5 months travelling around South America. How we did it!

5 years ago my (now) husband and I moved to New York. We were energetic 25 year olds, eager to get our fill of the big apple. We had both landed great jobs and got stuck in to the New York grind as soon as possible. But we knew that at some point before we got married and had kids, we wanted to take some time off and see a bit of the world. We decided on South America and started saving bit by bit each month. After a few years of squirreling away, we realised that we had saved almost enough money to make our dream a reality.

Due to a series of events, an unexpected window opened, and in September 2015 we saw our opportunity to quit city life for a while and head down south to Latin America. Before we set off I created a budget and schedule for the trip in Google Docs, and have been using that to record our movements and spending since day one. I’m a Producer, so organisation runs in my veins! I thought sharing this would be a helpful resource for those of you planning a similar adventure. When I was searching online for our own trip, this sort of information was thin on the ground, so hopefully this helps you!

A few notes to put this document into context:

  • Before we set off, we decided that although we’re doing this trip on a ‘shoestring’, it’s less of a shoestring budget than we might have stuck to 10 years ago. We wanted to backpack, but not be super hardcore about it. For example, we have booked private rooms wherever possible, and have eaten and drunk pretty well. So you can definitely do things more cheaply, but this budget has been comfortable for a 30 year old couple who are over the student life! (Boring or what!)
  • This is a budget for 2 people
  • The schedule has definitely been fluid (as you can tell from our weird route!). We’ve changed things up, as and when we’ve needed to, so you do not need to book everything in advance. However, if it’s a busy season or a popular hostel, I would recommend making a reservation ahead of time which you can always cancel if you need to. Where you stay is super key, so nabbing a good spot could be make or break.
  • We have been to lots of places. If you want to cut costs, go to fewer places for longer.
  • We packed really badly! We hadn’t done a lot of planning before we set off, and stupidly only packed for warm weather. We had been told that buying clothes along the way would be cheaper and meant you didn’t have to carry it from day one. Infuriatingly, when we reached colder places we spent a bunch of money on clothes that we have sitting at home. Had we bought them with us we would have saved quite a bit of money. So check the temperature forecast for countries you are visiting and if you have the right clothes at home, bring them.
  • To get around this vast continent we’ve mixed up buses and flights. You can definitely just bus it and save a lot of money that way, but sometimes it’s only $10 — $20 more to take a flight and save 10 hours of travel time. Go figure! Bear in mind that international flights are expensive, so definitely book those in advance where you can.
  • These are prices from October 2015 — Feb 2016. Hopefully prices won’t rise for you, but our Lonely Planet Guide was 3 years old and woefully out of date regarding budgets. Good luck!

How to read the Google Doc:

  • Each country has its own tab. Each tab has self-explanatory columns and rows. We estimated $50 per day for accommodation, and $70 per day for food, excursions and transport. These tabs only account for these items.
  • In addition to this, we had separate pots of money for flights, clothes, miscellaneous items and bigger trips like Machu Picchu. These costs are accounted for at the bottom of the ‘Budget Act’ tab, and not on the country tabs.
  • I have quoted all expenses in dollars so depending on what the exchange rate was on a given day, the price may fluctuate.
  • I couldn’t remember the name of every bar and restaurant we went to, but the price recorded should give you a general sense of what to budget for.
  • Where a cell is blank, it means that we paid for that day out of a separate bank account (used only for special splurge occasions!) or the accommodation and food were covered by the total trip cost.
  • I haven’t gone into detail on each place, but feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions!

Here is the ‘read only’ link to our live Google Doc. Check it out!