When you are travelling around a lot, using public transportation and switching from place to place, travelling light is absolutely essential. It allows you to enjoy more freedom, not have to worry about multiple methods of transportation to get to the more isolated attractions, and even save money. For example, you can avoid taking taxis and luggage fees if you are travelling light.
There are many jokes that go around about women bringing way too much when travelling and most people are surprised when they see me with a small carry-on backpack. So let's prove them wrong, ladies, we can travel light! That said, there are some essentials that must not be forgotten. So here are some tips on how to pack light if you are a woman, particularly travelling in Latin America.
1. Consider Where You Are Going
The first time I was packing to go to Colombia, I asked a friend what I should bring. When he started listing off warm coats and boots, I was very confused – what about shorts and a bikini? While many people picture tropical paradise when they think about Latin America, the only region where you can get away without packing warm clothes is Central America (from Belize to Panama). Here, it's usually upwards of 25 degrees and you should be fine with light summer clothes and maybe a raincoat. Anywhere on the South American continent though, you'll probably want to bring something warmer. Boasting the Andes in the North and real winter in the South, the continent might surprise you with some really chilly weather.
2. Make a List of Top Activities
One way to make sure that you are bringing everything you need is to make a list of the top things that you want to do. Whether you are travelling for a couple of weeks or a few months this could be a good guide. For example, if you are planning to do a lot of hiking, then you need your hiking boots and other gear. But if you are more likely to spend most of your time on the beach or trekking through the Amazon jungle, then mosquito repellent and a bathing suit are a must. Keep in mind that you can often rent gear on the spot for the more specialized activities, like rock climbing, camping or hiking, so that can be a good way to reduce the size of your luggage.
3. Focus on Function over Fashion
Unless you are planning to spend a week in a penthouse apartment and party every night, you probably don't need much in terms of fashionable items. A good majority of the best activities in Latin America involve hiking, swimming, trekking, and overall getting in touch with nature. That means that you won't be needing pretty sundresses – bring gear instead. After years of travelling, I've realized that if I do bring a nice dress, I might use it once in a month-long trip. The things I really need are sports clothes, good cooling and heating gear, a great windbreaker, and the most comfortable shoes in the world.
4. Bring More Than One Pair of Shoes
Speaking of shoes, make sure that you bring more than one pair even when trying to keep your luggage as light as possible. My luggage usually includes, at a minimum, a pair of good walking shoes and a pair of flip flops. Ideally, you should bring 2 pairs – one for walking and one for hiking (typically, you'll be doing a lot of it in the South). The reason I stress this so much is that there is nothing worse than tired feet and switching between two pairs can really reduce any pain that you might have otherwise. It's also a good bet if you are going during the rainy season – that way you'll always have a dry pair.
5. Don't Leave Out the Essentials
While we are talking about packing light, there are definitely some essentials that I don't recommend leaving behind. They will be different for everyone depending on your comfort level, skin and hair type, etc. As an example, if you have difficult hair, then bring your hair product with you, just pack it in the small travel size bottles instead of bringing the full size ones. Same goes for creams, soaps, etc., particularly if you have sensitive skin. I also always bring a good sunscreen and mosquito repellent, since I've found the brands that I trust and that work for me. Another girl tip is to bring your hygiene essentials with you, brands can vary and in the more rural zones the availability may be limited in general – and you don't want to be stuck without while traveling!
6. Remember to Keep Warm
I've already mentioned this at the beginning, but I think it's important to reiterate – South America is not hot everywhere. Places like Bogota, Cuzco, La Paz, Quito, Buenos Aires, Santiago, and the list goes on, are chilly if not cold at certain times of the year. So make sure you check the weather and the climate for the places you are going to visit. To keep your luggage light, the ideal choice is to invest in a good trekking or sports jacket – they are usually expensive, but light and totally worth it. Layers are also a great choice, including a couple of long sleeved shirts and versatile shoes that are good for heat and cold.
7. Pack for 5 Days
Most places in Latin America offer pretty great and cheap laundry services, as do a lot of hostels themselves. As a rule of thumb, I try to pack for 5 days, assuming I'll do laundry on the 6th day. In my case that means 6-8 shirts (depending on if I am going somewhere hot or cold), a couple of pairs of pants, a bathing suit (always), some extra underwear just in case, outerwear and two pairs of shoes.
8. Forget Heels and Make-Up
No really, just leave them at home. Heels take space! And you are unlikely to climb a mountain in them. If you do plan on going out for a nice dinner or to party, a good alternative is to bring a pair of flat sandals or get a pair of walking shoes that look nice – some ballet flats with gel technology, for example. That way you can still look great when you go out, but don't need to be lugging around a pair of pumps. As for makeup, everyone has their own limit on what is completely essential – for me, it's just a mascara. The point is, there is no need to bring 5 eye shadows or 3 lipsticks, if they are part of your essentials kit, just bring one of each.
9. Use the Right Luggage
Part of being able to travel light is having the right luggage that allows you to do so. I find that traveling with a backpack is much easier than with a rolling suitcase, since many places don't have great streets or sidewalks, and it's just simpler to move around with a backpack. It's also a great way to check how much you're bringing – since you have to carry it around, you won't want to put too much weight in it! If your budget allows, invest in a backpack with good technology, since it will make a world of a difference for your back and for the way you carry weight. In the long-run, it's probably cheaper, since low-end packs tend to break more often.
10. Don't Worry if You Forget Something
Last but not least, don't worry! You are not going to the end of the world – Latin America is mostly a pretty developed place where you can buy anything your heart desires. If you forget something, you can probably just get it when you get there.