Packing Post Mortem
San Carlos Travel Blog› entry 69 of 71 › view all entries
I am not sure how many of you readers would ever take a trip like this.
In length of time - 2 months.
In destination - South America.
Or in, shall we say, technique - backpack, hostels, buses, etc.
But if you ever do - and want to know what to take, or what not to take - here's the post mortem on what I brought, what I used, what I added enroute, and what I ditched. (This is also interesting for me - for my next trip, if and when it happens.)
(Keep in mind that in both Rio and Buenos Aires, we rented apartments which had laundry in the apartment. This greatly helped in rationing clothing. However, even though I just typed that, there were also plenty of laundry places in those towns - and we still had the good ol' bathroom sink if needed.
What I Brought / Comments / How Much I Used It:
1 internal frame backpack (I chose the Osprey Aether 70, which holds about 70 liter / 4200 cu inches) -- This was a great choice of backpack. A good size and compartment design. Although I didn't use it, the detachable hip belt/pouch might have come in handy but it's a bit of a pain to detach.
Heavy-duty duffle bag to protect backpack when checked on airline and "disguise" backpack when traveling on buses -- This was very useful and I think I was the envy of some other backpackers who wish they'd been as smart. (To be clear - this duffel is only used during transport, and is otherwise empty.)
1 small day pack -- My choice was a cheapo Alpine Lowe pack. It was too small in volume, and too cheap in quality. Mid-trip, the side ripped. I was fortunate not to lose anything out of it, thanks to a improvised solution I implemented using an extra strap I had.
2 quick dry zip-off hiking pants -- I wore these virtually the whole time. Lots of pockets including a hidden pocket for credit cards and extra cash (saved me during the robbery). Easy to clean and dry. Comfortable. Bad part is these things scream "Tourist!"
1 pair of jeans -- wore them in evenings in cities when I was going out -- and occasionally during daytime in a city when I didn't want to look so much like a tourist.
1 pair of wind pants -- I wore these three times -- once on the hike over glacier Perito Moreno, once at the windy penguin colony in Tierra del Fuego, and once on the boat ride to H Island off coast of Ushuaia. Small and easy to pack. Good in emergency too. Smart choice.
1 swim suit -- I decided to bring it after all, rather than buy one. I wore it on the beaches.
1 pair workout shorts -- I may have worn them once or twice, but it wasn't to work out.
4 pairs of quick dry underwear -- These things are magical. Comfortable. Easy to clean; dry super quick. Probably could have gotten by with only 3 pairs. Hardcore people would go with 2 pair.
2 quick dry long sleeve button down shirts -- Didn't wear these as often as I thought, but still wore them a lot. Very comfortable, convenient, easy to clean and dry. I opted for next set of long sleeve shirts instead.
3 poly/wicking long sleeve shirts -- These things are magical. I wore these shirts constantly. Again, comfortable, easy to clean and dry. No pockets so not quite as convenient. But great for hiking or walking around town. My black one paired with jeans could even be considered suitable for going out...maybe. (To go lighter - I'd go with only 2 of these shirts, and only 1 of the long-sleeve button down).
1 long underwear (top only) -- Definitely wore this in the colder parts of my trip. A must-have.
4 standard cotton t-shirts -- I wore these occasionally. I could have gotten by with 2 instead of 4.
1 short sleeve button down shirt -- I didn't wear this even once. Instead, I opted for the quick-dry long sleeve shirts, just rolling up the sleeves. Ditch this one next time.
3 wool/poly socks -- About right amount. Probably could have gone with only 2 pair.
Gore-tex boots -- You probably read about my many boot problems. First the pain during my Torres del Paine hike - then the big fall in the Miami airport. Lesson learned -- before you travel, buy boots MONTHS ahead of time and BREAK THEM IN FOR SURE. These Merrell boots were about the right weight and durability - they just didn't fit quite right for some reason.
Sandals -- I chose the closed toe Keens from REI. These are awesome. As I mentioned in the blog, I did at least half the W hike in them. Plus they carried me through the beaches, including crazy Rio de Janeiro at New Years, protecting me from broken glass and unknown liquids.
Cheap thongs for showers -- Ok, close your ears -- I never used them. Ditch 'em.
Broad brimmed hat -- This was crucial, especially in the ozone-light southern hemisphere.
Wool hat -- This was crucial on boat rides, glaciar hikes, and nights in the mountains.
Fleece gloves -- I wore these on the glacier hike and that's about it. Ditch 'em. Though might be good in emergency.
Gore-tex shell -- I took my trusty bright red LL Bean shell that's like 10+ years old. Worked like a charm. Don't leave home without it.
Middle-weight fleece and light-weight pullover -- These were crucial to achieve the layering effect. Pullover goes on first - basically like another layer of thermal underwear, with a zipper halfway down. Then fleece goes on. They are both individually lightweight enough to roll up into my daypack or tuck away somewhere in the larger pack.
Fitted rain shell for backpack -- This was a suckers' deal Don't buy this. I have learned that lining stuff sacks and backpacks with garbage sacks is cheaper, lighter, and more effective. Ditch this $30 gimmick and go with a few $0.30 garbage sacks.
As you may recall, my "Repair/ Emergency Kit" included the following: 5+ yards duct tape wrapped around pencil, zip ties, rubber bands, waterproof matches, candle, signal mirror, various lengths twine, 15 feet climbing rope, sewing kit, spare AAA batteries, extra ziploc bags, stick-on velcro. Of all this stuff, I used a bit of duct tape (well, Adam did) and a few of the ziplocs. But I really wouldn't want to skimp here, because I'm sure whatever I skimp on is precisely what I would end up needing.
My "First Aid Kit" included the following: assorted bandaids, antispeptic wipes, medical tape, gauze pads, rubber gloves, immodium, sea-sickness patch, pepto-bismol tablets, sudafed, ibu-profren, neosporin, first aid how-to cheat sheet. I did use a few things here during my hiking of Torres del Paine. Various cuts and scrapes required some bandaids and antiseptic. My cold required the suda-fed. And yes, the occasional hangover required Ibu-profen. Again, wouldn't skimp here at all.
As for the remaining assortment of gear:
Quick dry towel -- definitely used, since some hostels didn't provide towels.
50 degree synthetic sleeping bag -- definitely used, since some hostels didn't provide sheets (or charged extra for them)
Headlamp -- critical for hostel living, and even non-hostel living. Good also for arriving home to a house without electricty.
Alarm clock -- critical for not missing buses, most of the time.
Cheap watch -- my trusty "EA" plastic watch was a great theft deterrent, though it sure looked silly in the clubs of Buenos Aires, next to all the decked out dudes and latinas.
Camera and three 2g memory cards (plus charger) -- The memory cards option was definitely the way to go. You may recall me talking about whether I should bring an Ipod and use it to store photos, or some other external harddrive option. But the multiple memory cards were relatively cheap, definitely easy to pack, and provided a certain level of security or comfort that not all my photos were linked to a single piece of hardware. If one card failed, I still had the others.
Blackberry (plus charger) -- My Blackberry Bold, for the most part, worked like a charm - providing me with phone, internet, wifi services in most places.
Laundry detergent -- enough said. I needed it.
Basic toiletries -- enough said. I did brush my teeth and use deodorant during the 2 months. Hell, I even shaved.
Insect repellent -- I never used it, but probably good to have. It wouldn't have worked anyway against those wickedly annoying horse fly things in Torres del Paine.
Sunscreen -- critical -- I even bought more. Nonetheless, the one time I didn't have it with me, I got SCORCHED!
Lonely Planet book -- critical.
Padlock -- critical for lockers at hostels
Corkscrew -- never used mine, but I sure drank a lot of wine nonetheless
Money belt -- my leg holster thing worked ok. I still think I prefer it to the traditional money belt.
Journal and pen -- of course critical! How else could I write the irrestible blog!
Ear plugs -- I ended up using them a couple of nights. Most travellers had them, to combat snorers in the hostels.
Dice and deck of cards -- call me antisocial, but I never used them. It seems like when the opportunity arose, I was never near my backpack and they were too bulky to carry around. Still a good thing to have. You never know...
Brain -- I used this most of the time. There were a few lapses of common sense. But I came home alive, at least.
Documents (passport, drivers license, ATM/credit card, brazil visa, and immunization card - and copies of everything both in my pack and left at home) -- After two trips in last two years where I lost either my visa card or ATM card, on this trip I managed to hang onto all my documents. I had a few ATM problems in terms of compatibility of cards or availability of cash in machine, but everything worked out ok. And unlike last time in Panama, no one asked to even see my documents.
That's about it for gear. Now, early in my blog, I made the claim that about 25% of my gear was disposable. Well, that it may be. However, how much gear did I dispose of? ZERO. I brought everything home. Oh, except for that funky EA watch, which I left with my Panama friend Dayana. So while the gear may have been disposable, I didn't throw anything out. In fact, I brought even more stuff home!
Enroute, here's what I picked up to look better, feel better, or survive:
White capri pants: Beachy and bright white, perfect for New Years Eve in Rio, where everyone is supposed to wear white (with red accent)
White shirt: Again, needed for Rio. This wasn't just a T-shirt or button down, it was a v-neck with sort of a swirly design on the shoulders.
Red flip flops: I thought I would need these as my "red accent" to my white outfit for New Years in Rio. But after buying them, I decided they were too flimsy and it would be potentially dangerous to walk around the beach and streets of Rio with them. I opted for my Keen sandals.
Jeans: I am not sure why, but i didn't think my Gap jeans were cool enough for the nightlife, so I bought Rusty brand jeans from my friend Melina. She assured me Rusty was a hip brand. I think I got suckered. And then of course the zipper ripped.
Going out shirt: Likewise, I didn't think my REI quick dry button down shirts were that hip for the clubs. So I bought a cowboy-looking shirt to make me look like I just came from La Pampa of Argentina. (That's farm country...)
Extra memory card: For New Years Eve, I didn't want to bring my camera out into the fray with the 2gig memory card which still had a lot of photos from Argentina on it. So I bought a "special" 1 gig memory card that I would use only for Rio.
Beach bag: We bought these bags to hold champagne, beer, and red bull on New Years Eve. Adam's was stolen, but I managed to hang onto mine and bring it home.
Book: Reading the Lonely Planet is interesting only up to a point. I had to buy another book, so I bought one on the myths and history of Patagonia. What I really wanted to buy was a Spanish Language book to help me speed up my Spanish speaking, but I couldn't find one in English. Note to self - bring one next time. (Adam supplied me with some extra reading material too - he brought a bunch of Wired magazines with him...dating back to like 2006!!)
Plug adaptor: Because I was lame and forgot mine.
Sunglasses: Because I was lame and forgot mine.
Leather Jacket: Because I decided to spoil myself and bring home something nice.
Well that's about it for the gear I brought and the gear I bought. Fascinating, I'm sure.
You may ask - Is there anything I *wish* I had brought with me? Well, a few things I suppose:
Ipod for music -- everyone had one. I felt like a loser without it. But then again, it's just one more thing to keep charged and keep track of. And it's antisocial. Could be a toss up. The plus side is it helps during those late-night hostel parties when some French guy wants to plug in his lame Frenchie music...I can offer up Duran Duran instead.
A bigger daypack -- I mentioned this before. On a few of the day hikes, I had to empty out my big packpack and fill it with a few items, and then cinch down all the straps to takeaway the empty space. It worked fine, it just meant I was hauling a extra couple of pounds of backpack "frame" that I didn't really need. But I'm buff, I could handle it. :)
Belt -- during the trip, I definitely lost weight. Some of it "good weight" because I was exercising. But some of it "bad weight" because i really was not eating balanced meals, or enough meals. Sometimes only one real meal a day. By the end of the trip, my pants were falling down. Though I guess in some parts of town that's considered pretty cool.
That's about it. All in all, I felt really prepared, secure, and comfortable.
Oh, next time I would like to bring a friend or two...makes it just that much more real and memorable...So I'm looking for volunteers... :)