How to pack for 3 weeks in Central America with just a carry-on backpack

SO now that you guys know a little about my trip to Costa Rica, I wanted to share my packing list. Because who doesn’t like a good packing list? One of the first things I always do before leaving for a trip is a quick Google search of what to bring. I am definitely not the person trekking through the airport with three suitcases. To be honest, the more stuff I have with me on a trip, the more weighed down I feel, physically and also mentally. I definitely find that when I have less with me I feel more at ease and am able to enjoy exploring more easily. See that little red backpack in the photo above? Yeah, that fit everything I possibly needed and more.

So here is what I brought:

  • Three summer dresses – Just as easy to throw on for the beach as for a night out.
  • One romper – I wore this as a beach coverup, or as overalls with a T-shirt underneath.
  • A denim mini skirt – I brought this instead of jean shorts just because it felt a little more dressy. No regrets.
  • Two solid color tanks – I brought one black and one nude cami. They were perfect to wear for the day or to bed and paired easily with all of my bottoms.
  • A white T-shirt – I wore this layered under my romper, tied up with my skirt, and to bed. Never go anywhere without a white tee.

  • One matching set – I brought my bright red polka dotted set and wore the pieces both together as a set and separately. The shorts doubled perfectly as PJ shorts when my running shorts got dirty.
  • One cute top – I chose a palm printed XIX Palms tie top. It was a last minute addition and came in handy for evenings out when I didn’t want to wear a dress.
  • A pair of beach pants – These pants are my go-to and I wore them all over the place. They’re soft and light, just as perfect for the airplane as for the beach.

  • A pair of running shorts – For hiking, sleeping, etc.
  • Black leggings – See above. The absolute best for travel days.
  • A long-sleeved athletic top – I didn’t end up wearing this often and probably could have done without it. Still, always nice to have an extra piece to layer.
  • A scarf – I never travel without a scarf. The one I chose for this trip is cut so it’s easy to throw on as a sarong, too. When traveling, I use a scarf as everything from a blanket to a skirt.

  • Small purse – For day to day use. I brought this instead of a wallet and always kept my chapstick, earbuds, credit card, passport, and sunglasses inside.
  • Tote bag – Last minute I threw in a reusable Free People shopping bag that folded up super small and took up basically no space. This is one of the most valuable things I brought! I used it to carry groceries, dirty laundry, and as a beach bag.
  • Three bathing suits – I brought two bikinis and a one-piece, which I also wore as a bodysuit.

  • A raincoat and umbrella – Bring a raincoat for sure. Umbrella isn’t necessary but I had extra space and it definitely came in handy.
  • A microfiber towel – Always great to have. Many hostels charge a fee to rent towels and don’t offer beach towels. Next time I would bring two of these and designate one for the beach and one for the shower. They fold up really small and dry quickly!

  • Zip top lingerie bag. This has always kind of been my secret weapon when traveling. I know people use packing cubes now and I think it’s kind of the same concept but I use these instead because I already have them lying around the house. I put all my clothes in one to keep my bag organized.
  • Toiletries…sunscreen is mad expensive in Costa Rica so I say bring your own. Same with bug spray. I brought the bug repellant wipes to save space in my liquid baggie. I also suggest bringing minimal makeup…you’re going to sweat a lot or be in the water so why waste space?

I also brought one sports bra, a bralette, six pairs of undies, two pairs of socks, sneakers, a pair of sandals with back straps, two bandanas, granola bars for the plane, a water bottle, an inflatable neck pillow, an eyemask, earplugs, and a journal.

And as a little bonus I’m throwing in what I bought while I was traveling. Obviously traveling with just a backpack leaves little room to buy things, but I did pick up a few goodies such as a beaded bracelet and handmade headband in Guna Yala, a passionfruit chocolate bar in Costa Rica, and a Panama hat in Panama City. I get so many compliments on this hat…a lady in Nashville came up to me and asked me who it was by and I don’t know why but I thought it was hilarious. It was $25 and I wear it allllll the time.

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