Tourists don’t know where they’ve been, travellers don’t know where they’re going.
There’s something fun about just packing up and not knowing where you’re headed next. Sure, it may be scary – but the good kind. Backpacking can and will always throw something unexpected at you, so being flexible and ready for adventure is important. There are lots of great places out there to head towards, so my best advice is to just go.
But where to go?
I’m going to lay out for you the top three backpacking travel circuits. Whether you’re be backpacking in South America, in South East Asia, or in Europe, I’ll break down some basic routes (with maps), what you can’t miss, and who the trip is best suited for.
These will include some general budgets and logistical info to choose which backpacking trip is best for you. Whether it’s your first trip or your one-hundredth, there are something things you’ll need to prepare before an international trip.
First things first
If you don’t have one already – GET A PASSPORT.
Secondly, you’ll need an amazing backpacking backpack. This thing will be on your back for days, weeks, maybe even months on end. You’ll need to be comfortable. My absolute favourite has been the Osprey Farpoint 55. You can check out my review here. Having a day pack is an absolute lifesaver when you don’t want to carry literally ALL your shit around all the time.
Depending on where you’re going, your general feelings on the matter, overall health, and who you are as a person – you might want to get travel insurance. Realistically, unless you already have fantastic coverage, you probably should. But, I’m not going to preach to you about how you should live your life. If you do decide to get it, many travellers opt for World Nomads. They have extensive coverage for all the shenanigans you’re going to get up to and cover you for lots of countries.
Top Travel Circuits: Backpacking in South America
South America is a popular destination for backpackers – particularly those from North America. The flight is typically cheaper than going to Asia or Europe and for those up north, we can escape the terrible winters.
Whilst backpacking in South America, you can brush up on your Spanish, explore ancient and legendary cities, and attend amazing festivals. South America is an incredibly diverse place – both historically and today. You can find strong European influences in cities like Buenos Aires or follow in Darwin’s footsteps by visiting the Galápagos Islands.
Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll certainly find it while backpacking in South America. As there are loads of variables for whatever YOU want – I didn’t make a specific route. Your wants and other factors (like time frame and weather!) will play into where you’ll want to go and when. This map shows a possible route (beginning in Rio de Janeiro and ending in Medellin).
But, unless you have all the time and/or money, you’ll probably only want to do part of it. Click each place for more!
While backpacking in South America, your costs will vary. Though much cheaper than Europe, the larger cities can get relatively expensive. Keeping an eye on the currency exchange rate will be helpful to get the best bang for your buck as you’ll have to use a different currency in each country.
If you stick more to the Andean region: Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador, you could easily get by on less than $1000 USD for a month. But if you plan on spending more of your time in places like Buenos Aires, Santiago or major tourist zones (in and around Machu Picchu for example), expect to need more.
Budget of ~$25 or less/day:
- Ecuador (not including Galapagos)
Budget of ~$30/day:
- Peru (not including Machu Picchu)
Budget of ~$40/day:
- Argentina (outside of Buenos Aires)
Budget of 50+/day:
- Brazil (esp during Carnival season, lower otherwise)
- Argentina (in Buenos Aires)
Keep in Mind:
Most of these countries will give you a visa on arrival; often free but have some pesos on hand for random fees. Things seem to be strongly up to the immigration officer of the day. I (a Canadian) went to Peru with a fellow Canadian. I received a 60-day visa and he received a 90-day visa.
There are also what are called ‘reciprocity fees’ in many of these countries. Some you need to pay online (like Argentina) some can be paid at the border. Keep some cash on hand (local currency or USD) to pay these and possible some other fees when border crossing – they can be $100+USD!
Altitude sickness is REAL. On my first visit to Peru in university two members of the volunteer trip ended up in the hospital. Stay hydrated, try the coca tea, make sure you’re getting enough rest, and if possible – change altitudes slowly.
Buses are the best way to get around! The buses in Argentina and Chile can even be quite luxurious at a very reasonable cost.
Don’t forget your travel adapter! They don’t always use the same plugs throughout the region.
You will have a rough time in South America speaking only English – and certainly get overcharged. Learn some basic phrases to use in each country (mostly Spanish, but Brazil speaks Portuguese). Simply learning “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” and “toilet,” can go a long way – and numbers/prices will help you stay on budget.
South America isn’t always hot! Depending on the season you’re going, pack accordingly!
If you’re travelling in groups – try renting a place on Airbnb. You can often get a whole house or apartment for yourself instead of paying per bed in a hostel!
Solo traveller? Sign up for an account (free!) on Booking.com. By having a ‘genius’ account they’ll show you extra savings. You can book hostels, hotels, bnbs, inns, and pretty much any other kind of accommodation on this site.
Pet lover? Try house and pet sitting! While more popular in Europe, you’ll find some while backpacking in South America. This is particularly true in larger cities.
Backpacking in South America is best suited for:
- People with a moderate budget
- Medium to long-term trips (each country can give you 1 – 3 months depending on your nationality and the countries are quite large)
- People who speak at least some Spanish
- Those interested in history, architecture, and Latin American culture.