Backpacking through a foreign country can be one of the most exhilarating, adrenaline-provoking, and memorable experiences of a lifetime. However, if you don’t take the time to prepare, pack, and execute properly, you may set yourself up for a stressful trip and spend a pretty penny while doing so.
A common destination to backpack through on a small budget is South America. To avoid the unnecessary woes of travel, follow these simple guidelines that will help you pack and travel on a shoe-string budget while still exploring all the sights-worth-seeing and enjoying the perks of comfortable dining and lodging.
A Good Back Pack is Key
Don’t let a cheap backpack from a thrift store sway you. If the shoulder-straps gap, and the waistband doesn’t clench just below your belly button, you will regret spending the extra money for a pack that fit when you start blistering from abrasions and thinking of any excuse to put your pack down. Investing in a good pack is crucial for feeling comfortable while on a long back-packing trip.
How to Penny Pinch? Check your local sports stores for HUGE sales on GOOD brands. I am by no means a brand snob, but brands like Osprey, REI, and Mountain Hardwear, are tested and made to last through rough and tumble of a weathered trip. Start looking at least four months before you prepare to leave and I promise you will be able to find a top brand for more than 50% off. Your shoulders will thank you.
Leave Major Electronics Behind
Forget your iPhone, forget your MacBook, if you are traveling through South America, you are a target for theft. Want to stay connected? Your iPhone will most likely charge an arm and a leg to set up an international plan while abroad. It’s better to leave it behind and set up a maintenance plan (typically 10$ a month, and reconnect when you return).
Want to stay connected? Invest in a cheap flip-phone while abroad and set up a temporary plan, or simply load minutes for an on-the-go convenience. If you must bring a computer, purchase a netbook, 10 inches or smaller that is lightweight, used, and you are okay with scratching up a bit.
Don’t Spend Too Much on a ‘Pre-Trip’ Wardrobe
I made this mistake once, and I never will again. Trying to pack for a three month trek through South America is like trying to pack for a split Holiday between Hawaii and Maine. It’s impossible. Get an idea of the temperature and conditions of the first three cities you will be visiting and then stop there.
What to Pack? Obviously take into account the basic necessities like: sneaker, flip-flops, underwear, socks, one pair of jeans, a t-shirt and a jacket. Aside from that, you will find that you will accrue a wardrobe while traveling and most likely rid yourself of the initial wardrobe you started out with. Plus, the thrift pop-up market stores in South America are great and super cheap!
Dine where the locals dine, Sleep where the travelers have been
Naturally you will be upcharged for being a “Gringa”, but if you really want to get costly, dine at the places that cater to tourists.
Where to eat? Take advice from a local and seek out hole-in-the-wall diners and food-stands that are receiving all the native praise. They are almost always cheaper, tastier, and more authentic.
Where to sleep? Check your GoGirlGuides, or ask your fellow travelers where they have stayed and what they have found to be comfortable and cheap. Some of my best lodging references have come from a random traveler I ran into on a long bus ride who recommended a place he or she had just come from!
There you have it. A few simple guidelines for staying on budget, staying comfortable, and enjoying every morsel of a three-month-journey that just may be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your life!
What are some items you would not leave without for three months in South America?