When you come to the end of a long-term trip like this one, a question people always ask you is, “Did you stick to your budget?” The scary truth is Mark and I didn’t have a budget. I mean, of course we set aside a certain amount of money for the trip before we left. We generally didn’t go hog-wild on spending sprees and were careful about what we dished out for food, lodging, laundry, treats, and so on. But did we keep track of what we bought, make daily spreadsheets, or set aside a certain limit to what we could spend each day? Hell, no! And, guess what? The amazing thing is we were exactly on target. We might even have a little dough left over (that is, if I don’t buy a book at the airport). So, where did the money go? To our Economic Awards!
Most Expensive Country
Before we get into the most expensive and least expensive awards, it is worth mentioning that prices vary widely in urban versus rural situations, and within different regions of the same country. As travelers, we were primarily concerned with the price of goods and services we made use of, such as the cost of food, transportation, and lodging. While in Chile, we camped out more often and stayed in lower-end lodging to help round things out. Although certain things cost more than double in Chile than they do elsewhere, we have no regrets about visiting. We loved the Chilean landscapes, the people, and, of course, the wine! It’s a place we hope to visit again, next time, with more camping gear!
Least Expensive Country
I can’t help but feel a little conflicted over a little transnational bargain-hunting we engaged in early in our trip. When it came time to pick a place to study Spanish, we picked Bolivia sight unseen simply because the same price that covered classroom tuition in another country paid for one-on-one instructions with a well-qualified teacher in Bolivia. As it turned out, we loved Bolivia and the fact that things cost so much less there isn’t really something we think to mention when paying our compliments. Go to Bolivia! The people are down-to-earth and very nice, the culture is unique among South America, the landscapes are varied and beautiful, the coffee is delicious, the climate is agreeable, and so much more. We have praised Bolivia many times on our blog. If everything we’ve said thus far isn’t enough, we’ll add to the list that the dollar does go very far.
Mark and I didn’t actually buy a whole lot over the course of this trip. I had already gorged myself on a scarf, a winter hat, and those super-lame striped woven pants that I never wore, three years ago when we went to Peru. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake again. Plus, part of the joy of this adventure has stemmed from living with next-to-nothing—wearing the same clothes and shoes for seven months and getting by with what we had. Sure, I won’t lie and say I don’t 100% adore the handcrafted cowboy boots I bought in Esteli, Nicaragua. But in the interest of looking at this award in terms of necessity and usefulness rather than desire or want, I’d say the Award for Best Purchase goes to the camping stove.
Our wee camping stove (and mini-pots and pan set) opened so many doors for us—literally. It enabled us to stay in desirable but affordable hotels when we just weren’t in the mood to stay in accommodations that had kitchens but were steeped in back-douchery. It kept us from having to return to the horrors of Cold Mush when veggie options weren’t available. And it made cooking to our own taste a reality rather than a pipe dream. Sometimes a veggie stir-fry just tastes that much better when you make it in the comfort of your own hotel room. Not so sheepishly, we are forever to indebted to our now-not-so-new camp stove. We can’t wait to introduce it to Vermont.
Winner: The Camp Stove
As Lex noted above, we generally did not spend our money on unnecessary items. The truth is, we really didn’t have the space to carry more stuff. One thing we did have to spend money on, time and time again, was laundry service. Coin operated, self-service laundromats were a rarity. As a result, money had to be doled out to have other people wash our clothes. Strange though it may sound, I am very much looking forward to washing my own clothes when we return. In an effort to uhhh, stretch the laundry budget, I had hoped to purchase some additional underwear. The worst purchase of our trip occurred in a street-side market in Sucre, Bolivia. I don’t know what happened, but several pairs of underwear that I thought were in my size delivered us into accidental hijinks galore. When we got back to our room and I attempted to try them on, I nearly fell over on myself as they couldn’t even reach my waist. Somehow or another, I purchased ridiculously small underwear. I am talking 10-year-old boy, tiny, unwearable, miniature undies.
Winner: Lil’ Boy Undies (Sucre, Bolivia)
Best English-Language Book Selection
When we arrived in Chile, I had five books in my suitcase. Five. While I thought that was excellent planning before we left (I am so prepared!), what I soon realized soon after we took two steps from the airport was that I’d have to actually carry these books, sometimes for an extended period of time. Very. Heavy. Backpack. This, my friends, is why most long-term travelers carry only one book with them at a time. When they’re done with said book, they either conduct a trade with another bookworm along the way, buy something from a bookstore carrying titles written in other languages, or go through a book-exchange at any hostel that has one. Sounds easy, eh? Not so much. It’s hard to find a bookstore with a good selection of titles in other languages. And if I might complain about this subject (again), most book-exchanges we encountered at either bookstores or hostels sucked. Either the selection was abominable or the store/hostel’s trade-policy was, on principle, pretty lame. (You know who you are Oliver’s Travels, Carolina Bookstore, and Plantation House!) Having to pay for a book exchange, especially for a book you’re not totally in love with in the first place, is so not cool. That’s what I like to call Taking Advantage. With that being said, we do have to give kudos to two places that not only had a great selection, but were fair about their trading policy or prices. Thank you for your well-stocked shelves and low-prices, Spitting Llama in La Paz, Bolivia. Thank you excellent and free book-exchange at Hotel Mitru in Tupiza, Bolivia. And an extra-special thanks to Alister who gave us a copy of J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar even though we had nothing to give him in return. Y’all saved our butts!
Winner (Bookstore): The Spitting Llama (La Paz, Bolivia)
Winner (Book-Exchange): Hotel Mitru