By Andreas Ambarchian
When backpacking around Central and South America, it is possible to travel pretty light. The area is generally well developed and most things that you might have forgotten from home can be bought on the road. However, there are a few quirks in the region that make certain items essential packing.
Currency Converter App
The region of Latin America stretches from the very bottom of the Chilean territory of Eagle Island in South America, right to the top of Mexico in Central America. Each of the 20 countries in between has its own currency so it can help to have an idea of the rates and the names. A free currency converter app lets you know, firstly, that you’re being given the right currency and, secondly, that you’re getting a reasonable rate.
A shammy towel is a great travel alternative to a more durable, but vastly less convenient, terry cloth towel. Shammy not only takes up less room in your backpack than a traditional towel but dries a lot quicker too, which is very useful if you’re visiting one of the more humid areas of Latin America, such as the rainforest.
While English is widely spoken in the hostels of Latin America, on the street, Spanish is the de facto language. Although in a few territories, most notably Brazil, Portuguese is spoken, a Spanish phrasebook or dictionary should be enough to help you find your way back to your accommodation if you’re lost, or to find your way to a good restaurant if you’re hungry.
The various countries of Latin America are yet to decide on a region-wide accepted configuration for plug sockets. Even neighbouring countries often have different arrangements so it can save a lot of bother to take universal adapter.
Photocopy of your Passport
A passport is obviously an essential piece of equipment wherever you go, however, in Latin America the article of identification is required more often than in most places. From booking a hostel to getting into a nightclub, you may be asked for your ID, so to negate the obvious dangers of carrying around your passport it can be very useful to instead take with you a photocopy, while the genuine article is stowed somewhere safe.
With plenty of well organised and clean guesthouses to choose from, keeping clean in a Latin American is not normally a problem. However, out and about or on the road it can be a bit harder to find the soap and water needed to wash your hands, even in public toilets. A simple solution is to pack a bottle of hand sanitiser. One application kills off most germs and dries without leaving residue. Along with this, packets of tissues for use when there is no toilet paper come in quite handy.
Although Latin America is generally a safe place, petty crime is not unheard of. Whether it’s to lock up your bag during long haul bus travel or to secure your locker in a hostel, packing a padlock is a very good idea. However, there is no substitute for common sense when it comes to keeping your possessions out of harm’s way.
Although not the most fashionable piece of travel equipment, a bum bag is a very useful item to pack for travelling in Latin America. As well as a safe place to keep money, a bum bag saves a lot of hassle at border crossings, where there is a fair amount of taking out and putting away of various bits of paper work.
Andreas Ambarchian is a freelance journalist from England. He writes about a variety of subjects including travel, wildlife and sport. He wrote this article on behalf of Tucan Travel, specialists in tours all over Latin America.