5 Tips For Traveling Through South America On A Budget

How to travel through South America regardless of your budget. Sharing our top tips on how to make your trip meaningful without breaking the bank via @tbookjunkie

If you are travelling around South America on a budget, there is a lot that you can do to save money without compromising on having a great time. In fact, in many cases, you will have a more authentic, genuine experience and see more of the “real South America” when you’re travelling with limited funds.

Trekking in South America. A caravan in Cordiliera Huayhuash, Peru.

Caravan in Cordiliera Huayhuash, Peru, South America

The key to saving money when you’re travelling anywhere is to cut back on the luxuries, do as many independent trips as you can and avoid partying too much. With just these three simple tips alone, you can ensure that you keep more money in your pocket, which can mean travelling for longer and getting more out of your trip than you ever imagined possible. 

Continue reading to learn how you can save more money when you’re travelling around South America.

How to Save Money While Travelling Through South America

#1 Avoid Renting Gear

Take your own hiking boots wherever possible instead of borrowing others.

Image provided by Alan Cleaver

If you know that you are going to be doing a lot of hiking, then bring your own hiking boots instead of renting them locally. If you’re going to be surfing, take your own gear instead of having to pay for it by the hour at the beach. Having everything you need for the activities you want to take part in is a great way to save money and also to ensure that you have reliable equipment for whatever you are planning to do. 

There are many advantages to bringing your own gear. Firstly, tourism operators are looking to cash in while they can and you may arrive to find exorbitant fees that will eat into your holiday budget.

Secondly, when you are talking about wearable items like boots and wetsuits, you purchase your own items because they are a perfect fit. Second-hand items are not likely to fit you perfectly and can result in chaffing and other unpleasant business. 

Thirdly, you know you look after your own gear. Will you get the same assurances that the gear you rent has been looked after and maintained as well?

And finally, you have your own style. Rental gear could be gaudy or just a poor match for your look and personality. Be comfortable in your own shoes and take as much gear as you can afford to transport with your airline – and that you can easily carry around.

#2 Take Public Transport

Death Railway, Kanchanaburi, Thailand, River Kwai, Hellfire Pass, Travel, Travelling, Travelling Book Junkie

View from the train travelling along the Death Railway in Thailand

When it’s safe to do so, be sure to take public transport where you can. Riding the chicken bus will not only save you a fortune compared with private car hire but it’s an experience in itself too. Ask around at your hostel for advice on which bus routes to take to the local attractions and save yourself a fortune on taxis and private car hires.

There are many things to consider when renting a car in a different culture. First, you will need an international driver’s license which is extra time and money you may not have. Then there are cultural differences, for example, did you know that most South American car hire operators won’t let you take the car out of the country? That puts the brakes on your travel plans.

The roads in South America are different from Australia and there is no guarantee that there will be sealed roads available in a direct line between destinations. You don’t want to get stuck in swampland with a hire vehicle. The local tourism operators know the land, the road, and the conditions and will get you to where you need to be with far less fuss.

#3 Eat Local Food

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Typical Food Stall On the Streets Of Bangkok

Hitting up all the backpacker and tourist restaurants everywhere you go is a great way to put a large hole in your budget. Skip the avo on toast for breakfast and order whatever the local specialty is instead. Look for restaurants that are busy with locals to find the best food and enjoy some of the culinary delights South America has to offer. 

When you are looking for some local Latin flavour on a budget, there are plenty of cheap and delicious options available including: 

  • Empanada: A baked (or often fried) pastry filled with meat, cheese, spinach, or a combination of vegetables.
  • Milanesa: Very similar to the classic schnitzels you will find in Australia.
  • Hot dogs: The Chileans are very serious about their hot dogs. Most often, they serve The Complete, which consists of a long bun topped with a frankfurter-like sausage and smothered in mashed avocado with mayonnaise and ketchup.
  • Fish: As many nations are coastal, they are well-versed in preparing amazing fish meals including options like swordfish at a very user-friendly price. 

When in doubt, you will find all kinds of local cuisine at top prices where the street vendors like to gather and in marketplaces. 

#4 Don’t Party Too Much

There’s nothing wrong with heading out once in a while to experience the local nightlife and meet up with your fellow travellers. However, if a large percentage of your budget is being spent on beers and cocktails, it might be time to rein it in.

This is one area that many travellers overspend and overindulge and it can have a negative impact on your trip overall as you will be too tired or hung-over to truly enjoy the magic of where you are. 

Wildlife in the Amazon Rainforest, including frogs which are endangered and can only be found in this part of the world.

Image provided by Sebastian Di Domenico

Besides, you can drink to your heart’s content at home. Visiting South America is a chance to explore rich cultural and historical lands and experience brand new things on a tight budget  such as:

  • An Amazon rainforest experience like no other
  • Hike the W Trail in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park
  • Ride horses with the Gauchos in Argentina
  • Hiking in El Chalten
  • Camping amongst the glaciers in Patagonia
  • Travel the world’s most dangerous road (if you dare) and so much more.
El Chaltén, Argentina, South America, a hiking range to explore.

El Chaltén, Argentina. Image provided by Claudio Barrientos

#5 Avoid Taking Tours

While it’s not always possible to avoid taking tours, when you do have a choice, try to find a way to do the trip yourself. A lot of tours are very overpriced and on top of the price of the tour itself you can be sure that you will be brought to the most expensive souvenir shops, eateries and a tip will be requested at the end of the trip.

Besides the fact that you pay much higher prices with tour groups, you are also hurting the local economy. Tourism in South America is plagued by high levels of foreign dependence, foreign influence on local resources, and not enough positive effects beyond the tourism enclaves. Soaring economic inequality, volatile earnings, and environmental degradation are also problems.

Step outside the tourist traps and support the local vendors. You will pay much less, get a much more genuine experience and your tourist dollars will be going towards people that really need it, not the same cluster of tourism operators.

Do your best to travel as independently as you can, as often as you can, to make the most of the funds you have available. 

#6 Reduce Your Spending And Enhance Your Enjoyment

When you’re travelling for an extended period, it’s important to stretch your money as far as you can. Following the tips above, you can significantly reduce your spending without compromising on your overall experience. With more money in your pocket, you can visit more places, have more experiences, and ensure that you get the most enjoyment from your trip possible.

Have you travelled through South America? What top tips would you share with others about budget planning?

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5 top tips for travelling South America on a budget via @tbookjunkie

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