We've only got a few more weeks of the trip to go, so I figured it's a good time to start putting up our packing list. By now all of our stuff has been tried and tested, so hopefully it'll be a good resource for people going on a similar trip in the future. The list isn't exhaustive, but I'll cover the major things: http://www.flightofthefeldmans.com/p/packing-list.html
The right backpack: REI Grand Tour 85 Travel Pack $199 [REI Link]
--We picked it because it was side loading (aka panel loading). This is a key feature often overlooked in backpacking backpacks, but recommended to us by our friend Boris. Side loading backpacks unzip entirely allowing you to access all your stuff at once. Unlike top loading bags, you don't have to unpack everything to reach the bottom.
--It was 85 liters, which was the largest size available and would fit all of our stuff.
--It has an internal support skeleton, easing the weight off your shoulders, and can be adjusted to your height at REI.
--It has a rain cover pocket, which comes in handy every time we fly or take a bus. The bag goes in the rain cover, which zips up to look like a large bag with handles and protects our bag from dirt.
--Locking zipers have been great for peace of mind.
The right camera: Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3 $150 [Amazon Link]
Since cameras change often, this section might be outdated. But I'll point out the main features, and maybe you can find a similar camera that's newer. Still, I picked this up for $150 refurbished on eBay, which was cheap and it has worked great.
--Large zoom: This camera has 12x optical, and since there's lots of things to zoom in on like animals and mountains and buildings. I've used this feature a ton.
--Shoots HD video with image stabilization: The image stabilization is excellent, taking out all jiggles associated to hand held shooting.
--Leica Lens: Which I presume means good optics and minimal distortion.
--SD memory: This is pretty standard now, but great to avoid proprietary memory that you can't find cheap abroad if needed.
Cons: It's bulky, uncomfortable in jeans and really obvious in shorts. This is my biggest complaint, because if it was thinner I'd carry it even more often.
The Right Books: Nook Simpletouch e-reader $80 [B&N Link]
-I liked the Nook over the Kindle because it has a cleaner design and since the book selection is pretty much identical, and it was cheaper I'm happy. On the other hand, the Kindle is being integrated into more services (ex. you can sync it was ReadItLater, the online reading app), etc.
-Anyways, get something, because you'll spend a lot of time reading and the number of books I would have read would have taken up a full backpack.
-I wouldn't suggest guidebooks on e-reader. It's hard to use the maps, hard to take notes, though the search feature is pretty sick.
The Right Netbook: Eee PC 1015PEM-PU17 $300 [Amazon Link]
If you want to save money, you don't NEED to bring a computer/netbook. Every hostel I've stayed at had at least one computer, and if not, there are lots of cheap internet cafes everywhere. HOWEVER, it's convenient to use your own computer for browsing without wondering what shady software is installed (and if it's stealing your private info), backing up and organizing pictures, watching movies, etc.
--Small size: The size of a notebook and about 4lbs, it's compact enough to fit in a backpack.
--Long battery life: I've gotten up to 9hrs of battery life, which is great for buses. Battery life is a function of what you do, so of course if you play games or watch dvds at full brightness you'll only get 4-5hrs. Still, I plan to use it between Boston and NY trips and that's plenty of battery.
--Slightly smaller keyboard: It takes a bit of getting used to, but your hands adjust quickly.
--Lacked a DVD drive: DVD drives are pretty much obsolete these days, which is what I assumed. However, with the great availability of cheap (cough, fully legal of course) dvds in South America, we ended up buying an external DVD drive and watching quite a bit of movies during downtime.
Bev brought a headlamp and I brought a flashlight. I have headlamp envy.
--Handsfree: This is great for reading at night, cooking in the dark, hobbies and going to the bathroom.
--Wider field of light: I guess this depends on the flashlight, but mine is a pencil light and doesn't adequately cover a path you're walking on.
-The one we brought has a cheap headlamp built by a battery company, and this one is really hard to open the battery compartment and then close it again when you've replaced the battery. I'm sure nicer ones don't have this problem.
-Only two modes: This isn't a big problem, but this headlamp can only be on, red or off. Some of the nicer ones have full-bright, 3/4 bright and dim. This would have been nice for reading, when you don't need the full blast. Still not a deal breaker.
Travel Plug Adapter: Generic, $1 on eBay
-It's a common misconception that you need a voltage converter. Now adays most devices can accept the full range of voltage back home and abroad (ex. my camera, laptop, cell phone). Look on your charger and if it says "Input: 100-240V" you're good to go. However, you do need the right plugs. This square model has all the plugs in one square box.
--It also has a circuit breaker, which gives me peace of mind in case there's a surge in electricity. However, I'm pretty sure it doesn't actually have one, and there's only a little red light that turns on. Still peace of mind.
Unlocked Cellphone (ex. Nokia 6030), $0
-I brought two unlocked cellphones that I knew would work on the frequencies here. It needs to be a GSM phone (one that accepts sim cards). Our parents like being in touch often, and so a cheap phone with a local sim card let them call us periodically.
--Unlocked: If you've had the phone with your carrier for over six months you can call them and ask them for instructions to unlock it. Once unlocked you'll be able to put in any sim card and it'll work with that carrier.
--Cheap phone: These are phones from many years ago so I wasn't worried about them being stolen, even down here. I left my smart phone at home for that reason.
--Great battery life: They don't make them like they used to. My phone gets 5+ days on standby no problem. If your should have good battery life but doesn't, buy a replacement battery for it on eBay (it'll rejuvinate it completely).