Monthly Archives: January 2012

What About the Fires in Chile?

Below is an abbreviated version of what I received from the US State Department via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) on January 10:

The State Department alerts U.S. citizens traveling to and residing in Chile of ongoing forest fires in several regions across the country. The regions of most concern include the 12th Region Magallanes, location of the Torres del Paine National Park, the 7th Region Maule, and the 8th Region Bio Bio. January is the peak of the austral summer tourist season, and parts of the affected areas are known for outdoor sports and adventure tourism. January is also the summer dry season in Chile, with conditions that increase the risk of fire throughout the country. This Travel Alert updates the alert issued on December 30, 2011, and expires on January 31, 2012.

Chilean authorities have been battling serious forest fires in the Torres del Paine National Park since late December 2011. The Park was closed completely on December 30, 2011 due to the danger presented by the fires. The Chilean government reopened portions of the park on January 4, 2012, including some hotels and camping sites. More recently, fires have broken out in other regions. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when traveling to the Park or any other affected region and to follow the instructions of local officials.  

Now reference the three regions on this map.

  • 12th Region Magallanes, location of the Torres del Paine National Park
  • 7th Region Maule
  • 8th Region Bio Bio

Unfortunately my friends A and C have Torres del Paine as part of their Southern Chile itinerary. They may be rerouted due to these fires. It’s unfortunate that they may miss it because the boyfriend and I saw some of that unspoiled land on the Argentine side when we were in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego last year. It’s unbelievably gorgeous.

As for where this adventure will take me in Chile, I plan to be in and around Santiago and then travel North. Before you start to worry that I’m in the same country as these fires, just remember that Chile is as long as the US is as wide.


Why Long-Haul Buses Scare Me

At the time of trying to sort out how I would get myself to the only destination I had booked, I also gave myself the task of figuring out where I could possibly go next. I don’t want to book anything just yet but I do want to figure out what my options could be.

Since I am bound to take one at some point on my trip, I think it will be funny to write now reasons why I didn’t want to take the 24-hour ride from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama. It will be interesting to write this now and look back later after I have done it.

Here goes:

1. It’s a long time to be on a bus.

Sure I could lose myself staring out of the windows what is out in that big expanse – I’d be heading to and through places I have never been so there would be plenty to stare at – in the daylight hours.
2. People who live in Chile told me that if I can afford to fly, fly.

Um, when in Rome, I guess.

3. I am a good sleeper.

Here, I should explain. I would conk out like a baby.  Except, traveling solo, I would feel like I could not sleep on that ride. In fact I would probably have to force myself to stay awake. So unless that bus makes zero stops en route or that my bag is actually tied to my body, I may just not arrive with my belongings considering that my eyes would be closed.

I know travelers take long buses all the time, but, not knowing if I felt like I could fall asleep on a long-haul bus ride sounds miserable to me. Well, maybe it wouldn’t be miserable if I were traveling with someone, a light sleeper perhaps, but if I am taking a bus ride along, there would be no sleep. Or the risk of not arriving with bags.

4. If I am going to do one long-haul bus ride, it can’t be followed four days later by another. Oh yes, you heard it here.

If I were to take a 24-hour bus ride, I cannot follow it four days later with a 20-hour ride. I know myself and two of those crazy long rides just four days apart is definitely not for me!

I am game to try a long-haul bus route on my adventure but I don’t think I am game to try it twice and certainly not days apart from one another. I say this now, let’s see what happens when I am down there with airplane tastes and a bus budget.

Figuring Out How to Leave San Pedro de Atacama

I am trying not to go into this adventure with too many plans, since spur of the moment spontaneity is (more than) half the fun.

But I am trying to sort out the options I will be able to choose from. Since I know the date the girls are leaving San Pedro de Atacama, I know I can figure out my onward travel from that date.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it is very likely that I will be leaving San Pedro de Atacama by bus.

I have a few options. I can travel onward to Arequipa, Peru – which is a, seemingly dreadful, 20+ hour bus ride. It’s around the 14 hour mark before you cross from Chile into Peru. Or I could head back into Argentina to visit Salta and Jujuy, if I haven’t already made my way there. I could also take a bus into Bolivia.

From my research so far, apparently, the bus from San Pedro to Salta only leaves Tuesdays and Fridays. So if that’s my option, I may have an extra day in the desert.

Also found in my research, LAN seems to be a very expensive airline if your permanent residence is outside of South America.

Sky Airlines, which I will be flying one-way from Santiago to Calama (domestic), does not permit one-way flights for international flights. Since I am trying not to backtrack, that option is out.

Most flights, if not all the ones I checked, connect back through Santiago (two hours south) or Lima (essentially making me connect to my next destination via Lima) or both (making for a very long day of travel – well, I guess not as long as a 20-hour bus ride).

While I managed to avoid a 24-hour bus ride from Santiago to San Pedro de Atacama, I may not be able to avoid a long bus ride to my next destination.

On the plus side, long-haul buses in Argentina and Chile apparently offer reclining seats, more leg room than an airplane’s coach class and wine after dinner. Yes they even serve meals, I’ll believe that when I see it!

How to Eliminate a 24 Hour Bus Ride

Short answer: Book a flight.

When trying how to figure out how to meet my friends A and C in San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, I needed to figure out a route to get myself to where I needed to be.

My plan, at least for Chile, would be to enter the country from central Argentina. Then I would like to explore Santiago and the surrounding area, and from there head north to meet up with my friends.

I did not plan that the overland trip would take 24 hours by bus. That’s right people, a full day. On a bus.

I had seriously thought about doing the research to break the ride up into four 6-hour days. But I decided that it sounded even worse. I think I’d rather get it over with in one shot.

The girls will be flying Chicago – Santiago – Calama. I looked into getting on the same LAN leg from Santiago to Calama as the girls. Alas, the price on the most expensive airline in Chile brings the price for a one-way non-stop flight during the peak summer season reaches nearly $500USD. For that price, the 24-hour bus ride was now very much a real possibility.

Determined to find another airline with that route so I could compare prices, I scoured the travel boards of BootsnAll and LonelyPlanet. Trying to find the information about this tiny airport on Google was fruitless. The hotel was helpful as was the TripAdvisor boards.

Sky Airlines had several daily flights from Santiago to Calama except I did not want to take any chances booking a flight with stops if I was to meet the girls that day. When I checked the flight schedules for the day before, I found one direct flight. Now I am scheduled to get into San Pedro de Atacama the day before the girls arrive.

It’s a two-hour non-stop one-way flight on Sky Airlines. I paid $165USD, and it will be fully paid for before I leave, therefore, it is well worth it, and not coming out of my ‘official’ travel budget.

And one less thing to figure out: the hotel has agreed to pick me up at the airport even though I am not (read: cannot afford) staying there for the one night before our reservation starts. I don’t have to think about sorting transportation for the hour ride into town.

I’m not totally off the hook for the long-haul bus ride. Check out the next post for how I could very well take a 20-hour bus ride.

Still Reeling in the Shock of Saying Yes

I knew the total cost of the San Pedro de Atacama portion of the trip included three nights and airport transfers and two tours.

Surprisingly the part of the reservation that freaked me out the most was the airport transfer because I didn’t even know how I would be getting myself to northern Chile, much less the Calama airport in the middle of the Atacama Desert.

C would put a 50% deposit on her credit card and we’d each pay half now and half in Chile. Since I still had a steady income, I sent C a check for my entire portion so I wouldn’t have to worry about finding the other 50% later when my daily budget will be less than just one night in this gorgeous place they found!

After sorting finances, I finally asked what I just paid for…what tours would we be doing in the middle of the driest desert in the world, fearing that horseback riding or white water rafting was on the list.

I was relieved to hear that out two tours were sans horses and rafts. As for what we are going to see – TripAdvisor ranked both as top sights to see while in San Pedro de Atacama. I knew I was in good hands with A and C and their, er, now our, plan.

Since I typically do the planning when the boyfriend and I travel AND considering I will be responsible for planning my other 56 days on the road, it was nice to have my agenda handed to me.

Phew. Four days and three nights are booked. Once I figure out where I am sleeping the night before we can call it four nights booked!

The next few answers I needed to sort for this portion of the trip would be ‘Where will I be coming from?’ and ‘How does one get to the Atacama desert?’

I answer those questions in my next post.

The Day I Said Yes

Two friends of mine who were in Argentina the same time as the boyfriend and I last February also fell in love with South America. So much so that they are heading back to explore Chile using American vacation days this February.

As they, I will call them A and C, were well into their planning process and I was still only contemplating we had talked about meeting up if the timing would work.

Yes, I was seriously contemplating this adventure but at that point I hadn’t pulled the trigger on anything that couldn’t be returned!

San Pedro de Atacama was the one place that meshed with both of our itineraries. I use the word ‘itinerary’ loosely. My itinerary is the general direction I am heading from my arrival city to my departure city. Their itinerary is more solid taking into account how much ground they will be covering.

One morning I get an email saying that they place they wanted to stay had a limited number of rooms and they wanted to book soon. My answer would determine if they booked a double or a triple. Since A and C wanted to book soon, could I let them know my decision in the next few days?

Am I really going to do it? Was I going to make this trip a reality?

I replied that it wouldn’t be a problem to let them know in a few days.

Then I had to make the decision. If I am to put nearly $500 towards a portion of the trip, I am committed to this idea I had floated around my head for the past few months.

A million thoughts whizzed around my head. I made a call to the boyfriend. I looked longingly at a Google map of South America.

And I knew that I didn’t need a few days.

Not more than an hour or two later, I sent an ‘I can’t believe I am really doing this’ and replied ‘YES! I will meet you there. Book the triple!’

FAQs: Packing

FAQ: What are you going to pack?

I hope not a lot! Everything will be in my rucksack and it will be on my back. I know I will acquire things along the way, so my goal is to pack as lightly as possible.

As I know all too well, anything I need, I can buy on the road.

My route will take me through mostly warm climates but air-conditioned buses and high-altitude will make things a bit colder.

FAQ: So really, what are you going to pack?

I haven’t attempted to actually pack just yet but this is my guide so far. I know I can buy toiletries (and really almost anything) on the road so am starting out with just a few travel size containers. Is 2 overkill? Should I start out with 1 of each instead of 2?

I do not want to be busting at the seams before I even get on the plane. And I would like to go carry-on so need to ensure I have one plastic bag with toiletries coming in at 3oz or less.

If you have any suggestions, deletions, additions, please post in the comments below.

Here goes:

60L rucksack – if I don’t exchange for something a little bit smaller
Foldable daypack

Tank tops (4)
Short sleeves (2)
Long sleeves (2)
Shorts (2)
Convertible pants (1)
Black cotton dress (Just in case? I’d be happy to go shopping should I need something!)
Leggings (1) – Leaning towards no, because of the…
Yoga pants (1)
Pajamas – tee and bottoms (1)
Quick-dry or moisture wicking socks (2; still need to buy once I decide on the shoes – suggestions welcome)
Underwear (8)
Bras (2 regular, 1 strapless, 1 sports)
Jeans (1) – I know this is a big debate for travelers but mine are so super comfortable
Fleece (1) – $11 from Wal-Mart. I tested it on a red-eye flight and it kept me warm. Almost hot. Never happens. A winner.
Bathing suit (Mix and match – 2 tops, 2 bottoms essentially giving me four options)
Beach cover up (1; may buy there)

Trail shoes (1) – Testing out four different pairs in my apartment this weekend, one will emerge the winner
Flip Flops (1)
Foldable flats; debating and would need to buy them first. I will have no problem going shoe shopping – I can always mail them home!

Shampoo (2 travel size)
Conditioner (2 travel size)
Face wash (Kiehl’s samples)
Body wash (2 travel size)
Hand/body lotion (1 travel size)
Razors (2)
Shaving cream (1 travel size – it comes in a pouch so not even a big can)
Toner – for when I can’t wash my face
Eye makeup remover
Cotton balls
Q-tips (1 travel pack)
Nail clippers/file
Toothpaste (1 travel size)
Floss (1)
Mouthwash (1 travel size)
Hair stuff (1 travel size)
Chapstick (2; I will lose one)
Eyelash curler
Mascara (Don’t laugh at these last three, I wear no ‘real’ makeup but these I must take)

EYE CARE; this gets its own category because this is crucial for me
Contact lenses (4 pairs each eye)
Contact solution (2 travel size)
Contact case (4; each time I change lenses)
Dry-eye drops (2 travel size)
Glasses (1 pair, debating on bringing 2) – My reasoning: 1 – because if it breaks, I will get a back up pair poste restante!; 2 – because if it breaks, can I depend on the international post?

Chewable Tylenol (I hate swallowing pills. My quart-sized plastic bag will be filled to the max with other liquids so I have to forgo Children’s Liquid Advil – don’t laugh)
Chewable Pepto Bismol
Neosporin (1 travel size)
Band aids (just a few to start with)
Ayr gel (awesome stuff, especially for dry climates)
Blister stuff (it’s a rub for the backs of your heels, comes in a tiny case)
Bio Freeze (sample sizes in little pouches)
Girly stuff (have heard mixed things about bringing your own stash but I will bring enough to start with and stock up once I get down there)
Sunscreen SPF 30+ (1 travel size to start with)
Mosquito repellant DEET 30%+ (any suggestions on brand?)
I have read about Dehydration stuff? Charcoal stuff? Do I need to start out with it?
Prescription medicine and notes from the doctors saying that I take it
Malaria pills (apparently the FDA does not approve of the liquid version)
Pill crusher (once in malaria zones, this will be as important as my passport!)
Vitamin D – chewable 😉
Travel powder packets; Go Greens Veggies and Benefiber to get vitamins and nutrients I may not get on the road

ELECTRONICS; or anything with a battery
Netbook, case and charger (still a big TBD)
Camera, battery, extra memory card and charger
iPod, charger and earplugs
Head lamp
Mini flashlight; do I need this if I have the head lamp?
Alarm clock
Watch (I don’t even own one, I still need to buy a cheap/cheap-looking one)
Converter to charge said electronics (already own)

Guide book
Book (1)
Pens (2; for the same reason I need two chapsticks)
Moo cards

Passport photos
Yellow card
Credit cards (2)
Debit cards (2)

Packing cube (1; quarter cube)
Packing sac (3)
Compression sack (1; for heavier clothes while I am in warmer climates)
Dry sac for any wet items on travel days (TBD)

Travel bath towel
Silk sleep sack
Sink stopper
Travel clothesline
Sunglasses (2) – I lose and break sunglasses, so two five dollar pairs from Old Navy will suffice
Waterproof money holder for pool/beach
Hand sanitizer (1 travel size)
Wet Ones hand wipes
Floppy hat (1) – May just buy down there to blend in
Gloves (2; 1 fleece and 1 stretchy cotton) – Each was 99 cents and if the buses are as cold as I have read, this is a good investment.
Winter Hat (1) – May buy down there, if it’s necessary
Whistle and Door stop – thanks for these tips, Legal Nomads
Locks (2; 1 retractable cable lock and 1 combination lock)
Hair ties
Plastic bags
Cheap earrings; wear in my ears
Travel toilet paper (2)
Duct tape; wrapped around a pencil
Carabiners (2)
Sleep eye mask
Ear plugs

What do you think? Too much? Am I missing anything?

My departure date looms…let me know what I can eliminate!

FAQs: Vaccinations, Jabs and Shots

FAQ: Did you have to get vaccinated?

Yeppers. Jabs were the bane of my existence for quite a few weeks and I have enough information from my vaccine research for several future blog posts.

Note: I am not a doctor and I don’t play one on tv. My research was specific to my needs and destinations. You should speak to your doctor regarding your own travel plans.

FAQ: What kind of shots did you get?

Me personally? I got jabs for Yellow Fever, Typhoid, Tetanus, Diptheria and Pertussis (TDAP), Meningoccoal and Hepatitis A. Again, please check with your doctor for your needs. I found out I still had immunity to MMR and Hepatitis B so I did not need to get those.

FAQ: Did you feel okay after the shots?

The only one that made me feel badly for a few days was the TDAP. I was achy, tired and sniffly for a few days. Surprising to me, that was the one I was least worried about — it was the most ‘normal’ jab to get. It was the only one insurance covered.

Also, some vaccines cannot be administered if you are not feeling well. I put off getting my meningococcal jab for a week because the TDAP had had me feeling under the weather.

FAQ: Were the jabs expensive?

They can be. You should definitely compare prices because it can get very pricey.
I called my insurance company only to find out that they don’t pay for travel vaccines. But, they told me I could get jabs priced at cost at my job. Score!
I got several jabs at work, at cost. I got one at the doctor, which insurance covered. And I got one at Passport Health because it was a few dollars cheaper than at work.
I also found out that you can go to the local health department in your town for free, or very low-cost vaccinations.
Shop around!
FAQ: Didn’t you have shots before you went to college?
Yes. And I even called the school to get those medical records. Unfortunately they only keep records for ten years. I missed the boat on that one. Oops.
So I had my mom dig up my vaccination history. A mother’s dream.
If you can’t get your records, you can get titers (bloodwork) that test for antibodies in your system for shots you have had as a baby or adolescent to see if you are still immune. Check with your insurance carrier because some of those titers are hundreds of dollars, more than the cost of the actual vaccine.

FAQ: How many jabs did you get at a time?

Because I am a big baby, and was overly concerned about side effects and arm pain, I only wanted to get one jab at a time, so the process took me some time to get through.
Again, I am not a doctor, just sharing my experience. Seek specific medical advice that relates to your own travel needs.
More on my vaccination experience to come…

FAQs: Money

Today is the five-year anniversary of my grandpa’s death and while I miss him every day, he has left a lasting legacy.

Today’s post is a thank you to my grandpa and his forward-thinking.

Today’s post is also about the biggest question I have been asked…How much money is this going to cost?

Honestly, I don’t know.

FAQ: How do you have the money to take this trip?

My grandpa had always said ‘pay yourself first.’

While I don’t think he meant pay yourself first so you can travel, that’s exactly what I have been doing for the better part of ten years, even while I was in some serious debt.

While some people save their money to buy handbags, furniture and homes, I save in order to buy airline tickets.

I don’t think that my grandpa wanted me to interpret ‘pay yourself first’ as a travel fund, much less an opportunity to quit my job to peace out for two months. 

I do think that somewhere he is shaking his head in disbelief that his oldest grandchild who lived on grilled cheese as a kid has become quite the adventurer. He shouldn’t be all that surprised though, it was me who introduced him to ikura on the sushi menu.

Thanks Poppy. Without this cushion, I would never be able to do this.

FAQ: What’s your budget?

I think I can do it on $200-400 per week, depending on the country and the cost of living there. And I think that’s on the high end.

What would it say about my cost of living to ensure that my monthly travel budget comes in way under my expenses and outrageous monthly rent! It would mean — get the hell out of New York!

Because I only have limited time on the road, I will have a different mindset than a longer-term traveler. What’s the sense of being somewhere only to not partake because it busts the budget? I’ll make up for the splurge in other places, like food and lodging, or spending more time in less expensive places.

For example, Ayngelina from Bacon is Magic, wrote that she traveled South America for 18 months on approximately $1000 a month. And Wandering Earl wrote about living on $1000 a month.

In the meantime, check out these budget breakdowns from Shannon from A Little Adrift and Betsy and Warren from Married With Luggage. Their trips are longer (and still ongoing!) and cover more countries than my trip but you get the idea that the cost of living is much cheaper once you leave the USA, no matter where you live from sea to shining sea.

Please note: I am not an Excel whiz so please don’t expect me to provide anything like this at the end of my trip. I will probably start, with good intentions, to keep track of my expenses in a good, old-fashioned notebook. And then one day, not even halfway through my trip, I will probably stop.

FAQ: This last point isn’t an FAQ so much as a request from a dear friend and I think it nicely wraps up the money section of the FAQs.

Some background: I moved to London to live and work for six months after graduating from college. Thanks to this experience, which I would do all over again even knowing what I now know, I spent the better part of my twenties in a significant amount of debt.

I worked very hard to eliminate that debt, many years after the pints were drunk and the fancy Paris hotel was a faint memory. I have no intention of getting myself back into travel debt again. And the note my dear friend wrote was a friendly reminder.

My friend, we’ll call her M, writes…

And my only request/piece of advice for your new adventure is not to get yourself back into “London Debt”…you worked so so hard to get out of it, and I remember you feeling so relieved and proud of yourself for doing so. That will be my only comment on the finance matter of your trip. Other than that, I hope you have a fabulous time and wish you safe and friendly travels 🙂

FAQs: Concerns

FAQ: Is South America safe?

Unless you live in a bubble, no where is truly ‘safe.’

FAQ: Do you speak Spanish?

Si. Mientras mi gramatica es asi asi tengo volcabulario grande. The language barrier is actually the least of my worries.

FAQ: What will the weather be like?

Summertime! But it will be colder in some places because of the altitude and it will be the rainy season in Bolivia.

FAQ: What if you get homesick?

I can call home. I can Skype. I can email. I can do a video hang 0ut on Google +. I can look forward to meeting up with those who are meeting me on the road. And if all else fails, I can tell myself that a bad day of travel is still probably better than a good day behind a desk…wishing I was traveling.

FAQ: What if you don’t like it?

If I don’t like a place, I can move on. If I really don’t like the idea of being on the road, I can always come home.

FAQ: What about your real life?

I don’t really understand this question and I have been asked it a few times.

It is my real life and I am living it. Maybe it seems like the road less traveled but we each have our own road.

FAQ: What about babies? You are getting up there in age.

Gee, thanks.

FAQ: Do you even want kids?

Yes. And in fact, one of the shots, TDAP, is actually recommended before you get pregnant. So there, I’m already preparing my body so enough with those questions.