Ways to save money while traveling long term in South America

People constantly ask me how I have the money to travel the world, which is a valid question considering I don’t come from a wealthy family who are covering my trip. Quite simply I don’t have any bills! Ben and I both gave up our apartments in San Francisco and I have no car loan or debt except a low interest student loan.

While planning our around the world trip, I did some research into ways to make our trip less expensive. Since we’re unemployed and don’t want to blow all of our money on this trip I came upon good ways to save money especially in the South America portion of our trip.

1. Staying in Hostels: Dorms vs. Private rooms
Yes the dreaded hostel! But some of you would be shocked at just how nice hostels are these days.

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Resort-like Loki Mancora: Hostel or Resort?

Some times private rooms are roughly the same price for two people as a dorm room, however more than not in South America private rooms are drastically more expensive. For this reason, we’ve opted to stay in dorm rooms at least 5 days a week, unless they’re the same price or we needed a private room for reasons like illness. I write this post from budget Hotel ($45USD a night) in Santa Marta, Colombia, where I’ve been hulled up with a stomach bug.

2. Cooking your own meals
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many travelers eat out every meals. This also requires that travelers stay in hostels, guesthouses, etc that have kitchens.

In Colombia meals aren’t extremely cheap, except for the two course set lunch that includes a drink in any price range of $3-6 USD. Being big vegetable eaters, eating out in Colombia difficult for us, unless you consider fried plantains as veggies. 

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This light dinner cost us $2 to make

3. Couchsurfing
Staying on a local’s couch or spare bedroom and while being immersed in the culture and/or language is hard to beat. To date I’ve only couchsurfed once in South America, which turned out to be just so-so. As a female traveling alone in South America, I received hundreds of creepy messages from single men looking for more than I was. We’re definitely going to try more Couchsurfing in Europe.

4. Workaway
We just completed our first workaway of 8 days which was a big help on our budget. While the accommodations aren’t always spectacular, I found it to be a very enriching experience. Meeting locals and becoming involved in their lives you’re able to create relationships and walkaway with more knowledge of farming, cultivation, local customs and culture, language, running a business, etc than you had before. Our next workaway will take us to Sicily,  where I’m hoping to learn more about organic farming, cultivation,  and herbal remedies.

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The Ecoyoga Farm we volunteered at earlier this month

5. Bus travel vs. flying
This is definitely a big money saver in South America. Although bus travel can sometimes be slow and extremely bumpy, spending $150+ on each flight isn’t an option if you’re traveling long term. If you’re willing to give up comfort, really cheap buses are available. But if you’re like me, you’d rather spend $5 more in exchange for air conditioning, bathrooms, and sometimes wi-fi.

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Bus rides aren't always great.. just ask Ben

A few exceptions to this rule are the budget airlines like Tame, VivaColombia, Star Peru, or Easyfly which sometimes offer flights cheaper than a bus.

As we approach month’s end we’ve spent less than $2,000 this month, which is half our rent in San Francisco alone!!

Our next stops are Italy and Spain, which aren’t going to be so budget friendly. Any ideas on how not to spend a ton of money are welcome!

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