At the time of writing, I am two months into my year-long journey. So I am just starting to collect travel tips, and I expect this page to grow. If you have traveled in Latin America and have additional advice or if you have questions, please contact me or add comments to this page. Gracias!
Because I am a woman traveling alone, a lot of my advice comes from this specific perspective, but I think these tips can apply to everyone.
- Never carry your passport. Only carry a photocopy when you are out and about. Lock away the original. Same advice goes for credit cards and bank cards. Also, only carry as much cash as you plan to spend while you are out. Take it from someone who got robbed their first day of traveling. I was so lucky that someone had already given me this advice, so I did not have to deal with the hassle of replacing my cards and passport.
- Don’t pay in advance for multiple nights at a hostel or hotel you haven’t been to before. Check it out for a night or two. You may discover there is a bar next door that plays loud techno music until 4am or that there is no hot water in the shower. It’s not worth saving a few bucks to commit yourself to a place you may not like for an extended period of time.
- Always ask for the price of things first. You don’t want to have someone provide a service you know should cost $1, and then they charge you $4 once they’ve already provided the service. Also, if you’d not sure if the price is good for things like an open-air market, thank the person and move on to ask another vendor. This is important in markets where nothing will have a price listed on it, and it is common to try to take advantage of foreigners
- Ask one or two locals for the price of taxis or other services. If you know a taxi to the airport should cost you $3, and the taxi driver tells you $5, you can tell him you’ll take the taxi for $3 and you’ll most likely get it at that price. A savings of $2 may not seem like much, but when you are traveling on a budget for a long period of time, it adds up. Especially if your budget is $15-20 a day.
- If you actually care about the coffee you drink, remember to ask if it’s filtered coffee (café filtre) before you order. Otherwise, it’s powder in hot milk or water. Yes, coffee is important enough to me to warrant inclusion in my travel tips
- Many items in restaurants cost extra. Always, always ask if there is an additional cost for something. There are almost never free refills of anything, and simple things like more butter or jelly can cost extra.
- There are many ways to get around in Latin America. Ask about different modes of transportation because many times the one first offered is the most expensive. If something doesn’t seem safe (especially if you’re traveling at night and/ or traveling alone), go with another option even if it’s more expensive or means waiting until the next day. Trust your gut.
- Do not only rely on travel guides alone. Use them to get basic information and any of idea of hostels or restaurants to check out, but always ask others (locals and travelers) what they recommend. Many of the best and cheapest hostels and restaurants are not in a guide book, and you’ll only find out about them by word-of-mouth or being lucky enough to stumble upon them.
- Whenever you arrive in a new place, ask a local (best if it’s a woman) about the safety of the location. Is it safe to walk alone at night? Are there specific streets or areas to avoid? Ask if there is much crime in the area?
- Don’t drink too much. I know this seems obvious and it really should apply all of the time, not just when traveling, but it’s very important, especially if you are a woman traveling alone. And if you are drinking, never leave for your drink, even for a second, or let anyone else you don’t know very well bring you a drink. I have heard enough stories about women who have been drugged at bars and both men and women who have woken up after a drunken night to discover missing valuables.
- Watch your belongings. Don’t let them leave your site. This is why it is important to pack light, especially when traveling for an extended period of time, and not have too many separate bags. You want to be able to walk with all of your belongs and still have free hands. You want to be able to sleep in a bus station with all of your belongings touching you and within your sight.
- Be sure that when you are carrying all of your belongings, both of your hands are still free. You are an easy target if you are loaded down with luggage.
What to Bring – This is a simple list of things that I found to be more expensive or difficult to find in Latin America. Check out my Gear page for more specifics on luggage, clothing, and electronics.
- Sunscreen – This is all imported from the US, so it is always more expensive. Bring a supply from home to save money.
- Chapstick – I have no idea why, but this is more expensive here.
- Mace/ Pepper Spray – If you’re a woman traveling alone, I highly suggest having this with you, especially for when you are traveling with all of your luggage or are walking around with a good camera. So far, I have been unable to find this here, and I’ve been told you may pack it in your checked luggage. Worst case scenario would be that the country you fly to doesn’t allow it, and they confiscate it if you are randomly selected to have your luggage searched.
- $1 and $5 Bills – It is very difficult to find change in many Latin American countries. Even if the country uses a currency other than the dollar, many will still take dollars and sometimes it can be better to pay in dollars. And when you inevitably are at a tienda trying to use a foreign currency but owners insists he has no change, US dollars can sometimes be used instead.
- Spices – This may seem weird, but if you plan to do your own cooking while you’re traveling, it’s not a bad idea to bring small Ziplock bags with some of your favorite spices. You never know what you will and will not be able to find. Plus, it gets expensive to buy whole bottles of spices while traveling, and the bottles take up too much space in your luggage. One thing I will buy as soon as I find it is Italian seasoning: perfect for nearly everything.