6 Lessons Learned From 6 Months of Travel – The Best Long Term Travel Tips

by Stephanie Walsh on July 6, 2012 · 25 comments

in Colombia, Mexico, North America, South America, Travel Thoughts, Travels

Jumping with friends in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Today is our 6-month Travel-versary! This day 6 months ago we set out on our South American adventure and began our life of long term travel. Time has flown and I can’t believe we’ve already been living a location independent lifestyle and travelling for 6 months now.

A life in a bag - Andres with his backpack

The last 6 months have been amazing, and I couldn’t have asked to spend it with anyone better than Andres, who, as well as being the perfect boyfriend, also happens to be the perfect travel companion!

 

We have experienced, seen and learned a lot over these last 6 months so in honour of the day that’s in it, I thought I would do a quick post on our 6 lessons learned in the last 6 months of budget backpacking.

So, what are the best long term travel tips we have learned in the last 6 months of travel?

The answer is lots! It’s taken us a while to get to where we are now. A place where we feel we have gotten better at travelling lighter, spending less and enjoying more. Most of these lessons we had to learn the hard way; by making lots and lots of mistakes. While the mistakes were not monumental, they have taught us valuable lessons that we would like to share with you. In fact, one of those lessons helped us save 45% on our usual monthly budget! So here they are:

6 Important Lessons Learned in 6 Months of Budget Travel

  1. First off, when it comes to travel…too much planning is futile. We started this journey 6 months ago today, with the intention of travelling all of South America in 6 months! How naïve we were. Well…that day has come and so far we have been to 1 country in South America (Colombia) and have somehow left that continent and found ourselves in Mexico. So 6 months…and we have been to only two countries! How did that happen? Well we had the opportunity to travel to Mexico in April so we decided to go for it and spend a few months exploring the country while we’re there. However, we sometimes find ourselves feeling guilty for not sticking to the original plan so we need to remind ourselves occasionally that few things in life can be planned so far in advance; you never know what opportunities may arise and completely change all of your original plans. So despite giving ourselves a 6-month time frame for travelling through South America, we never really saw it as a deadline but more a rough guide. Of course, we will return to South America once we have done a bit more exploring of Mexico but for now we wont stress about where we are supposed to be and enjoy where we are now. We are in no hurry to mark a set number of countries off our ‘to-do’ list in a certain amount of time.

    Lesson 1: 
    Embrace change of plans and re-direction…as they often lead to great and unexpected experiences. Learn to accept that you may not even know where you will be next week; never mind in a few months!

    “I cannot make my days longer so I strive to make them better” – Henry David Thoreau  Click to Tweet This Quote

    Sayulita, Mexico Sayulita, Mexico

  2. Food is expensive, very expensive! In fact it was…and sometimes still is our biggest expense while travelling. Even in South America where everyday items, including food are a lot cheaper than in other parts of the world, food still adds up extremely fast. People say travel is expensive. I say not necessarily. Sure, if you want to eat three meals a day out in restaurants or even on the street, you’re going to have a huge hole in your budget gone on food. People tend to overlook the cost of food as the biggest expense in their lives because it is spent in constant, small amounts throughout the day, unlike rent, for example, which is a large lump sum that puts a visible dent in your bank balance once it is withdrawn. We have kept a budget of everything we have spent in the last 6 months so we know that the ‘food column’ towers much higher above the rest. So here are 5 simple tips that will help you to dramatically curb your monthly expenditure and keep the ‘food column’ to a minimum:

    Lesson 2:

    1. Buy your weeks food (or months, depending on how long you are staying in a place) in bulk at a local low-cost supermarket.
    2. Always try to stay in a place with a kitchen so you can make your main meals at the hostel, apartment or hotel.
    3. If you’re going out sightseeing or exploring for the day, make sandwiches to take with you and bring some snacks to help stop the temptation to eat at a restaurant when you get hungry.
    4. Buy a giant water bottle (the bigger the better) to keep in your hostel room and use it to refill your small bottle for day-trips. Buying bottles of water daily, often more than once, adds up extremely fast and is an expense that can be avoided so easily. A 20-liter bottle of water costs about 2 USD, while a small 750 ml bottle can cost around the same!
    5. Finally, the one that most people overlook…eat less! We only eat 2 meals a day, breakfast and dinner at around 4 or 5. We are never hungry after that so as well as helping us to save money, we have also become healthier. Andres has lost almost 10kgs since we started travelling! My amazing homemade burgers! My amazing homemade burgers!

      Fish Tacos - Sayulita, Mexico Of course it’s also ok to eat out every now and then. Food is so much apart of a culture. Fish Tacos – Sayulita, Mexico

  3. If you’re going to get addicted to coffee (or in my case, start drinking it) do it in the home of the worlds’ best coffee, Colombia! This point also ties in with the last point for saving money on food and drinks, in that once you leave Colombia, you will realize how inferior all other coffee is and therefore, unintentionally, cure your addiction just as soon as you started it! Easy eh?

    Lesson 3: 
    Curb your coffee addiction by starting it in the home of the worlds best coffee, Colombia!

    Colombian Coffee in coffe shop, Popayán, Colombia Colombian Coffee in coffe shop, Popayán, Colombia. So good it will make you stop drinking all other coffee

  4. In South America, the cheapest hostels are usually not online. So as great as HostelWorld and co are for finding cheap accommodation in other parts of the world, you can’t beat walking around the neighborhood when you arrive to a new place, where you will probably find a lovely little local hostel all to yourself for half the price. We have gotten some amazing deals over the last few months simply by just showing up to a place, looking around, asking the locals and of course doing a little bit of bargaining. Travelling in low season also helps, as owners are desperate for some business and significantly lower their prices. Using this method, we got an amazing little bungalow for a month in the beautiful surf town of Sayulita on the Pacific coast of Mexico, complete with Wi-Fi, private bathroom and private kitchen for 5000 MXN pesos for the two of us in total. That’s only 5 Euro/6 USD per person per night!

    Lesson 4: 
    Don’t book accommodation in advance or online, unless there is a big event that may leave most hostels booked out. Arrive, scout the area, ask the locals and don’t forget to bargain.

    Cheap hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia Cheap hostel in Santa Marta, Colombia

  5. You really don’t need all that crap. After a fair amount of travelling in the last few years, I thought I had become good at minimal packing. I hadn’t. So when I was packing for travelling through South America, I was so proud at how little I had packed. Of course it did seem like very little to the average person who doesn’t have to try and fit everything they will need for the next ‘6 months’ (ha!) into one bag. Since then I have taken out more than half of the clothes I brought with me as well as so much more random things including a hairdryer, shoes, a stupid amount of skincare products and a stupid amount of belts (why I brought so many belts, I have no idea). I still have about double the amount of stuff that Andres has, but he got a head-start in the art of packing as he has travelled a lot in the last two years.

    Lesson 5:
     Take out as much stuff as possible before leaving and then do it again within a few weeks of being on the road. Your back will thank you and re-packing will become so much more easier when you’re not trying to squeeze so much stuff you never use into one bag.

    Beautiful handcrafted jewellery, Popayán, Colombia Beautiful handcrafted jewellery, Popayán, Colombia

  6. Speaking of random crap, don’t buy more random crap while travelling!! That includes souvenirs, the beautiful handmade crafts you see everywhere in South America and more! We’ve learned this lesson the hard way. While in Tlaquepaque, Guadalajara, Mexico, we got ourselves ripped off drawn by a lovely little old man who does caricatures. We didn’t really think it through at all and just purchased the caricatures on an impulse. While we love the picture he drew of us, it is possibly the most awkward thing to travel with. Rolled up and secured with elastic bands, it is almost impossible not to damage it while we are travelling, whether by squashing it or the chalk getting smudged. Thankfully, when we return to Colombia, we can leave it at Andres’s house but for now it will have to awkwardly accompany us on our travels around Mexico.

    Lesson 6:
     After making so much effort to reduce the amount of stuff you have with you, don’t ruin it by buying more stuff while you’re on the road, especially souvenirs.
Our personal caricature in Tlaquepaque, Mexico Our personal caricature in Tlaquepaque, Mexico

 

So there are some quick tips on the most useful lessons we have learned in the last 6 months of travel. There are a lot more things we have learned while budget backpacking, so I will do a more extensive post on that soon.

In the meantime, if you have got any questions or tips you would like to add, you can do so in the comments below!

 

 

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stacey July 6, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Great tips! I love reading about what other people have learned after traveling for a decent amount of time. I must admit I probably would have picked up one of those gorgeous necklaces though!
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2 Steph July 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm

Ha I know, it is very hard to resist! I’m a sucker for handmade jewellery! Thanks for commenting Stacey! What are you gonna do now that you’re finished Au Pair’ing?

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3 Stacey July 8, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Heading to Australia so I’m pretty excited to check it out. Have you read In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson? If you head down under you should definitely pick it up :)
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4 Steph July 14, 2012 at 12:34 am

Wow I’ve always wanted to visit Australia! That will be amazing :) Thanks for the book suggestion, I love Bill Bryson! Haven’t read it but always on the look-out for good book suggestions! :)

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5 Hannah July 20, 2012 at 3:56 am

You guys certainly have the right attitude towards travel, and have compiled some really great tips. It’s wonderful to hear how you have changed over the past 6 months and learn from your experiences. Joy resonates from your words and it is clear you are having the time of your lives :)
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6 Steph July 25, 2012 at 3:15 pm

We sure are! :) Glad it comes across and thank you for your kind words again! Travel is a constant learning curve, one that I love and embrace fully :) A cannot wait for you to be experiencing the same!

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7 Patricia GW July 20, 2012 at 9:57 am

I like your coffee-addict logic, once you have the best how can you go back to the rest? These are great practical tips for long term travel, I’m glad you shared them :)
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8 Steph July 25, 2012 at 3:17 pm

Haha thanks Tricia, it seems to be working so far anyway! I’m no expert but they have been some of the most valuable things we have learned anyway! :)

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9 Izy Berry August 4, 2012 at 5:47 pm

These tips are AWESOME! I agree, I’ve been traveling for almost two years and all of these hit home. It sucks that europe is pretty unaffordable and you can’t really hostel search when you arrive :(

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10 Steph August 8, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Thanks so much Izy! :)
Yeah we’d love to be able to travel through Europe some day but right now its way out of our budget! Gotta love rocking up to a new place with no idea of where you are going to stay that night!

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11 Will Peach August 4, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Nice tips, South America is next on my travel list so quite a good list here to check up on later.
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12 Steph August 5, 2012 at 2:12 pm

Thanks Will, glad you liked! South America (the little that I’ve seen so far) has been amazing! I’m sure you will love it when you make it here! :)

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13 tx August 9, 2012 at 8:24 am

Nice traveling guys, keep going and sharing!

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14 Steph August 9, 2012 at 12:13 pm

Thank you very much! We’ll try! hehe

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15 Kenin - @constantramble September 21, 2012 at 8:27 am

Great tips! We always try to shop locally at a grocery for food. We’ve saved hundreds of dollars over a month, by packing sandwiches and stuff. Like the Colombian coffee reference too, I think that would just make my addiction worse, but I’ll have to give it a try!
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16 Stephanie Walsh September 21, 2012 at 12:41 pm

Hehe I know, it’s so good! We’re all about the packed sandwiches and snacks too. Its really surprising how quickly the savings add up. We’re not so much ‘foodie’ people so we dont mind missing out on local cuisine every now and then, especially if it means we have more money to go towards seeing beautiful places! :) Thanks for reading, glad you enjoyed!

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17 Victoria | Bridges and Balloons October 16, 2012 at 10:13 am

Great tips. I wish I’d started in Columbia to abate the coffee addiction, but instead it just seems to get better!
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18 Stephanie Walsh October 17, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Ha tell me about it Victoria…I’ve relapsed! :P Doesn’t help that I’m back in Colombia!

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19 Britany (@britseeingstars) January 17, 2013 at 2:08 pm

I had also planned on bopping around to a bunch of countries in South America, and although I’m only 2 weeks into my 6 month trip, have already committed to Medellin for a month and will probably stay in Colombia for at least 3! (I mean – the COFFEE – I just can’t leave!) Great tips here, guys! :)
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20 Stephanie Walsh January 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Haha I know the feeling…my 3 week trip to Colombia has turned into a year and counting! :) Enjoy, and let me know if you make it to Cali, would love to meet a fellow blogger! :)

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21 2 Digital Nomads January 26, 2013 at 3:59 pm

I love this post, simple but true! I enjoyed the part when talking about food! This is a continues argument me and my wife take every time, to cook or not to cook “good post title?” I think it will depend on which part of the world you are at and how much cooking you do!
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22 Stephanie Walsh January 26, 2013 at 5:25 pm

Definitely a good post title! :) It is a big consideration, especially if you are going to be travelling for a long time and money needs to last longer. Good point about it depending on where in the world you are. In India, you could eat in standard restaurants all the time for super cheap. Nice to meet two more digital nomads! :)

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23 Molly Bradley December 20, 2013 at 1:48 pm

hello, i’m molly. um, i’m 18 next year and i aspire to travel around north america in the california/San Francisco area and more hopefully. I’m really worried about budgeting costs! i was wondering how much i would need to cover everything so i can add to the cali fund! thank you a bunch if you could help me!

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24 Jason January 9, 2014 at 3:38 pm

Hello!

I was so interested in reading your article, however, was unable to do so due to the annoying facebook/twitter share button that won’t get out of my way!

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25 Stephanie Walsh January 9, 2014 at 4:03 pm

Hi Jason. Sorry to hear that the button was getting in your way. It’s not supposed to, as I’m sure you know. Thanks very much for letting me know. I’ll look into it now! :)

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