What I'm Packing for 6 Months in Mexico & Central America

January 31, 2023
Sofia Schmidt

When I decided to take a long-term backpacking trip through Mexico and Central America, choosing my backpack and its contents was the most daunting task for me.

I’m a fairly petite 5’0 woman who can’t carry the amount of weight that others can. I envy the backpackers with their 70 liter packs. So much room for activities! I’ve tried a 55 liter pack before and it was monstrous. Not only did I look absolutely laughable, but after 10 minutes of walking my back would be killing me and I was ready to chuck the whole thing in the ocean. So for this trip I decided… less is more. Mexico and Central America would be happening in 40 liters.

So, without further delay, let's talk about what I brought, what got thrown out, and what was absolutely essential for me.

Climate and Customs

When you think of Mexico and Central America your mind probably jumps to steamy tropical rainforests, blue water, sun, sand and volcanoes. All things indicative of sweltering heat and sunburns. While this might be the climate 80% of the time, don’t forget to prepare for the other 20% when you’re freezing your butt off on top of a mountain in Central Mexico. Trust me.

The climate in this region can vary drastically with nighttime temperatures hitting lows averaging in the 40’s, to 100℉ (4℃ to 40℃). Add a wind chill in high altitude climates and you will surely want some warmer items in your pack. Another factor to consider is the rainy season. In general Central America experiences two distinct seasons; wet and dry. The dry season typically begins around November and ends close to May, and the rainy season begins in June and goes until October. The seasons and rainfall can be unpredictable at times so I always suggest being prepared for surprises.

Finally, if you plan on getting off the gringo trail or visiting any churches or ceremonial sites (I highly suggest doing so), it may be wise to pack a few versatile pieces that offer a bit more coverage. In smaller towns, women tend to dress more modestly, usually in long skirts and tops covering their shoulders. Men almost always wear pants or jeans and a short sleeve shirt. It all depends on your comfort level, but I did find that on long crowded cross-country bus rides I liked to dress more conservatively. For me, this usually meant a longer pair of shorts and short sleeve top. You don’t need to be a nun, but it’s still important to respect local customs.


First and foremost is your backpack. It’s important here to choose something comfortable. I would almost always recommend sacrificing items in your pack before sizing up. Remember, you will be hauling your bag with you across multiple countries and the last thing you want is to be in pain from the heavy load you’re carrying.

For my trip I chose the Eagle Creek Women’s 40 L Global Companion. I can say with confidence that I would use this bag again.

At the time of writing this article in 2023 we’ve received the sad news that Eagle Creek is shutting down. The Global Companion was one of their first products off the shelves. I’ve spent a good amount of time looking for another bag that fits rivals it and I think none come as close as the Osprey Fairview 40 L.

Here’s what the bag looks like completely unpacked.

What I love about the bag:

  • It opens like a suitcase making packing and keeping your bag organized a breeze. It’s simple to find anything you’re looking for.
  • It has a built-in raincover on the bottom that can easily be pulled out to cover the pack.
  • Overall the bag sits comfortably on your hips and the straps are sufficiently padded.
  • There’s a built-in safety whistle on the chest strap.
  • Waterproof shoe compartment.
  • Padded laptop sleeve.

What I don’t love:

  • The rain cover can bunch up in the bottom of the bag taking space away from your main compartment.
  • When packed, there is little to no room left for even the thinnest of flip flops in the outer shoe compartment. I found it easiest to pack shoes first.
  • The zippers are not flexible. I really felt like there were times when my zippers were about to give out even when I didn’t have the bag fully packed. It held on, but I do wish that the material around the zippers, and the bag itself, had a bit more stretch.

This is what my bag looked like fully packed.

Since writing this article we’ve received the sad news that Eagle Creek is shutting down. The Global Companion was one of their first products off the shelves. I’ve spent a good amount of time looking for another bag that rivals it and I think none come as close as the Osprey Fairview 40 L. I recommended this bag to my brother for his first backpacking trip and stand by it as a strong equivalent to the Global Companion.

I also carried a small front backpack with me that held all of my technology and important odds and ends like my passport. This bag literally never left my side. If you’re using any sort of public transportation in Central America your main bag is going to get thrown on top of buses, under motors (yes that happened), and many other places still unbeknownst to you. You are not going to want your laptop or camera battling the elements atop a chicken bus. Bring a small second bag. Trust me.

What to Wear

I think it’s easiest to categorize what I packed in terms of packing cubes. I had a medium, two small, and one x-small packing cube from Eagle Creek. I typically wore my jeans on transit days and wrapped my jacket around my waist since they were by far the items that took up the most space in my pack. I also had a carabiner that I used to clip my running shoes or dirty laundry sack on the outside of my bag. I’m also going to take you through what I did away with. I came home between El Salvador and Honduras and adjusted my bag accordingly for my return.

Medium packing cube (bottoms)

  • 2 dresses: (note the black and white striped dress covered my shoulders and down to my knees). I intentionally packed a dress that was more on the conservative side since I knew I would be teaching. If you plan to do any volunteering or teaching it’s smart to pack a few items that would suit that role.
  • 1 *cute* romper: for going out. This could also pair as black shorts under a t-shirt.
  • 5 shorts: 4 everyday and one athletic pair.
  • 1 flowy pant.
  • 1 pair of jeans: (I wore them in the airport so not pictured)
  • 1 pair of leggings.

What I changed: As the story goes… first time packers tend to overpack. That was me.

  • First off, I did away with the black dress. It was great for my teaching gig but beyond that, black cotton in the blazing Central American sun, no thank you.
  • I also did away with the romper since I used it maybe twice. My go-to going out outfit was consistently my jean shorts and a cropped tank or my red dress.
  • I substituted the patterned flowy pants for a khaki pair that I got for $0.50 at a used clothing store and were great for dancing plus much more breathable.
  • The white shorts went to the wayside a month in. Seriously… don’t bring white pants on a backpacking trip.

Small packing cube (tops)

  • 5 tank tops: 1 black, 1 gray, 1 white, 1 brownish orange???,1 pink cropped for going out.
  • 1 cropped white tee.
  • 1 long sleeve white shirt.
  • 1 graphic tee.
  • 1 gray tank with a built in bra.

What I changed:

  • I ditched the pink cropped tank since it only went with 2 items in my wardrobe. I tried to pack clothes that could match with everything.
  • The long sleeve shirt was useful maybe twice. In Central Mexico, and then as a base layer for hiking the Acatenango volcano. After that, it was so caked in ash that it got thrown in the trash. If you plan to do any high altitude hiking and don’t have the extra space for the warmer layers you will wear only once, I suggest picking up some items at one of the local pacas or thrift stores along your trip. They’re all over Central America. Also note, any good hiking company should rent you a coat, hat, and gloves at the very least. If they don’t, steer clear.
  • The graphic Sublime tee went bye. Though it gained me the locals' approval in Belize.
  • The white tank was also ditched in favor of the cropped white tee.
  • I also picked up a button down short-sleeve shirt from the pacas (not pictured), that I could use as a cute cover up or dress up into something nicer if I needed to.

Small packing cube (bras, swimwear & pajamas)

  • 2 bralettes
  • 2 sports bras
  • 4 swimsuits (poor choice)
  • 1 pair of pajamas (shorts & short sleeves).

What I changed:

  • I ditched the two swimsuits I wore the least and kept 1 two-piece and 1 one-piece. I highly recommend having a one-piece. I went to quite a few local hot springs and pools where the majority of women wore shorts and shirts to swim. Sometimes I would even throw on shorts. Just remember to be respectful of local customs.
  • I ditched my lower impact sports bra. The tank I packed with the built in bra + one high impact sports bra was plenty for me.

X-small packing cube (underwear + socks)

  • Did you seriously think I was going to show you all my undies?!?! Sickos.
  • I packed 12 pairs and one pair of leak proof period undies. I was really happy I had these for an extra layer of protection when Aunt Flo showed up right before a 12 hour overnight bus ride across Mexico.
  • I packed 2 normal socks and one long hiking sock. Most of the time I was in sandals.


Once again I did overdo it a bit here. But it was all in good faith. Just remember that pretty much anything you can get at home you can get in Central America. Unless it’s a super specific brand of something you use, most pharmacies sell all the name brand products we have at home.

The exception to this is menstrual products. If you’re outside of the main cities you may just have a few options of pads and that’s all. Tampons weren’t always available in my experience and if they were there was maybe one type to choose from. I recommend coming prepared with what you think you will need. Though, this can take up space in your pack. Enter *the period cup*. I can’t recommend these enough. Not only is it way less maintenance than traditional menstrual products (you only need to deal with it twice a day), but they’re better for your body and the environment as well. It’s a win-win. I use the Saalt cup and recommend it to anyone who is looking to make the switch.

Toiletries bag:

  • Light basic makeup (concealer, mascara, eyebrow gel, 1 lipstick, lip balm, + 1 nail polish).
  • Bed bug spray: I am terrified of bed bugs and would spray down my bed if I was anywhere where their existence seemed like a remote possibility.


  • Headband + hair ties.
  • Cotton hair towel. (If you have curls you know).
  • 1 comb and 1 mini boar hair brush.
  • Curl gel.
  • Lush shampoo and conditioner bars: I LOVE these things, they cut down on plastic waste and there’s a bar for every hair type. I use the “Anger Hair” bar for my curly dryer hair coupled with the “American Cream” conditioner bar. After a year of travel I still have half of each bar left.
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste, mouth guard, floss.

Skin Care:

  • Face Halo: This is a great alternative to cotton pads. Just add water and it can take off makeup, or add face wash.
  • 1 bar of soap.
  • Travel size lotion.
  • Travel size facial moisturizer.
  • 2x travel size face wash.
  • Razor + 4 extra razor cartridges.
  • Nail clippers, tweezers, small scissors.
  • Deodorant.
  • Travel size sunscreen.
  • Travel size mosquito spray. I stand firmly behind Ben’s Bug Spray. It’s the only one that consistently worked when I was camping in the literal jungle.
  • Reusable ear swab: Just wash it after each use and cut back on waste! I got these on Amazon and love them.
  • Ear plugs for the inevitable hostel snorers.
  • Travel size laundry detergent sheets. These things were so handy. If I didn’t have access to a lavanderia or wanted to save some cash I could just do my wash in a sink.

What I changed:

  • Everything I packed here I ended up using so I didn’t make many changes here. I did trade in a few items for smaller sizes when I could find them.


Shoes are pretty straightforward. At the bare minimum bring a pair of comfortable walking/trekking shoes and shower shoes. Here’s what I brought.

  • 1 pair of Tevas. I highly suggest a pair of thick soled sandals. It’s Latin America, there are nails and other unpleasantries along many roads. Bring something with some durability. I wore these nearly daily.
  • 1 pair of shower shoes for hostels/the beach.
  • 1 pair of running/trekking shoes that will hold up on hikes.
  • 1 pair of “everyday” tennis shoes.

What I changed:

  • The white shoes didn’t even make it out of Mexico. Surprise, surprise. Don’t bring white tennis shoes on a cross continent trip.
  • These running shoes almost killed me when hiking the Acatenango volcano. I was slipping and sliding the whole way down. I traded them in for a pair of trail runners with actual grips. Do yourself a favor and make sure that whatever shoes you plan to hike in have good traction.


Some of these items may not be useful to everyone… some of them weren’t even useful to me. I did my best, learned from it, and packed wiser for the second half of the trip.

  • Mesh grocery bag.
  • Reusable plastic food storage bags.
  • Baseball hat.
  • Resistance band for workouts.
  • Small cross-body purse.
  • 1 quick dry body towel + washcloth.
  • 1 quick dry beach towel.
  • Foldable laundry bag.
  • COVID masks.
  • Booty wipes. (Sometimes there just isn’t toilet paper. It’s not there. Ask me about the Casablanca train station. Buy them. Bring them. Carry them on you always.)
  • Underwater floaty phone protector.
  • Sleeping bag cover. This was by far the most useful and underrated item I brought along with me. I didn’t use it frequently, but when I needed it... I desperately needed it. It saved me more than a few times. You can sleep in this thing if you’re ever in a hostel situation where those stains on the sheets are a little too questionable, or if you're cold and just want an extra layer of warmth. I would never travel without it.

Items Not Pictured:

  • Travel sized mosquito net: If there is one thing you bring during the rainy season let it be this. It’s not worth risking your health to save the extra space. I’ve read a lot of blogs saying it’s not necessary but in my experience it absolutely was. I used it for almost two months straight between Honduras and Nicaragua. I met waaay too many travelers recovering from Dengue Fever to ever consider traveling without it. This one from Amazon packed up super easily and I was able to rig it up about anywhere.

  • Rain cover: I also brought a small rain cover for my front pack. This stayed at the top of my bag so I could easily access it during the sporadic rainy season downpours.
  • Foldable backpack: I know, a third backpack? But it folded up very small and came in handy when it just wasn’t practical to unpack everything in my smaller front bag for day treks. I also recommend having this extra because it’s bound to get dirty. This was what I took on hikes and to the beach. This one from Amazon was perfect for me.

What I changed:

  • For starters I hate these mesh bags. Things fall through them. I switched it out for a cloth tote.
  • The silicon storage bags were never used. I tried. But they just weren’t practical.
  • I definitely see the perks of having two towels, but it was too much space taken up to justify so I would recommend just bringing one with maybe the addition of a hand towel.
  • I ditched the purse for my Solo Bumbag (pictured below) which I LOVED. It goes all the way across your body and sits on your front making it pretty darn theft proof. It also has a conveniently hidden passport pocket. I take it everywhere.
  • An essential addition to my bumbag for me was my Birdie alarm. It’s a small “personal safety” alarm that you can pull if you ever feel like you’re in a precarious situation. This thing saved my ass when I got attacked by a street dog in El Salvador. Pulling that alarm is what made it let go of hand. 4 courses of rabies treatment later and I still credit that thing for stopping it from being a worse attack.
It's blurry, I know.

That’s about it! This is what my bag looked like fully packed with all of the above mentioned items:

My Front Bag

My front bag was very small and held the following items:

  • Laptop.
  • Tech bag with sim cards, chargers, headphones.
  • Extra sweater (you want it easily accessible for the frequently cold buses in Mexico and Panama).
  • Passport/important documents.
  • Books.
  • Rain cover.
  • Rain jacket (I chose this one because it rolled up easily and didn’t take up a ton of space). Once again this was in my front bag so I could easily access it.

I didn’t change anything here. This bag is your lifeline if you’re carrying technology, so I suggest keeping it close by. It’s helpful to have the smallest size front bag that can fit all of your odds and ends because it will often be at your feet or in overhead bus racks.

I hope that this list is at least a little bit helpful with your packing for Central America! Is there anything I’m forgetting? Have any questions? I would love to hear what you have to say at nofixedaddresses@gmail.com.

Sofia Schmidt

I'm Sofia, avid traveler, backpacking pro, and founder of No Fixed Addresses. I envision a world where travelers seek to give more to their destination than they take, and ethical tourism becomes the way we travel. I hope that my guides help you to plan your next trip, and become a more conscious traveler.




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