[The view at Sajama National Park in Bolivia]
One of my best travel experiences thus far has been going to South America – it was the first time that I traveled alone for an extended period of time, and I saw sights from Machu Picchu to the Uyuni Salt Flats to the beautiful Atacama Desert! Aside from the people and the nature, I’m really proud that I took part of my time in Bolivia to give back to the city I lived in. Along the way, I spent far less money than I anticipated, for several reasons:
- Frequent flyer miles
These strategies together let me have enough money left over to travel for another four months in Asia within the year! (I got back from South America in August, then left again for Asia in January.) How did I do this, and how can you do the same?
How I Used Frequent Flyer Miles to Cut Costs
These are a MAJOR way that I have saved money! While this wasn’t a direct cost for my time in Bolivia (I flew into Peru and left through Chile), it did greatly reduce my spending and is a great way to cut costs. For flights across the ocean (or across continents), typical flights cost $1000+ for a round trip. For this trip, I paid less than $100 because I used frequent flyer miles!
Before I started my trip, I had barely ever done anything to build up my miles arsenal, but I since my father is a genius, he had started accounts for me when I was 3 years old – just old enough to need a plane ticket for myself. THANKS, DAD!
Every time I flew, he made sure the miles were accrued to my account. Just by luck, I started learning more about them, and by the time I was ready to book my ticket I already had enough to use. But even if you haven’t been passively collecting frequent flyer miles for 20 years, they can be a super useful friend! When you fly, make sure you have frequent flyer accounts and that you give the number to the service representative who checks you in. (Or, if you only use a carry-on and mobile plane ticket, just input the number to your itinerary.)
How I Used Volunteering to Cut Costs
If you have some time to spare, volunteering is a truly wonderful way to make travel cheaper! Not only do you get to contribute to the communities that you visit and meet more locals, you can also get some stability in your travels and can learn the local language.
I went to a wonderful organization, Proyecto Horizonte, which works in the outskirts of Cochabamba, Bolivia. It was a little out of town, but it had an established record with empowering the organization to lift itself from a group of outcasts not recognized by the Bolivian government to integrated participants in Cochabamba’s community. When volunteering, you don’t have to stay for very long; I stayed with Proyecto for just about a month, playing with babies in the nursery and helping with grant writing. I was asked to donate a couple hundred dollars but the request was not required, which made contributions more meaningful.
While I was there, I paid just what I needed for transportation to and from the clinic, school, and nursery complex and was given breakfast, a snack, and lunch for my work. All I needed to pay for was housing (which I didn’t end up needing – see the next section), transportation (each ride cost 2 Bolivianos, which equals about $0.30), and dinner.
[Recommended Read: How to Find Worthwhile Volunteering Abroad]
How I Used Couchsurfing to Cut Costs
If you’re up for it, Couchsurfing is another really wonderful thing to try. Not only do you get a place to sleep for free, you also meet a local! Most likely, they will be happy to recommend things to you. I have written before about why traveling with a host is awesome here.
Originally, I stayed at a homestay set up by Proyecto Horizonte, but moved out due to the poor location. I was really lucky in that I suddenly remembered that I could try Couchsurfing. I set up a profile and was accepted right away to stay with a couple of different people in Cochabamba! My hosts all spoke wonderful English, and though not everything was perfect, I would not change a thing. They shared a lot about Bolivian culture and Spanish with me, which was more than I could get before. The homestay with an older lady who spoke no English at all was nice, but Couchsurfing was much better.
[Recommended Read: The Ultimate Guide to Saving Thousands With Couchsurfing]
This is certainly not the only way to save on living costs, but it’s a really great option! In Sucre, Bolivia, a Spanish school offered free housing to students. You can also trade work for housing.
While living a simple life for less than $2 a day is not feasible everywhere and takes a little bit of effort to figure out, it’s certainly possible! Doing this allowed me to take weekends off and travel with my friend who was also volunteering with me. It took the pressure off moving from city to city (a la purely backpacking); instead, I could really explore different parts of Cochabamba and Bolivia. And with the money that I saved, I paid for Spanish lessons!
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