Being a woman rider on the road in Latin America presents some unique challenges. After nearly 40 days on the road, here’s what I’ve brought, and here’s what I’d do differently if I were packing again:
- Four t-shirts – two short-sleeved and two sleeveless. I originally planned to bring only three but snuck an extra one in at the last minute because my clothes took up so little space.
- Two bras – one normal bra and one sports bra, which was supposed to dry fast and wick sweat better.
- Four pairs of ExOfficio underwear. I brought regular cotton underwear on one of our three-day test trips and it got whiffy and wasn’t that easy to clean. ExOfficio is AWESOME – dries super fast, doesn’t smell as much as cotton, and feels more comfortable under the gear.
- Five pairs of socks – three pairs of thicker Smart Wool socks, and two pairs of thin merino wool socks.
- One pair of pants.
- One box of tampons (sans box).
- One small GoTube of shampoo.
- One small GoTube of shower gel.
- Razor and spare blades.
- Travel toothbrush.
- Regular-size thing of toothpaste.
- Clear-gel deodorant.
- Fast-drying camping towel.
- Toilet paper.
I’d Bring Next Time…
- More thin t-shirts. Two of my t-shirts are thick cotton t-shirts, which are super comfortable, but they get sweaty and nasty fairly quick, stink when they’re sweaty, and take forever to dry. Not practical when you need to wash every day or every other day, pending water access.
- A long-sleeved t-shirt or sweater thing. I thought I wouldn’t need one on the bike and they take up a lot of space so I didn’t bring one. But it’s been surprisingly cool in some places and a long-sleeved shirt would have been really awesome. Also, in some places, it’s considered bad etiquette for a woman to have bare shoulders or arms (i.e. some churches, etc.) but I don’t have anything to cover them.
- Fewer t-shirts. I brought four, and then unexpectedly picked up another one on the road, giving me a total of five t-shirts. I only ever wear three of them, really, and keep one in reserve for when the three are dirty/wet, so four is the most I think I’d need. I currently have one shirt too many.
- More bras. Two bras is NOT enough. Since crossing into Central America, most days I get sweaty and nasty on the bike. We get to a hotel. I take a shower. I want to put on clean, dry clothes – not the sweaty, nasty clothes I’ve been wearing on the bike. Most days, I’ve got one dirty bra that needs to be washed, and the sweaty, nasty bra I’ve been wearing. I want a third bra that I can reserve for putting on when I get off the bike and am clean/dry.
- More tampons. The sources I found said it’s difficult to find tampons in most places, but I failed to account for how difficult. And I’ve had a surprising number of tampons self-destruct in my tank bag or pocket when carrying them around for use. So my one box doesn’t actually end up being a whole box, and I’m going to need more by February (halfway through the trip).
- A bar of soap. I opted not to bring a bar because I didn’t want to deal with putting the wet bar of soap somewhere after I showered. But shower gel without a loofa is a pain to deal with, and it also doesn’t lather particularly well when you don’t have hot water (or a loofa). Which will be most of Latin America. So now I’m wishing I had bar soap and one of those plastic things to carry it. I could pick up a bar of soap, but I haven’t seen the plastic soap things (although I could possibly find one in a tourist town. Should look around.)
- Fewer socks. I erred on the side of bringing too many because I figured you can never have enough clean, dry socks. But I only ever use three pairs, so I think I could get by quite happily with only three.
Things You Can Find on the Road
You don’t need to worry about bringing:
- Enough shampoo for the entire trip.
- Enough soap for the entire trip.
- Enough toothpaste for the entire trip.
- Enough deodorant for the entire trip.
- Toilet paper.
Unsurprisingly, you can get all these things along the way and they’re fairly easy to find. Basic hygiene isn’t difficult even when you’re traveling like this. But for sanitary needs, you’ll mostly only ever see pads, which you might not want when traveling on a bike.
If you don’t have enough clothes, you can pick those up, too, along the way. There are TONS of vendors who sell clothes and you can get them fairly cheap. Things like bras and underwear might be more difficult to find if you prefer a particular style or need a special size.
Bathrooms on the Road
Finding bathrooms on the road is slightly more important for women. Men in Latin America often seem to stop and pee by the side of the road. I’ve seen plenty of men who don’t even bother to go behind a tree – they’ll just stand a few feet from the road with their back to the road and let loose. For women, it’s different. You have to find a good place to pull the bike off the road. Preferably, go find a place that’s sheltered because you’re going to have to pull your pants down, and there’s no non-obvious way to do that.
Throughout most of Latin America, we’ve had no trouble finding bathrooms. Sometimes you have to wait for a bit, but unless you’re really out in the boonies (in which case peeing by the side of the road isn’t a big deal) there are bathrooms every 30-45 minutes, in most places. Most gas stations have bathrooms, although some places charge to use them. Never assume that a bathroom has toilet paper – keep a wodge in your pocket when you go to the bathroom (or carry a roll around in your tank bag).
In many places in Latin America, bathrooms (even the women’s) don’t have toilet seats. Or you’ll find a bathroom with four stalls and only one has a toilet seat. Don’t assume that if you don’t see a toilet seat in one stall there aren’t any. Feel free to keep looking. And toilet seats make life MUCH simpler when you have to pee in full gear and you have knee armor that tends to get caught on your tall boots and everything requires precise arranging to work properly in a bathroom.
Don’t assume that hotels will have toilet seats, either. Most do, but some don’t, and some only have toilet seats in some of the rooms. It’s worth taking a look at the bathroom before you take a room to make sure there’s a toilet seat if that’s important to you in a hotel.
Most bathrooms in Latin America don’t have soap, and some don’t have running water. Bring hand sanitizer to clean your hands after you use the bathroom.
In Mexico and Latin America, you don’t throw toilet paper and sanitary waste into the toilet. Throw it into the trash can next to the toilet. It’s weird throwing used toilet paper in a trash can, but it’s how things work here. Get used to it.
Unless it’s a nice, sit-down restaurant, don’t assume there will be a bathroom. Most of the small commodores and tiny restaurants may not have a bathroom at all, or may only have one bathroom that everyone uses and will be quite nasty. When you’re dining at a commodore, you’ll have better luck waiting and using a bathroom at a gas station.