What Katie Is Doing

What to Pack: A Year Abroad with 12kg

The age-old dilemma: wanting to look good on your travels vs. wanting to actually be able to pick up your backpack without keeling over backwards. Knowing what to pack is always tricky, but what about when you’re going away long-term? Is it possible to survive for a whole year, living and working in a foreign country, on only a backpack that you can then travel with?

What to Pack: Arriving in Brazil with my life on my back!

Yes, yes it is. I did it myself! I spent 9 months living and working in Brazil doing an AIESEC internship, and then headed off on a three-month trip around Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, and did the whole thing out of a backpack that weighed precisely 12 kilos.

I spent most of the year in the tropical heat, so this list only really applies to people heading to warmer climes. If a change of plan does takes you somewhere cold, buy a warm jumper or jacket that goes with your jeans on the road rather than taking it all with you from home. I stocked up on alpaca wool-everything when I got to Bolivia, which meant I kept toasty warm during the cold desert nights but didn’t have to lug winter clothes around tropical Brazil.

What to Pack: Uyuni Salt Flats

I have to admit I was working for 9 months of my year away and I was lucky enough to be given a uniform so I lived in that during the days and so only had to rely on my scant wardrobe for evenings and days off, so I got slightly less sick of the selection of clothes I took with me than I otherwise would have. If you get to the stage where you can’t stand the sight of your clothes any more, be brutal and throw things away as you buy new ones. Your shoulders will thank you for it!

So, what did I take?

  • 1 pair of jeans: well-fitting, comfortable ones that will take punishment
  • 1 pair three-quarter lengths
  • 2 pairs shorts: 1 for everyday walking and site seeing, 1 that can be day-to-night
  • 1 skirt
  • 1 pair leggings
  • 1 pair tights
  • 3 vest tops
  • 1 long-sleeved top
  • 2 dresses (casual but pretty and flattering, that can be dressed up in the evenings or thrown on on the beach)
  • 2 over-shirts
  • Underwear and a few pairs of socks
  • 1 play suit (perfect for evenings out)
  • 2 light cardigans
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 waterproof/mac
  • 1 light scarf pashmina (can double up as a blanket/pillow etc on over-air-conditioned buses)
  • 1 sarong (your best friend- can serve as a dress/skirt/scarf/sun-shade/umbrella/wind-break/towel/bundle…)
  • 1 swimming costume- practical, well-fitting and flattering
  • 1 travel towel
  • 1 pair plimsolls
  • 1 pair ballet shoes
  • 1 pair walking boots
  • 1 day pack
  • 1 small evening bag (preferably with a zip and a flap to keep your cash safe)

What to Pack: Atacama/Salta Bus

  • Shampoo (can easily double up as shower gel)
  • Conditioner
  • Coconut Oil (moisturiser that can double as cooking oil, hair oil…and anything else you care to use if for)
  • Toothbrush + paste
  • Comb
  • Make-up remover and flannel (go further than wipes)
  • Toner
  • Bare minimum make-up (I stuck to foundation, powder, eye liner, mascara and a lipstick for the evenings)
  • Razors
  • Mini sewing kit
  • Floss (doubles up as a make-shift mini-washing-line/tie between trees and drape your sarong over it for a sunshade/use as thread to sew up a hole in your backpack…)
  • Small bag of washing powder (for emergency clothes washing in hostel sinks/showers/baths)

Purchased on the road to ward off the cold:

  • 1 large alpaca wool hoodie
  • 1 pair alpaca wool gloves
  • 1 alpaca wool scarf

What to Pack

Top tips for what to pack:

  • Roll your clothes- this is especially good for people like me who can’t fold clothes for toffee. Rolling them means they magically take up less space, don’t ask me why.
  • Wear your walking boots- you’re going to need these, but they will never fit in your backpack. Whenever you’re on the move wear your walking boots if you can!
  • Layer up- I know, I know, you’ve heard this one a million times, but people always seem to forget to do it! In the Bolivian mountains I was wearing tights, leggings, jeans, 3 pairs of socks, 2 vest tops, a long sleeve top, a hoodie and my alpaca wool jumper, along with a scarf, hat and gloves. I looked ridiculous but I didn’t get frostbite!
  • Be brutal- there can be no holding onto clothes for sentimental value. If it rips and can’t be patched up, ditch it. If you wouldn’t wear it at home, ditch it. If you don’t absolutely love it, don’t take it with you in the first place. This leaves space for presents (for you, obviously, and for other people if you’re feeling generous)!
  • Make sure it matches- you shouldn’t have any tops or bottoms with you that don’t match at least two other garments e.g you should be able to wear a skirt with 2 different tops, a top with your jeans and your shorts… etc etc. Items that don’t match won’t get worn and are a waste of space.
  • Stop caring- I’m sure your mother has told you this a thousand times and you’ve hated every one of them, but it’s not a fashion show (and this is not a fashion blog). The truth is no one you meet on your travels is going to care if they see you in the same outfit twice (or 50 times), the only person that cares is you. The sooner you get used to the fact that you will be wearing the same thing in every photo, the better! You may have noticed I’m wearing the same jeans in all but one photo included in this post. You’ll be amazed how quickly you get used to travelling light and how impossible it will be to choose something to wear when you get home and are presented with a whole wardrobe’s worth of choice (#firstworldproblems)!

What to Pack: Machu Picchu

What do you take with you on your travels?

4 thoughts on “What to Pack: A Year Abroad with 12kg

    1. whatkatieisdoing Post author

      Hi! Excellent point, I should have mentioned that! I have a Berghaus 60L with a 10L day pack that I bought a good 5 years ago now, but I didn’t take the 10L day pack with me on this trip as I find 10L isn’t big enough to use for an overnight trip! I took a different slightly bigger day pack with me instead. If you can find one with a 15L day pack that is probably a better bet. The main backpack zips all the way round as I can’t deal with the top-loading ones, but that might just be personal preference! Hope that helps! Katie

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *