We’re by no means travel experts, but some of these practical tips might be hepful if you ever find yourself doing something slightly similar to this. Obviously completely subjective, if you’re very different from me you may well disagree with many or even all.
Tablet and keyboard
As seen above. Our tablet and leather cover with Bluetooth keyboard only cost £225 total, and it’s definitely been worth it. The tablet for all intents and purposes acts as a laptop, just much smaller and lighter. Great for watching Netflix, sending emails, keeping up with news, writing witty blogs etc. The keyboard and cover obvously make it slightly bulkier, but make any kind of typing SO much more bearable. I can safely say we would never have bothered to do the blog if we hadn’t had the keyboard. Is also completely detachable so you can just put it away when you don’t need it.
Cheap hostel, expensive pool
Accommodation prices have ranged massively. Unsurprisingly any hint of luxury sends them skyrocketing. Particularly swimming pools. Lets face it, sometimes all you want to do when the sun is scorching hot is spend a day by a beautiful pool on a sun lounger. When you’re travelling for 4 months though, it’s hard to justify the cost of staying somewhere with a pool. However, we’ve found a good way of enjoying a bit of luxury without paying for it. Stealing jewellery from inadequately guarded shops. No not really. Stay at the budget hostel, then go to the nice hotel and ask them how much it would be just to sit by the pool. Sometimes they’ll just pluck a figure out of the air, or there might be a set price. Whatever, it’s usually much, much lower than the cost of staying there. If you go early doors and stick around until it’s nearly dark, you’ll feel like you’ve won (and you have). Worked particularly well in Peru & Bolivia.
Spend on Airbnb, save on eating out
Something we realised quite late in our trip, because eating out in Peru & Bolivia was generally so cheap, and the budget hostels so numerous, that it wasn’t really necessary. But in Argentina & Chile, where costs have been higher and we’re spending a longer amount of time in each place, it definitely started making financial sense to start staying in Airbnbs. We only had to book them 1 or at most 2 days in advance, and they were only slightly more expensive than hostels. The advantage is that we were getting whole (small) homes to ourselves. Cooking for ourselves has been much cheaper, often tastier and sometimes more fun.
Towel as blanket on buses
Admittedly a bit of an odd one. Despite the fact that it’s mostly roasting outside, buses here are often very cold, particularly at night. We’ve taken to bringing our towels on board with us, and using them as blankets. They’re surprisingly warm, and there’s something about being under a blanket that just makes it easier to drift off to sleep. Every man and his dog who is out here travelling has had a Microfibre towel (the really light ones that dry very quickly and fold up very small), and that includes us. Not much to carry around but can make the difference between a relatively comfortable bus journey and a miserable one.
If you’re going travelling, you should buy a Kindle. I’ve only had one for 3 months but I’m definitely a convert. Anyone with the technical aptitude to be reading this will know what a Kindle is & what they do. If, like me, you find yourself starting lots of books, then getting bored and starting another, before returning to the orginal a bit later and so on, it’s perfect. Real books are heavy, and don’t automatically keep your place for you or tell you how much you have left to read. Also, there are lots of opportunities to read. I don’t care how good your relationship is, nobody can keep up a conversation for a whole 24 hour bus journey (nor should they). Stop talking and get the Kindle out. It’s also perfect for guide books. I assume there are guide books other than Lonely Planet out there but I’m yet to try any and don’t particularly want to. It would be ridiculous to have hard copies of Lonely Planets for multiple different countries, but you can have them all on the Kindle. And it’s generally easier to navigate. Only disdvantage is that you can’t subtly laud your intellectual superiority over people as they glimpse the cover of ‘Sam Allardyce: My Story’ or ‘Expert in a year: The ultimate table tennis challenge’ I’m going to stop now before this just turns into a review.
Kindle Unlimited (£8/month essentially rental access to millions of books) is good but has it’s drawbacks. There are lots of books you can get but the vast majority seem to be rubbish. Also you can only have 10 on the go at once, any more and you have to start clearing your virtual bookshelf. On the upside, it has greatly increased my knowledge of football hooliganism, North Korea & Richard III.
Keep track of finances
This has actually been quite fun, and has definitely resulted on us using our money more wisely than we otherwise would have. We’ve just used an Excel spreadsheet. Lots of interesting (to me) statistics and trends have been uncovered. Also helps to keep spending in check when you’re often swapping currencies, and it can be hard to work out how much things really cost.
Have a nap after an overnight bus
Getting buses overnight is in many ways efficient; you don’t have to waste a day travelling, and you don’t have to pay for a bed for the night. However, sleep is often hard to come by, and arriving in a new place not knowing where anything is at 6am in the morning with nowhere booked to stay is not a nice feeling. Advice would be to try and find somewhere ASAP (most hostels let you check in pretty early) then have a nap, have a shower and brush your teeth before you try and do anything else. Nobody is at their best after sitting sleeplessly on a bus for 17 hours.
It’s so much easier to get to know a place if you have a contact there to give you a bit of helpful tourist information or show you around. It’s also nice to be able to visit people who actually live in the place, and probably allows you to see a more authentic version of the place. Mine contacts for all you’re worth. Friends of friends of friends of friends. We’ve found that most people, who we often don’t really know that well if at all, have been very willing to host us. Though this might just be a result of our staggeringly high levels of charm. We’re very grateful to everyone who’s taken us in so kindly during our travels.
This will depend completely on your individual personality (and destination). We flew from Heathrow to Lima with no plans, and nothing booked apart from our first hostel. Could have been a recipe for disaster, but we’ve found it’s been completely fine. It’s meant we’ve not been tied to anything, and have had freedom to stay in places for as long or as little as we like. Oruro – 2 days was more than enough. Arequipa – could happily have stayed for weeks. It just takes the pressure off. Obviously some level of planning is necessary. Lonely Planet guides have been v helpful for giving an overview of places and helping to work out which places are worth seeing, and things like where in a city to look for hostels etc. But generally, noses are made for following.
Free walking tours
A brilliant way to ‘get to know’ a new city soon after arrival, and deciding which parts will subsequently be worth further exploration. Most decent sized, tourist friendly, cities will have one of these, and we’ve definitely benefitted from them on numerous occasions. The premise is, you’ll meet at a central location at a specified time. Somebody wearing a garish coloured t-shirt will gather a group together and take you on a circa 3 hour tour of the significant/interesting parts of the city centre. Along the way, they’ll divulge what they know of the city’s history, give you a smattering of information about it’s architecture, politics, economics, demography, etc, and generally throw in a few tips of restaurants or bars you might enjoy (unclear whether they’re paid by said establishments). The guides on the whole have been excellent, and do seem to pull less stuff out of thin air than tour guides I’ve overheard in Oxford.The brainwave behind the tours is that they’re free, but you tip what you feel is ‘fair value’ at the end. They obviously make enough to keep it going, and it means the retired American doctors can pay their 30000 Chilean pesos and feel good about themselves, while we can pay our 1000 Chilean pesos and feel good about our Budget Spreadsheet (well I can). I should point that £1 is worth about 800 Chilean pesos, we haven’t gone completely mental or become staggeringly generous.
Bring your own shower gel
Bizarrely, neither Peru or Bolivia sell shower gel. At all. I had to make do with a bar of soap for 2 months and it was torrid.