Halfway through – 7 travel insights so far

Today we are halfway through our Latin American adventure, 109 days down and still 109 days to go (luckily)! We’ve had a blast so far and are looking forward to the second half. This post contains some of the things we’ve learned so far traveling.

Local bus

Be open to new people and experiences! We’ve met so many interesting people on the way, both fellow travelers and locals, and this has really made our travel that much more fun. We’ve learned to be open to the people we meet and the new experiences that sometimes result from the encounters. This has lead to our itinerary changing every other day and developing on the way, leading us to some places we hadn’t heard about just a couple weeks or days before. (NB: in some places, like bigger cities, you should still be a bit careful with who you talk to on the streets as there are a lot of hustlers out there trying to fool you..)

Don’t plan too far ahead! Ref. previous point, you will want to change it due to new information, loving where you are, bad/good weather, or new friends. We try to look one week ahead, but don’t book a hostel until a day or two before we need it, just so we’re sure that’s where we want to go. The downside is that sometimes we don’t get our first choice and/or have to pay a little more..

Learning a little Spanish is both very useful and a lot of fun! To be able to buy tickets, get a taxi, ask directions, order (the right) food at restaurants, book a room and have a simple conversation with a local will really enhance your travel. We spent 8 days in the beginning at language schools (in addition to duolingo.com and some audio-courses before we left), and it was so worth it. There are surprisingly few who speak English, even in the hostels.

Buses in Central and South America are excessively cold – so put on your pants and sweater/fleece and bring a blanket! It seems having A/C is such a luxury here that they use it as much as possible.

Time in Latin America is relative – if it says a bus takes 4 hours, it most likely will take 5 hours or more. Therefore we never plan bus rides or planes back-to-back. It’s kind of like money in the USA – you need to add 25% to the quota to find out how much you’re really going to spend.

You can never be too sure that what you think you’re paying for is what you actually get – check every detail and don’t assume anything. Travel agents will sell you the sunshine story and don’t tell you the things that can make you reconsider, so ask about everything that is important for you. For instance: a “direct bus” isn’t necessarily the same bus all the way.

5 things we’re really glad we brought:

  • Fleece jackets: they can be used whenever it’s a little cold (ref. the cold buses) and weigh almost nothing compared to how much heat they give.
  • Waterproof bag (the thick kind): it has saved our electronics many a wet boat trip and doubles as a portable laundromat together with some travel soap and a small clothes line.
  • Sandals: we both bought some just before we left (Mathias didn’t think he needed them at first) but we’ve used them almost 80% of the time on travel (at least Mathias), as closed shoes gets too hot/cramped and flip-flops are not always the best to walk a long time in.
  • Packing cubes and mesh pockets: both bigger cubes and smaller pockets that you can close and still easily see what’s in have really made our packing much faster and more efficient. It makes it easy to find the stuff you need and put it back in the right place. A time saver when we pack our bags almost every second day to move on.
  • Kindle and iPad: perfect for long buses/flights/waits, when you have nothing to do but sit. Tuva has so far read more than 25 books, which would amount to a really heavy bag if she opted for the physical kind instead of a Kindle. Also, the iPad doubles as photo editor and blog-reader.

Tuva and her beloved Kindle

That’s it so far. Today we came to Santa Rosa de Cabal in the coffee region in Colombia, after 5 hours on a roller coaster of a bus through beautiful scenery. We’ll spend tomorrow soaking in the thermal pools nearby and getting some nice, relaxing spa treatments :)

Must-have apps for travel

Here’s a summary of what we’ve found to be the must-have apps for when you’re traveling (long term).

First of all, this post will focus on apps for iOS, since both of us have iPhones and neither have very much experience with other OSs (although Mathias is seriously considering jumping the ship to Android..). Many of these apps might also exist on Android/Windows Phone and others probably have just as good replacements if not better.

Top 3 must-have apps

City Maps 2GoCitymaps2go ($1.99) is an offline map application. We use this basically every day and it is an absolute must-have. You need to download the maps ahead (by country, city or area), so know where you’re going, and then you have access to pretty detailed street maps with GPS positioning and also hotels, attractions, shops, etc. (some maps are more detailed than others). You can also add your own points of interest, bookmark and make a note on any point, which is quite useful!

XE CurrencyCurrency (free) is a very good currency converter and has saved us many times when we were scratching our heads trying to figure out how much an amount equals in NOK or USD. For travels in many countries with different currencies this is also a must.

 

iTravelWikisherpa / iTravel (free / $2.99) is an offline version of Wikivoyage (earlier Wikitravel) and it’s like having a really small guidebook with you everywhere. Of course it’s not as detailed as Lonely Planet, but some of the information is actually fresher and you also get Wikipedia-articles of some of the places. Also here you need to download the pages you want to view offline, but it’s pretty simple and fast. It’s worth noting that it has been a bit buggy and we almost gave up on the app (there were a lot of problems with Wikitravel), but since the latest update it’s been working better. A really good app for reading up on your destination on long buses and flights.

Apps for booking hotels and flights, and checking out reviews

All these apps have web versions that in most cases works better on the laptop than the app.

Booking.com Hotel reservations for 275,000+ hotelsBooking (free) the best and cheapest (we’ve found in average) booking of hotels, and good source for hotel reviews.

 

 

Hostelworld.comHostelworld (free) the best booking-app for hostels and a good source for hostel reviews.

 

 

TripAdvisor Hotels Flights RestaurantsTripadvisor (free) really good for checking out reviews on accommodation, restaurants and things to do. We use Tripadvisor almost religiously when coming to new places and finding out what to do and where to stay. The app is a bit buggy though.

momondo - Cheap Flights & TravelMomondo (free) a great app for searching for cheap flights. Checks many airlines at the same time and gives you the cheapest fares.

 

Skyscanner Alle fly, alle steder!Skyscanner (free) similar to Momondo, but have some different airlines, so it’s worth checking both to get the cheapest fares.

 

 

KAYAKKayak (free) very good aggregated booking for flights and hotels. We haven’t used it much, but got some very cheap flights when we booked flights from Panama – Santa Marta and Bogota – Quito together (multi-destination booking)

Other apps we use a lot on travel

Tweetbot for Twitter (iPad edition)Tweetbot ($2.99) is the best twitter-app we’ve used and lets you create drafts of tweets with geolocation wherever you are and then you can send them later when you have wi-fi available.

 

Camera+Camera+ ($0.99) is one of the best camera apps we’ve found, but what makes it extra useful is that it is integrated with Tweetbot so you can easily style your pictures with various filters and compress them (if you’re on a slow connection) before tweeting them.

 

SnapseedSnapseed (free) another great photo-app that has some unique filters and adjustments that Mathias uses a lot for his photos on both iPhone and iPad.

 

SkypeSkype (free) – you should know what it is already (IP telephony and video-chat), but what makes it even more useful when traveling is “Skype out”, with which you can add money/credit and call (and SMS to) regular phone lines all over the world at a lot cheaper prices than using your cellular network. We’ve used it a lot to call local numbers when traveling.

Viber - Free Phone Calls & TextViber (free) gives you free phonecalls and messages to others who have Viber. We’ve found it to use less bandwith than Skype when we have bad connections.

 

WordPressWordPress (free) is a good app for blog-editing and just checking up on blog activites and comments.

 

 

FlickrFlickr (free) is a good app for viewing pictures on Flickr and checking up on any activity on your photos there.

 

 

PocketPocket (free) is an app that lets you save blog-articles and web-pages for reading offline. Invaluable for long bus-trips or flights, or just on the beach.

 

Video Download - iBolt Downloader & ManagerFree video (free / $0.99) is the best video downloader we’ve found and lets you download videos from Youtube, Vimeo and other sites for viewing off line (it is a bit buggy though and tends to restart downloading some times, so please let us know if you have any better ones!).

So there you have it! The best travel apps, tested and approved by yours truly. Please let us know if you have any further suggestions in the comments!