1. Don’t do enough research on flights.
Your flight will be the most expensive part of your trip. You can save hundreds of dollars by taking flights that require several stops rather than non-stop and in some cases by taking airlines into countries neighboring your destination, then smaller national airlines or buses or trains to your final destination.
2. Bring too little or too much luggage.
Not researching the climate can mean you might end up purchasing things you already have at home and could bring with you such as jackets, hats and gloves. On the other hand, bringing things you probably won’t need (or won’t be able to use) like too much clothing, too many appliances (hair dryers, curling irons, shavers, cellphones that won’t work here) can add to your budget either at the airline counter (overweight luggage) or when you have to pay someone else to cart your luggage around while you’re here (taxi drivers, kids and bellhops at hotels and airports), or pay to store your luggage while you’re on shorter legs of your trip.
3. Use credit cards and travelers checks and don’t bring enough cash.
The surest way to waste money is to use credit cards. First of all, you’ll pay an extra percentage to use them in most South American countries (usually about 3%). Secondly, many places don’t accept them. Travelers checks are also exchanged (for an extra cost) in just a few places. Running out of money is another problem. If you have to have someone wire your money you’ll blow a big wad of cash!
4. Ignore great small hotels and hostels because they sound “unknown” or aren’t in your travel guidebook.
There are many small hotels and hostels that are clean, comfortable and provide good service all over Latin America. You don’t need to stay at a big expensive hotel. I’m not suggesting you put up with cockroaches, but unless you’re planning on spending a lot of time in bed or watching TV, how often will you really be in your room anyway? One of the best ways to find a cheap but good hotel is to get a personal recommendations so I strongly encourage you to visit travel forums and hotel reviews (and pay it forward – leave your opinions for someone else to benefit from if you’ve already traveled).
5. Pay way too much for food.
While you should always take precautions to ensure you don’t get sick, skip restaurants that don’t look clean, but don’t always dine out at the expensive restaurants. Choose restaurants that look great but are NOT in your travel guide. Most restaurants that are frequented by tourists adjust their menu prices for tourists and locals who choose to dine there do so knowing this. In addition, many travelers don’t try the local food!! Did you know that in many parts of South America foreign or international fast-food restaurants are a luxury and among the more EXPENSIVE options by local standards?
6. Don’t bargain.
In supermarkets and stores that have price tickets on their items you cannot bargain the price down. But in most open markets it’s a mistake not to. Vendors automatically increase the price as soon as they see you are foreign and EXPECT your first reaction to be a request for a price break.
7. Ignore open markets.
Latin America’s open markets sell EVERYTHING. Skip meats and cheeses, (they’re never refrigerated) and unbottled water and juices, but purchase fruit, vegetables, bread, butter, cookies and snacks, sodas, and more. Almost anything you find in a supermarket you can find here. You can also get sunglasses, hats and clothing, mosquito repellent, batteries, toiletries and many other things that are sold in supermarkets nearby for up to twice as much.
8. Go to tourist trap shops.
Latin America’s markets don’t just sell food. Skip the expensive tourist trap souvenir shops (most cost about 2-3 times more than they should). Even souvenir areas that look like open markets can be way more expensive than they should be because they cater only to foreigners. If you only see souvenirs and nothing else, it’s a tourist haven. Go to the open markets, buy from individual vendors who offer their products on the street, and you can get the same souvenirs at much lower prices. And be sure to BARGAIN (they will be surprised if you DON’T). You’ll be truly contributing to the most needy sector of our local economy if you do.
9. Ignore cool free sites or attractions not in travel guides.
Stay on the tourist path 100% of the time and you’ll waste a lot of money (and miss some really nice places to visit). Did you know many great museums and art galleries in South America don’t charge an entry fee? Have you checked out the hundreds of great local parks and plazas for super people watching and photo opportunities? Have you asked the LOCALs what’s great to see?
10. Pay too much for taxis, don’t take public transportation, don’t walk anywhere.
Many hotels have resident taxi services. Don’t use them. They charge 2-3 times what a normal taxi costs. Walk a few steps to the corner and take a cab off the street.
11. Bring the wrong appliances, electronics and accessories.
Electric power sources vary greatly in South America and from one country to the next (even within a country). Some use 220V and some 110V. You either have to bring adapters or be sure you bring the correct appliances for the region you will be traveling or living.
12. Don’t research proper documentation.
All countries require something of foreigners to enter (passports, yellow fever shots, letters of invitation, hotel reservations, and others). Having all the correct documents before you arrive will be a true blessing to your wallet. Getting them upon arrival can cost you more, waste your time, and potential end up getting you sent home if you don’t have the documentation you need.
13. Don’t leave copies of your documentation and credit cards at home.
Losing or getting your documents stolen can be a truly horrifying experience. Not having copies of them only makes it worse. Leave photocopies of your passport, medical records, airline ticket, credit cards and other important documents you carry in your wallet at home (and bring an extra photocopy with you). If you need to process new ones at your consulate, this will make it much easier and faster and usually less costly.
14. Don’t spend enough on your tour. Huh?
Well, believe it or not if you don’t properly research your tour operator, your cheap tour with a cruddy tour operator who doesn’t live up to your expectations and doesn’t deliver what was promised can end up costing you more in dissatisfaction than a tour that was a bit more costly to begin with but delivered on its promises. You’ll end up feeling cheated and like you wasted your money.
15. Don’t invest in travel insurance.
Nobody wants to get sick while traveling, lose luggage or documentation, have an emergency or accident, or have something stolen from them while traveling. But it does happen. Are these things EVER predictable anywhere?
16. Make way-too-expensive overseas calls.
There are many cheap or even free ways to communicate with people “back home” while you’re on your trip. Latin America has an uncanny number of super cheap internet cafés that in many areas cost under a dollar per hour. Set up programs like Skype on your computer back home and use them while you’re here. In addition, if you research the best phone cards and/or cellphone rental or purchase options, and you can cut your budget way down. You can also use Skype without a computer.
17. Bring your own cellphone.
Check before you travel if your cellular phone will work in South America. Most of South America uses a completely different grid and type of calling system and many many many cellphones from many many many countries DON’T WORK HERE AT ALL. So investing in a rental cellphone or purchasing an international travel phone can actually save you money.
18. Don’t venture out enough on your own.
Some tours are hazardous or just plain too remote to take on your own but you don’t need a guide everywhere you go. With a little self-assurance there are tons of places you can visit without the need for guides, translators and tour operators. The same goes for those of you who are relocating to South America
19. Don’t research the laws regarding traveling with kids and pets.
If you travel with minors you must have special permissions and documentation, especially if only one parent is traveling with a child. Many a foreigner has been sent back home for not having a permission document from the other parent. Not having the appropriate documentation for your pet can result in expensive quarantine costs.
20. Don’t research our holidays.
One of the best ways to lose money while traveling is to arrive during national or regional holidays to find everything closed. While you might enjoy the festivities, you might not find a place to stay, banks or exchange houses may be closed, and you could end up either spending to travel somewhere else or paying for the only hotels available (the most expensive ones are the last to have vacancies).
21. Don’t brush up on your Spanish.
Investing in a few Spanish lessons, a good Spanish travel phrasebook, or getting FREE Spanish phrases for your iPod or other accessory can save you money in the longrun. How? You can potentially avoid paying for a translator (in many South American countries tour guides do NOT speak English or other languages). FURTHERMORE you can avoid feeling cheated in markets and stores or anywhere else you pay for anything if vendors see you know just enough Spanish to get by. If they assume you’ve been here a while they’re more likely to expect you to bargain.
22. Inadvertently (or purposely) break the law.
One way to get into MAJOR financial trouble is to commit a crime. Take a prison tour to purchase cocaine is a huge no-no. Buying illicit drugs or purchasing drugs or alcohol for yourself or anyone else anywhere is a crime. Getting in arguments or fights, participating in political rallies or demonstrations, being rude to police officers, trespassing on private property, disorderly conduct, attempting to cross roadblocks, injuring someone else while driving, or even if you are defending yourself from a thief, can all end you up in jail. Even if you are declared innocent and everything is cleared up eventually, it can take lots of time and money to get you out of your predicament.
23. Flash your money.
When you travel, carry your money in several different places at a time (some in your purse, some in each pocket, etc.) so you don’t have to take the whole wad out when you need to pay for something. Not only will this make you appear presumptuous, cause your vendor to feel cheated if you just bargained a price down, and make Latin America’s poor feel horrible in general, it’s a guaranteed way to be sure people will immediately increase their prices when you ask what the cost of something is. When you exchange your currency ask for small bills. It will make getting change easier and save you money in the long run as you won’t be perceived as “the foreigner with the big wads of cash for whom we should increase our prices”.
24. Look lost.
Not only will this automatically send out the message that you are a foreigner and should be charged more for stuff, it’s also dangerous. No matter where you are or where you go, even if you ARE lost, walk with purpose, stick to well-lighted areas. Only ask for directions from police officers, store owners, restaurants, or other establishments. Look like you’re lost and you may become a target for thieves and others who may purposely misguide you and you could end up having to replace your belongings. Look like you know where you’re going and you most likely will discourage their activities. But you would follow this advice anywhere in the world, wouldn’t you?
25. Carry huge expensive cameras in full sight.
Nothing screams “Tourist Coming!!!” more than your camera – and actually this goes for just about any camera. South America’s vendors are master tourist spotters. They can see you coming from miles away and the message rapidly spreads that you’re in the neighborhood. Vendors busily rearrange their products (with the most expensive on top or even hide cheap ones), and before you’ve arrived, they’ve already talked amongst themselves and settled on the higher prices they will ALL simultaneously offer you. Carry all types of cameras in a camera bag, take your camera out when you need to take your photo, put it back in the bag when you’re done, and you’ll save a lot of money.
26. Don’t set aside any money for emergencies.
It’s awful to get sick, have an accident, lose your belongings, or suffer a loss by robbery while you’re traveling. Blowing all your money at the beginning of your trip is not only unwise, it’s dangerous. You could end up needing to visit a clinic and having no money. Furthermore, having someone wire you money will add to the expense. In addition, making a lot of purchases at the beginning of your trip just means you’ll have to cart them around with you (or pay to store them) while you continue traveling.
27. Don’t be adventurous.
Some of Bolivia’s most beautiful sites and attractions are in remote areas, or regions where you won’t find all of the comforts of the first world. Be willing to forego some of the luxuries of 5-star travel so you won’t miss them!
28. The surest way to pay way more than you should for just about everything: look, dress and act like a tourist.
a) Wear geeky tourist clothes (the embroidered shirts or knit hats that don’t really look cool on anyone and nobody but tourists wear, the huge hiking boots even when you’re walking around the city, the alpaca sweaters only tourists can afford, the jeans that are so unwashed they could stand on their own, you get the picture).
b) Wear clothing that is inappropriate for an event or occasion. Nobody expects you to dress up when touring. But at restaurants, bars and clubs you may even find some don’t allow you to enter if you’re wearing inappropriate clothing (for example, some don’t let you in with torn or cut-off shorts, others don’t allow sneakers).
c) Speak a foreign language all the time, don’t make any attempt to use Spanish, and speak very loudly. Many South Americans are fairly soft-spoken and speak quietly amongst themselves in public places, buses, restaurants, etc.