Thursday, 15 November 2012

Planning South America: The How

Posted by Ali

So I had decided to go backpacking, and I had chosen South America as my destination. Then what? When would I go? For how long would I go? What would it cost? What countries did I want to visit? These were my first questions, and with a bit of research and my trusty sidekick, Lonely Planet, I began to find my answers.

When would I go? There were a few different factors that lead me to make this decision. Even though it was May, I couldn’t leave until at least the end of July due to a few special occasions (seriously, why so many wedding anniversaries that year?). I had also done my research. If I went in the fall, it would be spring in South America, a shoulder season. Meaning, the weather would be neither too hot nor too cold (believe it or not, winter does exist in South America), and the costs would be much lower since it was not a peak season. So it was decided, I would go early September, and come back early December.

How long would I go, and for how much would it cost? Lonely Planet may have its flaws, but it was an amazing tool for a newbie like me. It definitely helped give me an idea of the costs of a trip like that, and how far my money would take me. I had quite a bit of cash saved up from working during school, so with some quick math, using LP’s daily costs per country, I figured I had enough to travel for three months, and comfortably.

What countries did I want to visit? This was the easiest, and the hardest. I wanted to see it all, so how would I narrow it down? I picked the big attractions first: Machu Picchu, Buenos Aires, and the Galapagos were the three places I wanted to go, no matter what. So that was Peru, Argentina and Ecuador. There are a few other countries between them, so why not add Chile and Bolivia to the mix? But why not the rest?  Well, my logic in skipping Brazil was based solely on its size. I didn’t want to just go to Rio; if I were to go I would want to explore the whole country. Time constraints would not allow that. Colombia? Not even on my radar at the time, and one of my biggest regrets in the end. Those five countries made the most sense geographically and economically, given the time I had.

Now that all that had been determined, it was time for me to come up with some sort of route. Since it was my first trip, I was going by myself, and I can be a bit OCD when it comes to plans, winging was not even considered an option. I was either going to start in Ecuador and the Galapagos, and work my way down to Argentina, or vice versa. After some research, it seemed like the best time for the Galapagos was actually in December, right in the transition from low to high season, it made sense to start in the south. Then a friend of mine decided she wanted to come with me to Chile. Rather than having her meet up with me, I decided it would be nice to start the trip with a friend. And so that’s how I decided to start in Santiago, Chile.

From then on, I researched and planned, researched and planned. In retrospect, I over did it. Half the things I had wanted to do, I didn’t, and half the things I did do, and loved, were not part of my grand plan. Obviously some things need to be considered, i.e. booking the Inca Trail trek, which did create some time restraints, as I had to be in Cusco by a certain date. But once I realized I didn’t need to know what I was doing beyond the next destination, I was able to live in the moment without worrying about tomorrow. 

My sidekick through it all

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