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Travel and Money: Budgeting your Drive through Central and South America

I am frequently asked, “How can you afford a year-long trip?”  Our lengthy trip has remained affordable based on our accommodation and food choices.  Throughout our journey we have penny-pinched, but, as a result, we have remained abroad for a full year, which is more valuable than a few nights in sleek hotels.

In order to travel on a tight budget, you must be willing to, at times, sacrifice comfort and/or convenience, as well as possibly push your boundaries in terms of living “normally” and with modern amenities (especially in the poorer regions of Central and South American countries).

Here are a few tips for those of you who wish to travel and/or extend your ramblings, but are hesitant due to financial concerns:

Camp A LOT

Camping is free, and, although it may seem inconvenient at times, nights spent in your vehicle are literally equivalent to cash in your pocket.  Beaches, rural areas, congested cities, and deserts are all camping opportunities.  Camp as long as you can before you absolutely need a shower, and then treat yourself to a hostel room for a night.  This way of life requires a bit more strategy in terms of finding suitable camp sites and bathroom facilities, but it can be a lot of fun, and, if anything else, a great learning experience.

Stay with friends along the way
Nick and I traveled 10,000 miles within the United States, and most of our accommodations were provided by our friends and family.  When planning your trip, ask anyone and everyone you know if they have friends on your route, and make sure to get their contact information.

Meet folks during your journey
If you remain open to meeting new people, you may find accommodation opportunities from the graciousness of strangers.  Let others know what you are up to – a simple question such as, “We’re camping here in the city for the next few days – is there a particular spot that you would recommend?” may lead to a free place to stay, an opportunity to camp on someone’s land, or to simply use their shower.  We have also befriended backpackers who offered their hotel shower, internet, and other facilities.  Driving the Americas is a unique journey that others are interested in.  This, fortunately, will be an advantage for you, for many people are happy to help travelers on the road.

Cook most of your meals

The cost of food in Central and South America is far less than that in the States, and opportunities to eat tropical fruits that would otherwise be expensive abound.  Take advantage of the low price of fresh fruits and vegetables, and use rice as a staple ingredient.

Buy produce from local markets, not grocery stores
You will not only save money by shopping at local markets, but are also directly contributing to a family’s source of income.  Frequenting markets will also give you new ideas on local food preparation.

Eat lunch out and cook your own dinner
Menu del dia, comida corriente, and almuerzo will soon be your favorite new words.  In many Central and South American countries, restaurants provide a lunch deal that offers generous portions of food for a fraction of it’s regular cost.  If you want to sample the local fare as much as possible, plan to eat lunch out, and fix dinner at your camp site.

Share meals
If you are traveling as a couple, sharing a large lunch deal will cut your expenses in half and provide you with plenty of food to fill your belly.

If you need coffee in the mornings, make it yourself instead of buying it out.  If you tend to buy bottles of Coke or soda often, you may want to consider switching to water every once and a while.  Canned beer can be more expensive than the larger glass bottles, so keep this in mind as well.

All of these tips are, of course, merely choices that you may or may not consider budget-worthy.  But if you do take the miserly route, don’t let the numbers bog you down and ALWAYS remember to treat yourself every once and a while!

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4 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. We did not calculate our total costs, but there are figures in the upcoming Ramble Writer book that will be particularly useful.

    1. admin on October 5th, 2010 at 10:48 am
  2. Great advice! Have you guys calculated what your year traveling costs totaled?


    2. Generz on June 2nd, 2010 at 8:11 am
  3. Hello! guys
    If you ever decide to stop somewhere in Venezuela, let me know.
    all my family is there, I can find you a place to stay and have a lot of fun.

    Nice work
    I will be leaving soon on my trip, I hope you guys follow me as well


    3. ossie on January 29th, 2010 at 11:48 am
  4. Awesome! Nice job, Rochelle.
    I love this, because I am getting very close to taking the plunge!!!

    Continue to live vicariously throgh you two!!


    4. Andrew on January 28th, 2010 at 5:44 pm

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