I’m back! Couldn’t stay away from the blog for too long after all. Before (probably) signing off for the foreseeable future, I did want to include one last post that focused on the logistics of our travels. By that, I mean the less sexy elements of travel – what I packed, how we budgeted for a year abroad with no income and the resources we used along the way.
To start off, I’ve written up a packing list below. This is just what I brought, obviously everyone has their own personal preferences for what they like to wear and use. In terms of storage, I started off with just a 60 + 10 Liter Deuter backpack. This backpack was big enough for me, although at times I was stuffing things into it as hard as I could. If I could do it again, though, I’d bring a little less stuff and get just a 50 or 60 Liter pack instead. I also soon found that I really needed a smaller daypack as well for carrying extra stuff and to use on hikes or excursions. In Cusco, I picked up a generic, medium-sized backpack, which, after it started to fall apart in July, I replaced with a similar-sized Jansport backpack. Two backpacks served me well during our year on the road, and I felt like a carry-on sized backpack was crucial.
Here’s my packing list, with one asterisk next to the items I deemed unnecessary and two next to ones I bought along the way:
- iPhone 5 and charger
- MacBook Air and charger
- Kindle Paperwhite and charger (started with a Kindle 1st edition, which I quickly sat on and broke; replaced with a newer version when my friend Michelle came to visit)
- Digital camera and charger
- Outlet converters**
- 1 computer mouse**
- Bug repellant
- First Aid Kit (never used apart from a couple BandAids, but good for peace of mind)
- Toilet paper
- Purell hand sanitizer
- Medication (altitude sickness pills, malaria meds, Aleve, Immodium, etc.)
- Nail clippers
- Lush bar shampoo and conditioner
- Face wash
- Bar soap
- Toothpaste, toothbrush and floss
- Chapstick (and lots of it!)
- Hair ties and bobby pins
- Head band**
- Comb and brush
- Running shoes
- Waterproof hiking shoes
- Keen sandals
- Havaiana flip flops
- Black sandals*
- Marmot rain jacket
- Uniqlo Ultra Light Down Jacket
- 2 sweaters** (1 bought in Peru)
- 2 pairs of jeans* (1 would have been enough)
- 1 pair Columbia hiking pants
- 1 pair Lululemon black leggings
- 1 pair Lululemon workout leggings*
- 1 pair jean shorts
- 1 pair workout shorts
- 1 pair lounge pants**
- 1 flannel shirt
- 2 cardigans
- 1 long-sleeved shirt
- 7 t-shirts (4 thrown away throughout Central America)
- 4 tank tops** (2 bought in Nicaragua)
- 2 basics tanks
- 2 dresses* (1 would have been enough)
- 1 romper**
- 2 beanies** (1 bought in Peru)
- 1 pair thick REI gloves, 1 pair souvenir gloves**
- 1 North Face hat
- 1 scarf**
- 1 pair PJ pants
- 2 pairs PJ shorts/boxers
- 7 pairs underwear
- 7 pairs socks, including 2 pairs thick socks
- 2 bras, 2 sports bras
- 2 pairs swimsuits
- Sleeping bag**
- Sleeping bag liner*
- All camping gear**
- 2 different-sized, expandable packing cubes (HIGHLY recommended)
- Key lock for hostel lockers
- Ziploc and trash bags**
- Passport, extra passport photos for Bolivian visa, Yellow Fever vaccination card
- Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, Capital One Venture One backup credit card, Charles Schwabb debit card, Capital One backup debit card
- Copies of passport, bank statements, vaccines, all credit and debit cards, emergency contacts and IMG travel insurance
- Medium-sized leather purse*
- 2 small purses**
- Tote bag
- Travel money purse
- Several pieces of jewelry: rings, necklaces, bracelets
- Halloween costume**
- Rain fly for backpack
- Laundry detergent**
- 3 hard copy books
- REI lightweight XXL travel towel
- Camelbak water bottle
- Sea to Summit shopping bag (very recommended if you plan to carry food)
- Notebooks, pens, highlighter, USB drive**
- Souvenirs and gifts**
* Unnecessary item
** Bought at some point during trip
Stretching the Budget
In terms of our budget, we were off to a pretty poor start, spending a whopping $74 a day in Peru thanks to our splurges in the Amazon and a $300 meal in Lima. After we fell in love with traveling but realized my money would not last long at this rate, we started seriously thinking about how we could reduce our budget. We employed several tactics, but I’d say the most successful were:
- Staying at cheap hostels, even if the reviews were less than stellar. If we couldn’t find one within our price range online, we would just wing it and try to find one in person after arriving at our destination. On average, we probably spent about $12 per night per person for our own room and shared bathroom across all of the countries (Bolivia was more like $8, Chile and Costa Rica were more like $16). Sometimes we’d splurge a bit to stay in a nicer place or get our own bathroom, but generally, what I listed were our standards.
- Sharing meals. We found in Peru that we would each order a set menu lunch and it would be far too much food. We started ordering just one to share, and then getting a snack later on if we got hungry.
- Cooking. In general, we always made oatmeal breakfasts (super cheap) if it wasn’t provided at the hostel and we would try to only eat out for one meal a day at most. Typically, we’d eat out for lunch as those options tended to be cheaper than dinner foods, and then cook something for dinner.
- Eating local food. While this isn’t for the weak of stomach, eating the street food is really the cheapest way to eat out, and is often actually cheaper than cooking would be. Plus, it’s a great way to experience the culture.
- Taking the long way. When it came to transit, we flew very rarely, and usually tried to take the cheapest bus possible. This led to some pretty terrible bus rides, but allowed us to keep costs down. Towards the end, we got a little lazy with this and started taking a lot more shuttles through Central America. These were certainly more expensive, and brought up our budget considerably.
- Shopping around for tours and activities. We learned the hard way that tours have varying prices, after booking the Machu Picchu Salkantay trek in advance and then finding out it cost half as much in town. After that experience, we stopped booking in advance and shopped around for different prices, even haggling until we felt like it was low enough.
- Being conscious of where you are. We knew Chile was going to be expensive, so we went into it expecting to cook a lot more and planning to do a volunteer job to get free food and lodging. We also ended up hitchhiking a lot here (free transport!) and camping for our month in Patagonia, the most expensive region of Chile. Even when the camping became almost unbearable, I was able to power through it since I would just think about how much cheaper it was than staying in a hostel.
- Knowing when it’s worth it. After doing three coffee farm tours, I knew I wasn’t interested in paying for another one. I tried mountain biking once, and was not interested in paying to try it again. On the flip side, I knew the San Blas Island tour cost a hefty $550, but I had heard such great things that I knew I wanted to do it regardless. Because of this, I tried to be more frugal while in Colombia to help even out this large cost. I found that figuring out whether or not something was worth it to me was actually pretty easy, and as long as I was prepared to tweak the budget in other arenas, I was still able to afford higher-cost things I wanted to do.
To track our spending, I created a Google Excel sheet and made a bunch of tabs for each country. Every day, we would go through and enter how much each person spent. That way, we could know who owed who money, and how much we were each spending. It probably wasn’t the most efficient system, but it did the job.
In the end, we were gone for 374 days, and I spent $17,181. This number includes all flights, buses, visa fees, hostels, food, activities, souvenirs, you name it. It could have been lower, but it certainly could have been higher (we also got a lot of help when mine and Spencer’s parents came to visit – thank you loving parents!). All told, that means an average daily budget of $45.94. This number ended up being lower than I originally expected before leaving on the trip. Even still, Latin America was not as cheap as you might think. In general, we actually found Central America to be equally or even slightly more expensive than South America, which was really surprising to me. At the same time, both regions are far cheaper than what it costs to live in or travel through the US, so I can’t really complain.
As far as resources go, I’ll start off by saying that I absolutely hate guide books. I realize most people out there like them, but I find them so boring. After I’ve spent more than 30 minutes reading a guide book, everywhere starts to sound exactly the same and I’ll often become less enchanted with the places I’ve read about. I also find that Lonely Planet at least tends to recommend mostly Western food and bar locations, which I wasn’t necessarily interested in. Anyway, because of this, we relied heavily on word of mouth for deciding where we wanted to go. In general, other travelers became the best source for choosing our route. Spencer doesn’t have the same guide book aversion I do, so he would read them and be able to provide some insight from that about places that sounded cool. We would then usually come up with a rough plan based on what we each wanted to see, which usually didn’t vary all that much. Anyway, we also frequently used sites like Wikitravel and random blog posts to figure out what to do in a given place, and things like Trip Advisor when we were at a loss for where to eat. Spencer, with his amazing sense of direction, would always spot places he’d read about on Trip Advisor while we were walking around a new place.
On a related note, I have finally accepted it, I have a terrible sense of direction. I would have been completely lost (both literally and figuratively) without him around. My one saving grace was that I was the one with the smart phone, and through a recommendation from another traveler, I found a great app called maps.me. The app allows you to download offline maps, and then add pins for places you want to see, the hostel you booked, etc. I think Google Maps does the same thing – I highly recommend getting something like this for any trip outside the US where you don’t pay for a data plan.
In terms of lodging, our most used sites for finding hostels were Booking.com and sometimes Hostelworld.com or Hostelbookers.com. Even though we only stayed in a handful of them, our preferred lodging option was actually Airbnb. We met some really interesting people via Airbnb and the accommodations were so much nicer and more private. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Workaway we did, which not only was an amazing and unique travel experience, but also allowed us to save money since they gave us free food and lodging. We’d both love to do more Workaways on any future long-term trips.
I think that’s about it for the major logistics of our trip. It required a decent amount of planning to get everything in order before and during travel, but it really was completely manageable and absolutely worth it. I would stress that long-term travel is only as hard as you make it, as most of the planning and logistics can be done in the moment or with very little time in advance. I’ll sign off for real this time, thanks for reading and following along on our adventure. I have appreciated all the comments and feedback, and have really enjoyed logging our trip. Till next time!