Tag Archives: hint

Travelling by Bus in South America – Different Countries

Introduction

This is an addition to the post: 6 Useful Tips for Travelling with a Bus in South America.

Buses in Perú

In Perú I mostly travelled with Cruz del Sur. It is more like travelling with an airplane than a bus ride from the organization and safety features. At least if you take the first two classes. I travelled with all three classes, between the first (Cruzero) and second class (Imperial) there is only a slight difference. The third class (Ideal) is also really good, but it depends where you travelled before and what you want. The first two classes do non-stop travel (with on-board breakfast/lunch/dinner), thus you don’t even have to think about your backpack on the whole ride.
I only travelled with Cruz del Sur in Perú, thus I don’t know anything about the other companies. I heard that Cruz del Sur is overrated, but this was from a female backpacker who travelled Bolivia on her own for a few weeks, thus she was well experienced and hardend than most other backpackers out there.
Note, when you travel with the first two classes of Cruz del Sur that the passengers are mostly higher middle-to-upper class Peruvians and tourists.

Buses in Chile and Argentina

Good quality, good service and secure. It is the common way to travel for most people in these countries and it is also quite cheap for them. In Argentina have a bit of tip ready for the person who takes out the backpack of the bus and checks your voucher. I think 0,25 to 0,50 Pesos were common, just take a look what the other people give him.

Buses in Bolivia

Bolivia is always a great adventure and so are the buses and the roads. The buses are not really comfortable, cleanliness is limited and I watched my stuff very closely. Especially, since the country is very poor and I am really rich compared to nearly everyone there. I always boarded the bus after I took a look, where my backpack was stored and that most other people boarded the bus. Also I couldn’t determine a difference between most bus companies in less touristic areas. Only in Salar de Uyuni there are one or two special agencies that provide high quality buses, I don’t know the names but it is quite easy to find them.
Another thing, the leaving times are quite strange. When I was in Tupiza (Southern Bolivia), I needed a ride from there to Sucre, well all companies were leaving at the same time to Sucre and they did it only once a day!? Thus, it is better to check beforehand. Don’t assume – like I did – that they each company leaves at another time.

Further Information

For further information about traveling with a bus or specific routes, I would recommend the following books. These are made by backpackers for backpackers and contain loads of information in a well organized manner. I can highly recommend them.

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Youth Hostels – Checklist: Requirements and Questions

Here is my simple checklist of the most important aspects of a youth hostel. There are requirements and questions to ask myself before choosing one.

Requirements for a youth hostel

  • Own (free) secure locker – for safety and peace of mind: credit card, camera, mp3 player, keys, money, etc.
  • Warm water
  • Staff – authentic, honest and experienced

Questions for deciding on a youth hostel

  • Location – How far is the city center? How far is the bus station?
  • Duration – How long will I stay there ideally?
  • Price – important or not? What I am willing to pay for x?
  • Mentality and offers – Do I want to relax or party? Do I want to do “canned” tours or explore on my own? With whom I wanna hang out?
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5 Things I learned while Backpacking

While travelling I learned a lot, some epiphanies came instantly others took a while til they settled. Anyway, sometimes your brain works faster than you think ;)
Here are 5 things that I learned while backpacking that are of general interest.

1) Appreciation of small things

While backpacking you can’t rely on many things, thus I quickly knew what I missed and what was of lesser importance or even completely irrelevant. Also it showed me what I am able to endure (in most cases it merely reminded me, since I had a rough time in bootcamp during national service). This makes common things like warm water, a decent bed or a warm meal even more enjoyable, since you learned that not everything is that common every-time and everywhere.

2) Key factors for well-being and peace of mind

Additionally, I found out all the small and big things that are really important for my well-being and/or peace of mind. Note that everybody is different: I know people that need a lot of space, but care less about privacy, whereas I prefer privacy over space. Such things can be very valuable later on, when you search for a new flat or thinking about moving in.

3) Experience is King – don’t believe every bullshit they tell you

I always thought that the South America is a dangerous place, well so is my neighbourhood or isn’t it? Of course it is sometimes and somewhere, also I may have been lucky – sometimes I was for sure. I have also been scared about going into Bolivia. Then one day before entering a met a girl from Germany and she had travelled through Bolivia for a few weeks on her own without any problems – I felt like a real pussy then. A few days before I met two girls from Ireland who told me that my beloved Arequipa was dangerous! I spent about four weeks in Arequipa the year before, going out, exploring the down on my own, walking in various areas and taking photos all over the different places. Of course there are dangerous places there, but there are also ones in Berlin, Vienna, London, New York, Hamburg, …
Sometimes it is better to ignore the bullshit people telling you, sometimes it is better to ignore the bullshit you tell yourself – challenge your assumptions and be careful while you do it.

4) Monitoring and managing “emotional energy”

One thing what was pretty tough for me and took me a while til I figured it out, was my ability to monitor and maintain my “emotional energy level”. I worked as a bar manager in a hostel for 3 weeks, since I don’t drink alcohol I could afford to join my customers into the downtown nearly every night. We had a great time, sharing the best stories, dancing, shouting and then suddenly your new best friends were gone to the next city. Yet, we just developed a quite deep connection. This costed me quite a bit of energy, I wasn’t used to that, thus after a few weeks I don’t wanted to meet new people, yet I didn’t know it consciously. Something was just not feeling right. Later on, I understood and now I know when it is time to go on my own. Lately, this was really practical after I visited two intense one-week seminars in one month and joined a small company with about 50 employees. I knew that I had to get a bit more privacy than usual to balance my “emotional energy level”.

5) Learning about my own country and people

While I was travelling through South America I learned to appreciate the fact that we have 4 different seasons in Austria. We have hot summers and freezing winters, we have a beautiful spring time and the rainy fall. In some countries these seasons are way less clear or don’t even exist. Also I learned factors that are important, when it comes to economics. A taxi in Austria is really expensive, whereas in Peru it is common for most people to use one. Well, since public transportation and private cars in Peru are very uncommon, taxis are common. Things that are totally counter-intuitive provided me with a new understanding of certain situations, when I got the big picture.

This helped in many areas from the debating club to marketing, cause I know that the situation in my country is based on other assumptions that may not exist somewhere else. Hence, I can question these common assumptions or take into account the factors that are prevalent somewhere else, but nobody thinks about at home.

What are your epiphanies and experiences, feel free to leave a comment or two ;)

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Exploring – Discovering the Nature of a Place

One of my favorite acitivities is “exploring”. Basically, I take a camera and a map, then I head down the road from the place I stay. I take a look, which direction looks promising and then I start walking, looking and ENJOYING. At every corner and crossroad I listen to my hunches if I wanna go somewhere else or might this be good occassion for a great picture? Time to explore that store? Find out what this building over there is? The freedom to choose. Just to it! (A word of caution beware of too dangerous places. I only had one more or less dangerous situation, but I got out of it without a sratch or giving away a penny.)

This approach is one of the most natural ways to create an immunity against the dangerous backpacker disease called Monumentitis ;)

Monumentitis (n.) the condition caused by repeated exposure to the cultural and historical artifacts of a place one is visiting; usually accompanied by sore feet, sweaty armpits, and a generally unpleasant attitude.

It is amazing what you can learn on such a trip about a district, city or even country. No guide, no pre-canned lines, no tourist areas, just real life, real people and real situations. I love to get hands on the “real thing”, for me culture is not about museums, famous monuments or historic places. It is about the behavior and customs of everyone around. How do you give tip in Peru? Is it “ok” to bring friends to party in Argentina without asking? Where are the rich parts of the town? Where do the taxi drivers wash their cars? etc. etc.

When I am tired or finished I take out the map and try to find my way home or just call a taxi. Also I recommend to ask some experienced people, which places are safe. Yet, I often landed in not so safe places anyway, but I am pretty cautious and high alert.

Stuff to bring:

  • map + address of your residence
  • camera (for me this is crucial cause I take a closer look, if I am on photo tour)
  • water and maybe some food

I also used this “technique” i my hometown. is also applyable to your own hometown! I tried it out, it’s great!

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7 Hints for Exploring South America on a Tight Budget

In order to get most bang for your buck, you can use many different ways. Depending on your needs, personality and plans, you might extend your trip or ability to choose more interesting tours.

Here are my best tips:
1) Compare prices, some people will try to get more money from you, than it is worth. Thus, you should always try to bargain a bit. If possible try to get some comparing prices, this works best on big markets, since most of the products are the same. (See Bargaining for further information.) Ask natives or experienced travelers, where to save money or what is an appropriate price. Some people are just good in getting more for their money. Watch and learn.

2) Look out for good opportunities and team up, most of the time you can save money by grouping with other people. Taking a rented car alone is quite expensive with another person you pay the half price..

3) Save money regular – yet recurring – things like taxis and food. South America is full of good restaurants. It is more common to eat in a restaurant/cafe in South America, cause it is cheaper and sometimes having a kitchen of your own (a friend from Peru told me that.) Yet, these people don’t eat in tourist restaurants ;) Another way is to cook for yourself, since some hostels provide a kitchen for free. Ask for the dish of the day (“plato del dia”) in restaurants.

4) “Work” at a youth hostel. This depends on the country, in Peru it is quite easy to get a job at a youth hostel. Depending on the hostel, you can get accommodation for free, lowered prices on products and tours (no commission), free bed and some other stuff. In Arequipa I lived with 1-3 bucks a day.

5) Don’t do stupid things. Be careful, leave your valuables in a safe place, especially when going out. Thus, you lower the chance of losing money and getting things stolen from you. Even if you don’t plan to get drunk, it is always wise to keep a limited amount of valuables with you. I have seen people go out with their credit card, even though you can’t pay with it most of the times. Take a youth hostel with a locker and lock all your valuable stuff up.

6) Wait with buying souvenirs til the end of your trip. Very few things are unique in South America if it comes to products.

7) Have a plan (or at least an idea) on what you really want to do and where you want to go. Zig-Zagging over South America is pretty easy and can be awesome, but it might lay heavy on your budget. Taking a bus cross country is pretty cheap related to the traveling distance, yet it sums up pretty fast. Also you might regret spending money on “nice” tours, which are not that great.

I also recommend to take a look at the more general 6 Tips on How to Avoid Unexpected Spending On the Road from the Art of Backpacking Blog.

Enjoy your trip and please send me your best tips!

Further Information on about keeping your budget low

The following books all contain special information for several places, also including information about value and price. They are organized and written especially for backpacking. Thus, you can easily read them while you sit on the plane, bus, train, etc.

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