Peru had been on my bucket list for ages--I had done so much research in regard to weather, availability of certain items, and recommended lists that I was certain I was fully prepared for the adventure. However, upon arrival, there were a few items I wished I had brought, and others that I regretted bringing. We here at HQ have painstakingly prepared this handy Packing List--please read it over carefully before you begin planning and be sure to adhere to it closely. If you’re needing some extra guidance, read on!
I am a light packer: typically, I will bring only a small purse and a backpacking backpack when I travel, so prepping for this program really threw me for a loop. Despite my best efforts, all of the necessary items would not fit into one bag. I found the following to be the most efficient configuration:
1) a small checked bag (carry on size, but checked for ease of maneuvering through airports)
2) a smallish backpack (bookbag size)
3) a larger backpacking backpack (size) *A larger duffel bag also works great!
Keep your packing simple! You definitely won’t need a blow dryer, fancy electronics, makeup, or trendy outfits. Most days you will be getting sweaty, muddy, wet, or all of the above. Embrace it!
Be sure to check with your airline in regard to baggage allowances and weight limitations. Most airlines will allow one carry-on bag, one personal item, and one checked bag weighing 50 lbs or less on international flights. However, please verify this with your airline before you get started, or you could be facing an extra charge at check in.
Personal Item (Backpack)
You’ll want to keep your essentials near and dear! Cuzco is notorious for delayed luggage! While delayed luggage almost always does make it to the program eventually, it’s important to keep your essential items near and dear:
□ GLA Contact Card
□ Flight Itinerary
□ Phone & Charger
□ Prescriptions or other crucial medications
□ PEN! You will need this when filling out your entrance forms on the plane
Imagine the worst-case scenario: Your checked bag doesn’t arrive in Cuzco with you, and is never to be seen again. What items would you absolutely want to have with you? The answer will be different for each of us, but here are the items I wouldn’t want to be caught without:
□ Full change of clothes (pants, t-shirt, undergarments)
□ Warm fleece
□ Toiletries (travel size--you can see TSA guidelines here)
□ Instant coffee (for the coffee enthusiast!)
Small Suitcase (checked)
This will hold the bulk of your belongings. Clothes, any full-sized liquids (like shampoo, conditioner, etc), rain gear, water bottles, headlamp, snacks, etc. As far as what type of clothing is appropriate for your program, again, the Travel Portal is going to be your best resource. You can also take a look at the 2016 Blogs to get a good feel for the types of clothing that might be best. Please note that for the most part, tank tops and shorts are not encouraged--as a group, we’ll want to dress in line with local customs in order to be more welcomed into the community. Plus, t-shirts and pants are sooo much more versatile when it comes to layering. (See more on layers below!)
Checked Backpacking Bag or Duffel
The beauty of checking a backpacking backpack is that you can lash your sleeping bag to the outside of the backpack, saving crucial packing space. (See example photo at left, or the luggage photo above.) When I checked in for my flight, AA/LAN popped the whole thing into a large plastic bag with a zip tie so the bag wouldn’t separate during the flight. Inside the bag, I shoved miscellaneous items that wouldn’t fit into my suitcase.
Layers, Layers, Layers!
I can almost guarantee you that at some point during your time in Cuzco, you are going to experience toe-biting cold. Also, you will sweat profusely. How is this possible, you ask? The high altitude means that you’re that much closer to the sun, so when it is out, you will know it! At the same time, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, so when the sun disappears, it can get mighty chilly. Temperatures can range from 32 - 78 degrees F in a single day! For this reason, dressing in layers will be key to your comfort!
□ SmartWool long underwear
□ Breathable t-shirts (cotton is fine, moisture-wicking is good too!)
□ Breathable rain shell
□ Warm fleece (or two, or three!)
□ Warm jacket - I brought one like this, wore it with a warm fleece, and was generally comfortable, but those who brought down or heavier jackets stayed nice and toasty on the hike, whereas I did not. (Tip: Steepandcheap.com and Ebay are my go-to sites for quality warm jackets, sleeping bags, and other outdoor gear at reasonable prices)
Yes, you do need to bring a sleeping bag with you! It should be rated at 25 degrees C at the HIGHEST--I would strongly recommend that it be rated at zero. (Mine was 15 and I envied those who had brought one with a lower rating!) Down is a good option, as it packs smaller, but synthetic works too. Amazon and REI are both great places to start. Be sure to check the temperature rating and read reviews prior to purchasing!
Accessorize Like the Locals!
Take advantage of Peru’s world-famous locally-sourced alpaca wool and amazing artisans, and stock up on your hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, and walking sticks once you arrive! You’ll also save precious space in your luggage. In addition to being a crucially cozy part of your winter wardrobe, they double as souvenirs! As a guide, gloves/hats/scarves range from about $5 - 20 USD, whereas sweaters can range from $10 - 40, depending on the quality of the wool and your bargaining skills.
Other Tips & Recommendations
Hiking Boots vs Hiking Shoes
The difference here is ankle support, and the more ankle support you get, the better! Our route is rocky, sometimes unstable, and varies in terrain. Students who have opted for the hiking boot’s less-supportive cousin have often regretted it, and some were even the victim of a severely twisted ankle. Don’t let this happen to you! Make sure your hiking boots meet the following standards:
□ Waterproof! There may or may not be snow on the ground
□ Ankle support
□ Good tread - no Doc Martens or work boots!
If you’re not sure whether your boots cut the mustard, feel free to send me a picture. I’m also happy to give recommendations! (Hint: If you search “waterproof hiking boot” on Amazon, you will get TONS of options.)
Potatoes with every meal tend to take their toll on a body, and you will be glad to have something to “help things along,” so to speak. I am a big fan of fiber gummies, as they work like a charm and are a delicious (tiny) snack to boot. While many students who travel abroad seem to complain about diarrhea at some point, our Peruvian travelers generally have the opposite problem.
Hydroflask or Other Thermos
If you’re a bit of a water snob (guilty!), you might want to bring a hydroflask or other insulating container in addition to a regular water bottle. I packed one like this and it kept me in hot tea for the entire first day & night of the hike. It’s also great for cold mornings at the service site, or in bed at night.
Water-enhancing Powders (coffee, tea, flavoring packets, etc)
For those who are accustomed to a cup of joe in the mornings, this might qualify as an essential. Emergen-C is one of my favorites, both hot and cold! Plus, a little immune system boost will come in handy when adapting to a new environment.
Adapter - Don’t Bother!
South American outlets are the same shape as North American outlets. You shouldn’t need anything more powerful than maybe a phone or camera charger, but in the event that you DO bring items that require a three-pronged plug in, you will need an adapter. Which brings me to my last and most important tip….
Unplug! Forego that international data plan!
You’ll save some money, and your parents are still kept abreast of your day-to-day through the GLA Blog. More importantly, I guarantee you that you’ll get so much more out of the program if you unplug. I know it might sound impossible to refrain from Instagramming the fruits of your labor at the service project, posting pics of your new besties, etc; however, I challenge you to take this rare opportunity to vacation from your phone and the interwebs at large! I’m not going to lie: the first few days were excruciating! I was constantly glancing down at my phone, itching to check my Facebook and email, experiencing withdrawal from cute cat videos, etc. By the fourth day, I felt empowered! It’s amazing how much more in tune with your surroundings you can be when you make a conscious decision to just refrain. I’ve found that students who come without a data plan are so much more engaged, quicker to forge friendships, and ultimately enjoy their time in Peru that much more.
Don’t sweat the small stuff! Just follow the packing list and try to bring only the necessities. This is a great opportunity to live simply, to reevaluate what you actually need and what you can do without.