Everyone always asks: weren't you scared? How can you afford it? When I tell people I backpacked South America by myself as a woman, these are the questions I always get. My very first trip to South America I spent 3 months traveling around and fell head over heels for South America. I had to go back. Recently, I backpacked with my partner for another 8 months visiting the spots I had missed. I've compiled a list of 10 things you NEED to know about backing South America! It includes tips, myths, and tricks of how I accomplished my dreams of traveling and learning Spanish!
1. You don't need to be rich to do it.
The first myth I'd like to bust is you really don't need much money to travel. I know it sounds crazy. People spend 5k on a week vacation to Hawaii. That is the same amount that lasted me 3 months in South America and nearly 8 months in South and Central America. Budget travel is the new wave. I recommend couch surfing, hitch hiking, and work exchange to save money AND for some extra adventure.
South America was my first solo trip abroad and I'd argue it is the perfect first backpacking trip. There are beautiful beaches, mountains, desert, salt flats, big cities-- and most importantly, so much rich culture. It's also closer to home (USA) with not much of a time difference to stay connected with loved ones.
South America has JUST enough tourism. Enough tourism that you don't feel alone, but not too much to the point where it is overwhelming.
3. It is safe.
I have been more nervous and unsafe in my own city (Chicago) than cities abroad. Do NOT let to your crazy uncle who's never left his recliner tell you that South America is dangerous. Bad things happen everywhere, but nothing is worse than refusing to explore the world because of fear.
Obvious note: check local news for protests/civil wars/other important events that could be dangerous.
Overall, South America can be safe for solo female travelers. I met tens and tens of women traveling alone and absolutely loving it!
4. Take your time! Do not sprint through South America!
Travel slow. Take a breath. Look around. Sell your condo and your car and do not look back (lol)! I HIGHLY recommend taking your time to explore one of the most beautiful continents in the world. If you want to see all of South America, I recommend a minimum of 1 year. If you only have a month or a couple weeks, pick one country. I spent THREE months exploring Colombia (my favorite country).
5. The best way to travel is SOLO!
I have traveled both with a partner and solo and I have to admit, there is nothing like spreading your wings solo-dolo. And remember, just because you are a solo traveler does not mean you will be alone. There is a backpacking community that will open their arms to you. I recommend staying in backpacker hostels and couch surfing to make friends along your journey.
6. Pack light.
Pack light and pack smart. Assume all your things will be stolen or lost at some point of your trip. Do not bring anything that is so valuable that you would be heart broken if it disappears. I laugh while writing this, but it's what helped me not be too attached to material things.
Beyond that, there are many packing lists online for South America specifically. Keep in mind, there are warm and cold areas of the continent. Pack the necessities and stay organized! Here are a few of my essentials I cannot travel without that may differ from other online packing lists:
Hydroflask Toliet Paper Hiking Boots (there is SO much hiking to do in SA!) Yoga Mat Headlamp Divacup (feminine products are TOO expensive) Laptop (for blogging) A journal Bar shampoo (Lush) Cooking spices and coconut oil (vegan traveler essentials) Camping silverware and pocket knife (eating on the go)
7. Set your phone up for success! (Travel apps, music, and podcasts)
Expect the longest bus rides of your life (my longest was 22 hours). I make sure to download my favorite music and podcasts on my phone as well as ebooks/audio books.
Some of my favorite travel apps:
Hoopla & OverDrive (free books with library card) Uber (It's cheap/safe in big cities compared to taxis) MapsMe Hostelworld Couchsurfing SpanishDict Airbnb (cheaper option for couples) WhatsApp (all locals communicate through this app)
8. How to plan?
Don't. I think the best plan is no plan at all. The ONLY things I would plan are: idea of major sites that you want to see/do and a general route of travel. I say "general" because you want that plan to be flexible. Say you decide to stay in Colombia for 3 months because you absolutely love it, you want your itinerary to be flexible for you to be able to make those decisions once you get to a destination. I always have my first hostel and/or work exchange booked to relieve the initial jitters.
Things to google search before your trip: exchange rates, key Spanish phrases, and how to get from the airport to your first hostel/hotel.
9. My favorite spots!
Some of my favorite places in SA were the small towns and simple connections I made with other travelers and locals. With that being said, South America is filled with instagrammable spots that will take your breath away. Here's a list of some of my favorites:
Cali, Colombia Tayrona National Park Guatape, Colombia Bolivian Salt Flats Machu Picchu (Peru) Sandboarding in Huacachina, Peru Lima, Peru (the best food in South America) Cuenca, Ecuador Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
10. Don't forget your sunnies.
My final tip: I ALWAYS travel with at least TWO pairs of sunglasses. In South America, you are either on a beach or hiking: good sunglasses are a must. WearMePro sunglasses are perfect for travel! They are inexpensive, durable, AND trendy. Why two? Because I always lose one.
Thanks for reading! My name is Courtney Vondran. I've been living as a nomadic human for the past 5 years or so wandering mostly in Latin America because salsa dancing is life. I enjoy writing about embarrassing travel stories, rare vegan finds, and sex/relationships. If you have questions or would like to chat about traveling or life, let's connect! Contact me through instagram: @courtneytheexplorer or email: firstname.lastname@example.org or check out my blog: courtneytheexplorer.com!
Special thank you to WearMePro for allowing me to share my passion for South America and budget travel! <3