It’s always difficult to know what to expect from countries so different from ourselves, just from reading books and looking at photos. That’s why we travel! To broaden our perspective of the world and learn new things. Before travelling to South America, I read several Lonely Planet books which gave me a great introduction of what to expect and where to go. They are great for accommodation recommendations and tourist attractions but some of the key tips and ‘things to be wary of’ sections are a little far-fetched. Here is a few tips of my own that you may find come in useful.
What To Take
It’s always a tricky decision of things to take, but there is rarely a time, where you can’t buy something in South America which you have forgotten. If anything, there’s a better chance of buying good over there than there is here in UK, with the number of stalls, markets, shopping centres. You name it they’ve got it! With that said, I definitely suggest packing light. I took a 45ltr backpack and a small day bag for my essentials. A small collection of clothes went in the large bag. There are cheap laundrettes on ever corner in South America which can wash you clothes for a snippet of what they charge here in the UK. If you expect to travel around a lot throughout you stay, the last thing you want to do is carry a 95ltr backpack from town to town.
Flights to South America from the UK aren’t as long as you may think. I flew to Peru from Heathrow in under 12 hours, so anything this side of Lima, such as Bolivia or Brazil will be even less. Kayak.com is one of the best websites to use for searching flight prices and times, with its multi-destination feature. Airport parking can be handled via websites such as Parking4less. Although, if you are travelling for a long period of time its best to travel by train to the airport or get a lift with a friend. Make sure you pack light for the journey. A small bag with a few books, iPod, glasses etc. is all you need. With all long-haul flights thesedays, chances are they will have in-flight entertainment, meals and of course other passengers to chat and socialise with. The last thing you want is to bring a massive carry-on bag with you.
Depending on where you go to travel in South America, the language barrier can be a bit of a problem. All the major cities, Rio de Janiero, Lima, Buenos Aires, Santiago for example speak a level of English. There is always other travellers around here to help you out if needs be. Smaller towns and villages, in the poorer parts of Bolivia for example won’t speak English, which gives you a chance to try out your Spanish. It’s daunting at first, but after a few weeks you’ll be surprised at how much you know and how well you can communicate.
When I travelled to South America, I never took a single Lonely Planet book with me. Partly because I never got around to buying one (if you buy one over there, they are really expensive) and partly because I wanted to travel off the beaten-track and find my own accommodation, restaurants, towns and villages. This is great, but after a 13 hour bus journey with no sleep, the desire to trek around a town with your backpack looking for cheap hostels has been lost. The best thing to do is book a night online at a hostel before you arrive at you destination, then when you arrive you can put your bag down and spend the day exploring to find a better hotel.