packing advice for faculty-led international trips – peru edition.

Our trips generally draw students from across a broad spectrum of travel experience. Some participants have packing down to a science and others have a lot of questions. WorldStrides has provided a sample packing list, but it is very general. These are my guidelines for effective packing for an adventure-filled week abroad.

  1. Rule number one – be thorough, but don’t overthink it.
  2. Your luggage. At the airport you will see the latest generation of suitcases that roll on four swivel wheels.  They are incredibly functional.  I don’t use one.  The reason?  Uneven surfaces.  Even if you have packed relatively light, having to haul your luggage around by carrying it by one handle to get down a few blocks of uneven sidewalk or a dirt road can be a real pain.  The alternative – the global traveler’s standby – is a backpack. The advantage is that you can carry as much or more as you would in a suitcase but it goes on your back, so your hands are free. If you get one of decent quality it will have a substantial hip belt that lets the weight rest on your hips rather than your shoulders, which is much more comfortable.

Either approach works for our trip.

I anticipate that we will not have to lug our bags around too much – generally our transportation is all arranged and picks us up right at our airports/hotels, so you won’t be carrying your luggage too far.

My recommendation is to save your cash and use what you have available.  If you decide on a backpack, REI is a very good source of quality products.

  1. Clothing – I’ll defer to the WorldStrides packing list for specific details, with only one recommendation – err on the side of lightweight materials and avoid jeans. If you have to wash clothes or if we get stuck in the rain, jeans get very heavy and take forever to dry.
    1. I recommend not relying too heavily on shorts for two reasons. Light pants can help with keeping the insects away, and many cultures, including those of Latin America, are not nearly as tolerant of our uber-casual American style of dress. Go ahead and bring shorts, just not only shorts!
    2. We will be visiting two distinct ecosystems on this trip, the rainforest and the high mountains. The temperature in the forest will be pretty mild in March, ranging from about 75-85 degrees. Take that with a grain of salt though, because the humidity can make relatively benign temperatures seem stifling.  Again, light clothing that covers you is your best bet, as this is where the mosquitos will be the biggest concern. Average rainfall in March is about 10 inches, so we will likely encounter rain. Clothing that dries easily and a light rain shell are good items to add to your list. In the mountains, the temperatures will get up to about 75 in the day and drop to about 40-45 at night. You’ll definitely want a coat for keeping warm. As we will be pretty active, I recommend layers.
    3. Bathing suit – may be worthwhile. It does not appear that we will encounter any pools on this trip. However, my way of thinking is that it’s best to be prepared for any opportunity to jump in the water.
  2. Hat – Because nothing screams tourist like a wide brimmed khaki hat! But really, you don’t want a sunburn.
  3. Sunscreen – I’m not a hat guy. Also, see the note on item 4. Sunburns at home are a bummer.  Sunburns on a trip you’ve been looking forward to all year can seriously compromise your experience. I recommend going full tilt: SPF 50+
  4. Footwear – Go for versatility.  Chacos/Tevas and similar outdoor sandals are great options for travelling. They have solid grip and they don’t mind getting wet. I usually travel with a good sandal and a lightweight shoe that is versatile – something I can both hike in and feel okay about wearing to a casual restaurant. In keeping with the above admonishment to dress properly for the culture of the place you are traveling through, bear in mind that in most of Latin America flipflops are generally not restaurant material, especially for men. (One of the reasons I live in California!)
  5. Carry-on Bag – It’s a good idea to have a lightweight bag for daytrips and for carrying on the airplane. I don’t earn any coolness points for it, but I love my collapsible REI bag. It’s incredibly compact, yet has plenty of space for a camera and change of clothes. I also like messenger bags that go over the shoulder.  Although we aim for maximum safety, pickpockets and thieves are a fact of life the world over. When deciding what kind of bag you’ll be using for day-to-day activities, consider something that goes across your shoulders or on your back. There’s no point in stealing a bag if someone is attached to it!
    1. Peru-specific recommendation – you will not only be flying all night, but you will have a longish layover in Lima. Plan ahead in terms of the items you will want to have in the airport as you await your next flight.
  6. Camera – everyone has their preferences. We tend to think that big trips are worthy of big camera equipment. If photography is your thing, have at it. Over the years, I have found myself leaving my DSLR and lenses behind in favor of a solid Lumix point-and-shoot and the excellent camera on my phone. Convenience and portability are key in traveling and modern camera equipment is amazing.
  7. Electronics – I am always tied to a laptop, but if you can avoid travelling with one I would recommend it. It’s one less thing to worry about. Though, if you need it, the hotels will have safes.
  8. Plug adapter – If you are bringing electronics, bring one if these along as well. More info can be found here and here.
  9. Passport – Some students like to use a passport carrier, which is like a wallet for your documents, usually attached to a lanyard that goes over the neck. (Example). I’ve never used one and I usually just lock up my passport in my room when I am out and about. I only carry it on me when I am staying in a real dump, but we won’t have to worry about that on this trip!  Regardless, it is a good idea to keep a copy of the first page of your passport, the one with your picture on it, somewhere separate from your documents. You should do this with your credit card as well.  If they are lost or stolen, it will be much easier to deal with if you have the copies in front of you.
  10. Money – The currency of Peru is the Sol. As of right now, there are roughly 3 Soles to the dollar. Exchange rates change though, so it is a good idea to look this up just before leaving on the trip.
    1. You’ll want to have some cash set aside for meals and souvenirs. (see the detailed itinerary for exactly which meals are included). I don’t like travelling with much cash, so my approach is to get money as needed from local ATM machines. Most major bank cards will work and you will be able to withdraw money in the local currency. Your bank will take care of the exchange rate and it will be better than one you can exchange money for on the ground.
    2. Be sure to let your bank know you are traveling abroad so they don’t block your card when they see transactions popping up in Peru.
      1. Amex generally does not require this kind of notice.
    3. My approach is to carry my cash and my most valuable credit card(s) separate from my wallet. I favor shirts with breast pockets for this reason, particularly with buttons. It’s easy to lift a wallet from a pants pocket or grab a purse. Also, if your wallet or purse is stolen, it would be nice to still have your cash and credit card. If I have no other option, I just keep my wallet and my cash in separate pockets. Pickpockets will inevitably go for the wallet, thinking that’s where the cash is.
    4. I usually travel with a bit of US cash just in case. If I can’t find an ATM on arrival but need to tip a porter or something, they will be happy to have dollars. If I absolutely have to use a money exchange service, I’ll have bit of cash for this although they will generally give you an advance on your credit card anyway.  This isn’t so much of a concern for us, since we will be met at the airport and shuttled to where we need to go.
  11. Insect repellent. Go for the strongest you can buy even if you shy away from those sorts of chemicals at home. This is the tropics and mosquitos can transmit diseases you don’t want to have to mess with. The rainforest is probably not the place to test your belief that patchouli works just as well as DEET. Though if you like patchouli, that’s cool too; just consider yourself warned!
  12. Flashlight – actually, I prefer headlamps so I can be hands-free. They are useful for rummaging through luggage when your friends are already asleep. Also, electricity is not nearly as reliable in the developing world as it is for us. Don’t forget extra batteries.
  13. Here’s a silly recommendation that you won’t see on many packing lists – baby wipes. I never travel without them. You can quickly clean your hands if necessary, and on a sweltering day there are few things as refreshing as wiping your face and neck with a wet towel.
  14. The rest is up to you – be sure to pack necessary toiletries and medications. And be mindful of regulations on your carry-on luggage.