Overpacking in South America: I’ve become the best/worst backpacker on Earth

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Overpacking in South America: I’ve become the best/worst backpacker on Earth

Just over a week ago I flew out of SFO on a one-way ticket to Peru and started a new leg of my round-the-world journey. I felt more excited than nervous this time and had zero panic attacks landing abroad, like that first time two years ago in Madrid (Anyone remember? Good Lawd, what a mess).
Perhaps I’m just more prepared this time…for anything. The fact is, this trip is different because my life couldn’t be any more different than it was two years ago when this all started. A lot has changed since then, and then some things haven’t changed at all. This leg of my travel journey is already teaching me a lot, and I am grateful to be experiencing it all over again in a new way.
One big difference this go-around with my travels is my luggage situation. I had to leave Big Red Mother F**ker (for this of you that don’t know, that’s my backpack’s nickname LOL) at home due to my back problems. I opted instead for a large and in charge suitcase (or as the Peruvians call it “Moleca Grande”) which holds twice the amount of stuff- 50 lbs. to be exact. Yep, I’m lugging around twice the junk I was last time as a more experienced traveler. Usually people go the opposite direction and pair down the more they live on the road, but not me! Why? Because if I’ve learned anything it all it’s this: You must be prepared for anything and everything on the road. Things get messy real quick. They twist and turn and bring you to expected places, people and experiences. Look where I ended up last year, for goodness sakes! You just never know where the travel road will lead you. To travel is to purely live, after all.
In a way traveling is like looking through a macro size scope at the world and life itself, in all of its beautifully wild expression, and saying “You know what, you’re super freakin’ cool and I’d like to stay on this Earth as long as possible and see every bit of you.” It’s like the first the month of dating someone- pure infatuation. To travel is to become infatuated with the world and with life again.
While I’m falling in love all over again with this big round thing called Planet Earth and relearning gratitude, I’m also realizing what a shitty backpacker I am. Compared to the other long term travelers I’ve seen here in Peru, I’m an amateur. These people are pros.  
I’ve stayed in backpacker hostels and hotels during this first week- getting a well rounded experience in terms of accommodation. When I’m around the other backpackers, I can’t help but notice the vast difference between us.  There’s me and then there’s them.  

My room mate’s backpack in Arequipa, Peru


They have hammocks in their backpacks and hiking gear. They bring their own food and cook for themselves. They don’t have makeup bags and skincare or cute dresses. (At least I didn’t bring my high heels, okay?!)  They do their laundry in the bathroom sink of the hostel and hang it on a clothes line attached to their bed because, yes, they brought a clothes line too- and I just paid $6 to have my done for me (folding included).  These other backpackers are truly living in a minimalist state and I respect it…greatly. I’m just not at that level with the whole “nomad thing,” and I’m not sure I ever will be.

Taking a few days off from from “roughing it” at Casa Falleri in Barranco, Lima, Peru


I’m a former cosmo executive, after all, and it’s true what they say. You can take the girl out of cosmetics, but you can’t take the cosmetics out of the girl. I used to travel 100% luxury for work and the hostels I’ve now stayed in are a far departure from that world in which I once lived.  I’ve found joy in both worlds.
The truth is traveling can be VERY unglamorous, but I find myself not giving a shit anymore, which is great. I no longer worry what anyone thinks of me, but I still love my girly girl items and split time staying in nicer places and hostels. I can’t always “rough it,” or I just don’t want to. I think the magic is in the combination of it all.
Right now, today, I’m roughing it at a backpackers hostel, while wearing lipstick. People are talking about their long term stays in the jungle and how they’ve lived on zero dollars a day, and I just went shopping for a new gemstone to wear around my neck. Don’t get me wrong, I plan on going into the jungle too, just not today. Today I’m your typical California girl looking for a Starbucks and decent WiFi. Tomorrow I’ll be on a PeruHop bus  for 12 hours in close proximity with a bunch of other (probably stinky) nomads, and I’ll surely be smelly right next to them.
Everyday is different. Everyday I’m different. It’s all about balance.  Overall I may be a shitty backpacker, but I’m a lover of travel and culture nonetheless, and I keep on trekking along.
So call me a hypocrite, backpacking community.  Judge my 50 pound suitcase and inability to carry my own hiking stick.  That’s okay by me! This time I’ve got my bestie by my side and she makes me feel way less silly for being, well…silly.
So, here we are in Peru with our “molecas grandes” and we’re ready for whatever comes and smacks us in the face on the road around South America.
Week one, check! Our two little California Princess arses are headed to Cusco next to play with the alpacas and probably take shameless selfies next to their furry faces.
My GOD it feels good to be back out here in the world!

About the Author:

On August 14th, 2015 I left my life in the United States behind with the intention to never look back. I had the "American Dream" and I woke up from it, to create a new reality for myself. I sought out beauty in a world that was increasingly dark for me at the time and ended up finding more than I bargained for. With only a backpack, I traveled across Europe, South East Asia and then on to Africa. With over 30 countries stamped in my passport, I've become an entirely new version of myself with a broader perspective on what it means to be a woman in today's world. My hope is that by sharing my stories and featuring women like me from around the world, we can inspire others to break down their own internal barriers and go cross a few international borders while they're at it. I truly believe travel can be healing to a troubled soul, empowering to the lost and rejuvenating for the exhausted. Perspective is everything, and I believe in the power of "going global," what about you? SheGoesGlobal.net is a site that started out with my stories and grew into a platform for women all around the world to tell their travel tales of trials and triumph. We all believe that the more you see of the world, the better you can be as a person who inhabits it. Women encouraging other women to grow, travel, evolve- that's what SGG is all about. ---> Read my very first blog post (see "Archives" for August 2015) to learn how this all began.

9 Comments

  1. Paige Conner Totaro October 8, 2017 at 11:37 am - Reply

    I love this. There’s no shame in being yourslef while traveling! Although I’m sure you’re gorgeous without the makeup, if it makes you feel more like yourself to wear it, do it! We can’t all ne smelly backpackers. 🙂

  2. Natasha Nikole October 9, 2017 at 2:34 am - Reply

    My entire backpacking life is a gruesome, bloody showdown between my hatred for carrying large bags and my deep, meaningful connection to fancy soaps and MAC eyebrow kits.
    But damn, you’d be surprised what you can fit in a 4 inch x 4 inch plastic pouch.

  3. Dana October 13, 2017 at 9:41 am - Reply

    I’ve never been backpacking, but I know I would be terrible because I love to overpack, and hate carrying things ! haha

  4. mystyle5 October 13, 2017 at 12:17 pm - Reply

    I hope you have an amazing time travelling, and that you get to experience everything you set out to. I think there really is no “right” or “wrong” way to do travelling, as long as at the end of the day you’re happy wih what you accomplished. If you get out of your comfort zone even a little and truly experience new cultures, I’d put that in the win column 🙂

  5. […] book it hit me even harder.  She hiked the Pacific Crest Trail for 3 months by herself.  A TRUE backpacker, this woman.  She inspired and motivated me, and helped me come to see I could take this journey […]

  6. […] you are looking for place to stay in Pisac, Peru, Melissa Wasi is the place!  I have been in Peru for six weeks traveling all over the country at a fast pace, finding it difficult to leave the Cusco area.  I […]

  7. […] We landed in Panama City at about 4:30 PM then made our way to Playa Coronado which took a few hours by taxi, which cost a whopping $60- we couldn’t take the bus because they wouldn’t allow our “moletas grandes” (large suitcases). […]

  8. Happily Homeless – SHE GOES GLOBAL December 1, 2017 at 9:27 am - Reply

    […] Truth be told, the whole world is my home. I live everywhere and nowhere. I, myself, am my home. Me and my “moleta grande.” […]

  9. Debbie February 20, 2018 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    This is so relatable! Even when I got carryon only for a trip, you can bet I have my makeup and cute clothes with me. I really don’t like how some travelers get judge-y over things like not being a minimalist. Keep doing you!

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