It’s definitely a challenge to still feel like a woman while backpacking through Central & South America. When we were preparing for our trip in April of 2010, Erik tried to convince me not to bring a few “girly” items that he considered “non-essentials.” But, he’s a guy. Guys are low-maintenance. Girls need just a few things to help keep them feeling like a woman while on a 30-hour bus trip or hiking through mountains for five days.
Here are some things that I’ve found help me still feel feminine and fresh while on the road:
1. Basic make-up kit
Eye shadow, mascara, blush, lip gloss and nail polish.
Obviously, I don’t use make up everyday. But for Valentine’s Day or our anniversary or a fun Friday night out, it’s been really nice to have. Sometimes it feels good to get dolled up and look pretty. I carry these essentials in a small ziploc bag to keep out moisture and protect the rest of my pack should anything explode.
2. Flip Flops
Essential. No doubt about it. These are a godsend when we need to shower in a bathroom that is moldy or looks like it hasn’t been cleaned in 10 years. Also, flip flops can play many roles. They can act as slippers while hanging around hostels and can even be your going out shoes. I’ve heard girls who get dolled up to go out in Brazil can still get into clubs in flip flops. Durable ones like Havaianas are best and come in a wide variety of colors.
I have brought two with me on this trip: a multicolored floral scarf and a pink one, as well as my black pashmina for warmth. Scarves can dress up an otherwise simple shirt, cover your arms when you need to enter a church, or act as a wrap when you have a fancy night out. I like to use a thin one as a headband to change things up sometimes. When I need to change out of a bathing suit in public or pee behind a rock, a wide scarf or sarong really helps to act as a shield!
4. Tank Tops
I have a few with me (non-cotton quick drying materials of course). When shopping and packing, I chose plain solid color tank tops (pink, grey, black) so they can go from day to evening. I can wear a tank top during the day to hike on a sunny day and wear the same tank top that night with a cute scarf or necklace.
Tip: When choosing your clothes, try to keep with a tight color palette. I went with pinks, purples & turquoise, and neutrals, so that jewelry and scarves go with everything.
Just a few necklaces, bracelets and a few pair of earrings will do. Do NOT bring expensive jewelry – you risk getting it stolen or losing it. Also, for many places, it’s best to not draw attention to yourself by wearing a fancy gold necklace. I like having a simple string or silver chain and many pendants so I can have a variety of options while only carrying a few items.
Trust me – these are a must. Disposable baby wipes help to freshen up after a long day hike to wipe the dirt out of my ears or take the place of a shower when you want to freshen up on a long trek and are camping at a site without showers.
7. Tiger Balm
On many occasions, I’ve been so glad I’ve had this. #1 use is definitely on buses. Many times, we’ve wound up with seats near the bus bathroom. While signs clearly indicate, “solo para orinar,” (only for urinating), some people do not comply and a stench permeates the bus. I often quickly grab our friend, Tiger Balm, and we rub a small dab between our noses and top lips to combat the smell. It’s also fantastic for its main purpose – as a balm to soothe sore muscles. I recently discovered on our W trek when we forgot to bring bugspray, that it works really well as bug repellent in a pinch!
Black leggings or tights can be worn for a night out or as a first layer in cold weather. I wore my tights for the entire W trek to stave off wind and cold weather. I even wore them on New Year’s Eve under my dress.
(And YES! You DO need one dress. Don’t listen to the Boyfriend on this one!)
9. Black Pants
I brought along a pair of black thin running pants. Believe it or not, I wear these to go out and also have worn them on hiking treks. They are quick drying but also help to add an extra windproof layer.
10. Sewing Kit
A few needles, some colored threads (try to find threads that match the clothes you are packing), some buttons, snaps and small scissors. Very useful. I’ve repaired Erik’s defective Keen sandals, which eventually died a quick death after just two months of use and added snaps to a pair of my pants whose zipper failed. The needles have been handy when we need to extract a splinter or clean out a cut.
Bonus item: The Go Girl
This crazy rubber funnel is shaped to fit a woman’s lower region between her legs. When used properly, this device helps a woman to urinate standing up. Very helpful on buses and while camping and hiking. Better than sitting on a gross toilet seat or peeing all over your feet!