The Beginner’s Guide to Backpacking South America
South America is a perfect destination for the first backpacking adventure. There are no VISA requirements for European Citizens and you can easily travel low cost for months if you keep an eye on your budget. South America offers plenty activities and each one will find something interesting for himself – from hiking the Andes to sunbathing on beautiful coastline. Are you ready for the adventure of your life?
Where to start? What should I do know before I buy plane tickets? Please find below everything you should know before go backpacking South America!
Prepare a list of essential places you want to visit
One of the biggest dreams I’d had my whole life was backpacking South America one day. When the moment came, the first thing my friend and I did was to sit down and decide which places we wanted to see for sure. If your budget and time dedicated for the trip are limited, it’s really important to focus on the most essential places and prepare the route basing on your list. Having the main spots in consideration helps to manage your time and budget and gives you the flexibility to decide how long you can stay in each place and what extra destinations you can possibly add to the route.
Decide where to start and finish your trip
Once your list is ready, the second step is to decide which city are you planning to start from and where the journey ends. There are two recommended options to travel in South America – from North to South of from South to North. People barely travel from East to West and vice-versa. My friend and I decided for the first option but instead of taking the flight from the South we changed the final destination for North Brazil.
Check weather conditions for the period you are planning to travel
At the beginning we wanted to visit La Tierra del Fuego and fly back from Buenos Aires leaving Brazil for another trip, but the flight tickets from Argentina very expensive and the most important, by the time of our estimated coming back to Europe the weather prognostics in South Argentina were not good (the winter was coming). It was cheaper and safer to come back from the North.
It’s very important to always check weather prognostics for your destinations, especially if you are planning to travel for a long time. In case of South America the seasons are reversed to European, which means summer starts in December and winter lasts from June to August. As we traveled in May and June, the weather was similar to our Spring/Autumn and we came back to Europe before the real winter started.
Find your flight tickets
My friend and I finally decided to start from Lima and took our flight back from Salvador de Bahia. This way we knew we had 8 weeks to visit all the other places in between and we could focus on more detailed plan.
The first thing you have to buy without a doubt are flight tickets. If you are planning to spend limited amount of money on your tickets be patient, because sometimes it may take weeks to find the correct combination. I was checking the flights 3 times per day during 2 weeks until I found the perfect match.
Set up your budget
One of the most important steps before going on your journey is to set up your budget. It must include all the before-traveling expenses and the estimated plan of how much you are allowed to spend on accommodation, food, transport, tourist tickets, entrances, souvenirs etc. If you want to know how to prepare the budget for backpacking South America, we will dedicate another detailed article for that.
Check the vaccines
Even though South America doesn’t require any vaccines for travelers, it’s highly recommended to get vaccinated against yellow fever in some parts of Brazil. I did three preventive vaccinations: yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A. Make sure to call for an appointment in advance, some clinics have a long waiting time and your body needs at least 3 weeks between the vaccines and the traveling to immunize.
Every time I travel to another continent, I always buy insurance to cover any unexpected health cost. You never know what might happen, sometimes it’s a matter of eating something stale to treat yourself to a visit in a hospital on the other side of the world. There are many cheap insurance options for European Citizens. I always use Euro Youth Card Euro26 Classic for people under 30. It costs only around 20 euro and covers your health for one year.
Don’t go with your things undone
At the moment I was going to South America with my friend, I was sharing flat with two other girls. It meant that I was leaving my room for two months with all my stuff inside. As my time abroad was limited, it didn’t make sense to send my things to Poland or hide them at my friend’s place and then look for a new flat after. I liked my room and I wanted to keep it, so I had to pay for it during my backpacking trip.
It’s important to make calculations and always have some money left to cover your domestic costs – it may be the rent, school or any taxes you have to pay. If you are planning to travel for many months or even year or two, you might consider renting your place for the time you are gone. It gives you extra money and surely expands your traveling budget. The same happens if you have a pet or plants to take care of – make sure you leave them in good hands during your absence.
Prepare your backpack
Probably one of the most important steps. It’s not only about the things you have to pack, but also about the ones you won’t need. Many beginners make the same mistake by taking too many things on their trip. After few days your back hurts and the backpack is getting heavier and heavier. What are the essentials to pack?
Open bank account in American Dollars
When I was in Latin America for the first time, I realized that it was way more convenient to travel with dollars rather than euro. Not only the currency rate was more favorable but some places accept payment in dollars and it was also easier to find an exchange point with this currency. Before our two-months backpacking adventure, my friend and I opened USD bank account. I also kept my euro card in wallet for any urgent cases. At this moment there are some very suitable international card options to pay abroad as well. I will write about them soon!
Learn some Spanish
As I speak Spanish fluently, I didn’t have to worry about language barrier during my trip, but if you don’t know any basic words in Spanish, it might me a little bit difficult. Of course there is an option to talk in in English only but it may limit your communication with local community. If you truly want to know the culture, understand their reality and feel as a part of the place you are going to, communication is the key. That’s why I strongly recommend you to learn at least some basic words and phrases in Spanish. Tu puedes!
Decide what kind of traveler you are
Before you go, it’s important to look in the mirror and answer yourself some very basic questions. What motivates you to go? What’s the main goal of your journey? Do you want to explore as much as you can, meet people, try local cuisine or maybe a little bit of everything? Do you want to be alone or surrounded by people? Based on that you will decide if it’s better for you to accommodate in hotels or maybe in bed&breakfast or Airbnb. Are you planning just to travel or maybe you are also considering to work or volunteer? The sooner you know the answers, the easier it will be for you to prepare yourself for the adventure of your life!
Do you feel ready to start planning your trip? We hope this article helped you to organize the really first steps. Go ahead! 🙂