So I’ve passed the 100 day mark in my travel in South America on my backpack (well, on wheels), and covered 3 South American countries (5 including the US and the Columbia layover).
I probably could consider myself an experienced traveler so I thought I’d jot down my thoughts on what I’ve learned, what is important and pass this on to other traveler seeking the same experience. Nice huh?
1. Accommodation Selection – As a budget traveler, I have been staying at hostels (except for the times I get to travel with others, then its oasis to bump up to a hotel!) and I choose the hostels from Hostelworld.com based on the budget, the ratings and the reviews. But that doesn’t always make for a right fit for you. So here are the pointers.
- Reserve only the first night – Because until you see it, you never know if it is in a dodgy place, the photos are much better than they actually are, maybe the showers don’t have hot showers and wi-fi they promised, don’t commit to more than one night. Assess for yourself if the place has all the things you want or that you can tolerate. Hostels are pretty flexible in last minute booking and extensions just let the know you could be extending if you like it and check that the beds are available.
- A spacious chill area – Because I’ve been staying at dorms with sometimes 4, 6 or more people, its not a place you can assure privacy and concentrate to do the things you need to do. So it’s really important to have a good spacious lounge space, a good kitchen, good w-fi so that you can spend your spare time relaxing, reading, writing, researching, cooking there. If not, you end up spending time and money going out to cafes and lounges trying to be outside. Hostels that had a really good space in my travels were Frog’s at Huanchaco (Peru) or Che Lagarto Hostel in Foz de Iguasu (Brazil) where I hung out and made me feel at home and relaxed.
It’s really important! Because today, I’ve been going from cafe to cafe to bars with wifi to have time to myself and spending money and energy I otherwise wouldn’t need to…
2. Time for yourself – You’d think traveling alone will give you lots of time to yourself, but No! Everyday you see new things you want to do and meet new people you want to hang with so you actually really have to make a conscious effort to make time for yourself. If not, you’ll just fall behind on things you WANT to do and NEED to do. I haven’t been successful but these are the things I swear by to try to do going forward.
- Take at least 1 hour to spend by yourself – the best way is to wake up early for me because at night, I’m too tired or drunk or just want to watch something and crash.
- If you can’t do that… take 10 min to reflect on your day and plan the next – writing a diary is hard to do, but time goes so fast, its good to record and figure out what you need to do (like bookings, contacting family / friends, managing finances etc.)
- If you can’t do that… have a day (once every three days or even a week) by yourself. – don’t book any activities, just plan the whole day figuring out what you need and want to do. It’s really worth it!
- If you can’t do that… at least keep a TO DO LIST somewhere so you don’t miss any major must dos.
3. Luggage and Packing – You’ll want to buy things when you go to a new place. You’ll get inspired by the local fashion, products or you’ll just realise your stuff just doesn’t blend in.
- Don’t bring your best stuff and memorabilia – Because you’ll want to drop and replace them with things you need and want but they’re too valuable to you. I have so much stuff that people gave me upon my departure and they make me happy, but its really taking up space in my luggage but I still can’t drop them.
- Lay out clothes flat – I watched this tutorial
on how to smartly pack and it really worked!! Initially I had things sorted in individual vacuums bags as per many blogs, but its annoying to take things out, especially when you’re in a rush and it RATTLES so much, I can’t use them without waking others up. I’ve experimented and its smart to lay things out flat and it avoids wrinkles!
4. Finances – I find it extremely difficult to keep track of your finances when you’re having fun and everything is a “once in a life time experience”. I’ve gone way over my budget for the first 2 months because I wasn’t conscious about it and I’m afraid it will affect how long I can travel for.
- Jot down your expenses on an App– Because you won’t have time to jot the down everyday, use an app on your phone. Convenience is key! I am now using an app called Zaim (Japanese) that I jot down in local currency that converts to Yen (or the currency you like) so that you can keep track against your budget. Also, it allows me to categorise by type (food, travel, accommodation) so that you can reflect by week or month.
- Check your credit card statements!!! – I did occasionally when I felt like it but this is really important! Thankfully my credit card contacted me to check on suspicious usage, but my card was actually skimmed and there were some usage from Indonesia, where i was most definitely not. Another friend also had the same case, used in Brazil when she was in Brazil so make sure you are checking online periodically because IT HAPPENS!
- Keep US dollars somewhere for emergencies – Heard many stories of robberies and credit card failures even when your card is active. Many ATMs are not so reliable and sometimes you have to try several different locations to successfully get cash. So the best solution is to have some US dollars stashed for emergencies because its exchangeable almost anywhere here in S. America.
5. People – I’ve experienced both really good and really bad. Ultimately, people influence your experience while you are traveling.
- Talk to people for up to date info– Fellow traveler are usually the best and the most updated source of information. I have based most of my destinations and activities based on people and so far, its proven really good. Guide books and internet of course is good, but I only use it to get an idea and ultimately go with the advise of people that feel good to you.
- Keep your own pace – Hanging out with people you meet is awesome but sometimes it can sometimes blow your time and budget. I for one am a person that usually don’t say no to invitations so it’s really important to keep your pace and know what want and need to do.
- Trust people, but your instincts more – Most of the people that I’ve et and offered help has been a great experience, but there are the occasional ones that you think could be risky and they are. There is no way to tell, but those were the ones I though they were a bit fishy from the beginning. One I met at a bus stop, I didn’t have a good feeling about it at the beginning and sure enough he wasn’t a good guy. Trust people, but ultimately, trust your instincts and walk away (or run away) even if you feel rude or the offer is great.
6. Language – I’ve picked up phrases to get by but imagining how much greater and deeper my experience could have been if I could communicate more leaves me with regret. But here are the things I’m doing now and improving.
- Buy a phase book, learn before hand – which I haven’t done and I didn’t do, but many people say the same thing. Do it.
- Try writing your diary in the local language – Which is something I started doing. Its genius because its what you want to say and what is relevant to you. I first write in my local language, then give it a try with my own knowledge with the local language then look up the words and sentences on Google translate. I think its great because you’re effectively learning the words you need and want. But does take a immensely long time to do.
- Use an app to study – I use Chegg flash cards and you can download a whole bunch of words and phrases that you can flip through on your free time. Its like a game and its better than learning from a book. Others have told me Duolingo is really useful too.
7. Photo / Data back up – Because photos are the most precious things you’ll gain from the trip and it would be a complete bummer if it gets stolen (and it does!)
- Dropbox/ Amazon storage – Automatically sync your photos when you’re connected to Wi-Fi. I have a separate hard drive to store, but just incase, I always have a back up.
These might be obvious, but its things I’d like to remind myself of to look back and remember.
Things I’m glad I brought:
- Roller backpack
There’s a lot of discussion over back packs and rollers, but I’m glad I brought a roller / backpack. I’ve only used the backpack function twice when the roads were too bumpy. Yes, the backpackers look cool with their backpacks, and I’ve hesitated to stay “backpacker” hostels because I’m rolling in, but hey, its avoided unnecessary weight on my back and its much easier packing because I can open it up. Since I’m rolling it anyway, I feel like a bigger size or even a suitcase would have been fine. Big thanks to my friends Naho, Keiko, Chizu, Kayo and Ryoko that gifted this to me for this trip.
- Lap top
As much as I thought twice about bringing one due to robbery risks, I’m so glad to have this and not just a smartphone. On travel, you have so much to research to do; bus routes, hostels, activities, and also blogging would have been painful (especially photo sorting and uploads) without it! Also, it makes for a great screen to watch movies when killing time or going to sleep because you pretty much don’t have access to a TV in a budget travels. Just need to be super careful and always have it locked and secured.
- Super absorbing towel (and having 2!)
I forgot my original one at a hostel and got 2 more from Japan, but this is great. It dries really quickly, don’t take up space and also works as a beach towel. Good to have two so that you can separate your shower and beach towels.
- Rechargeable battery for phone
On your long bus rides, your days out and the overnight adventures (kept my phone / camera alive on my 3 night 4 day treck!) it is super useful. Without this, I would have had no camera or music or apps to play with. Mine charges my iPhone around 3 full times so its great to not have to worry about using your phone when you want.
- 360 degree camera (Theta from Ricoh)
Get’s awesome photos like this:
It captures on only the front, but the back, top the bottom and everywhere else! Its been great to take this out and gain interest and capture the full scenery of the moment. Its a great conversation starter and a way to connect you and the people you meet after the moment too. Its an added bonus for me because its Japanese and I can show off my country’s hi-technology. If you can, always a cool gadget with you!
Things that I want now:
I want one so bad now. I got rid of my book because it was taking up so much space in my minimal luggage but a Kindle could solve that and allow you to have many.
2. A good camera
People told me I should get one before my travels, but I was sure it was going to get stolen so settled for my iPhone, But with all the amazing scenery, you’ll definitely want one. Hmmm…..
3. Thermos Cup
For carrying around tea or even hot alcoholic drinks.
4. A sun dress
I can’t believe I still don’t have one (because my luggage can’t afford any more space) but this is a girls’s essential in traveling. Its good for daytime and you can put a sweater over it for night or for the cold. I mistakenly brought a nice semi-formal dress, which I have been contemplating throwing out but can’t, and also bought a long sleeve dress for the cold, but it could have all been replaced by one sun dress. Super dumb.
Well there you go. My round up of 100 days.