Budgeting for South America

Trip Start Jan 14, 2009
Trip End May 2010

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Camp 4

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

We interrupt this ménage of climbing entries to bring you something a little different.

For those of you who have been thinking about doing some of your own traveling and have wanted to go down to South America for longer than the average American 1-week trip, but are concerned you don't have enough budget to make such a dream come true, we have written this blog entry to hopefully prove you wrong! Through our travels through South America, we did a lot of planning and learned a lot along the way and hope to share some of these findings, including our actual budget and expenditures, with you to show you just how possible extended travel can be.

First of all, the best advice we can give to anyone that is going to South America on a budget is to first make a budget. I know it seems very basic, but we ran into many people in SA that didn’t create a budget and didn’t have any idea of what they were spending. They were often running out of money and having to head home early or start running up a debt. We took the opposite extreme and tracked every expense, rounding up to the nearest whole dollar, but for most people, that’s too burdensome. A middle ground is probably where you’ll land.

What we recommend for creating a simple and straightforward budget you can generally stick to is to find a travel book for the country/countries you’re heading to that suits the way you want to travel. These travel books often have average daily expenditures that you can borrow for your own budget, multiplied by the number of days you plan to stay in the country, add a little in for the transportation (not necessary as this is generally included in the books’ daily expenditures) if you know you’re going to need to shell out a little more in some places to get there, and viola!—you have your budget for that country.

There are a few classic travel book publishers to choose from:

-         Lonely Planet or South America on a Shoestring (for all South American countries): Offers budget traveling intended to make your dollar stretch as far as possible, so food options usually include cheaper, fast food fair or cafes (though some gems are offered from time to time) and accommodations include budget hostels mostly.

ˇ         Footprint: Similar to the Lonely Planet in terms of budgeting but often takes it a bar higher. Usually recommends hostels for accommodations as they are pretty abundant in most countries and offer most the amenities (and sometimes more) than hotels, but at a more cost-conscious alternative to hotels. Generally, the main reason one buys this guide over the Lonely Planet is the directions and travel considerations.  This guide tends to be more comprehensive all around, but it’s a tad more expensive and is heavier.

ˇ         Fodders: This guide caters to the traveler that doesn’t always stay in five-star hotels, but certainly likes to travel more comfortably. While they do include many highly rated hotels, they sometimes include a few options for kitschy, fancier hostels. This guide also tends to recommend a higher end dining experience, so if gaining the best culinary experience is a big part of your travel experience, this guide will serve you better than the others.

Regardless of which guide you choose, it’s good to note the publish date and add on inflation for a country to bring the prices up to speed with today’s economy. For example, if the book you purchased was published in 2007, it means the information they gathered to get the pricing was probably in 2006. If you’re going to a country where the average inflation is 8% each year, factor that in for 4 years if you’re traveling in 2010. In some countries, inflation is very erratic, such as Argentina where the average inflation has been around 20-25% each year for the past several years. We learned this the hard way. While we factored some inflation, we had no idea Argentina was going to be as expensive today as we estimated, so we had to adjust our budget and expenditures accordingly. Usually you can Google to find the average inflation rate for countries.

Our Budget

In total, we budgeted $ 5518 USD for our three-month stint in South America (does not include airline tickets to and from SA) and we wound up spending $4588 USD over 83 days. That’s an average of $57 per day for both of us or $29 per day per person. Seems reasonable, no? Maybe even less than you’re spending daily at home when you include the cost of accommodation? Here’s how it breaks down per day for both of us by country:

Argentina: $1597 USD for 34 days (the exchange rate averaged at 3.5 pesos per dollar)
o   Budgeted per day (2 people): $60 USD
o   Ave spent per day: $47 USD

Chile: $1124 USD for 19 days (the exchange rate averaged at 600 pesos on the dollar)
o   Budgeted per day (2 people): $80 USD
o   Actual average spent per day: $60 USD
Bolivia: $751 USD for 11 days (the exchange rate averaged at  7 Bolivianos on the dollar)
o   Budgeted per day (2 people): $50 USD
o   Actual: $69 USD

Peru:  $814 USD for 15 days (the exchange rate averaged at 3 soles on the dollar)
o   Budgeted per day (2 people): $72 USD
o   Actual: $55 USD

Ecuador: $302 USD for 4 days (Ecuador converted to USD in 1990, so there was no exchange!)
o   Budgeted per day (2 people): $36 USD
o   Actual: $76 USD (we grossly underestimated how expensive Ecuador would be. It’s much more on par with the US. Thankfully for our budget we only spent a few days there!)

Budget Travel Tips

Here are some tips on keeping costs to a minimum to stretch your dollar further:

ˇ         The highest expenditure for us was transportation. If you want to keep your extended stay to foreign countries to a reasonable budget, keep the number of areas you want to visit to a minimum. Obviously, this varies a bit from country to country. Traveling in Argentina, for example, if relatively expensive. Argentina charges tourists double what they charge for locals for flights originating from or arriving in Argentina. The bus services are amazing and cheaper than flights, so go with buses if you have the time, but they can still put a dent in your pocketbook if you have multiple long rides. Bolivia, on the other hand, has pretty cheap transportation by bus, so if you’re dying to see Bolivia, travel is not as much of an issue.  On a side note, Argentine travel is generally much safer than Bolivian travel, but this is all about the money! 

ˇ         Set up a profile and try out couch surfing (www.couchsurfing.com). It takes a little drive on your part to get connected with someone from the network that is around during the dates you are seeking and has space for you, but you will find that people on Couch Surfing are generally very generous and will not only open their homes up to you for free, but they will recommend and often take you to the city’s highlights, making your stay in the area much more valuable. While we still stayed at the odd hostel or hospedaje (never at hotels), we usually tried to find a couch surfing host in the bigger cities as accommodations were much more expensive there. It’s a great way to get a real flavour of the culture too and make new friends! If we stayed at a person’s place for more than just a night, we would offer to make them a special dinner one night to show our gratitude.

ˇ         Treat yourself to the local specialties, but don’t go out for every meal. Grocery stores are abundant, which means you can eat healthier eating in than eating out, and the prices for produce, especially at small corner stores, are amazing! We often were excited to purchase apples, mandarins, bananas, tomatoes, onions, and garlic for about $2 USD! Also, in Argentina, you can get amazing steaks to cook for yourself for about a third of the price in the US. What a treat! The one thing about eating your own groceries is that you often need to find accommodations with kitchens. Most travel books will let you know if a hostel has kitchen facilities at your disposal, and overall, more backpacker places than perhaps expected will have these camping amenities.

ˇ         Camping!  Because we were out rock climbing much of the time, this was easy for us.  But if you are visiting some of the outdoorsy places, consider what it will take to bring/rent a tent, etc. and camp (often free or very cheap).  It’s generally quite comfortable and can save a bunch of money. 

ˇ         Look into buying your airline tickets through a travel agency rather than the web. While we purchased Ben’s ticket on miles and found relatively cheap airfare online for Lindsey, we learned when we purchased our around-the-world tickets for the remainder of our trip that it can save you lots of money. For example, we bought 14 one-way flights, including from Vancouver to Hong Kong, other overseas flights, and our return flight from Fiji, and it cost us only $3200 per person, including travel insurance and booking fees! We went through Airtreks (www.airtreks.com) and they were great to work with. The best part is that if we have something come up and need to change our flights, we just call Airtreks instead of the long waits calling the airlines!

If you are interested in more details on planning your travel to South America, be it budget-wise, destinations, or to share your experiences, send us a note or post a comment to this blog entry.
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benandlindsey on

Thanks, guys!
Thanks, guys, for the positive feedback. Boring in comparison, but we wanted everyone to know just how feasible it is to get out there and see the world! See our next blog entry on the first segment of Yosemite, which has tons of climbing pics and about 100 more on Flickr.

Day - What agency did you go with? We have some friends meeting us in Nepal in November. Thanks!

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