Category Archives: A single step…

Travelling with a Chromebook

My Chromebook was one of my last acquisitions before we set off, I dithered for about 3 months on whether a Chromebook would be able to handle everything I needed it for whilst I was away. Extensive googling gave me exactly what I expected, mixed reviews. Not on the performance of the machine itself but on whether it would even be useable whilst I was away.

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For those not sure what denotes a Chromebook, here’s a little info. A Chromebook is usually* akin to a netbook (small portable laptop) the difference that has to be made clear though is that the operating system is not Windows as you might expect but Chrome OS. If you’re currently reading this on a chrome browser, which I sincerely hope you are, then you might now be thinking “Google?”

Chrome OS is indeed designed by Google! For most of us the difference that is most stark is that rather than installing programmes like you would on your Windows or Apple computer, you install Apps like you would on your smartphone or tablet. This is where the Chromebook becomes a write off for some people. No you can’t have Photoshop, Word or Skype, sorry! The other big difference is that the OS is intended to be used with an Internet connection, when you open an App it launches as a new Chrome browser tab. If you’re now thinking “that sounds pretty useless” as I was at this point, please give my poor Chromebook a bit more time and attention.

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Right, my Acer only has 16gb Solid State Drive** so for most files, photos etc. i’m using an external HDD anyway. After research I worked out that the only things i’d be able to do whilst not connected to the internet were; write/edit documents, watch movies, edit photos, listen to music, write emails and play games. As I’m sure you can see, there’s not a lot else most of us do whilst not connected to the internet than that list. I’m not going to lie and say it’s a piece of cake and it does require some adaptation to new apps such as Google Docs and Hangouts, but all of these things are possible.

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Here are some bits you might like. I spent £199 on my Chromebook, Lauren spent the total yearly GDP of France on her 11” MacBook Air. The biggest considerations for me were battery life, price and weight. To the touch the 2 weigh the same, around 1.2kg** The Air is thinner at the front, but overall again they’re pretty similar. I’ve got a 9 hour battery life, the Air has 11 and finally my Chromebook cost £900 less than Lauren’s Air.

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I’m not trying to say that my Chromebook is superior to the MacBook Air, as Lauren has a huge SSD and is happily photoshopping as I write, but I’ve got a desktop at home to do all that. What I needed for the duration of our trip was exactly what I’ve got, a cheap, light computer with a great battery life!


Everything in the review before this sentence was written after 3 months of travelling. Here is the 14 month update as to how its held up!

I am still typing on my Chromebook, so as you can see it’s still going. The case has a few more scratches in it but the performance is still going strong. When I consider the body is plastic it’s actually done remarkably well. Whilst living in the rainforest for 8 months I did have some problems that meant the keyboard wouldn’t work. Annoying but not an issue most people will experience (it survived 6 months of humidity before this problem occurred.) On leaving the jungle some silica gel fixed the problem in under 12 hours.

Overall I would say that whilst the screen isn’t the best, it’s comfortable and the speakers whilst of lower quality have a superior maximum volume to Lauren’s Air. The built in webcam is terrible but since most of the South American internet connections are as well, a lower quality camera hasn’t been a problem.

Most importantly the OS. Have I found it a problem? Easy answer, no. There are still issues to be worked out, such as the fact that I can’t store music to device from my Google Music account, but hopefully this is just in the pipework for the imminent updates. You can still store music files and play them normally without a problem.


So yes i would suggest a Chromebook as a viable and good choice for a computer whilst travelling. I can only speak for my Acer C720 in terms of build and performance but I can say that Chromebooks are viable options for travelling.

*The Chromebook Pixel is much more heavy duty.
**With 100gb of free Google Drive cloud storage for 2 years.
***The Air weighs 1.08kg but we’re travelling so it’s aluminium needed a protector bringing the weight up

Money in South America

One of the questions we’ve found a lot of people asking before they go on a trip is “what’s the best way to take money abroad?” For a trip in South America ATMs are plentiful, except for a few, more remote places, so we’d advise using a debit card. Hopefully in this blog we can provide some useful advice as to why, based on our experiences. 

Worried about taking a card abroad

A prepaid cash card is an alternative that some travellers use to access their money abroad. Whilst they can be a useful backup we’d advise against them as your main access to money for a few reasons.

  • There are often quite a few fees involved in using a prepaid card abroad. Yes debit cards have them to, but they can be the same or lower than prepaid cards.
  • They can’t always be used for all types of transaction.
  • They have to be reloaded with money when you run out, which may not be as straight forward or cheap as it seems at first. Some cards can take up to five days to move the money around and charge you a percentage fee.
  • They come loaded either with your home currency, US Dollars or another currency that your provider offers. This means that you can suffer from bad exchange rates, especially if you’re travelling through multiple countries.

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Before you leave

There are several important things you should do before you leave your home country.

  • Work out which debit card has the lowest fees abroad
  • Get some US Dollars (USD)
  • Get some of the local currency of the first country you’ll be visiting. Or even each one you plan on visiting.
  • Tell your bank you’re going abroad and let them know which countries.
  • Make sure you have a reserve way of accessing money, another debit, credit or prepaid cash card.

 

Where to get the foreign currencies

Use the internet to look up the best foreign currency exchange office in your local area. If Google can’t help you out, ask some friends or go on a message board. We’ve found it’s often easier to get some foreign currency before you head abroad. It’ll also give you peace of mind that you’re not at some dodgy street vendor’s mercy. For people heading through London we’d definitely recommend Thomas Exchange Global on the Strand. You can order the money online through their website and it’ll be there when you turn up. They offer excellent exchange rates on commonly used currencies and pretty good rates on the more obscure ones.

 

Debit Cards

If you’re going to take a debit card (we suggest you do) then head on over to London and set up an account with Metrobank. When we first opened our accounts with them they offered free withdrawals abroad. They do now charge £1 per ATM withdrawal or transaction (outside of Europe). This is still far lower than any of the other UK banks, and there aren’t any confusing percentage fees that keep adding up either. For example Lloyds charge an additional 1.5-2.99% non-sterling transaction fee on top of a flat fee, so on one of my transactions i was charged a total of £7.89 on a £150 transaction. Nearly £8 versus £1 is a no brainer really… Of course if you’re not based in the UK, Google the best cards for travel in your country.

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Why USD

You should always have some USD on you. As the worlds base trading currency its easy to exchange pretty much anywhere in the world with good rates. After the USD then the Euro is probably the second best to have on you. Not only is the USD easy to exchange but in lots of countries, especially in tourist hotspots you can usually pay for a lot of things just with it without having to exchange to the local currency first. If you run out then many countries, especially in South America allow you to withdraw USD straight from ATM’s. As a rule your USD will be more useful in poorer countries or those experiencing economic instability.

 

ATM’s abroad

Withdrawing cash from ATM’s abroad isn’t of course as straight forward as in your home country and they react differently to different cards, so offering advice on which banks to use in various countries may not of course be helpful. The best thing to do is ask other travellers and use various machines until you work out which one is the best for your cards. Things to take into account are whether the ATM is going to add an additional fee on top of the one you’re already paying your bank and the maximum it’ll let you withdraw. There’s no point in saving a small amount of money on one withdrawal if you have to make three withdrawals instead of one from a different bank.

 

Let your bank know.

We’ve found a lot of people actually argued against this as they informed their bank they were heading abroad, only to find their cards blocked anyway. This is of course a worst case scenario which is why you should always have some local currency on you. With Metro Bank we have never experienced any problems with using it in over 20 countries. When you ring them up let them know your dates of travel (you can leave it open ended) and which countries you’re likely to be visiting. Lloyds did stop one of my transactions but sent me a text which would allow me to use the card unrestricted in that country if i replied by text. Annoying but i can’t complain too much for them being cautious and it only delayed me by 5 minutes.

 

Using your debit/credit card for payments.

We’ve only paid with card a couple of times as often there are hefty percentage costs for paying with your card abroad. It’s also worth remembering that some places only accept Visa or Mastercard, not both. If you set up a MetroBank account you’ll receive a Mastercard Debit card. Occasionally this can cause a headache as most people are only used to seeing a Mastercard Credit card and will try and charge you a higher credit card transaction rate. Just let them know it’s debit.

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What if my card gets cloned or stolen.

This a worry to everyone, and worse when you consider you could be thousands of miles from home. As long as you’re always safety conscious and keep your main card and your backup separate then the worst this should be is a headache without stranding you abroad. Card cloning is probably a bigger problem is your home country than in South America. In the UK we’re used to ATM’s dotted outside all along the high street.  In South America you’re more likely to find them inside a bank with a couple of security guards in constant attendance. This makes it much more difficult for crooks to set up a system to copy your card.

Some country advice

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Peru

We’ve found that Peruvian ATM’s don’t seem to charge for withdrawals as a rule. The maximum we can withdraw at one time in 700 PEN, equivalent to £150 GBP. ATM’s are usually found inside banks, if the bank is closed there will be a door accessed by scanning your card through a reader. If you’re worried about doing this, just wait for someone else to open the door on the way out. USD are easily exchanged, can be withdrawn from ATM’s and can be used to pay for tours and transportation such as planes and intercity busses.

Chile

Chilean ATM’s did charge us for withdrawals as a rule, but did allow us to take out fairly large amounts in one go. The USD isn’t as accepted as readily as elsewhere in South America due to the strength of Chile’s economy. In especially touristy spots such as San Pedro de Atacama or Torres del Paine national park USD can be used to pay for most tours and activities, just ask.

Bolivia

Some Bolivian ATM’s charged us but not all, other nationalities had different experiences. Your money will go a long way in Bolivia so you won’t be making lots of withdrawals. If you have a lot of USD then chances are you’ll never have to go near an ATM anyway, just exchange it for Bolivianos. Some places actually prefer you to pay in USD but be aware that the exchange rates can be pretty bad.

Argentina

At the time of writing Argentina has been experiencing a period of economic unrest. As such they have introduced numerous sanctions to try and stabilise their economy. These are aimed at their own citizens but affect  tourists just as much. If you’re really interested there are lots of economics articles that will explain it much better than i can. The point is you can’t withdraw much in one go from ATM’s and it’ll probably cost you a fair bit. Don’t be worried though as there is a black market for USD as Argentineans try and ride out the crisis. The Blue Dollar rate will save you 30% or more on your trip to Argentina. Take as many USD as you are comfortable taking and exchange them for the much better Blue Dollar rate on the street. If you run out of USD, pop into Chile or Uruguay to withdraw more. Be aware that the Blue Dollar trade is illegal but exists in a grey zone. As long as the police don’t physically see you exchanging the money they don’t care. They want dollars over pesos as much as anyone else.

Uruguay

We didn’t spend much time in Uruguay, only visiting Colonia. However the shops and cafes there allowed us to pay in USD, Euro, Argentine pesos as well as the local currency. We only tried one ATM and it did charge us quite a bit, but this may not be the rule.

Paraguay

Again we only visited Paraguay briefly. From what we understand the USD is easily accepted. We weren’t charged for our ATM withdrawal and we could withdraw USD. As with Bolivia your money will go a long way. We withdrew £40 for our day in Paraguay, we still had over £30 at the end of the day.

Brazil

Brazil gave us the most hassle when it came to withdrawals. Some ATM’s won’t allow you to withdraw cash. I don’t mean some banks i mean some specific machines. The best thing to do is to try every machine in each bank you visit, when you find one that works remember which one it was. Santander didn’t charge us for withdrawals. The USD is best exchanged into the local currency in cities but tours in more touristy areas can be paid for with it.

Colombia

You can usually withdraw between 300,000 and 600,000 COP in one go from an ATM (£75-£150) BancoColombia ATM’s were really easy to use and didn’t charge us any additional fees. They also allowed us to withdraw the upper amount of 600,000 COP. The ATM’s are nearly always inside a bank or a lobby for use after hours. These lobbies always have excellent air conditioning, great for cooling off when you’re out and about!

Finding a Volunteer Project in South America

Volunteering is something Iain and I spent hours painstakingly researching when we were preparing for our trip to South America. The obvious questions for us were: what type of volunteer project should we choose, where should we volunteer, and how should we begin organising our volunteer trip? It was a daunting task deciding where, not only, to donate our time, but also our money from the thousands of projects out there on offer.

How to choose a type of volunteer project?

For us working at an animal rescue centre, an orphanage/school, a construction project, or teaching English were all considerations. And really we made the final decision by being brutally honest with ourselves. What would we enjoy most and what type of project would we get the most out of? To all the selfless do-gooders out there, this might all sound a bit me me me, but really you need to be enthusiastic about a project to do any good.

The reality for me was: I wasn’t sure I was physically fit enough or skilled enough to be part of a construction project 24/7. Also having never worked with children before I couldn’t promise myself that after a week or so a group of them wouldn’t drive me crazy. I love kids but usually kids that I can look after for a few hours and then give back to their parents. An after our episode with Tannat the stray dog we picked up in Argentina, I’m sure you can appreciate why working with animals became the focus of our efforts. Choose something you love and you and the project will both be happy with your work there.

Tannat
Tannat

How to begin organising your volunteer trip? Cutting out the middleman.

When beginning our search online it was easy to be lured in by the glossy websites or middlemen offering “life changing experiences” all over the world. You’ll know ones if you’ve begun by typing “volunteer abroad” into Google. Tempting as the pictures of volunteers holding turtles or the close-up shots of jaguars seemed at first, with prices way over £1000 for 2 weeks these projects were an unrealistic option for us. Despite these companies promising pre-departure support and local orientation on arrival we like many had to question what justified these prices. From a little research and speaking with projects that had once been involved with these companies, usually only a small portion of what the volunteer pays actually goes to the project itself.

True or not, why would you pay £1000 when you can pay a tenth of that for virtually the same experience? We chose a project were we paid a little under £100 for 2 weeks directly into the hands of the project. For that our food and accommodation were included as well as a donation for materials for the project. And to top it off we didn’t have the nagging question in our minds as to what our money was actually paying for. The organisation was upfront about all the costs involved with the project and we could see exactly where our money went.

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Working with the materials, our money helped buy.

How to find the free/cheap volunteer projects?

Having ruled out going through ones of the large companies, we had to search a little harder to find and contact the projects themselves. Unfortunately it’s not as easy as adding “free” or “cheap” to your original query in the search engines. The commercial middle-mans still appear…£1000 is cheap in some peoples definitions apparently?! We luckily stumbled across this website which proved invaluable for our search in South America.

http://www.volunteersouthamerica.net/

Anything but glossy, this basic website offers a list of “grassroots” volunteer projects throughout South and Central America. Simply web-links but it allows you to contact the projects directly yourself.

Not travelling to South America? Don’t worry these websites/lists do exist for your chosen destination; you just have to be a bit more creative with your search. I suggest searching for “lists of free volunteer projects in …” or “volunteering aboard for free blogs”. For most travelling and backpacking, blogs and first hand advice are a vital source of information. Likewise when you’ve narrowed down your choice of project it is worth searching for a few blogs written by people who have actually volunteered there. They might simply have useful advice about getting there or what to pack but they may also help you avoid less authentic, money grabbing organisations.

Which volunteer project should I choose?

As I said before reading blogs on the projects can be really helpful, but here are a few of other tips for choosing the right project.

Read the websites – sounds simple but get as much information out of the website as possible. Read all the information available but don’t be afraid to contact and ask for further info if you cant find what you need. Reading newsletters and updates from the projects can be very reassuring.

Contact multiply projects – I’m not saying email them all, keep to those within your chosen field, but it’s a good idea to contact a few as they may not all have availability for your chosen timeframe. Also a friendly, enthusiastic email response from a real person goes along way to cementing your decision to volunteer. We emailed multiple projects but it was Olivia’s quick, personable response that ensured we were on the next plane to Esperanza Verde.

Talk to other travellers – if like us you were already on the road when you were finalising your decision of where to volunteer, other backpackers can be an excellent source of information. They might for example know of smaller/start-up projects that perhaps don’t have a web presence yet.

Use social media – you will find lots of projects have a Facebook page or perhaps a group set up by ex-volunteers. Most of the projects wont be on review sites, such as Trip-advisor, but it’s always reassuring to reach out to a few ex-volunteers if possible.

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Louie, a young male squirrel monkey rescued from the Black Market

There are thousands of projects out there, offering all sorts of different work as a volunteer. Research your project carefully; ensure you know what will be expected of you as a volunteer and what you will get in return. You don’t need to pay a lot of money to have an amazing and fulfilling time. Nearly all the volunteers I have met, whether they volunteered for 2 weeks or 2 months have come away with an unforgettable experience. Good luck with your search and do contact us if you would like any further help or advice.

Although this blog post was created to help you choose volunteer project in any field, but if like us you have an interest in animals you can read more about our experience at Esperanza Verde here or watch the video below.

Crab Claws and Yellow Cathedrals: Chiloe Island

After a few days on the Chilean mainland we decided to head out to try some island life. Chiloe island, the second largest in South America after Tierra del Fuego is just a short hop from Puerto Montt. A 20 minute boat ride across the Chacao straight will take you to an area of Chile still new to the tourist track. The island is noticeably different to the southern Chilean mainland. Maintaining strong links with its native heritage along with a heavy dose of 17th century Jesuit missionary influence, Chiloe has charm, culture and colour in abundance.

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For a few days we’d be staying in Castro the capital of the island, located half way down the east coast. The weather predictions were as we’d come to expect from southern Chile, bleak with almost constant rain expected. As we pulled into Castro in the dark and rain the only thing we could make out through the haze was a brightly lit building. It was only as we got off the bus we realised that this pink and yellow structure was in fact the towns Cathedral and in addition to it’s psychedelic colour scheme was also built entirely out of wood.

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Chiloe is famous for it’s colourful wooden churches, there are more than 150 spread across the island, each one unique. The Jesuit missionaries and later the Franciscans are to thank for these remarkable structures, but probably not the colours.

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The hostel we were staying in was in the traditional style for the island, a “palafito” a house on stilts, which at high tide leaves you sleeping above the water. As with most of Chiloe’s architecture the palafitos are brightly painted and made of wood. If you’re heading to the island we’d definitely recommend trying to stay in one of these traditional houses. As we arrived with the rain hammering down outside and a lovely log fire going all we wanted to do was sit back and enjoy the Chilean national drink, the Pisco Sour!

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Southern Chile has yet to see the advantages of central heating, this is especially odd considering it has a cold climate most of the year. Wood burning stoves are fairly standard in homes, shops and restaurants. Whilst they make you feel warm and cosy, they also mean that after a few days you’ll smell rather strongly of wood smoke. So does everyone else though so you don’t really notice.

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The next day started…surprisingly…rainless. As this was a rarity this time of year we were up and out, ready to explore within twenty minutes. Apart from it’s colourful architecture Chiloe is also famous for it’s cuisine. A little unsurprisingly for an island that cuisine is seafood and the fish market is where all the restaurants and locals come to get their supplies. A colourful building surrounded by colourful fishing boats you’ll find yourself amazed by the size and range of fresh catch for sale.

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Whilst there is plenty of fish on offer what impressed us the most were the more unusual items for sale. Whilst I know seaweed is edible I rarely eat it outside of a chinese. Seaweed is however clearly put to good use on Chiloe. Loose seaweed, seaweed cakes, cooked, dried, smoked and even thick kelp like tentacles that were wrapped around themselves ready to go. If we’d had a clue what to do with it we’d definitely have bought some!

Directly next to the fish market is the central market selling a great selection of local hand crafts. If you’re only just starting to head south, this is a great place to pick up some warm jumpers and socks. Or you could always pick up a poncho if you’re feeling adventurous…but since we’ve yet to see anyone wearing one, we gave it a miss.

 

If you fancy sampling some of the local seafood the restaurant we’d recommend is El Mercadito, near the fish market. Specialising in seafood, the restaurants sharing starter is a great way to get a feel for Chilean seafood and followed by one of the huge mains it’s a hearty meal. For those who aren’t fish lovers, there are of course steaks on offer as well. The Frozen Pisco Sour at this restaurant is a must have, probably the best we’ve had in Chile. Book or arrive early as it’s nearly always full by 9:00.

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How Much Should You Save and Budget for South America?

Expanding on my first blog on How to Budget for Backpacking and Long-term Travel, I thought it would be good to provide some more detail on how much we budgeted for our trip in South America….

Loosely we used the £1000/$1600 a month rule as a basis

With an outward flight booked just before the start of March, we at least wanted to last until Christmas, 10 months later. So using the rule above,  £10,000* each sounded like a good total to save.

*It took 2 years of scrimping but we got there!

In more detail…

Once we browsed a bookstore we used the following prices as daily spends (all in US dollars, correct as of Sept 2013). We used these as a further basis for our budget…we took the comfortable (upper) daily budgets then we planned for a month in each country …

 

  Total for 30 days
Argentina $50 (Basic) $80 (comfortable) $2,400
Bolivia $15 $28 $840
Brazil $55 $85 $2,550
Chile $40 $60 $1,800
Colombia $50 $90 $2,700
Ecuador $25 $40 $1,200
The Guianas $65 $90 n/a*
Paraguay $30 $50 $1,500
Peru $25 $35 $1,050
Uruguay $30 $50 $1,500
Venezuela $60 $70 $2,100
Grand Total $16,140/£9,595

 

*Not on our itinerary.

So here the £1,000 a month rule works out pretty well…

However given that we hope to stay for longer and also get to Central America we will be trying to stick to the basic budget when actually travelling. For the last two months this basic budget has been going pretty well….Brazil during Carnival was a real test…but we are just about sticking to it.

Not saved as much as you’ve hoped/or want to stay longer?

Seems simple but spend less time in the more expensive countries and like us stay longer in Peru and Bolivia! In the end we settled for 2 weeks in Brazil as opposed to 1 month – this saved us an awful lot of money but meant we had to be super organised and keep our plans concise.

Hope this table is helpful to start planning your trip!

5 Tips: How to Budget for Backpacking and Long-term Travel

It’s a fairly common question that most backpackers will ask or at least google when they begin planning a trip but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to know how much to save. Here are our top tips for budgeting…

1. Always over estimate

Sounds obvious but it is way better to have too much money for your stay than too little. If you have a little extra it means you can splash out once in a while or do an expensive activity you’ve always wanted to do. For us it was a scuba diving course in Koh Tao.

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2. Use the £1000 a month rule

When we were travelling through multiple countries in 6 months we used the rule above. Whilst during a month in Australia we spent a quite a bit more than £1000, what we saved during our two months in South East Asia, meant it averaged out. So if you are travelling through multiple countries that vary in how expensive they are, this can sometimes be a fairly straightforward way to get started.

3. Spend an afternoon in a bookstore or library. The Internet can be a minefield of opinions on budgets.

It would be very expensive (and not to mention it would weigh a lot!) to buy a travel guide for every destination on the average backpackers itinerary. However we found it very useful, when initially planning a trip, to browse the travel guides and maybe take a few handy snaps or notes on your iPhone…ssshhh we know it’s frowned upon. Travel guides generally have a section near the front or the front of each country section that will give you an average daily spend. Often this daily spend is in the form of a basic, comfortable and luxury budget. Find out the “comfortable’ or midrange daily spend and times it by the number of days you hope to spend there, and if you keep yourself frugal you should be covered for most of the stuff you want to do!

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This isn’t a bookstore, it’s just a random book shelf in a hostel…in case you had forgotten what a book looks like…

4. Have a separate budget for extras

On this trip the Inca Trail and scuba diving are the must do activities. When we started planning we kept these separate in the budget to insure we would be able to them. I.e. we had an extra £500 for the Inca Trail set aside. In writing this I’ve realised we should probably also have some money separated for a flight home…we don’t…so it’s probably also a good idea to budget for this if you don’t have all your flights booked from the beginning! Either that or get yourself deported…but that’s really not recommended!

5. Keep an eye on the news

If a country isn’t doing too well financially, any prices listed in guide books in the local currency may become useless. Thankfully the daily budgets mentioned above are usually listed in US dollars so they are fairly safe to plan from. However with Argentina we found all the prices listed for activities were completely wrong due to inflation. On the flip-side keeping an eye on the news meant we quickly became aware of the blue dollar that has saved us a lot of money.

Oh and one more…

Don’t forget to budget for insurance, flights, immunisations, anti-malarials, and your kit and rucksack etc. Again keep this separate if you can, as all this can add up quickly! As for the travel kit – speak to friends and ex-backpackers as they may well have gear you can borrow.

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Why Do We Travel? – Part 2

After Iain wrote his blog entitled “Why do we travel?” it got me thinking. When we first announced to friends family and co-workers that we were quitting our jobs to backpack around South America, we were met with varying reactions. One of the most common was “Why, what are you going to do out there?” Initially my response was “Well derr, nothing, sweet nothing.” Though honestly I can say in the past 2 months I have never spent a day doing nothing…

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It feels like a lifetime ago we left the UK, but truthfully every day flies by too quickly for my liking. So my days are not quite as busy as when I worked 9-7pm, squeezed in the gym after and tried to cook a decent meal, but travelling full time is a busy lifestyle. A different pace perhaps but still busy nonetheless.

Even in our days of “downtime” we will usually be exploring the local shops, blogging, keeping in touch with friends and family or researching what to do next. Most nights I fall asleep reading a Rough Guide or Lonely Planet on my kindle deliberating where to go tomorrow.

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When we left the UK our plans were very loose, so loose in fact they consisted of Rio Carnival and Lollapalooza in Buenos Aires a month later. Other than that, we figured we’d have enough money to live comfortably (just!) for about a year out here, so really the possibilities are endless! Doing nothing is not an option when there is so much to see and do out there!

We are big fans of keeping the plans loose and rarely plan much further than a few days ahead but due to circumstances we have been forced to book our Inca Trail in Peru. They only allow a limited number on the trail each day so you are forced to book at least 6 months in advance. However given that this trek is not until the end of September we have a fair amount of flexibility still to play with.

So what are our motivations for travelling? In 2011, on our first round the world trip, we had a limited time in each country we visited, as we had onward flights booked. Our aim really was to tick off the “must see” sights in the guide books and move on to the next place. This time we are, as we like to call it, “slow travelling”. Although we are still drawn to see the “top sights” we also want to see the places and the people.

I’ve not fooled myself into thinking you can truly know a place with a few extra days…but it sure is fun trying to get to know it. It’s fair to say we didn’t need 10 days in Rio or 11 days in Buenos Aires to see the tourist attractions. Yet one of my fondest memories will be finding my favourite veg stall in San Telmo market and being welcomed back each day with a cheery smile…so much so they put up with me asking for the Spanish name for each vegetable! Or even being talked at by the locals on Rio’s buses yet having no clue what they were saying but smiling and nodding all the same.

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Hopefully in the next year we may even find a job volunteering and stay put for a while, so we can really experience a place. Who knows where but this would certainly be a new chapter to our travels. Like other backpackers part of the fun for us has also been meeting people, both locals and other likeminded travellers. As after all isn’t half the fun of travelling exchanging stories and advice with others?

So why do we travel? Because everyday is different. There is so much out there to see and do. We can’t possibly hope to see everything but we are going to have a pretty good stab at it over the next year, so keep reading…

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Why do you travel? We would love to hear your thoughts.

City Travel: Bus or Metro?

In London its fair to say I was one of those Londoners who knew where they were going and used the tube (or metro) as a way to get there quicker. Failing that I’d always walk, preferring a stroll to a bus journey that would inevitably crawl along on London’s roads. However when I’m travelling it’s a different story.

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In a new city I will nearly always advocate mastering the bus system. Of course this depends on whether the city has a competent bus system worth mastering but bus travel in a foreign city is part of the experience. Yes explore the metro too, but like the London tube I find most metro systems lack the charm of a bus and here’s why…

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You get to see the city – with time to spare it is always worth making a few journeys on the bus even if the traffic is bad. You get to see more of the city than you would buried deep underground and I find it allows you to build a mental map of the city to use later when strolling around.

You meet people – even in Rio where we could barely communicate with anyone bar nods, smiles and shoulder shrugs, we still found people on the bus were eager to help and talk to us, even if the conversation was one way! Any experience of an underground system will tell you that you’ll be lucky to make eye contact with another human being let alone get a word out of one.

They usually get you to the doorstep – you can ask the driver to shout when you reach your destination and unlike the metro they usually drop you within metres of where you are trying to get to. If you’re lucky they sometimes even become taxis, as we found at 3am in the morning when we were the only passengers on the bus and the driver insisted on dropping us to our door.

They are cheap – enough said really…

They run all night – most metro systems stop at night but you will nearly always be able to find a bus home in the early hours of the morning.

The expanse of the network – certainly on this continent the bus networks far outstrip the reach of metro systems.

Do our readers agree? Or have any other tips and stories about transport?

Things to do in Colonia: Colonia Del Sacramento in the rain…

We have spent the last few days relaxing in Colonia. A short ferry ride from Buenos Aires this town comes highly recommended to any visitor to the area. Although we can certainly say it would only be improved by better weather it is still a great place to hang out for a few days even in the rain. We however wouldn’t recommend visiting if you have high expectations of there being a wealth of activities to occupy you. It’s a small place, somewhere a good friend admitted he would like to retire too, but it certainly has its charms. Here are our recommendations for what to do…

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Eat – food is noticeably more expensive here than in BA but there is plenty of decent restaurants and coffee shops to relax in. We highly recommend spending an evening at Buen Suspiro. Although guidebook recommended, and that doesn’t always guarantee good food or atmosphere, this place reminded us of one of our favourite wine bars in London. A laid-back atmosphere and delicious but uncomplicated food.

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Photograph – It is fair to say we are fairly snap happy with our DSLRs but certainly if you come here when its quiet (and unfortunately a bit wet) you can while away the hours photographing the streets and classic cars, and your pictures will nearly all be tourist free…

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Stroll – Although we were initially shocked at how small the old town is, when it wasn’t raining we enjoyed strolling around taking in a few ruins and admiring the boats and water. Pick up a dog as a companion (our new favourite thing to do) and explore.

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Failing that…read a book and take a few days to chill.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rucksacks: The Osprey Farpoint 55

We spent months debating what bag and what size we should purchase for our year long plus journey. On our first trip in 2011, six months in length, we each took an 85L travel pack, with detachable day sack. Looking back we packed so much we can only describe it as everything but the kitchen sink! This time we vowed to pack far less…

So how is the Osprey Farpoint 55 holding up…

THE SIZEIMG_1192

We have been using the Osprey Farpoint 55 for over a month now and can safely say we have made the right choice on size. The bag itself is 55L in total; this includes a detachable 10L day sack. Does this fit everything we need…we can safely say yes. Buy a bigger bag and all you will do is fill it with unnecessary items that you will begin to resent lugging around.

THE DACKSACK

As mentioneIMG_1193d above, the daysack is detachable. At 10L it fits a laptop, a digital SLR and all the other little essentials you need to hand when travelling. When wearing the main rucksack the daysack attaches securely to your front. This means all your valuables are safely in sight whilst keeping your hands free…to hold on for dear life as that bus careers around the corner at breakneck speed! Also it has plenty of additional pockets and a handy whistle on one of the straps…to attract the attention of the coast guard, taxis, buses, attractive boys/girls, or perhaps your deaf grandmother…

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All the straps are adjustable and fit comfortably, so much so you almost forget you wearing it…well until you loose your footing and come close to doing that oh so stylish impression of an upturned tortoise…not that I’ve ever done it. There are also additional carrying handles on the side and the top; these are well made and do not cut into your hands should you choose to carry it with one for a longer period. The shoulder and waist straps all neatly zip away making it easy to store and to check in as hold luggage.

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PRACTICALITIES

The main rucksack has two internal pockets that prove vital for all the tiny bits and bobs you inevitably end up IMG_1185packing…torches, charger cables, anti-malarials etc. Compression straps and strong zips make the rucksack easy close…even when it seems like an impossible feat to fit everything in! Finally the zips are lockable, which ensures all your items stay safely packed away.

THE PRICE

At £90 (RRP £100 but shop around!) the rucksack wasn’t the cheapest on the market but nor was it the most expensive. And overall we would say its worth the investment.

*For more details on what we packed this time and what we left at home see our packing list.