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Five Travel Hacks To Save Money in Latin America

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Five Travel Hacks To Save Money in Latin America

The Internet isn’t short of money-saving travel tips, but unfortunately some of them just aren’t feasible for long-term travel. One of the joys of long-term travel is the flexibility it affords you: no one wants to be boxed in by booking a bus two months in advance or having to stake plans around being in a certain city at a certain time to stay in that budget hotel you booked – no matter how much it might save you.

If you suck at math and the idea of doing a budget tracking spreadsheet every night is your idea of a nightmare (even with all those new budget tracking apps),[1] fear not. There are several travel tips that are workable and easy to utilise, and really will save you money. Here are five ways to save money in Latin America – by someone who’s been there and done that – but didn’t buy the T-shirt.

1. Always Take the Chicken Bus

If you have a long, arduous journey in front of you, it’s incredibly tempting to pay that bit extra for a swankier bus service or shuttle. But travel on the local buses (or chicken buses) and you can save inordinate amounts of money. Sometimes the price difference for shuttles can be up to ten times what you’d pay on local transportation. Chicken buses may not be fast or luxurious, but they’ll get you from A to B for under a dollar, and have the added benefit of giving you an authentic experience too.

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2. Skip the Tours and Hire Bikes Instead

Now admittedly, there are places and attractions you can only visit with an organised tour group. But do your research, because forking out $60 for an overpriced tour aimed at tourists isn’t always your best bet.

For example, exploring Luna Valley in Chile’s San Pedro de Atacama desert is a must for anyone on the backpacker trail – but because you’re in a traveler hotspot in one of South America’s most expensive countries, your time in this little town could become a budget breaker. Skip the tours of the valley that cost a lot and hire bikes to explore instead. Not only will you save money, but you’ll also get away from the crowds, be able to do it on your own time AND you’ll get some exercise – a rarity for a long-term traveller.

3. Eat at Menu del Dia Restaurants

After a few months on the road, the thing I found I missed most was the availability of international food. When you finally hit up a big, developed city and see international restaurants, it’s almost impossible to stop your brain conjuring up images of your next meal possibilities: Fresh bowls of Vietnamese pho! Aromatic Indian curries with soft nan bread! Fragrant Pad Thai and succulent dumplings! I know, I know. While it can be hard not to run to the nearest restaurant, don’t. Gringo food comes with gringo prices, and you can easily spend what amounts to a day’s budget on a quick meal.

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Instead, head to the local restaurants where you can choose from the ‘menu del dia’ and enjoy a two- or three-course meal for around $2. There’s soups, salads, pastas, fish, meat, rice and beans… You’ll leave full to burst and with plenty of change in your pocket. Save the international food for when you’re back home – or for a very special treat.

4. Cook in Hostels (And Make Tupperware Your Friend)

It goes without saying that if you’re on a budget you should try to stay in hostels with kitchens. These are invaluable for your budget, so where possible, always choose accommodation where you can prepare you own food. But, even if you have accommodation with a kitchen, after a while hostel cooking gets incredibly monotonous. And that’s skipping over whether your hostel will actually have any cooking equipment bar one bent, sticky frying pan and a few blunt knives.

If you’re lucky, the hostel might have salt and pepper left from a previous traveler. But actual spices and herbs – basil, chilli, paprika, basil, oregano – are usually out of the question. It may not seem like a big deal, but having your own mini spice rack on hand can be invaluable. After more than a month of flavorless rice and beans or bland, overcooked pasta, you will likely lose all faith in hostel cooking. THIS is the crucial point when you think to heck with it: I’m heading to the nearest international restaurant and scoffing myself silly. I deserve it.

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You do, but there’s no faster way to fritter your budget away than on food. Fresh herbs and spices are expensive in Latin America – sometimes unbelievably so. I began compiling collected spices, herbs and condiments (collect ALL the sachets in restaurants when you can!) in a little tupperware box. Then whenever I was cooking what would be a bland and uninspired meal, I had a wealth of spices and flavors to put in. Need some spice? Fine. Garlic? Whack it in. Such a small thing to do with such a big return.

5. Plan Your Flights Properly

Point one might suggest always getting the chicken bus, but admittedly, that doesn’t always work. It’s fine for Central America, but South America is so vast it just isn’t always feasible. If you’re heading to far flung places like Patagonia, flying is often the only real choice, unless you know you can spend five days on a bus without going insane (I can’t). If you know you’re going to have to book a flight, plan this in advance.

No matter how cheap an airline is, don’t make the mistake of heading directly to their site to see the best deals (which so many travelers still do…) In my experience the best flight comparison site is usually Google flights, but Skyskanner also advises you on the cheapest times to book a flight. November is 12% cheaper, and December is 20% more expensive, so booking just a week or two earlier can save you a lot.

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Do you have any travel hacks for Latin America?

Featured photo credit: Ihor Malytskyi via unsplash.com

Reference

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Ella Jameson

Freelance writer

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