5 Extraordinary Months in South America (on a Budget)

May 31, 2018
5 Extraordinary Months in South America (on a Budget)

From farming jobs through Workaway in Peru to English teaching in Columbia to overcoming sickness and going on challenging and beautiful hikes, Liana Rothman’s five months in South America were filled with adventure and eye-opening experiences. We had the pleasure of speaking with Liana and hearing about her time traveling, and the fact that she only spent $2500 over five months! Here’s a glimpse into our conversation.

Five months of solo travel in South America on a budget! Could you give us a brief overview of your trip? Which countries did you go to and for how long?

It was three months of traveling with a friend and two months of solo travel. I traveled in Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. I was in Peru for a month and a half, Ecuador for a little over three weeks, and Colombia for about three months. I feel like I could have spent much more time in each country, but also feel good about the amount of time spent in each one, given the short time I had to travel as a whole and how much I wanted to be able to see.

How did you manage to only spend $2500 over a five-month period?

Before I left, people had told me to budget around $1000 a month. Knowing that I only had $2500 to spend and hoping that it would last more than two and a half months but not being sure, I got a one-way ticket to Peru with the idea of traveling for as long as I could with that amount of money. Luckily, I was able to last comfortably for five months on $2500.

I used a work-trade volunteer site called Workaway, where you make a profile and pay a small amount of money to have access to thousands of volunteer projects all around the world, with the ability to contact the hosts and arrange for a stay as long as you and the host would like, doing work such as farm work, volunteering in a hostel, living in an intentional community, childcare, etc.

I did four Workaway projects during the five months. I volunteered on a farm for two weeks in Peru, volunteered in a hostel in Ecuador for two and a half weeks, volunteered in another hostel in Colombia for three weeks and volunteered for an English teaching project in Colombia for two and a half weeks.

When I wasn’t volunteering, I was moving from hostel to hostel using Hostelworld.com, which has super cheap lodging options, many different options for each city, and is a great way to meet other young travelers, solo and in groups.

What was your favorite country to travel in and why?

My favorite country for nature and scenic views was Peru. The stunning nature was endless; mountain views that took my breath away again and again, air so fresh, canyons so deep, mountains so high, valleys so vast.

My favorite country for people and culture was Colombia. Colombians are by far the nicest people as a whole that I have ever met.  They were so happy to meet travelers, to share their culture and history, and just very very kind and gracious.

What was the most challenging encounter you had and how did you face it?

The most challenging experience I had was feeling sick a lot in Peru. The second day of my four night/five day trek to Machu Picchu, called the Salkantay Trek (highly recommend!!), I got really bad altitude sickness and felt awful. Being so far away from civilization and around mostly strangers while feeling very very sick was extremely trying, and made me very homesick. It was the hardest physical experience I’ve ever felt on my body, and also perhaps the most triumphant when I finally arrived at the final step on the top of the mountain at Machu Picchu five days after embarking.

I didn’t feel great a lot of days in Peru, which was mostly food-related, and nevertheless was still able to enjoy most days, and didn’t want to leave Peru when the time came to leave. Not feeling so healthy is hard while traveling, and it was important to learn how to listen to my body and take breaks when necessary, and to communicate to other people how I was feeling and take it seriously to make sure I wasn’t in need of more serious healthcare.

What was the most beautiful and/or special experience you had?

It’s hard to choose because there were so many moments, but I think the most special experience I had was actually the Salkantay Trek, sickness and all. It was the hardest and most amazing five days, with a group of 16 beautiful strangers who turned into dear friends. It was the most beautiful views, the most enriching conversations, the most empowering feeling of walking miles each day and arriving to the tent each night, very learning-filled and the most exciting thing knowing that I was facing a lot of fears I had and smashing some of my goals of bravery, trying new things, and adventure.

5 Extraordinary Months in South America (on a Budget).

Did you ever feel unsafe as a woman? And are there any things women should specifically be aware of in the South American countries that you traveled around?

I felt unsafe in Quito, Ecuador, as there were a lot of stories of pick-pocketing and muggings, both from friends I was meeting and strangers. But honestly, that was the only place the whole time.

I would say generally I avoided walking around alone at night, as I think I do in most places in the world, and generally liked to be with other people in the evenings as well. I met many solo women travelers who expressed never feeling unsafe, and also emphasized cautiousness and general street-smarts as priorities for staying safe.

I think in general not letting the things other people tell you about safety take over your experience is the best route. Be safe, be aware of your surroundings, try not to put yourself in possibly bad situations and mostly just live your life and travel the way you want to, and everything should be okay. Things happen and life is unpredictable, and as much as possible, those facts shouldn’t dictate your decisions or choices in life.

Any regrets?

A few places that I wanted to make it to and didn’t, but honestly, no regrets!

What advice would you give to future female solo travelers thinking of going to South America? 

DO IT! The most spectacular adventure awaits you! The cool thing about traveling alone is that you never actually have to be alone because there are so many other travelers just waiting to meet you, and everyone is so open and friendly and kind while traveling, wanting to connect and make friends. And, if you actually want to be alone and explore somewhere on your own or just take a night to yourself to read a book or write in your journal, you can! With absolutely no need to explain yourself to anyone or be accountable to anyone but yourself. It really is a great way to travel and be flexible and have a lot of freedom to choose who you want to spend your time with, when and how.

In what ways do you feel this experience helped you grow?

Traveling is one of the most growth-filled opportunities I have had the privilege to experience in my life. Both the good things and the bad, the easy and the hard, shape you and teach you and leave imprints on your heart, mind and soul as long as you let them. Being open, taking risks, seizing opportunities and moments, meeting so many people from all around the world, learning about different histories and cultures, seeing things you never imagined you would see, trying new foods, making lifelong friends, overcoming fears, learning new things about yourself, and having the opportunity to live day to day, are just some of the things I gained from this trip.

About Sharon Zelnick

Sharon Zelnick is Pink Pangea’s Outreach Coordinator. Sharon holds an MA in comparative literature (summa cum laude) from Leiden University and a BA in liberal arts (magna cum laude) from Tel Aviv University. Originally from the US, Sharon has lived in the Netherlands and Israel and has traveled extensively through Europe, the Middle East, and Central America.

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