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What to Pack (Central America Essentials)

Since increasing my travel frequency and downsizing my duffle bag (to a 30 liter, more on that later), I have been paying much more attention to what I pack, rather than my usual “throw everything in the night before” strategy (OK, I still throw everything in my bag the night before, but I try to be more mindful about it).

I’ve had success downsizing — whereas in Honduras and London, I had at least several things I didn’t wear, I wore everything except for one thing in Guatemala. The following is what I brought along:

  • One pair jeans (many people will say don’t bring these, but everyone wears them in Central America, and almost no one wears shorts. Also, Guatemala isn’t exactly hot in many parts).

  • Two skirts (I only wore one, a black jersey maxi skirt).

  • One pair shorts (yes, yes, I know what I just said — but they’re good for the tropics!)

  • One white button-up shirt (good for sun cover-up; I wore this while walking around ruins).

  • Three short sleeve shirts/ tank tops (no spaghetti straps, which would be a little too revealing).

  • One black pull-over fleece (I am very glad I brought this, and in fact should have brought more warm clothes — I ended up borrowing some of my fiance’s sweatshirts).

  • Two pairs of shoes — my trusty Toms and a pair of Birkenstock sandals.

  • Seven pairs of underwear, two bras, sleep shorts and t-shirt.

  • A sarong (infinitely useful!) and a rash guard for swimming (always in my bag after a blistering sunburn in Thailand).

  • White collapsable sun hat.

  • Various toiletries, most importantly sunscreen, ibuprofen, Valium for in-flight jitters, and insect repellent cream (we actually bought this in Antigua, and oh my god, it is so much better than the spray).

My most recent travels have all been with the Tom Bihn Aeronaut 30, which is an expensive but high-quality convertible duffel bag that can be carried as a backpack (although for myself personally, this is not the most comfortable mode and hurts my back pretty quickly). It replaced my decade-old, much-loved, bright orange Eddie Bauer duffel, which I have no idea the size of but guess is around 50 liters.

Admittedly, I was anxious about downsizing so much, and my bag usually appears completely stuffed, but it’s extremely easy to navigate public transit and I enjoy all the people who ask me “where’s your other bag?” Though I’ve had to pay more attention to what I pack, I have so far been able to fit what I need, including for a week in London in late fall. No regrets about downsizing so far.

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