Tag Archives: The Basics

How to travel: Buses in Argentina

Argentina is HUGE! I know this might seem like an obvious statement, if you glance at a map for a moment it’s obviously a big place, but maps just don’t get the point across. Coming from a small island in the North Atlantic, it’s very hard to get my head around the distances involved in travelling Argentina. 18, 24 or 32 hour journeys are a matter of course when traversing the world’s eighth largest country. In the course of a week we’ve gone from deserts, cacti and 30°C heat to snow and -2°C on Antarctica’s doorstep. How you’re going to get around this country is one of the first things travellers are going to think about, hopefully this will help.

Buses / Coaches
Unless you’ve got limited time and lots of money then you’re going to be using buses as your mode of transport. Certainly if you come from Britain this is not a pleasant prospect, my experience of busses in the UK are either “rail replacement” or school trips. If this is your expectation then prepare to be very pleasantly surprised.

I felt writing this on a bus would ensure I could write an accurate account of what to expect. I’m currently sitting in what could be best described as a leather armchair, it reclines by 160°. I have my feet on a foot rest and someone has just brought me a glass of wine. This beverage indicates that my evening meal should be here soon, first the cold course then the hot. Sound good?

IMG_8232

Classes
There are multiple classes of coach in Argentina from ordinary single deck with or without air conditioning to full 180° recline, WiFi, steaks and Cognac. Depending on the length of your journey it’s usually better to fork out a bit more cash for comfort, remember this is probably going to be your nights accommodation. I would always suggest that if you plan on sleeping then reserve a “Cama” seat. Usually this is a larger seat with good cushioning for the head and around a 150° recline, you’ll know straight away when you get on the bus as there are only 3 seats to a row instead of 4. In most cases you will get meals and a few drinks included with this seat. If you’re in doubt just ask when you book your ticket, most companies have pictures of their seating options at their offices.

IMG_8243

Semi-Cama are one step down from this. 4 seats to a row, not as spacious and they don’t recline quite enough for a “good” sleep. That isn’t to say that these aren’t comfortable. For journeys during the day or short hops where you’re not trying to catch a nights sleep, they’re absolutely fine and usually a good bit cheaper. You might get offered a biscuit and coffee but not always.

IMG_1304

The top end bus travel seems to be called different things depending on the company, so if you really want it, ask at the desk. Cama-total or Super Cama seating are the 2 that we’ve come across. As Cama-total would suggest the seat converts into a flat “bed”. Champagne and a nightcap is provided for parting with that extra cash. A word of warning for this fully reclined seat though, remember it is still a seat and not a mattress meaning you could wake up more stiff than if you were in Cama seating.

Tickets
Before heading off to buy your tickets, i find its a good idea to have a clue on prices and timings. At some of the bigger bus terminals there will up to 30 companies so it’s better to know which one you’re going to before you get there.

http://www.plataforma10.com/en-US

This website is invaluable for planning your trip around Argentina. Whilst it’s possible to buy tickets direct through their website, we generally just use it as a reference tool. Whilst we’ve found a specific service isn’t always running the prices have been correct on every occasion. Upon deciding which bus you want to catch, you can head straight to the relevant booth at the bus terminal and have a hassle free experience (especially useful if you have limited Spanish).

IMG_8241

Companies

One of the questions i researched a lot was which companies are good to travel with? They’re all fine, sure some are cleaner than others or offer newer coaches, but so far in 2 months in Argentina we haven’t had a single “bad” experience. If you’re really worried just ask other travellers who they used on a specific route. In northern Argentina we used FlechaBus almost exclusively and never had a problem, I wouldn’t say they were the best but there was nothing to complain about. Certain companies specialise in certain routes and generally therefore offer the best service on that route. For trips to Bariloche from BA for example ViaBariloche are meant to offer excellent options.

IMG_8233

Food

As I’ve already mentioned with Cama and above you usually get meals thrown in. If you’re counting on this to be your main form of sustenance on a 24 hour journey you might be disappointed. The food is certainly edible, we haven’t had any problems and its always nice to get a hot meal before you try and sleep. If you’ve got any dietary requirements then the safest option is to bring your own food.

IMG_1305

Safety

We can’t say we’ve had a problem or met anyone who has whilst on the buses. Obviously bus stations are a place to be wary of your bags. If you place bags in the luggage hold then you will generally get a receipt and there’s plenty of space under and above your seat for hand luggage. As the buses are travelling such long distances and everyone is just trying to get some sleep it’s unlikely you’ll encounter any problems.

Toilets

Yes the buses have toilets and they’re generally pretty clean at the start of a journey. (Lauren advises all girls carry toilet paper as after the first hour it’s usually gone!)

Price

Prices are quite expensive for the busses. Don’t expect to travel across the country for £10. Here’s an example of average costs on some of the more popular routes (1st May 14*)

Buenos Aires – Puerto Iguazu: 850 ARS, 106 USD, 63 GBP

Buenos Aires – Bariloche: 1150 ARS, 144 USD, 85 GBP

Buenos AIres – Rosario: 200 ARS, 25 USD, 15 GBP

Buenos AIres – Mendoza: 650 ARS, 81 USD, 48 GBP

 

*With the current inflation in Argentina I’d expect these prices to be wrong quite fast.

 

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.

Lauren Young 189

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!

IMG_1366
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.

IMG_1185IMG_5890

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.

IMG_1203

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…

IMG_3971

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?

The Ultimate Packing List

Like many we spent days, no probably months, deciding what to pack for our year long trip. In South America there will be multiple climates so here is the final list of what we packed. We will amend as we go, in case there is anything we realise we have forgotten, but hopefully this should help a few of you get on your way…

Electronics

  • 2 Digital SLRs – Canon 700D + 450D
  • Spare batteries for both cameras
  • Lens cleaner brush
  • Tamron 80-300m Lens
  • Canon 50m Lens
  • Gorilla Pod tripod
  • 2 laptops – Macbook Air 11inch + Acer C720 Chromebook
  • 2 Western Digital Passport Drives 2GB + 1GB
  • 2 eReaders – Amazon Kindle Paperwhites
  • Travel speaker – Veho Bluetooth Speaker
  • External batteries – Muvi Pebble + Jelly Bean
  • 2 mobile phones – Iphone 5 and Nexus 4

Chargers + Cables

  • Both chargers for the laptops
  • Kindles and Nexus 4 use the same charger so you only need one!
  • IPhone 5 charger
  • Muji World Travel Adapter with USB charger – allowed us to leave most of the 3-pin UK plugs at home i.e. for iPhone 5, Kindle etc.
  • 2 Canon battery chargers – unfortunately those models do not use the same charger!
  • Headphone splitter
  • 2 sets of headphones

IMG_5890

Other Essentials

  • 2 Osprey Farpoint 55 Rucksacks
  • 2 Ebag packing cubes – great for all the small things, cables or underwear etc.
  • Head torch
  • Pocket torch
  • Extendable padlock – great for securing your bag to things
  • 2 additional padlocks each – one for the day bag and one for the main rucksack
  • 2 cash stashes – put a large denomination note in it and clip somewhere to clothing just in case (Lauren recommends your bra strap!)
  • Small notebook
  • 2 pens
  • 2 pencils
  • Pencil Sharper
  • Rubber
  • 1 copy of Rough Guide South America on a Budget – we have it on the Kindle too but wanted a hard copy to thumb
  • Inflatable neck cushion
  • Money belt or even better try Clever Travel Companion underwear
  • 2 dirty laundry bags (one each of course!)
  • Pack Mate compression bags (a vital space saver!)
  • 2 cotton sleeping bag liners
  • Roll of Gaffa Tape

IMG_5874

Toiletries

  • 3 Lush Shampoo Bars – should be enough for a year
  • 2 bars of Neutrogena Facial Soap – Lauren cant live without!
  • Small bottle of body wash – hotels tend to give you more little bottles so you shouldn’t run out!
  • L’Oreal Extraordinary Hair Oil – you only need a tiny amount so it meant we could leave the conditioner at home!
  • Face Moisturizer
  • 3 Muji 100ml Travel Containers – most products come in ridiculous packing so decant products into these to loose the bulk!
  • Tooth Paste
  • 2 toothbrushes
  • 2 toothbrush covers – great for sticking your toothbrush in your bag on flights etc.
  • 2 roll-on deodorants
  • 1 comb
  • 1 hairbrush
  • 2 bottles of Nivea sun cream
  • Mini bottle of antibacterial gel
  • 4 small zip seal sandwich bags – so many uses!
  • 2 wash bags – so we can split items between the 2 of us
  • 2 face towels
  • Mini pack of cotton buds
  • Hair bands and hair clips
  • Muji travel sewing kit (so tiny!)
  • Insect repellent – we went for 100% DEET
  • LifeVenture Bite Click Relief
  • Small medical kit – we choose to make our own as was cheaper and easier.
  • Anti-malarials
  • Mooncup – essential for the ladies! Google for more info.
  • 2 travel towels – not all hotels and hostels supply them.
  • 1 bottle of multi purpose wash – useful when you need to hand wash things!
  • Face wipes/wipes for long coach journeys

Medical Kit

  • Painkillers
  • Anti-diarrhea tabs
  • Plasters
  • Tape bandage
  • Dressings
  • Safety pins
  • Anti-septic cream

IMG_3322

Clothes (Lauren)

  • Walking boots
  • Walking sandals
  • Flip-flops
  • 6 pairs of socks + one thick pair
  • 10 pairs of pants
  • 2 bras + 1 travel bra (essential for sleeping on buses etc, Iain cant live without his!)
  • Swimming Costumes – 2 Bikinis
  • Sarong – useful when you don’t have a beach towel and can be used as picnic blanket, scarf etc
  • 4 vest tops
  • 4 t-shirt tops/tops with shoulders
  • 2 long sleeved shirts
  • 1 pair of shorts
  • 2 pairs of chino trousers
  • 2 dresses – one short, one maxi
  • Skirt
  • Leggings
  • Light jumper
  • Cashmere mix black V-neck – can be layered under my fleece
  • Hooded micro fleece
  • Woolen hat and gloves
  • Fleece buff (neck scarf thing)
  • Light scarf, pashmina – lots of uses, especially handy if your shoulders burn easily!
  • Merino Thermals (Lauren gets cold easily so lots of layers is a must!)
  • Waterproof
  • Clever travel companion underwear – has pockets sewn in for valuables, highly recommend!)
  • Sunglasses!!!

Clothes (Iain)

  • 3 T-shirts
  • Polo shirt
  • 3 shirts long sleeved
  • Pair of chinos
  • 2 pairs of convertible trousers
  • ¾ length shorts
  • Swimming trunks
  • Thermals
  • Micro Fleece
  • Soft shell jacket
  • 9 pairs of socks
  • 9 boxers
  • Waterproof
  • Gloves and Hat
  • Buff
  • Walking Boots
  • Walking Sandals
  • Flip-flops

IMG_5835

Make-up

Lets face it ladies, most of the time it will be too hot to wear it so just bring the basics!

  • Light powder (probably could of left this at home)
  • Concealer
  • Mini bronzer/blush
  • Waterproof mascara
  • 3 eye pencils, black, bronze and gold – bronze and gold double up as eye shadow
  • 2 lip balms – Vaseline Aloe Vera (lots of uses), and small roll on one for my pocket

*As we travel we will be reviewing some of the above mentioned products so look out on our product reviews page.

Things we packed last time that we left at home this time…

  • 2 sleeping bags – we used them for 2 weeks in New Zealand but could have easily done without them. Not regretting leaving them behind yet…
  • 2 mosquito nets – used them once last time. They fell down half way through the night and we didn’t bother again. If we need them this time I’m sure we can acquire them.
  • Books – invest in a Kindle!!! Books in English are expensive abroad and you can only carry so many!

IMG_5853