All the planning in the world cannot prepare you for what South America has to offer. I hope to build the mother of all checklists through this post…. everything and anything one needs to look into before boarding that plane to South America… The list is in no particular order or hierarchy. If you ever plan to visit South Am, I would suggest you arm yourself with a printout of this post about 3 months before your flight to ensure you have everything ready.
As of today, this is a checklist which has not been tested practically… if I have a different experience from my actual plan, I will update this accordingly… this post gets updated regularly…
1. AIR TICKETS – Getting cheap connections to South America from India is a feat. Unless you plan to walk overland from India to London and then take a flight, I doubt anything to South America can come cheaper than 75000 Rs. Research on Air tickets is of utmost importance. Look up my post Art of Air Tickets for the same. I bought mine from Riya Travels. They give the best deals in Mumbai. (022-66594949)
2. TRAVEL AGENT – He better be your friend. You will be calling him about 5 times a day with varied options and expecting him to whip up itinerary emails for you at the speed of light. For that, he better be a good friend. My agents Vasu and Aarti from Riya Travels Mumbai are fantastic.
3. GUIDEBOOK- Lonely Planet South America on a Shoestring has been a great option. Ive read it cover to cover and its been amazing. For additional research, you can always look up the internet after an induction with the LP. If you have a friend still working in an organisation, you can bookmark pages and ask them to give you back to back printouts in font size 8 which you can use as throw away guidebooks.
4. TRAVEL FORUMS – Register yourself on Travel communities / forums – The ones I recommend are Lonely Planet Thorn Tree Forum, Trip Advisor and Couchsurfing. While Trip advisor and Thorn tree can be used purely for advice (ranging from ‘which hotel do i stay’ to ‘whats the cheapest way to get from your bus station to your hotel’ to ‘can i eat exotic fruits in the amazon’), Couchsurfing is great to make friends, stay with locals and get local advice. Its the mother of all sites.
5. VISAS – Keep about 90 days in your hand before you travel for all the Visas. Brazil has a consulate in Mumbai, but Argentina, Chile, Peru and other countries have their embassies in New Delhi. Some countries like Bolivia are not even present here. You need to really map out your travel plan keeping in mind the Visa procedures. There is a shitload of paperwork to be done and the more detailed it is, the better your chances of getting a Visa. Look up my post ‘Show me the Visa’. My agents Nematullah and Premlata, from Riya Delhi, are fabulous.
6. US Visa – Yeah, it helps.. not to get other visas.. however, cheapest air connections may be through the US. And US does not allow people to transit if you do not have a Visa. Getting a US visa is not that difficult.. the process is amazing. Look up VFS USA
7. MAPS – Buy a large map of South America. Else, print out mini maps of every country and mark out border crossing towns, places you want to visit, road / rail routes, etc. This makes overland travel easy.
8. BUS TRAVEL – Bus travel.. its the best way to get around. Long long journeys but the only cheap option. Internal flight costs can kill you. Hence, look up the bus booking site for every South American country and try and get advice on distance and costs from travel forums. Online booking can be tricky as sites are in Portuguese / Spanish. Write on travel forums for advice and book your tickets when you get there. For bus travel in the United States (short distance), you can check a Chinatown bus option else you can check Greyhound.
9. MUST SEE THINGS- Always decide what are the places you definitely want to see before you set out – For eg: Machu Picchu in Peru, Uyuni in Bolivia, Christ Redeemer in Rio, Pereto Moreno Glacier in Argentina, etc. This will help you plan your trip around the places you want to visit. I will be putting up my list soon.
10. BACKPACK – Buy a great backpack, which wont give up on you, when you are traveling. Wildcraft makers of amazing travel equipment in India are sponsoring mine. Its fabulous. Go check it out. One also needs to have a daypack in addition to a backpack when you are traveling for 7 months. The daypack can carry gadgets plus a change of clothes / jacket incase you are headed on a day trip somewhere. One foldable bag (which can open into a side bag) is a great if you are hitting the beach, etc. This can be neatly folded and kept inside your main backpack.
11. SHOES – Shoes that can last for 6 months. Comfortable and practical. I use my light Adidas slip on sneakers for the same. And one pair of flip flops / beach slippers is a must. Crocs make super comfortable light sandals and they have given me a lovely blue pair to travel with me. Check it out.
12. YELLOW FEVER VACCINATION – Get a yellow fever vaccination done. Its a nightmare to get this in Bombay. A post of mine will be dedicated to this – ‘Yellow Yellow Useless Fellow’. Minimum 15 hours in the queue and a bribe to top that is your only hope. I should complain to the Anti corruption Bureau..
13. BLOG – Set up a blog. A travel website. Whatever you feel like. Something that can capture your adventures and keep people back at home informed about what you are doing. If you have a little extra money, register a URL and redirect to your site. You can use Go Daddy or Register.com . I used Redif.com (Indian site) to do this. I used it thinking that Desi tech companies will have good customer service. Its been the worst nightmare. Once I registered my domain, they mention that I need an email with them to redirect URL to blog. They are number one cons. I have been going back and forth between Rediff customer service and blogger help group, but in vain. My URL is as of now not working. And I am yet to figure out stuff like DNS and CNAMES. Befriend a techie. That’s the only hope. Check out my website www.backpackingninja.com to read the post on online nightmares I went through.
14. MONEY MONEY MONEY – Figure out the money situation. Ive figured out that taking a Forex card to South America may not be a good idea as Forex cards only load USD, Pounds, Aus Dollars or Euros. It would then mean double conversion – INR to USD and USD to South American currency. Its better to have 2 International debit cards from 2 bank accounts in India – one preferably giving you a Visa debit card and another with a Mastercard debit card. All banks (MNC) charge you 2.5 to 3 USD for every withdrawl. So, keep that in mind while budgeting. And ask your bank to authorise international withdrawls before you leave so that you have no trouble withdrawing.
15. CREDIT CARDS – Credit cards only for emergencies. Take one emergency credit card, which you can use online and for other major buys. If you have someone back home who can pay your credit card every month, it would be good. Else, ensure you can pay online from your bank account. This allows complete control of finances.
16. TRAVELERS CHEQUES – A good friend adviced me that travelers cheques are not in use anymore.. they are good if you need to show financial position to get a visa. Otherwise, its cumbersome.
17. FLASHPACKING – Traveling with GADGETS – If you plan to be a flashpacker, one who wants to carry all your gadgets during your travel, prepare in advance. Make a list of things you want to do – Write, Upload Photos, Videos, B
logging, Emails, etc. Check out the resources with you currently. For eg: I have a company laptop, which I have to give back (since Ive quit), a Nokia phone (display messed), an IPod in good condition and a fantastic Canon Camera. So, the basics I am looking at carrying are cheap phone which can SMS and make calls plus charger, Ipod which can double as a external hard disk with a Laptop charger, Canon camera with a Battery charger and USB connector and a mini travel laptop. I have shortlisted and purchased the ASUS EEE PC – a 7 inch mini laptop which serves the purpose. It is just about a kilo, extremely compact, windows XP enabled, with a builtin microphone and webcam, wi-fi, bluetooth. What more can you ask for.
18. GIFTS- Pick up small gifts for people you meet, people who host you or generally travel friends you make. For women, small earings, bindis, bangles, silk scarves, spices make wonderful gifts. Its a little more difficult to shop for guys. But, gendar neutral stuff like bookmarks, keychains, coasters, wall hangings, music works. Incense sticks are great. One of the best gifts you can give someone is a bunch of mp3s from India. Take assorted Indian music in a pendrive and share it with people.
19. FREE WI-FI – Check out my post Wi-Fi Wonders for details on how to access free wi-fi when you are traveling.
… more soon..