10 Tips For Cheaper Travel – Backpacking South America

While on the road for extended periods of time, it’s more important than ever to make consistently good economic decisions in order to keep your trip going as long as possible.  Here are 10 tips for cheaper travel while Backpacking South America.

10 Tips For Cheaper Travel While Backpacking South America

cheaper travel while backpacking south america

1:  Try to find hostels with kitchens and cook at least one meal per day.  Sometimes cooking doesn’t save you a whole lot over what you can find for cheap on the streets, but there is a small difference, and it’s usually healthier than the cheapest street food!

2:  If you do eat out, try to make it at lunch time.  You can usually find “almuerzos” or set lunches that are the cheapest and largest portions.  Prices generally go up for dinner time.  Also, places with gringo food are ALWAYS more expensive and usually unsatisfying (just never as good as the “real thing” back home)!

3:  Stay at hostels that aren’t in the guidebook.  Most of the time these places are just as nice as the ones that everyone else is staying in.  However, lots of times these spots will do a bit of bargaining as soon as you say something about the price being too high.  Tell them that you are “going to look at other places and might come back later” and see how low they will go.

4:  Never get in a taxi until the driver tells you the price.  We have made this mistake too many times.  A simple “Cuanto cuesta?”  in advance will save you tons when it’s all added up.  Also, always ask a local how much it should cost before even flagging down a cab and then don’t settle until you get the right price.

5:  If you have a tent, use it.  Camping is super cheap if you can find the places to do it.  Look around, sometimes you can find campgrounds with kitchens and everything.

6:  Steer clear of international buses.  It’s almost always cheaper to take the domestic bus to the border town, taxi across, then pick up another bus on the other side.

7:  Wash your clothes in the sink.  Laundry services are cheap but they add up over time.  Lots of hostels have signs telling you that it’s not allowed but just be sneaky.  Wear your jeans in the shower and scrub them there.

8:  Drink water and boil it yourself when you get the chance.  Soda and beer are expensive.  Bring a water bottle on your trip and boil the water in your hostel’s kitchen.

9:  Volunteer, especially if you are staying one place for an extended period (over 1 week).  There are thousands of volunteering opportunities throughout the continent.  Some are completely free, some cost a little.  Find something that you enjoy and help people out while getting some help yourself.

10:  Couchsurfing is amazing and if you haven’t tried it yet, you are missing out.  It’s all over the world and we have never had a bad experience.  Even if you don’t need a place to crash, check it out for locals that can show you around new cities.

Enjoy this post about cheaper travel while backpacking South America?  Check out our archives for other adventures! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram @laaventuraproject and subscribe to our Youtube Channel.

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Boat Hitchhiking to Trinidad, Bolivia – Part 4

After finally getting off La Pinta and setting foot back on dry land, we found ourselves in basically the middle of nowhere.  We were happy that River boat hitchhiking in Bolivia was done.  It was a tiny port with a few rundown boats parked and a few thatch shacks at the end of a dirt road.  Truly the back of beyond, like someplace out of Heart of Darkness or “Apocalypse Now”.  We knew it might be a long wait for a ride into Trinidad, so we sat down at a cafe and ordered “almuerzos”–hot noodle soup followed by a plate of rice, spaghetti, potatoes, and beef.  The heat was oppressive and we were pouring sweat even sitting in the shade.  Thankfully, while we were eating, a dusty, falling-apart taxi pulled up chock full of supplies.  While the driver unloaded his deliveries, we finished our lunch and afterwards waited a few minutes for more people to fill the car.  With four locals in the backseat, the driver, and Zach and I sharing the front passenger seat, we bounced off along the bumpy track towards Trinidad.  The short trip included a river crossing on a very rickety wooden ferry, and passed through several more tiny port villages.

Ferrying our dumpy taxi across a small river.

Finally we reached Trinidad, a small city which is capital of Bolivia’s jungly Beni province.  Trinidad is known for it’s many motorcycles; everyone seems to have one and there are hardly any cars.  The motorcycles zip around the streets like mad, ignoring traffic laws and narrowly missing accidents at every turn.  It’s a miracle we didn’t get run over!  Tourists can also rent motorcycles.  If that’s your idea of fun, go for it.  To me it sounds like inevitable road rash, if not worse.

Motorcycle madness!

Finding an acceptable hostel took awhile, but we eventually stumbled into Alojamiento Carmen, a decent place with fans and shared bathrooms, the highlight being the cable TV with a plethora of English channels.  They had the Latin American versions of TLC, WB, and FOX, so we spent a lot of time in the room watching random things like “No Reservations” (love Anthony Bourdain), “Ace of Cakes”, “Friends”, “Two and a Half Men”, “Grey’s Anatomy” (My guilty pleasure…but what is GOING ON there? I’ve missed so much!), and the worst one ever, “Man vs. Food.” Normally I get so disgusted watching Adam stuff his face and get fatter every episode, but try watching it in Bolivia and just see how horribly HUNGRY and JEALOUS you get!

Okay, that was a major TV tangent.  But really, it ended up being good that we had so many channels because there’s not much else to do in Trinidad!  The city is so hot and humid that you start sweating after walking only one block.  There are also a lot of mosquitoes out at night.  Suffice it to say, after only a few hours of wandering the streets, we were bored.

That night we had a bit of an existential crisis.  We had planned to stay for a couple nights in Trinidad, find another boat, and continue down the Rio Mamoré to Guayaramerin, on the Brazilian border.  There were two major reasons we had decided to do this: 1. Getting off the Gringo Trail and 2. It’s cheap!  What we finally admitted to ourselves this night in Trini was that despite our best-laid plans, we were bored.  We had been a bit bored, in fact, ever since realizing how behind on our budget we were, and cutting back on all activities and extras to try to make up for it.  What ensued was a long discussion about our priorities and how to make this the best possible experience.  We came to two conclusions: 1. We don’t want to go into debt on this trip.  (Debt-free is the way to be!)  2. If we’re not having fun then we need to change something.  Therefore, a hard decision was made.  We conceded to the possibility of returning home earlier (in June rather than July).  Nothing is official (we still don’t have a return ticket), but doing this would definitely ease the financial strain and allow us to enjoy the time we have left a lot more.  We’d rather say we had an AMAZING TIME for 7 months than that we toughed it out on very little money for 8 months.  (Although, of course, if anyone wants to send us some $$, we won’t say no, lol.)  So in the interest of making it back to the states faster and ditching the heat, mosquitoes, and boat boredom, we changed our plan (again) and decided that Brazil can wait for another trip.  “Let’s get out of this sweaty town, back to the mountains and Perú!” we said.  Arequipa, Perú, was the next place we were really excited for, and we desperately needed some excitement.  If only we knew how impossible it would be get back on the grid…

Please read the beginning of our River boat Hitchhiking in the Bolivian Amazon Aventura!

PART 3

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Checkin’ things off the list!

Oh hayyy guys, guess what we did today?

1. Bought bus tickets to Chi-town so we can make our flight!

2. Found a first Couchsurfing host in Medellin!

3. Found a first farm to go to in Colombia!  It is primarily a coffee farm but has tons of other stuff.  Apparently their coffee was voted BEST in Colombia.  Ok, I’m excited!

4. Studied a ton of espanol.  I even wrote an email in Spanish and got my point across!

That’s it.  Only 2 more weeks of these super boring posts!  We’re so close to the real adventure beginning!

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17 more days in the United States!

Hello followers.  Sorry we have been bad bloggers.  We are very busy preparing for the journey and collecting the last bits of equipment.  Today we purchased travel health insurance coverage and designed thanks you cards for those who donated.  Here is the updated checklist:

It’s time to start getting excited.  Almost there!

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1 if by land, 2 if by sea, 3 if by air, 4 if a combination of all these modes of transportation

Our ticket to Medellin, Colombia is a one-way ticket.  We want to travel overland throughout all of South America for one year after arriving.  The plan is to end up in Venezuela or all the way back in Colombia again in October 2012 to end the adventure.

Then how are we going to get home?

We have two options:

The Boring Option:  Buy a one-way flight ticket back to the states from Venezuela or Colombia.  Lame.

The Fun Option:  Continue the traveling over land and sea!  A little geography for you–there is a small section of rainforest connecting Colombia and Panama (South America and Central America) called The Darien Gap.  According to Wikipedia (which is not always reliable, I know) “The Darien Gap is a large swath of undeveloped swampland and forest separating Panama‘s Darién Province in Central America fromColombia in South America. It measures just over 160 km (99 mi) long and about 50 km (31 mi) wide. Roadbuilding through this area is expensive, and the environmental toll is steep. Political consensus in favor of road construction has not emerged, and consequently there is no road connection through the Darién Gap connecting North/Central America with South America. It is therefore the missing link of the Pan-American Highway.”  While some brave/idiotic souls have successfully trekked through the Darien by jeep or on foot, every source I’ve ever read strongly advises travelers NOT to attempt it.  Not only is there no road, making it a long, hot, and difficult trek, but the geography, isolation and lawlessness of the area makes it a perfect passage for drug traffickers, guerilla groups, and other unsavory characters.  Basically, you’re just asking to be kidnapped or killed if you enter the area.  Not to be melodramatic, but you’d have to have a death wish to go there.  NO ONE DOES IT.

So, those problems make getting back to the US entirely overland impossible.  But what you CAN do is take a BOAT from Colombia to Panama!  Although there’s no commercial service, it is apparently very common for travelers to catch rides on private sailboats going from Cartagena, Colombia to Portabelo, Panama.  The trip takes 4-5 days, and you usually get to stop at some paradise-like beaches in the San Blas islands on the way.  As someone who’s never been sailing for more than a few hours, that trip just sounds like such an adventure!  The cost for the passage is usually around $300 per person.  Then, once we arrive in Panama, we can easily take buses all the way through Central America to arrive back in the US, and see more beautiful and new places along the way!  Zach calculated the estimated cost of bussing it all the way back to Texas from Panama to be about $400. So, with the $300 boat ride and the $400 busses, that fits perfectly into our $700 return trip budget.  What that doesn’t include, however, is money for food and accommodations all through Central America.  What it will come down to is whether or not we have enough extra money to afford those living expenses while extending our trip through Central America.  If we’ve got the money, we’ve got the time!

Obviously, I’m all for the FUN way to get back!  It’s a long way off, but I’m definitely planning to try to live a little under-budget all through South America so that we can afford to add Central America on to the end!  Let’s hope it can happen!

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Clarifying Our Goals

It recently came to my attention that despite all the blogging we’ve done, the main goals of our trip/documentary are still kind of unclear.  That’s a problem!  Despite the fact that our trip is largely unplanned as far as day-to-day specifics, we need to have a solid overall purpose.  So I forced myself to sit down and write out the three main elements of our project.  I hope this helps you understand the project more!  Here they are:

1. Volunteering:  WWOOFing is something that we are all very excited about.  I know it is agricultural volunteering vs. working mainly with people, BUT many of these farms are benefiting local communities in awesome ways (e.g. teaching sustainable agriculture to villagers, starting income-generating activities in their areas, and helping prevent environmental degradation (which is a HUGE problem in south america)).  WWOOFing is going to provide us an opportunity to help on organic farms, learn all about their methods so we can spread our knowledge, and get to know the local people.  As far as volunteering in orphanages and other places, we DEFINITELY plan to do that.  But from everything I’ve read, the easiest way is to just GO and find places that accept help once we’re there.  Many organizations that organize volunteers like this charge a huge overhead (which doesn’t go back to the community) and are merely cookie-cutter volunteer tourism which is very questionable as far as actual impact and sustainability.  I feel like these trips are a great way to start volunteering, but that I am past that now that I have more knowledge of global development.  We will have a more authentic experience by having our couchsurfing hosts and the locals we meet help us find smaller places we can volunteer (there are TONS of opportunities beyond those few that are big/rich enough to have an online presence in the U.S.).  So a huge part of our trip and the documentary will be about volunteering.

2.  Learning: In all my trips and volunteer experiences I have learned so much more than I have taught or contributed.  I have learned more than in my entire college career through traveling.  It is amazing.  We are going to learn a new language, new cultures, see new sights, learn how to survive in developing countries, learn new skills, learn about farming, etc. etc.  That’s why the trailer emphasizes our desire to learn more than the volunteering aspect.  I feel now that’s it’s actually naive and pretentious to assume that we will HELP SO MUCH and do SO MUCH GOOD, when in reality we will be the ones gaining so much knowledge.  The documentary will emphasize the power of travel as education and encourage others to travel.

3.  Self-discovery through travel: Do you remember your early 20s?  I don’t think it’s uncommon at our age to be slightly unsure of yourself, not sure of what path you want to take, questioning the status quo and struggling to realize WHO YOU ARE.  Is that a bunch of psychobabble or do you remember feeling like that?  Well, we think that travel is a great way to experience the world and help define who you are and what you want to do in life.  As Melissa says in the trailer “The 3 of us really want to DO something; we don’t feel satisfied with the idea of graduating college and starting a career in America right away.”  So if we don’t feel satisfied doing that and we have the opportunity to do something different, why wouldn’t we?  I count my blessings every day that I am in a position with no debt and nothing holding me here and that I am ABLE to do this.  I think God wants us to follow our dreams, rather than stick with what “most people” do just because it is normal.  We expect to learn a lot about ourselves and the documentary will tell the story of our psychological journeys of self-discovery, as well as our physical journey.

I know that these goals still sound a little vague, but it’s impossible to really plan such a long adventure down to the details!  We are so excited to see what happens as we go with these goals in mind!

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The not-so-planned plan

Honestly, planning a trip like this is not easy.  Split with also trying to make a film at the same time, learning a new language, and preparing to to leave all of our things being for an entire year, it is overwhelming.  The next question is WHERE ARE WE GONNA GO?

“Not where that one guy is…” my Dad hopes, meaning Hugo Chavez.  I reply, “Of course where ‘that one guy’ is, they are suppose to have the nicest people and the most beautiful beaches!”

We will arrive in Medellin, Colombia with a previously-contacted Couchsurfing host ready to meet us and help us get acclimated.  After we are feeling comfortable with our environment, we will set out to our first farm in the WWOOFing organization and volunteer/relax in the high jungle countryside.  After around 1 month in Colombia, we will enter Ecuador and experience the beaches of the equator.  Then southward through the land of the Incas, through the Bolivian Salt Flats, down through the Andes, and hopefully we will arrive in Patagonia before winter sets in.  After putting our tent into good use in the southern wilderness, we will take the only bus northward, overnight to Buenos Aires, Argentina!  And so on and so forth until we wind up back where we started, in Colombia.

I’m sure everyone gets the point.  We are going counter-clockwise from north to south.  We will travel on a boat, upstream on the Amazon.  We will travel socialist nations and not be afraid, because, frankly, we don’t buy this “All socialists are bad people” BS.

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