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It was a while ago now, but I like to think I did a pretty good job packing for Central America. There were a few things I could have improved on, but for my first big trip, I didn’t do too bad. BUT I’m here to help you plan for your trip now. I’ll break it down into clothes, toiletries, electronics, and other stuff so it’s a little easier to follow.
This is for ladies, but can be tweaked for guys, for two and a half months in Central America, Mexico to Panama, in the winter. It was mostly sunny, but rained a couple times, mostly in Costa Rica. From the cool hills of Guatemala to the fiery city of Leon, this packing list has you covered.
3-5 tank tops – I had these racerback tank tops I found at Macy’s on clearance in December.
2-4 t-shirts – I love these and since they’re cheap, I don’t worry about getting them gross or getting rid of them along the way.
1 pair of athletic shorts
1 pair of jeans – These are my favorites. They’re a little pricey but last forever.
1 pair of yoga/athletic pants – Mine were sort of like these, which was nice with the heat
1 thin cardigan
1 sweatshirt – I didn’t bring one and had to buy one in Guatemala.
1 rain jacket – Mine was similar to that, but probably an older version, and pinkish. It’s in a picture way at the bottom, along with my tennis shoes.
1 scarf to use as a scarf, blanket, or to lay on at the beach.
Lots of socks (I sleep in them so I tend to bring more than most people. Weird and constricting, I know.)
7-10 pairs of underwear
1 pair of cheap flip flops for the showers
1 pair of cute sandals
1 pair of TOMS
1 pair of tennis shoes – These weren’t the ones I brought, but I have them now and love them! They’re super light and comfy, much easier to pack.
1 solid shampoo – LUSH Jumping Juniper is my favorite, I would maybe have brought two if I was staying longer. I didn’t like the solid conditioner. It was hard to tell how much I was using and it didn’t feel like it actually worked. It smelled delicious though.
1 travel conditioner to get me through until I could buy more there.
1-3 travel toothpaste
1-2 nail polishes
1 nail clipper – I actually had to buy these in Guatemala, too.
1 thing of face sunscreen – I love Sun Bum. It smells delicious and is cruelty-free.
1 thing of sunscreen for the rest of me
Various drugs for allergies, colds, basic stomach issues, that kind of thing.
Pads – enough to get through the whole trip
Birth control – enough to get me through the whole trip
Lotion – This may shock you, but I also bought this in Guatemala. I got this one and loved it! I had to get a new one later and it was different and not as nice.
Bobby pins and a few extra hair ties
iPhone 6 + charger – Make sure it’s unlocked if you want a SIM card! i didn’t have one and survived fine on Wifi everywhere.
iPad Air + charger – If you don’t need a laptop for work or anything, this works fine.
Extra batteries for my camera + charger
Waterproof camera + batteries + charger – This came in super handy on more than one occasion and I’m so glad I brought it.
Headlamp + extra batteries – I love this headlamp so much. It’s waterproof and lasts quite a while. I use it in hostel dorms to pack or get ready in the morning and to read in the car at home at night if I have a real book.
Packing cubes – These are lifesavers for easy packing and unpacking.
Sleeping bag liner – This isn’t totally necessary, but I did use mine a few times if I wasn’t too sure about the hostel beds I was in.
STERI Pen – I was a little nervous to use this because I wasn’t sure how well it worked. I only used this in Costa Rica because you could drink the water there, but I had just gotten sick and was nervous about getting sick again. I will definitely be using it more on future travels to cut down on water costs after reading about it more this year.
PacSafe mesh backpack lock – I didn’t use this, even on my Asia trip. But, if you stay in some seedy places or don’t trust dorm mates, this would be helpful to have.
Travel locks – I had like, four of these for my backpacks and hostel lockers.
Camelback Insulated water bottle with filter – I love this water bottle, but I stopped using it after a while because I couldn’t clean the mouthpiece and it got really gross. I would recommend this one instead. It can be used for hot or cold beverages and keeps them that way for hours. They come in tons of sizes and cut down on plastic use and money spent on plastic water bottles.
Central America on a Shoestring (that’s the newest edition, it’s probably more helpful)
Things I Wish I Brought
Dry bag – I brought one to the Philippines and used it quite a bit for the beach and on boats. If I had one with a shoulder or crossbody strap type thing, I would have used it as a day pack here.
Daypack – I don’t really have one of these, still. I ended up buying a backpack in Guatemala that I LOVE and use all the time at home. I don’t want to recommend some fancy one because I just don’t know what they’re like. I do know I’d want one with water bottle pockets on the sides, though. I do have this and like it, especially if I have my iPad or laptop, but it doesn’t have water bottle pockets.
Chacos – I finally got a pair of these for desert hiking (which isn’t very helpful because they get full of sand and rocks), but for regular land hiking, they’re great! If you have to hike through water or go in caves, like the A.T.M. Cave in Belize, they’re also good.
A real book that I could trade in book exchanges.
Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 – I just love how fun these are. I’m not even sure they were a thing when I went. If you want something similar, but smaller, try this one. (here’s the paper) They even have a digital version of the Polaroid Snap and a little printer to connect to your phone.
Turkish towel – I brought one to Asia and it was fantastic. It’s giant, compact, and dries fast. I got a microfiber one and hated the feeling of it.
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Have you been to Central America? What was something you are super glad you brought? What would you have left behind?