Lessons Learned On the Road in Central America

Objectively speaking, two months on the road isn’t all that long. Still, it didn’t take us long to figure out what we were doing right and what we could do better. These are the ten things we took from our “taster” two month trip.

1. Go slow. Rather than cramming in ALL the destinations just because they are en-route, give ourselves time to work, recuperate and really enjoy each place. If we love a country, we’ll come back one day anyway.
2. Pack less. Our next trip is South/North America, which will require even more clothing variety and so we’ll have to be pretty brutal. One thing we really regretted this trip was not leaving space for more food/tupperware and we really missed not being able to cook much. We also definitely need more space for souvenirs and presents.
3. Booking and researching in advance is a good thing! We’ve met tons of people who wing it, and do it brilliantly, but it just isn’t for us. We like to guarantee we get the best price and the best accommodation, which – especially in high seasons – means booking well in advance. You don’t get the flexibility, but by golly you do save a ton in time and money. We’d much rather sit at our little desk at home and plan ahead (hopefully giving ourselves enough time) than do it on the go when you’re missing out on what is around you.
4. Go private. Dorms are cracking for meeting people, but by and large they are rarely cheaper than a private and you’re trading in comfort, privacy and security for drinking buddies…who you can meet anyway. There’s a big place for dorms, but for a 27-year old couple, we’d just rather pay that bit more. This also ties in with the previous point – more often than not you can book in advance and get a much nicer/cheaper Airbnb apartment than two last-minute dorm beds in the cool party hostel. Home comforts and staying with locals? Yes please.
5. Be savvy. Easy advice to give, not so easy to follow. It is a little bit sad, but when you travel in the developing world, especially as really obvious tourists like we are, you are ripe for a mugging, both literal and metaphorical. Essentially, arm yourself with information and take as much care as possible without letting suspicion and cynicism ruin your trip. Follow the old advice that, if something seems to good to be true it probably is, and that if somebody says that something is”for you my friend special price” they are lying to you. If a price or your change seems wrong, don’t be British and shuffle away silently, the chances are they are doing it on purpose to grab an extra dollar from you. Be careful with your possessions and don’t leave stuff unlocked in dorm rooms, no matter how much you like your dorm-mates. Lastly, use your common sense, and if you don’t have any use someone else’s.
6. Eat carefully. Everyone we met on the road in Central America had food poisoning at some point, except – miraculously – us. This could well just be our good fortune (that’s a first) but we like to think that our research and care helped our cause. For the millionth time, TripAdvisor is your friend. Use it. If a hundred people say something is excellent and one says it is terrible, it’s probably pretty damn good. Maths doesn’t lie. Also, listen to the locals, they know better than you. Recommendations, whether it is a restaurant, a cafe, or just to wash your vegetables in mineral water not tap water, are all invaluable.
7. Manage your money. We are/Sadie is insanely OCD when it comes to tracking our money/planning/life in general. You don’t need to be anywhere near as thorough as this, but 100% do keep track of things. We met so many people who were just “generally trying to be cheap” and travelling until they ran out of money, which invariable they did far too soon. Make yourself a budget and basically stick to it. There is enough information out there to know how expensive a place should be, so there really isn’t much excuse for ringing home for emergency dollar. Your money will go further, and the pluses of having a basic budget is that you can 1) keep track of what you’re spending and where you are hemorraging money 2) know how much you have left/what you can do with it and 3) Have some guilt free fun. I have £20 allocated for lobster today do I? OK THEN.
8. Sort out your money access. Bring at least two bank cards – one VISA and one Mastercard as not every ATM accepts both – and always have an emergency plan. Make sure you have a way to wire over cash if the worst happens. While you’re at it, ensure your bank knows where you are, your internet banking works and you never have too much cash in the accounts you have access to. If your internet access will be crappy, we suggest having a main account (which you do not have a card for) with a weekly transfer to one of your travel cards. Sadly express kidnapping are still a thing (you enter a taxi, then a man wielding a gun/knife forces you to visit every ATM in town until you’re bankrupt) and the lovely insurance folks normally only pay out up to £500 for theft. Fraud is normally covered by your bank, but if a card gets nicked get on the phone stat.
9. Don’t judge the travel wankers. Advice we need to practice as much as we preach! You’ll undoubtedly encounter a few individuals on your travels who will decide it is sensible to cast judgement on your travel plans/expenditures/lifestyle/non-vegan outlook. If someone wants to blast their money on alcohol and western food in party hostels, good on them. If they want to hitchhike and stay in a Buddhist retreat the whole time, fair play. Don’t throw stones in glass houses and all that. We’ve all worked (well…most) to have OUR trips of a lifetime, so save your judgement. The one exception – the unwashed backpacker. No accommodation lacks showers, so for god’s sake go have one.
10. Find the balance. Long-term travel is a constant balancing act between what you want and what you can afford time or money-wise. Unless you are very lucky, you can’t be on the road for long periods of time and do everything you want, but also don’t regret missing out on the things that are important to you. That extra £100 you spent on fancy lakeside accommodation won’t be remembered in a year’s time. Nor will the money you spent on that souvenir you knew you’d treasure, the bungee jump or the nice meal out. Money can be earned when you’re back at home, so enjoy yourself. Likewise, if you want to spend a few weeks in one place simply because you like it and are tired and sick of the road, don’t feel guilty for it. We put far too much pressure on ourselves to do everything 24/7. Your happiness is more important than being the “perfect traveller.”

 

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