I'm leaving to backpack around Mexico and Central America in a week - what do I need?

I’ll also be spending 8 days on a boat in Mexico learning how to sail it, but that wouldn’t fit in the title.

We’ll probably be in Central America for two or three weeks, staying in hostels.

One backpack (about a 45L).

So far I’ve got:

Long sleeve shirt
2 short sleeve shirts
2 tank tops
2 pairs shorts
Pair long pants
5 pairs panties
2 bra’s (one sports)
bar soap
Prescription pills
elastics and headbands
face lotion
PADI dive log

What am I missing?

I backpacked for two months in europe last summer. I only had two pairs of shorts, one pair of pants and about four shirts. One pair of sandals, one pair of regular shoes. You’ll be amazed at what you can do without.

I recommend getting a microfiber camp towel. They’re about 1/8 the size of a normal towel, hold about 10x as much moisture as a regular towel, and squeeze out 90% of the water contained within them. And they’re micro-bacterial, so it takes them longer to stink. Since you’re a girl (I presume), you might want to bring an extra one for your hair. These will last about five days before needing to be washed, provided you let them dry completely before repacking them. A lot of hostels don’t provide towels.

Also, pick up a nice lock. A disc lock with key is your best bet. Most hostels give you a locker to keep your bag, and you supply your own lock. Consider smaller luggage sized locks for your backpack, to protect your passport and cash.

Also, a travel-sized bottle of foot lotion wouldn’t hurt. My feet were cracked and weathered after a couple of weeks of solid walking, and I had to lotion every night to keep the pain down.

An AK-47 couldn’t hurt.

A packet of Kleenex. You’ll thank me later.

Na, I’m staying out of El Salvador. Pretty safe elsewhere.

I’ll thank you now! Good suggestion!

Maybe a small packet of baby wipes too.

Sunscreen’s not on there, but I know you know it’s necessary. It’s fairly easily available but expensive. Bullfrog has a formula that has insect repellent mixed in, but separate deet is good. The bugs can be pretty bad.

Definitely seconding the microfiber pack towel. REI has one that’s the thickness of a paper towel and incredibly absorbent. Burt’s Bees has a good all-in-one soap, or there’s Dr. Bronner’s and a little goes a long way. (Just because the bar of soap in a ziploc thing gets gooey kind of fast)
And the little sample size packets of baby wipes are nice, but I’d pack a whole roll of toilet paper. Just assume there won’t be any, and don’t forget to drop it in the wastebasket next to the toilet; unless you’re in a very modern building and place, flushing TP isn’t done. (If there’s no basket, assume it’s okay to flush it.)

One of the things I’ve done is to photocopy my passport, driver’s license and credit cards (front and back) on a single sheet of paper. Fold it up and put it in a ziploc and secrete it somewhere in your luggage or someplace separate from your wallet. That way if you lose your wallet, you have all the numbers you need handy to cancel the old and order replacements. Obviously this sheet needs to be well and safely hidden, but since you won’t be dipping in and out of it, it’s less vulnerable than the wallet.

Speaking of (and we’ve never had a problem) but it’s not a bad idea to have one wallet with your main fund & documents stashed, and another wallet with your day’s traveling and food money. It’s just easier, less flashy, less risky. (We’re more likely to accidentally leave a wallet somewhere than have it stolen.)

Also second the lock suggestion. Most places rent a lock, some might insist on you using their locks, but having your own avoids the hassle. Travel stores sell a big steel web you can put over your backpack and lock it to things, but we’ve never used those.

One nice thing is that there’s usually a place to check your backpack at the bus station, sometimes free, so if you have a long wait you can explore without it. We’ve never had anything pilfered while they’ve been there.

I wish we were going. I love Guatemala and southern Mexico, and Caye Caulker in Belize and I’d love to go back and spend more time there. A lot more time.

Lonely Planet used to have a forum called Thorn Tree–it might be a useful resource. Although like any advice from the internet :wink: take it with a grain of salt. We went to Mazunte based on all the LP and TT raves and it felt like a circle of hell. (Maybe it’s lovely, but the week right after Semana Santa, it sure seemed like the locals were sick of strangers.)

A good knife is often indispensible. The locking SAK variants have enough blade length to be really useful, various tools that can come in handy, and are unlikely to be considered weapons by local LE. They also have the advantage of being inexpensive enough that if one is lost, seized, or stolen you aren’t out a great sum of money.

Great post Tortuga, thanks!

Can I get those through airport security?

Not as carry-on. I’ve checked them through lots of times.
If you aren’t checking any luggage, just buy one when you get there. SAK’s are pretty easily available world-wide. Amusingly, they even seem to be for sale in a lot of airports.
If you can’t find, or don’t want a SAK, the Opinel line is very inexpensive but of excellent quality. Good backpacker knife, too, because they are really light.

I don’t know about the other countries but it’s illegal in Mexico to carry knives like the ones in the website, its a weirdly enforced law but Swiss army knives are ok in most circumstances but other types of pocket knives will get you in trouble.

Also, its the rainy season in central Mexico, so maybe something for that would be good.

A small first aid kit. Make sure to put some blister pads and some antibiotic ointment in there.

Similar to Tortuga’s suggestion to copy your documents, when I travel I have a scanned file of my passport and credit cards that I email to myself. If your entire bag goes missing, you can still pull up your email account and print off your documents. In the text of the email, I usually include the credit card info and phone numbers along with those of my bank and anything else important.

Maybe an extra memory card for the digital camera if you’re brining one, or a card reader so you can upload files to a photo site (or email to yourself) and clear out space. Small tripod too.

Unless it’s an easy conversion, I usually print out a wallet-sized conversion chart for US$ to local currently.

Since you’ll be on a boat, maybe motion sickness pills?

Pocket knife, or better yet, a Gerber multitool.

A couple plastic bags for wet or muddy stuff.

Rain poncho.

Cord or rope so you can hang out wet items.

A couple small bungee cords so you have the option of strapping stuff to your pack.

Something to read, and maybe a journal.

You might want some diarrhea medicine. Not saying you’ll need it, but it could be nice to have if you do.

I’m assuming you’re not going to malaria areas?

Soft toilet paper
Microfiber towel
sturdy little LED flashlight
a course of antibiotics just in case
clothesline and a few plastic pins
tiny sewing kit

buy a small pocket knife there

Buy what you need there, it will be cheaper.

I would urge you to review all information regarding danger to tourists. Even in large cities like Mexico City you are a target. The nice thing is that you are going with the bare necessities. I wouldn’t carry expensive cameras or wear jewelery of any kind.

As for your list… I have a list for my 1 week a year camping trip. It’s a huge list and not specifically applicable to yours but off the top of my head:

any OTC stuff you use regularly such as aspirin, allergy medicine, sinus tables, motion sickness, nasal spray etc… As was mentioned before diarrhea meds would be on the top of the list. Always drink bottled water and avoid ice.

  • rain poncho (cheap disposable kind because they pack well)
  • spare contacts/glasses
  • phone charger that works off batteries
  • Moleskin - if you’re hiking this is used for blisters
  • extra memory for your camera

One thing I’ve learned when on vacation is to buy postcards. Think about it. Somebody spent a great deal of time getting just the right picture. Use the camera for pictures of yourselves and don’t waste time trying to get the “perfect shot”. You can also mail them as you go as a way of leaving bread crumbs in case someone needs to track you down. A scrapbook of mailed postcards makes an interesting journal of your trip, complete with commentary of what you experienced at the time you mailed it.

If you haven’t bought a camera yet I would recommend one that takes AA batteries and has a viewfinder to look through. This will save the battery life by not using the back display and you will have a camera that uses common batteries. Something likethis.

I use to write out my packing list every year but now I have it on the computer because I find myself constantly adding to it.


I’m sure you already are bringing this, but since it wasn’t on your list, I’ll say money.

Also, I don’t know SA culture, but maybe bring some trinkets you can give as small gifts?

Gallon-sized Ziploc freezer bags are the traveler’s best friend. They’ll keep your pack organized and keep your stuff dry. Bring a dozen, at least.

A few good paperbacks that you don’t necessarily want to bring back. You can usually swap them out at the hostels.

+1 on the copy of your passport and credit cards. If you can, you should also scan your passport and e-mail yourself a copy.

How’s your Spanish? Do you need a phrase book or dictionary?

A small notebook is useful for communicating, jotting down directions, names, etc.

www.onebag.com is the last word in packing.

These areas (Guatemala especially) can be very conservative and shorts aren’t really that culturally acceptable to wear. Tourists can get away with it, but you will fit in better if you wear a skirt and try to keep your knees and shoulders covered. I would bring a skirt or two- the are just as cool and a lot more in keeping with the local culture. I travel with the ridiculously expensive macabi skirt for its great pockets but really anything that can deal with wrinkles is good. You can buy really nice cotton wrap skirts pretty cheap in Guatemala. They make good souvenirs.

If you don’t want to pay twenty dollars for a pack towel, go to the auto section of any store and you’ll see the exact same microfiber towels on sale for a quarter of the price.

I’m a fan of traveling with a hostel sheet. They keep you from being bit up by bedbugs in sketchy hotels and provide some protection from mosquitoes… The best thing I ever invested in was a silk hostel sheet. Expensive, but keeps you cooler in the heat, warmer in the cold, weighs nothing and dries in minutes.

Don’t forget a small LED flashlight. You’ll probably end up in lots of dark cenotes. If your flashlight isn’t waterproof, you can make it waterproof when needed by wrapping it in a condom. I carry a solar-charging flashlight and it never ever runs out of power.

Finally, I always travel with a sarong. It can be used as a blanket, mat, sunshade, cover up, towel, skirt, scarf…

Don’t weigh yourself down with a bunch of random stuff- I spent years traveling with a length of rope and some folded up duct tape in my pack before I realized that I never used it even once, and if there is one thing that can be bought anywhere in the world, it is rope. Nowadays I can travel indefinitely with a school backpack.

I don’t think I have any new suggestions, just an “oh yeah! seconding” or such or more region specific info to clarify or build on other’s suggestions.
There are lots of places that will take your memory card and burn a disc for you, but some will want you to leave it for an hour or so, so depending on your travel schedule and companions, this might not work for you. It was about US$8-10 last time.
Also, there are internet cafes in lots of places and a lot of those were satellite internet it seems, so you might be able to upload the best images directly to flickr.

Mail is really slow. We always send postcards but they usually don’t get there until well after we get home. So remember to buy one of the cheap phonecards (you can even buy them at the bank) and call home frequently. Our AT&T cell phones got reception and made calls, but it was $1something a minute so we used it sparingly and I’d do anything to change that. My mother died while we were traveling and it kind of sucked to get all the postcards I’d sent full of love and “we have to come back here with you, you would love this place!” after she was gone and we were cleaning out her home. So yeah, send postcards because who doesn’t love mail? But don’t forget to call your parents. (Your particular emotional baggage may vary.;))

The really thin light cord they have at REI in the climbing section is awesome for clothesline and great to have, but only really if you’re camping will you be able to have the time or space to hang stuff up. Otherwise, the lavanderias which are cheap and plentiful have your back–plus, sometimes it’s so humid stuff just doesn’t dry anyway. But again, you’ve got to be able to drop your stuff off in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon. If you are on a really rigid whirlwind schedule, that might be hard. (And, maybe, not very fun.)

Speaking of, I second the poncho/anorak thing. I missed mine. It’s warm down there, but getting wet when it takes forever to dry can be a bummer. If you bring disposable, pack a spare, some of those seem to rip with little provocation. The nice thing about those bigass things is you can usually fit them over your bag too.

And a headlamp is really nice. The Tikka is good–strong and light and water resistant.

And a skirt that goes below the knees is a wondrous thing to have, especially since you’ll probably be coming in and out of the water and clothing changes, or stuck on the muddy side of the road (the road coming from the Belize border into Guatemala on the way to Tikal isn’t paved for the first two or so miles into the country and we were stuck for maybe six + hours in the mud before the “big” hill) and it’s nice to be able to squat with ready made privacy. But I just have those silk wrap skirts you can buy at the farmer’s market, like these (huh, never thought of wearing it in “15 DIFFERENT WAYS!” ZOMG! :). Anyway, they’re light, cheap and dry really fast.
And it is true about the shorts and such being maybe uncool, although if you are staying in hostels the place is probably “cosmopolitan” enough that they won’t bat an eye at shorts, sandals and tank top on the street. You’re another tourist and don’t know any better. :wink:
In a church, that’s different. (Don’t take pictures of/inside churches unless given permission–this was just a big thing in Chiapas, though, I don’t remember it being a big deal elsewhere, and the guys with the sticks WILL hit you. That’s what they’re there for.) There are some nice skirts and cloth appropriate to the purpose available in markets too, that we saw anyway. They make nice souvenirs too.

Have you got your vaccs? We got hep & tetanus sticks, some anti-malaria pills and (?) doxycycline. (The trip meds are blurring together. I remember big white pills that we had to take before and after and some daily pills. A travel clinic from the phone book can help.) Antibiotics are cheaper there. You can just walk into a pharmacy and ask for amoxicilina or whatever, no 'scrip needed. The pepto bismol tablets are awesome–they’re lighter than the liquid and a good preventative.

Ice in restaurants and such are usually from a machine with a filter attached, and a potable water source anyway. We had lots of ice and no problems. Be diligent in handwashing and sanitation though.
So where all are you going? Are you traveling with a group? Flexible itinerary or pretty rigid? Sailing then backpacking! I want to see the pictures when you come back! :slight_smile:

I’d love to go back and spend more time–one of the places we’d like to go back to was Finca Ixobel in Poptun. We stayed in the original treehouse, and they had the coldest Gallos of the trip.

Anti-histamine pills and maybe a small tube of cream too. Definitely baby-wipes - can be really really useful.