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13 Things I have learned from Traveling in South America

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It has been over a year since my flight to Colombia – a flight that started my six months journey around South America that took me to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, and Argentina. It was the most amazing time of my life and I learned many things along the way. Some are related to the practicality of the trip, while others are more personal and life-changing.

Here, I share my lessons with you. I hope some of the things I have learned will be helpful to your future South America trip and may offer you some insights about travel and the world.

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Travel is a privilege

There are a lot of blog posts these days fantasizing about the benefits of traveling the world and why we should all do it. It was when I arrived in South America and started engaging with the locals that I realized that travel around the world is not for everyone.

In most places to which I have traveled (especially Colombia and Peru), locals do not often travel because they are struggling to make ends meet and cover medical and education expenses. In countries like Venezuela, people face political turbulence, economic instability, and poverty, and only a few are able to get out of there and seek other opportunities.

Traveling to places like this and talking to others makes me feel privileged to live in a developed country and have the opportunity to see the world, and I am grateful for it.

Speaking the local language is super helpful

It amazes me how locals react to those who even try to speak a tiny bit of their language. They find it amazing and will welcome you even more.

Ecuador is full of surprises

After spending six weeks in Colombia, I was a bit hesitant to cross the border to Ecuador. For one thing, I really love Colombia and wish I could have stayed longer. Moreover, most people who have been to South America have skipped Ecuador. I did not have any expectations but I talked myself into continuing going south.

Ecuador proved to be a peaceful and gorgeous country to visit. I’ve often found myself in front of beautiful sights, colorful and historical architecture, natural landscapes and taking some amazing road trips. You might find people in Ecuador a bit reserved and not as welcoming as people in Colombia, but the truth is that they take time to open up, and the food in Ecuador is cheap and delicious.

Read more: 7 Reasons Why You Should Visit Ecuador 

The Best Non- Party Hostels in South America

Quito Ecuador, 2800 meters above Sea Level

Traveling in South America changes your perception of bus and train trips

I used to dread taking five-hour bus, and this has become a walk in the park after taking countless 12 to 23 hours bus in South America.

I cannot make all the trips through my camera

As a travel blogger, I need to take pictures to make my blog posts work, but I sometimes just leave my camera and go exploring the actual sites. You can take hundreds of pictures, but you may miss out on the whole experience.

South America is a lot safer than you think

As long as you take safety precautions and have common sense.

San Agustin Jeep Tour: Getting to Know the Country Side of Colombia

The weekends and the holidays are the best time to hit the road

Most South-American cities shut down during the weekends and the holidays. There is limited public transport and most restaurants, tourist attractions and shops are closed, but it is not a bad time if you decide to hop onto a 12-hour bus during the day and head to another destination. You cannot do much during the weekends and holidays, so being on the road is the best way to kill the time.

You will run into the same people again

My travel in South America was not only full of wonderful sights and experiences, but also had random and surprise reunions.

A new friend I met in a hostel in Colombia all of sudden showed up in the accommodation I stayed at in Cuenca and became my roommate. A French couple crossed paths with me again at the Nazca Lines after we met in San Agustin. I even met an old friend in Quito since we last saw each other six years ago. It is amazing to catch up with people you know and share your adventures since you last time saw them.

Nazca Lines without flying

Nazca LInes, Peru

Patagonia is the most amazing place in the world

Carretera Austral: how to get around

Beautiful view from Puerto Rio Tranquilo to Chile Chico on Carretera Austral

Perito Moreno Glacier: The Best Day Trip from El Calafate

Glacier Perito Moreno

Cost of travel in Chile and how to keep your travel expense low

Torres Del Paine, Chile

Spending time without internet is so refreshing

While I would not go on for months without internet, make sure to unplug once in a while so you feel more relaxed and pay more attention to what is happening around you. It also makes you feel healthy and refreshed.

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Puerto Williams, Chile where there are no internet at our hostel, so we all took the time to chat and walk around

Working online while traveling is extremely difficult

It is difficult to balance work and travel. In the beginning, it was a dream come true as I could explore a new place and work whenever I wanted to ,but over time, I found it has been very unproductive as I either get so distracted by exploring new places, or I stay put for half a day. It would be easier to set up a schedule and a deadline for your work and make sure you do not stay up too late.

You cannot see everything on your trip and it is okay

There are Machu Picchu and rainbow mountains in Peru, Salt Lake Flats and Sucre in Bolivia, beautiful beaches in Brazil and Uruguay, wineries in Northern Chile and Argentina,  Patagonia in the south, colorful colonial cities in Colombia and Ecuador, and the Amazon forest across several countries, just to name a few.

I am not the one rushing from place to place, checking off the bucket list and being done with it, and I did not get a chance to see many places that everyone told me to visit.

South America is a huge continent and If you travel for only a few months, it is impossible to see all of the attractions in every country. Realizing this early will bring a more relaxed and stress-free time on your trip and you will enjoy the destination so much more.

13 Things I have learned from Traveling in South America

Iguazu Falls, one of the places where I did not get to visit during my South America trip.

Quitting your job to travel is not always a good idea

I read a lot of articles about quitting your job to travel and felt this overwhelming sense that there are lots of people encouraging others to leave their jobs to travel around the world. I used to adore this idea, but nowadays I do not necessarily agree with this.

After six months of having absolutely no permanent base, no job (other than freelancing), and no old friends and family around, I can say that there is something to be said about having a home base and stability. At the beginning, you will be excited to leave your job, your home and begin long-term travel, but over time you will realize that have a home base and financial stability will help you travel better, reduce your financial burden, and have less stress knowing you have a place to return to.

Related post: Things to Consider Before You Quit Your Job and Travel Long-term
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After six months being on the road, It is nice to be back to my home in Toronto

You really do not have to quit your job to be able to travel, but rather try to find a balance between work and your passion of exploring the world.  Find a job that offers you the flexibility to travel, take advantage of your vacation days, or ask for a leave of absence. Your job and your personal commitment do not have to be in the way of your long-term travel.

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13 Things I have learned about from traveling in South America

 

Julie Cao
 

Julie is the creator of Always On The Way. She lived in Hawaii and has made her way to Toronto Canada. In 2017, she went on an overland trip from Bogota Colombia to Puerto Williams, the southernmost city in the world. She believes travel is not only about visiting tourist attractions but more about getting to know the culture, people and the place.

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