Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia. (Photo cred: Emily Luxton )
Over the past two weeks, I have interviewed Emily Luxton who runs the blog Emily Luxton-Explore, Dream, Discover. She is a travel writer and blogger based in London UK. She has been passionate about travel and adventure her entire life. She has been set her feet to eight countries. To expand her dream, she left her 9-5 cubical on 12th February this year and kicked off her five months trip to South American with her boyfriend. She travels on budget and as usual, she has some crazy and wonderful experience.
Welcome Emily! Can you tell me where have you been in South America so far?
We started in Bogota, Colombia, and spent five weeks travelling there – up to the north coast via Bucaramanga, where we went to Santa Marta, Barranquilla and Cartagena, then down south to Medellin, Salento and Cali – before sailing down the Amazon into Peru. In Peru we journeyed north to south, starting in the rainforest and making our way down the very arid north coast to Lima. From Lima, we hit Paracas, Huacachina, Nasca and Cusco – where, of course, we visited the unmissable Machu Picchu – then headed to Arequipa for a Colca Canyon trek, before heading into Bolivia by way of Lake Titicaca. Bolivia was one of my favorite countries so far (although Colombia wins hands down), and we did a lot of really cool stuff there. After Lake Titicaca and the Isla del Sol, we headed to La Paz, the Torotoro national park at Cochambamba, Sucre (where we spent five days studying Spanish), Potosi, Tupiza and finally did the Salt Flats tour finishing in Uyuni. We then headed to Chile for a few days en route to Argentina, where we are now – currently enjoying the wine region of Mendoza.
Sounds super exciting!!! Amazon rain forest, Machu Picchu and Uyuni are all my dream places, and you are living my dreams!!! What has been your most surreal experience so far?
That’s a tough one, there have been quite a few. At Barranquilla carnival, the second biggest in the world after Rio, we were in a big crowd of locals at the ‘cheap-seats’ end of the parade, and as some of the only gringos – blonde gringos, for that matter – in the crowd, we were very popular with the locals. After a while, we actually had a queue of people lining up to have a photo taken with us, as though we were celebrities. It was a pretty bizarre experience!
Long-term travel needs a good plan but it is, in reality, very difficult to organize. Could you please tell me how did you plan your trip?
There wasn’t too much planning involved, to tell you the truth. We knew that we wanted to travel for five months, and finish in Brazil just after the World Cup final. We picked Colombia to start simply because it was close to the top of South America, and outlined a route from there to Brazil. Then, we simply searched online for the best deal on the flights we wanted, and booked it.
Although the route was planned in advance, we knew how important it is to be flexible so we didn’t book anything in between the two flights in and out of the continent. That way, we were free to spend as long as we wanted in each country. For example, I thought we would only spend about two or three weeks in Bolivia, and longer in Chile, but as it turned out we were about five weeks in Bolivia and just four days in Chile. Plans change so much on the road, that the best way to plan is simply to work out a rough outline that can be easily amended as you go.
In terms of planning what to do, I read through some guidebooks and online blogs, and made quite a few boards on Pinterest. I didn’t make lists or itineraries, though; it was more like creating mood boards to give an idea of what highlights there were in each country. What I’ve discovered is that we pick up so many tips for good places to visit from other travellers, that there’s almost no need to do any planning before a trip. Some of the best places we’ve been to, I hadn’t even heard of until another traveller mentioned them – like Minca and Salento in Colombia, two of my favourites. The best way to plan is to barely plan at all, leaving lots of space to discover new things, pick up tips, and change plans along the way!
Have you encountered any difficulties or disasters?
Fortunately, there haven’t been too many problems on this trip, other than the usual slow border crossings, that kind of thing. I’d say my worst experience was waking up on an overnight bus to discover that we’d been robbed. Someone took a tablet from my boyfriend’s bag while we were both asleep, and although it was insured, the feeling of violation was pretty horrible; especially knowing that whoever took it might still be on the bus somewhere, watching us search for it. Worse still was trying to deal with very unhelpful Bolivian police, when we’d only had about three hours sleep and were feeling pretty miserable.
What is your best piece of advice to the fellow travelers?
The absolute, number one piece of advice I can give is to learn Spanish! I thought I was pretty good before we came away, but I was quickly proved wrong, and in most places here in South America almost nobody speaks English. You can have no idea how handy even basic Spanish will be. The best way, and one of the cheapest, is probably to kick off your trip with a week or two of lessons. It’s a fantastic way to orientate yourself before you start moving around the continent, and it’s a brilliant way to learn. In many tourist cities you can even find private teachers who will conduct the lesson by your hostel pool, or in a nearby restaurant.
It’s also important to be careful with your valuables, especially at night or in crowded places. South America really isn’t any more dangerous than any other part of the world I’ve been to, but just use your common sense and be wary. Bring a decent pair of trekking shoes with you, because trainers are not good enough and there are tons of incredible hiking areas that cannot be missed. Also, as always: PACK LIGHT – I wish I had about half the stuff that I do in my backpack! Finally, do not miss Colombia. It has a bad reputation so a lot of travellers skip it, which is a big mistake. It’s really safe (again, as long as you’re sensible), and it’s a beautiful country with wonderful people, delicious food and incredible beaches. Colombia has been my favourite destination so far and simply must not be missed!
I recently read a travel article on CNN written by Chris Anderson. He talks about travel burnout – long-term travelers have difficulties in enjoying their journey. They reach a breaking point after few months of their travels where they crush and burn. After being on the road for such a long time, how do you remain excited about travel?
Hmm, I’m not sure I’ve experienced a “travel burnout”, but around the time we arrived in Bolivia I was starting to feel a bit tired from so much movement – all those buses, that unpacking and re-packing, the temporary beds, can get pretty tiring. But, in Sucre we spent ten days taking Spanish lessons and doing almost nothing else besides; I read and wrote, we sat in the park and ate ice creams, we went for walks around the city, and we just completely unwound. We even spent the last two nights in an expensive hotel, to make sure we were totally recharged. After that break, I felt ready to start moving again, and I’m still really enjoying my trip. My advice to anyone feeling that they might be about to crash is to simply slow down – or stop all together – and put the travelling on hold for a few days. Stop thinking about the next destination and how to get there, and instead just enjoy the destination you’re currently in. Eat some good food, sit in the sun and read a book, and stay still until you feel human again!
Thanks to Emily for sharing tips and giving us insights into her South America trip.