By the time you read this, I’ll be back in Canada. I’ll be in Montreal for a little bit, and then moving east to complete a residency for a master’s program in Nova Scotia. Then it’s back to Latin America after that. I’m very excited to share photos and adventures with all of you from sunny and hot Montreal and what I hope will be a pleasant and cool Atlantic Canada. At the end of the northern summer, I’ll be back to posting about Chile as the southern hemisphere heads into spring.
As I was packing last week, I had to be sure to bring things I’ll need for multiple destinations in multiple climates. After years of travels to various European and Latin American countries and all over North America, there are a few things I just do not feel right leaving home without on a trip. As for everything else I might toss in the suitcase on a last-minute packing frenzy: well, you can usually get by without it until you return!
I often see people asking on travel boards, “What do I bring with me to _insert South American country here_? I don’t claim to be the pro at what to pack for a visit to every country in South America, but there are a few things I make sure to take with me no matter where I go in the world. These items have at times proven to be a lifesaver during my travels in this continent.
My must-pack items:
- A bottle or two of water (in the packed luggage, of course): Nothing dries you out more than spending a night on a plane, and when I arrive, dizzy from no sleep and jet lagged, the first thing I want is clean, drinkable water. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find a bottle of water first thing in a new place, which is why I pack it. (Wandering around Paris for hours on the first day – not finding a single bottle of water because nothing was open, it was a holiday – taught me the importance of this!)
- A common painkiller (Motrin, Tylenol, etc.), something for an upset stomach, and a few mints: You never know when a 10 hour flight will lead to a brutal backache or headache, and all of those unfamiliar restaurant meals could lead to an upset stomach. You might be tempted to take a medicine cabinet full of medications just in case, but other than your prescriptions, these common meds are the most handy. Mints are great to have because they can really help an upset stomach, ease nausea from a bumpy landing, or cut bad breath, of course!
- A pack of facial tissue/Kleenex. Why, you ask? Well, in some countries, let’s just say that toilet paper is less… necessary… than in others. In about 10% of the bathrooms I’ve visited in Latin America, toilet paper is not available (or available for a small fee: imagine if, of all times, that’s when you don’t have correct change)! Combat the problem by always keeping some sort of tissue on hand.
- Antibacterial gel: if some bathrooms don’t have toilet paper, as I am sure you can imagine, soap isn’t really always a priority, either.
- Clothes: goes without saying, right? One thing I always do is pack an extra outfit or two in my carry on. Overseas and long-haul flights can be, well, long, especially if you’re delayed. And I always think of that Will & Grace episode when Grace’s boyfriend played by Harry Connick Jr. gets orange juice spilled on him in the first leg of his flight and has to endure several more long hauls with an orange juice saturated shirt! Also worth mentioning: not all airports have heat or air conditioning and the climate (or climate control) you leave may not be the climate you arrive to. I’ll always remember how I left a 90 degree F (35 C) New York City in a thin jersey sleeveless shirt last summer and arrived in a 40 degree F (5 C) Santiago airport… with no working heater. I was frozen.
- Passport: I always check and make sure I have this about a million times before I get to the airport. Check to make sure you are familiar with any visa requirements or customs restrictions in your destination country before you leave home.
- “iDevice”: Does anyone really leave home without these anymore? Camera, phone, games, documents, personal organizer, Internet, all in one place. Enough said.
- Oh, and don’t leave home without patience, excitement, and more patience. It also helps to be well rested beforehand!
If you have the space:
- Small gifts from your hometown to give to people. This especially goes over well if you are visiting a country where you might need to depend on the assistance and kindness of locals vs. tour offices and help kiosks (here in Antofagasta, for example). Not everyone who lives and works in these areas has the chance to travel often (if ever) and you will make their day if you give them a small gift (keychain, baseball cap, trinket, even just a postcard!) from your hometown to thank them for their generosity. It may seem simple to you but it really can make all of the difference with your new friends. For example, items with American sports team logos seem especially desirable in Chile, and I have several requests to fulfill when I get back to Canada to send postcards and photos to people I met in Argentina.
- If you’re going to stay somewhere for a while, it’s nice to bring a familiar shampoo, shower gel or soap, and lotion to use. Don’t count on being able to get familiar brands overseas.
- Same goes for all other personal care items.
- Hotels, even the fanciest ones, in most countries outside of North America do not seem to supply washcloths/face cloths. Bring your own, or a shower puff.
Don’t forget to bring back souvenirs from your destination to friends and family back home! Since some of these must-pack items get used up over the course of your stay, you’ll have plenty of room for the trip back.
Do you have any “must not leave home without” items that you make sure to pack every time on a trip? What is the thing you most regret leaving at home?