My friend Alaina is getting ready to head off on an adventure starting in Guatemala and has been asking me for advice on packing. Of course being the opinionated girl that I am I have a lot of ideas about packing.
The thing that I think is the most important is your pack. I am a bit of a brand monogamist when it comes to packs, osprey being my favorite. I've been traveling with my pack, Maz, a waypoint 60 for the last couple months. Though the design of the day pack is a bit funny, she is pretty much bomb proof and some how manages to fit a mask, snorkel, 7 scarves, my 5000 guatemalan bags and pouches, a kilo of chiapan chocolate, t-shirts, chaco sandals, chaco flips, running shoes and a pair of nicaraguan sandals, you know, all the essentials.
I have a habit of naming all my packs, Maz, short for Mary, was named after another bag toting babe, Mary Poppins. Many of my passengers have commented on my ability to fit a lot into my packs, not unlike Mary's carpet bag.
An important feature in a travel pack for people like myself is a front zip, rather than a top loading pack. I have a tendency to let my stuff explode all over my hotel rooms, something that has been reduced by the appearance of Mary on the scene. Front loading packs mean you have much easier access to all your stuff, which means you never have that, "Fuck, I packed my tooth brush on the bottom of my pack AGAIN," moment.
Another part of choosing a pack is size. I rock between 50 to 60 liters. I personally don't think you need more space than that unless you are planning on spending all your time in the backcountry cooking for yourself. I always have dreams that I will downsize into a 30L, but with the job, and being on the road so long, I have a tendency to bring comfort items and collect a bit of a library.
Next major piece of advice... DO NOT pack a full size towel. When I see someone with a towel strapped to their pack the same things run through my head... mildew, dirt, waste of space, and who the hell told you to pack that? Do yourself a favor, pack yourself a travel towel (get a lite or ultra lite variety) or pack something even more versatile, a sarong/pareo. A sarong can be a towel, a blanket, a dress, and what you want out of the things you pack is that they are versatile. If you're not going to use something a lot then it is probably not worth packing. Things that often fall into this category: heavy hiking boots, pairs of underwear numbers 8-21, dresses only for salsa dancing, kilts, and curling irons.
Beyond that things that I can't leave with out...
playing cards, good for making friends, good for distracting yourself
my ipod, i am hopelessly addicted
my moleskine journal, for sketching, note taking, and writing
chaco flips, best best best flip flops in the world (the pair i have now are 4 years old)
Otherwise for the most part you can find everything you need on the road. If the locals aren't using it, you probably don't really need it. A good resource for packing is the travel independent website.