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Travel is Not a Matter of Money but of Courage

We are enjoying our time in Quito, exploring El Centro from our temporary home at Hotel Casa Montero, overlooking Santa Domingo Plaza. Our brief rest gives us time to answer questions about how we are traveling in South America. The biggest question is about how we can afford to travel for long periods of time.

One of the tools that we use to stay on budget is an app called Trail Wallet. It allows us to keep track of all of our spending. The app was designed by backpackers for backpackers traveling long term, who need to make their money last. That’s us! It’s the best $5 we have spent.

The app is easy to use. It automatically converts the currency we are using into US dollars. For example, I enter a purchase in Colombian pesos and the app automatically converts it into dollars using the current exchange rate. I can set a budget for each city or area we are visiting and set a start and end date for that trip.

All I do is enter each purchase as we make it in the app. If we spend $1 for a taxi or $10 for dinner or $5 for a haircut (yes you read that right), I just enter the amount. It also allows me to spread a purchase over time, such as a hotel room if we are staying several days. Our children will be meeting us in Chile for Christmas and their airline tickets were purchased in August, it was easy to spread the cost out over several months.

On the app I have pre-set categories which I select for each purchase. A taxi or airplane ticket goes under Transport. Lunch goes under Food. Museum entry under Entertainment. The app is fast and easy to use and lets me see where we are spending our money and how much we have left for the day, week or month.

It was really helpful in Colombia, when Ol would freak out that I spent $50,000 pesos only to discover that it was $17 USD. It is even easier in Ecuador where their currency is the US dollar.

The result of this careful budgeting is that we are right on track for the $100 a day, I budgeted for South America. We were actually under budget ($85 a day), but my shopping spree in Otavalo and Cotacachi, bumped us up to the $105 a day mark. I’m not worried I know I will make that up this month as we will be doing lots of hiking, so for November I will give myself a $95 a day allowance.

It is easy to see how if we stayed some place for one month, we could greatly cut our living costs. Our biggest expenses are transportation and hotels. Many of the young backpackers that we have met are traveling on $30 a day! So far we are living on a good bit less than at home, but here we are living a life of excitement and adventure!

Even though we are living on less, we are not denying ourselves anything (saving that for Europe). We regularly splurge on upscale restaurants, nice hotels or home rentals and I have rewarded myself with regular two hour massages after bouts in the wilderness. We are visiting world class museums, drinking fine wine and visiting places we dreamed about. I am determined to enjoy all of the different ceviches on the continent it was created, thank you Peru! Our standard of living in South America exceeds our standard of living at home (lots more to do), and the money we are saving can go toward other things.

By doing research before we left, we are able to save more than other International trips we have taken in the past. For example, we opened a Capital 360 account with Citibank because they refund all ATM fees worldwide. We are not charged international transaction fees and the exchange rate is set the day that we withdraw the money.

Another way that we have saved money is by switching cell phone companies. We switched to T-Mobile because they offer unlimited data and free cell service world wide. On top of that, our monthly bill is about $200 less than with our prior carrier, AT&T.

We also purchased travel insurance for the year which covers everything from lost baggage, delayed flights, emergency medical evacuation to the US, medical and dental, car rental, etc. The cost for the year was just a little more than a regular domestic flight, but it will cover all of our cruises, flights, and travel for the entire year.

For internet access we use Express VPN so that our internet transactions will be secure when we are using public Wi-Fi to conduct business such as monitoring our home, banking, and paying bills. It also allows us to use our HBO Go and Netflix for the nights when we want to just stay in.

Also, the internet has made it easy for us to stay in touch with friends and family. We regularly use FaceTime and texting apps.

We use Google Translate daily to read a menu or a placard in a museum or to ask directions. We downloaded it so we are able to use it even when we have no internet. It has been a life saver when we need to explain something complicated and to supplement my charades and high school Spanish. It has also been wonderful using the voice app to have meaningful conversations with new friends.

Traveling has made some things easier, for example I don’t miss doing laundry. Here, I just send it out and it usually runs around $3 to $4 to have it back in a few hours all nice and clean and nicely folded. I also don’t miss housework, cooking or driving, sorry but I don't!

The things I thought that I would miss, like movies, are all available in theaters, in English in the bigger cities and the popcorn is great, they just don’t have my Junior Mints. So far the only thing that we could not find was a Reese’s peanut butter cup on Halloween, so we loaded up on Snickers and M&M’s instead!

So all of our research and planning has paid off and we are living our dream on less that what it costs for us to be at home. Everyday is an adventure and the best part is we know home is just a call away!

Please feel free to email us, if you have any questions or need more information at or

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