Travelling to South America…A Step By Step Guide

Machu Picchu

South America has been calling out to me for as long as I can remember. As a child I used to wistfully flick through travel guides and maps and my gaze would constantly be drawn to images of Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls. Now my time has finally come to explore this incredible continent (with Pete willingly in tow) and I can’t wait. However, planning for such a big trip can be daunting, which is why I wanted to put together some handy guidelines for fellow travellers taking the big plunge.

1. Saving, Saving, Saving

I get asked time and time again; ‘How have you managed to save enough money to go backpacking for six months whilst living in London?’ It is hard to do. But possible. Whilst most of my friends have been saving for their weddings or house deposits, I was putting £100 a month into a ‘South America funds account’. It has taken about three years but I have finally saved enough to go. If I can do it whilst working in the travel industry (notoriously underpaid) I’m sure you can, too. It might take just that slightly extra bit of discipline to not buy that extra £10 cocktail or to buy a frozen pizza rather than splashing out on a takeaway, but it will be worth it when you’re sipping Pisco Sours in Peru.

2. Dealing with Emotional Conflict and Varied Reactions

As a 29 year old I think one of the hardest things to have to deal with before embarking on our trip is internal conflict and other people’s reactions. It becomes quite a mental challenge to not let negativity impact your decision to go. My parents have always travelled and I think they understand my constant wanderlust but were still sad to hear I was heading off once again and will be missing Christmas for a third (non-consecutive) year. My dad was mainly concerned with me quitting my job and I don’t think me saying ‘I will be focusing on the blog and social media’ means an awful lot to a man in his late 70s.

I’m very lucky, however, to have a lot of friends who are very supportive, as they have either recently gone back to university, are experiencing career changes, or are doing similar adventurous trips around the globe. There is a large and welcoming travel blogging community in London and when you are hanging out with friends who are constantly jetting off around the globe it begins to feel like a normal thing to do. Our lovely friends Kasha (Lines of Escape) and Chris (Make New Tracks) have just left London to embark on their five-month trip around the world too. It can be hard though, especially when half of your friends are getting married and having babies and the other half are backpacking and playing Pokemon Go.

3. Handing in Your Notice

Handing in your notice is always a stressful experience, especially if you have been at the same company for a while and enjoy your job. Again, it can be quite a mental challenge, especially if like me you have in the back of your mind been planning this big trip for quite sometime (in my case even before I started at my current agency). I’ve been working at the travel PR agency Mango PR for over two years and I found it really hard saying goodbye to everyone. However, the good thing about working in travel is that a decision to go travelling is much more understood and appreciated.

4. Travel Insurance

One of the first things to think about before going away is purchasing good travel insurance. It is important to budget for this as it can be quite expensive, but is completely necessary, whether you are heading to Barcelona on a girl’s getaway or South America for six-months on the road. For this trip, we decided to get our travel insurance with Alpha Travel Insurance. They were recommended to us by some friends who have recently returned from a year travelling in South East Asia. It was very good value* and they seem to have lots of good online reviews. Fingers crossed we won’t need to use it, but if we do we will keep you posted on them.

*Only £140 for both of us over six months – although this only covered us for trekking up to 1000m, so we’ve changed that to cover us for the Inca Trail, which has added £90pp to the cost. We are also covered for wicker basket tobogganing with that, though, which is a relief.

5. Learning Espanol

While travelling in South America, a basic knowledge of Spanish is recommended. With only vague memories of Spanish learnt at GCSE, I felt it was time to do some lessons in the lead-up. I decided to go with Spanish House as it was convenient, reasonably priced (in comparison to some of the other options in London) and sounded like they make it a fun and interactive learning experience. I completed part one and two and really enjoyed going to my weekly classes. I just hope I’ve retained some useful vocabulary and grammar. When in doubt – ‘Hablo poco Espanol!’

4. Vaccines

Another priority before going on any big trip is to go to your nurse or local travel clinic such as Nomad Travel and find out exactly what vaccines you need for the countries you will be travelling to. It is worth bearing in mind that a lot of vaccines cost money (even at the GP) and therefore this needs to be factored into your budget. As I went to India fairly recently, I luckily had most of the necessary jabs, however, there were a couple I had to get. Firstly, the yellow fever vaccine is necessary for some counties in South America, not because you are at risk of catching it, but because you will need to show the certificate safe at some border crossings. Additionally, I had an internal dilemma about getting the rabies vaccine. I asked lots of friends who had visited South America and received quite a mixed response, some had and some hadn’t. In the end I decided to go for it and Pete didn’t. Mainly because we are planning to do some farm work and I have also been known to stroke stray cats and dogs. The rabies vaccine consists of three injections which costs £55 per injection. The first two need to be taken at least a week apart and the final one at least two weeks later. Therefore, it is important to bear in mind you need time to do this and budget. In my eyes, better safe than sorry, but it is a personal choice!

5. Malaria Pills

Malaria is prevalent in certain parts of South America and it is definitely recommended to take precautions. I had some helpfully advice from Nomad Travel clinic who showed me the various options and recommended we buy it online here, which is cheaper than getting a prescription from the doctor. After debating whether to go with Atovaquone/Proguanil (the generic malarone pills) we decided to go with Doxycycline. With Doxy you need to start taking the pills two days before you are in a malaria zone and a month after you have left the malaria zone. It is also known to have various side effects such as nausea, sun sensitivity and trippy dreams. I have taken it before in Asia and didn’t find the effects too bad and so decided to go for it. It is also by far the cheapest option at just 15p per tablet. Again, this is rather a personal choice and definitely worth discussing in further detail with your nurse or travel clinic. I found the Fit for Travel website useful to find out where malaria is present.

6. Booking Ahead

As we are going away for over six months it wasn’t really a feasible option to fully plan and book the entire trip. However, we have booked our first three nights accommodation in Panama City and our three-night sailing adventure around the San Blas Islands before arriving in Colombia. The only other thing we have booked is the Inca Trail; as there are limited permits to do this and it needs to be booked up months in advance. However, don’t despair if you don’t have the budget to do the Inca Trail or aren’t able to plan that far in advance. There are some other great treks available including the popular and good-value jungle trek or if you are really short on time, you can always hop on the train to Aguas Calientes and then get on the bus to Machu Picchu.

If you want to read a bit more about our rough route, you can have a look here.

Let us know if you have any other great tips or any questions on any of the above.

Happy South America travels!

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