it for a walk around town.
  • Airy button down – I have found loose-fitting button down shirts the most comfortable option in hot, humid environments. In my experience, hemp, cotton, and linen are the most comfortable fabrics in the heat. You can read more about my reasoning here. Long sleeves are recommended for environments with biting insects.
  • Other options – There are more styles of shirt out there than I can count, and it is important to bring shirts that you like and that are comfortable, so long as they follow the above guidelines.

Insulating Jackets, 1-3

How many jackets you bring depends on where you are going and how easily you get cold. I have some recommendations below for jackets to bring while hiking, but for casual wear it is best to bring jackets that are warm, comfortable, and pack down nicely. 

  • Softshell jacket – They have the same properties as the softshell pants listed above, with the addition that many softshell jackets are also insulated. They are generally quite durable and work exceptionally well in windy weather, and are a piece of clothing I highly recommend if you plan on hiking in the mountains.
  • Down jacket – Down is unparalleled when it comes to both packability and warmth-to-weight ratio. It is the best option for staying warm while backpacking. Down, however, does have two drawbacks worth noting: (1) Washing down is a laborious process that requires some pretty specific equipment, so if you plan on bringing a down jacket on a longer trip make sure you are prepared to wash it. (2) Down will lose some of its insulation value if it is left compressed for a long time, so make sure to take it out of storage and fluff it up pretty often.
  • Other options – There are more types of jackets out there than I can count, and it is important to bring ones that are warm, comfortable, and pack down nicely.

Underwear, 7 pairs

Whatever type and style you find most comfortable.

Socks, 7 pairs

Wool and wool-blended socks are excellent for hiking, but for walking around town I recommend sticking with whatever is most comfortable for you.

Other Clothing

  • Hat, 1-2 – A hat or two to suit your style and needs. Just make sure the hat is packable.
  • Rain jacket or poncho – Unless you like getting wet.
  • Buff, bandana, or scarf – Not 100% necessary, but they serve the dual purpose of being an eye mask while sleeping and keeping the sun off of your neck while walking.
  • Gloves – In my experience, not necessary unless you plan on spending time in the snow or have hands that get cold easily.
  • Umbrella – Not clothing and certainly not necessary, but can be a lifesaver if you have to spend a lot of time in the sun.

Nothing beats an umbrella when it comes to protection from the intense Andean sun!


Unlike clothing, most electronics are best bought before leaving your home country, since certain items can be less available or more expensive abroad. Most of the items below are optional, and in the sake of minimalism should only be brought unless you have specific reasons for needing them.

  • Unlocked phone + charger – A phone is the only item that is 100% necessary on this list. Having an unlocked phone is absolutely essential if you do not have an international cell phone plan, since being unlocked means that you can use a sim card from any carrier in your phone. This will allow you to buy a cheap local sim card and use your phone just as you would at home. If you are not sure if your phone is unlocked, there are websites where you can check.
  • Laptop or tablet + charger – They can be nice for rest days on longer trips. I also used mine to apply and interview for jobs while traveling.
  • Satellite communicator + charger – This is a device like a Garmin or a satellite phone that lets you send messages from anywhere in the world. They can save your life while traveling in remote regions, but are not particularly helpful in areas with cell service.
  • eReader + charger – A much more compact way to read books on the go. Also, depending on where you are and what language(s) you speak, it can be hard to find books while traveling. 
  • Camera + charger – Lots of people bring cameras, and lots of people get their cameras stolen. With how good smartphone cameras have gotten, I recommend only bringing a camera if you have a very specific reason to do so (for example, I will be bringing my camera with me on my next trip to the Amazon for macrophotography).
  • Portable battery + charger – Nothing is worse than arriving in a new place with a dead phone and no way to charge it.
  • Charge converter – Depending on where you are from and where you are going.

Important Documents

While traveling, I recommend carrying a wallet and a passport protector, with each one containing some form of identification and a debit card. I also keep them separate at all times, so that if one of them is stolen I will still have proof of my ID and access to money. I generally carry my wallet with me and keep my passport protector stored safely in my lodging, because a passport is the single worst thing to lose while traveling. My documents are usually divided as such:

  • Passport protector
    • Passport – It is best to keep your passport securely stored at your lodging, rather than carry it with you on the street.
    • Proof of relevant vaccinations – Some countries require travelers to have certain vaccinations. Make sure you are familiar with these requirements and have a plan for getting vaccinated.
    • Copy of travel insurance information – Medical travel insurance is essential for every traveler, and you never know when you might need it.
    • Backup debit card – By carrying a debit card here, you will have access to my bank accounts even if your wallet is stolen.
    • 100-200 USD – I have never needed it, but it is nice to have in case you get locked out of your bank accounts.
  • Wallet
    • Copy of passport – A copy of your passport is nice to have on-hand if someone asks to see an ID.
    • ID from home country – It is generally a good idea to have an official document to go along with the copy of your passport.
    • Copy of travel insurance information – Medical travel insurance is essential for every traveler, and you never know when you might need it.
    • Primary debit card – People have different ways of spending money while traveling. My preferred method is to acquire a debit card with no international fees or foreign ATM fees (yes, they exist) and use it to withdraw local currency.

Personal Items

  • Big backpack – This is where you will store everything on this list that will not be in the small backpack. It should be durable and fairly large. I have met travelers who were killing it with backpack capacities ranging from 30-70 liters.
  • Small backpack – For carrying a small number of things while walking around town.
  • Small combination lock – Necessary for securing your goods in most hostels. It is important to get a combination lock in which the u-shaped bar is very thin, like in a Master Lock 647D. If the u-shaped bar is thicker, like in the Master Lock 875DLF, it will not fit in many hostel lockers.
  • Toiletries – You know what you need better than any one-size-fits-all packing list. Just don’t forget nail clippers.
  • Sunglasses + hard case – An essential item for the bright South American sun. Make sure you have a hard case to store them so they do not get crushed.
  • Glasses + hard case – If you wear glasses, make sure to bring a back up pair in case something happens to your primary pair.
  • Water bottle with built-in filter – After much trial and error, I have determined that this is the best option. Using a water bottle with a built-in filter will allow you to drink the tap water almost anywhere, which is a near-superpower while traveling.
  • Earplugs – In many hostels, a pair of earplugs is the difference between a good night’s sleep or a night full of listening to someone snore.
  • Melatonin – Sometimes it can be hard to sleep well during your first night in a new place. It can also help fix your sleep schedule after staying up late for a few consecutive nights. Just make sure you don’t get dependent.
  • Hand sanitizer – Staying healthy is very important while traveling, and frequently washing your hands is an important part of this.
  • Bug repellent – Biting insects can be anywhere and are more than just a nuisance; some carry diseases that can make you quite sick.
  • Chapstick – Even if you are like me and never need chapstick in your normal life, I always find myself needing it while traveling.
  • Sunscreen – Unless you plan on staying indoors all day.
  • Malaria pills – If you plan on traveling to an area where malaria is endemic, malaria pills are a really good idea.
  • Suspension workout system – For those of you who like to get gains on the go.
  • First aid kit – 100% essential. There is a list of recommended first aid items at the end.

Outdoor Gear

The following items are only needed if you plan on doing some rugged hiking and camping. Even more, many of these items are provided on guided trips, so many of these are only needed for travelers who are going out without a guide.

  • Headlamp or flashlight – Great for finding your way at night.
  • Extra pair of batteries – Nothing is worse than having your headlamp die when you need it most.
  • Sleeping pad – Only needed if you plan on camping. If you bring an inflatable sleeping pad, make sure you also bring a patch kit in case it gets a leak.
  • Sleeping bag – Essential for most kinds of camping. That being said, these can be rented in many mountainous areas that offer trekking, and are not 100% necessary when camping in a hot jungle.
  • Stove and pot – If you like to prepare hot food while camping. You generally cannot fly with fuel, so you will have to buy it upon arrival. In my experience, most towns that offer trekking also have shops that sell fuel for backpacking stoves.
  • Bowl and spoon – Important if you plan on eating something other than pre-packaged foods.
  • Tarp shelter – Tents are big, bulky, and are sorely lacking in airflow. Free yourself and use a tarp shelter instead. If you are planning on camping in an area with lots of biting insects, some companies even sell bug nets that fit underneath a tarp shelter.
  • Tenacious tape or similar product – Very small and great for fixing rips in backpacks, tents, rain gear, or anything else you might bring.
  • First aid kit – 100% essential. There is a list of recommended first aid items at the end.

Useful Apps and Websites

  • InDriver – A useful app for calling taxis. Is the best option in much of northern South America.
  • Uber – Works in most large cities, but it can take a long time in some places.
  • Bolt – A cheap, reliable taxi app that only works in Paraguay.
  • – Great for finding lodging. Often cheaper than Hostelworld.
  • Hostelworld – Useful for finding the best and most popular hostels in an area.
  • Couchsurfing – Have more unique experiences while traveling by staying with locals.
  • Google Maps – Essential for navigating cities.
  • – Allows you to download maps to use without Internet. Unlike Google Maps, it often has hiking trails.
  • Alltrails – The best app for navigating trails.
  • Translator with offline functionality – There are a lot of apps that do this, and sometimes you will find yourself without cell service and needing to translate something.
  • TuRuta – Has a map of the public transport of some cities.
  • Moovit – Has a map of the public transport of some cities.
  • Redbus – A website that allows you to search, compare, and buy long-distance bus fares from a variety of different companies.
  • Busbud – Same as Redbus, but will often upcharge if you buy the ticket through their website.

First Aid Kit

An absolutely essential part of your packing list. What is listed here is, in my opinion, the absolute minimum and a good place to start. Feel free to expand and add if you know you have certain needs.

Recommended for All Travelers

Even if you never plan on leaving the major cities, you might find yourself in need of something and unable to get to a pharmacy.

  • Band aids (15) – A variety of shapes and sizes.
  • Ibuprofen (Advil) – For the occasional ache or cramp.
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) – Same as ibuprofen. It is important to have both acetaminophen and ibuprofen for 2 reasons: (1) If the pain is severe, they can be taken together for greater effect and (2) A surprisingly large number of people are allergic to ibuprofen.
  • Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) – Even if you do not have allergies, you might find yourself allergic to things in other countries.
  • Loperamide – Loperamide is an anti-diarrheal. And when you need it, you really need it.
  • Dimenhydrinate – Motion sickness is really common during long bus rides.
  • N95 masks (5) – Useful if you or someone around you is sick.
  • Safety pins – I use these all the time. Not just for first aid, but also for removing sim cards from my phone.

Recommended for Travelers in Remote Areas

The things listed here, along with the above list, are essential in regions where medical care is far away, such as in small towns or during multi-day treks. I recommend supplementing these things with a formal wilderness medicine course.

  • First aid pocket guide – Useful for when you inevitably forget what you learned in your first aid training. I like the pamphlet made by NOLS.
  • Pen & paper – For longer, more serious first aid situations, it is a good idea to record what is happening.
  • Scissors or trauma shears – Mostly for cutting the wrappers on all of your first aid products.
  • Gloves – To minimize the spread of disease.
  • Tweezers – For pesky ticks, splinters, and stingers.
  • Irrigation syringe – For cleaning out wounds. Be sure to use treated water.
  • Alcohol wipes – For cleaning the area around wounds.
  • Blister tape – Everyone who gets blisters regularly has a product they swear by.
  • Gauze pads – Useful for serious bleeding.
  • Triangle bandage (2) – Dual purpose item that works for both supporting broken limbs or reinforcing gauze when the bleeding is bad.
  • Ace wrap (1-2) – Useful for supporting hurt ankles, splinting limbs, and a million other things.
  • Long-term bandages – Like a band aid on steroids. They are generally waterproof, breathable, and meant to stay on the wound for days. A great longer-term solution for cuts and scrapes.
  • Water treatment tablets – Small and very useful for when you inevitably lose your water filter at the worst possible time.
  • Antibiotics for treating traveler’s diarrhea – For when loperamide is not enough. You can get these prescribed at many clinics before starting your trip.            

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