9 Awesome budget tips for South America

Budget tips for South America

South America is a top destination for travellers. But, often people will skip it or at least certain countries because they think you need a lot of money to afford to travel here. We have found this not to be the case. What we have actually found is that there are many ways that you can save some money while travelling here and still have a great time. So we have compiled these 9 budget tips for South America that have really helped us pinch some pennies and essentially allowed us to travel for longer. 

1. Pick up a Cheap International flight to get you there

Getting a good price and the cheapest flight possible normally means picking up a promotional fare or special deal – this means booking early (generally two to six months in advance is best). While it’s lovely to believe you can leave it to the last minute and snap up a bargain weeks, days or even hours before you leave, this is just not the reality. We used Budget Air and got a really good deal to Buenos Aires. It wasn’t ideal for us to land here as we wanted to buy a car in Chile. But it still worked out cheaper to arrive here and then take a bus to Santiago.

It is amazing how cheap you can fly when nobody else wants to and how expensive flights get when demand is high. If you are prepared to travel at odd times and don’t mind a longer than usual stopover you can save a lot!

Money saving tips for South America
2. Choose your bank card wisely + use money transfers when needed

This is our #1 Budget tips for South America. We have found the best way to get money, almost anywhere, is out of an ATM. By using a Mastercard or Visa (Peru mostly only accepts Visa!)) or even with a pre-loaded travel card. This offers a number of pros such as:

  • Getting favourable daily exchange rates
  • Running no risk of being ripped off
  • Having the security of a PIN code
  • Keeping track of your rates and balance on-line
  • Having the option to specify exactly how much money you want to change.
  • There are even occasions where you can pull dual currencies out of machines should you ever need (local and US$/EU€).

Always look into banks that offer no international fees and that will refund any ATM fees before leaving home. For us, being Aussies we use Citibank and ING. Having both a Visa and Mastercard card option of paying is great as we come across places that will only accept one or the other.

western union

We were a bit skeptical about using this at first, but it really has saved us a lot of time and more importantly money. For countries where it is hard and expensive to access money like Argentina (ATM fees were unavoidable and almost 25%) it has been great. Using the app gets you better exchange rates and always check online for promo codes. For Australians, at the time of writing, the code FIRSTAU has worked every time. The money is ready within minutes and ready to pick up at a local post office. It really does depend on the country and currency you are changing money from. Make sure you know the current exchange rates and what a good or bad deal is.


3. how to travel on a budget – Learn to love buses

In South America the humble bus is the ubiquitous form of travel. It is quite reasonably priced and is actually more comfortable than we expected. Most major cities have great international bus connections. On some longer journeys they will provide you with a meal and comfortable seat that converts to a bed. The best thing is if the bus is overnight, you will save a nights accommodation! Sometimes you may be limited on time and need to take flights rather than buses. Domestic flights are a lot more affordable than international ones. Travelling across international borders by bus then flying domestically can save you some serious pesos and it will almost always work out cheaper.

how to travel on a budget
4. how to travel on a budget – Camping and travelling with a tent

This is only really applicable to Patagonia and some of the developed countries. If you plan on doing any of the multi day treks in the region you will need to either hire a tent, buy one or pay to use one on the track. Obviously if you only plan to spend a couple of nights hiking you probably wont save anything but if you really want to see Patagonia and plan on hiking the W or O circuits or any other longer treks buying is a great option. During the summer months there are many backpackers looking to buy second-hand gear. So if you can sell afterwards, you may not even lose that much money on it.

We purchased a solid but not super lightweight gear from a local Chilean company called Doite. In Santiago it was actually reasonably priced – it was certainly a lot more budget friendly than all of the bigger name brands. We were quite surprised with how well it held up on all of our hikes throughout Patagonia and South America. It withstood some super strong winds especially on the Huemul Circuit in El Chalten that we thought would see it torn apart.

Having your own camping gear can also allow you to explore some more remote areas such as the Carretera Austral and the national parks that border it where accommodation and transport can be scarce. 

Tent city at the busiest campsite on the w trek and o circuit. Money Saving tips for South America
5. Budget tips for south America – Cook your own food

¡Buen provecho! Self-catering is one of the best ways to cut costs while on the road. Supermarkets are easily found everywhere and stock a really good range of food. You can even try local markets for fruits and vegetables. For example we found amazing natural honey in rural Chile and the tastiest olives we’ve eaten in Argentina. Often you will leave with bags full of fresh produce that is a fraction of the price of eating at a restaurant. If you are backpacking it can be hard to take all your cooking gear but luckily most hostels these days have a fully equipped kitchen. You will most definitely make new friends at any hostel and sharing the groceries to cook a meal is a great idea. Maybe you can make a local home dish you love to share with friends from other countries!

How to travel on a budget. Money Saving tips for South America
6. how to travel on a budget – Eat where the locals eat

Of course you cant cook for yourself all the time and trying the local cuisine is one of the best parts of travel. When we eat out, we try to find where the locals go for a meal. Ask staff at your hostel or a friendly face you see in the street. It is often cheaper than a touristic restaurant and much more authentic. It often means getting off the main road and finding a little backstreet. Having a great meal made with love is a true joy when travelling.

7. Dont travel in peak season. try the shoulder seasons and dont book ahead

It’s really a no-brainer of how to travel on a budget. In peak season prices will skyrocket. If and when possible, travelling outside of peak season will mean reduced prices on everything from accommodation to tours and meals. Another bonus is you don’t need to pre-book anything, 99% of the time pre-booking things is often more expensive. Just arriving in a town with no reservations can be daunting to begin with but it allows you to shop around for the best prices in town and often you can negotiate a great deal. Of course, in off season many things are closed. You’ll want to be sure the attractions are still open and the roads haven’t been washed out if it’s rainy season.

8. embrace public transport and your own two lost feet

Taking local buses or the metro to explore the city can often be an adventure in itself and costs a fraction of taking a taxi. From sharing buses with chickens, to people sitting on the roof, you never know what you might encounter. Even better, if something is close by why not walk? Its 100% free and also good for you! If you’re up for an adventure you can never go wrong with this money saving tips for South America.

9. Budget tips for south america – Barter for almost everything

South America isn’t quite like parts of Asia when it comes to bartering. Especially the developed countries such as Chile and Brazil you may not have much bargaining power. However, it never hurts to ask, especially on big ticket items like tours and when staying multiple nights at a hostel or campground. A polite, “un pequeño descuento?” may save you more pesos than you imagine.

We hope that these 9 budget tips for South America can help save you some money. If you have any other ideas on how to travel on a budget we would love to hear from you! Or you can read more about how we have survived on under $50 a day by following the link.

Thanks for reading!

Josh + Ruby

Two lost feet

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