On doing nothing vs. being productive – Travel (and Corona ) Insights Series #4

Somewhere along the coast of the state in Bahia, crashing waves, beaches framed by palm trees, and sunsets that were postcard-worthy, my third workaway volunteering placement was challenging myself on different levels than I expected. I was contacted by a host of a small bed and breakfast right by the coast, telling me he needed help asap. At the time, I was traveling in the area around Rio the Janeiro and I ended up taking a (very rare) flight up to this area, to be there as fast as I could. This was a place I would not return to; however, looking at my insights, I can see that I learned a valuable lesson from it.

I also feel that these reflections come at a good moment and there are so many parallels I can draw towards our current situation with COVID….

Here are the two posts I wrote in December 2018 about this place:


So how’s my trip been, recently?
A good week of traveling left me feeling out of sync with the routine I have been trying to establish over the last months (yoga, meditation, online work&study)
(…) Going to the next volunteer place, I was hoping for some tranquility and stability, which yet hasn’t been that easy to find. It made me question how I could use my skills in this place and how I could create a schedule/routine in a place that is way too flexible for me. Bad internet was just the tip of the iceberg and left me feeling unproductive, having time on hands and nothing to fill it with.

So I’ve been looking for the positive in all this.
Trying to connect more with myself than the internet, realizing that I can find a lot of answers by just listening to my inner voice.

Accepting that sometimes in order to move forward, you might have to take a step or two back. That progress isn’t linear but will have ups and downs.

That it’s not all about what I do and achieve. But about being and how I show up in life. How I take these challenging moments and what I make from them.

After all, this is what I wanted to get from this trip: Growing as a person ❤️
And I am grateful to have some beautiful scenery to make me realize how grateful I can be for my life at this very moment.

Leaving workaway (volunteer placement) #3 in Brazil.
This placement has been one of the most challenging ones I’ve been. As a volunteer I’ve felt out of place and not fitting into the organization because it was hard to be of help and to know how to do things the way it was expected (but not communicated).
(…) I was on the verge of quitting. But somehow I decided to go through with it. Week 2 brought some improvement and the fact that I was able to work some shifts in the kitchen and practice my Portuguese with their magnificent cozinheira made a big difference.
(…) Luckily being there with other volunteers helped, because even though we were not similar in most ways and sometimes being with them felt challenging, I still found companions who stuck together with me through this situation for better and worse. I managed to channel my focus on the beautiful beaches, the amazing breakfast and lunch our cozinheira produced, practicing my Portuguese with the staff and my yoga spot under a palm tree and flowers

In some way, my situation over there was a little bit like these days, with the exception of the quality of the Internet. I did not have to follow social distancing at that volunteer placement, but I was stuck in a remote place with nowhere to go except for the beach (no grocery store or restaurant within walking distance, just an accumulation of beach huts and resorts)—it kind of feels like where I am living right now. The only thing to do was and is to go for a walk or to stay indoors.

And you know what? That is what I’ve been wanting for the last months and also during my travels. I was already travel-fatigued after 2 months of traveling at the point that I wrote the above. This might come as a surprise to many of you, however, I had never set out on this trip to bump around from place to place. I envisioned myself at a few volunteering placements, having some peace and quiet and staying in one place without doing much sightseeing. One way or the other, I did get lured into the backpacking lifestyle and partly liked, partly hated it…. I’m saying this so that you might understand that life being at a slow place and me not being able to go anywhere is just what I need right now. I talked with other friends who are leading a similar lifestyle to mine and they admitted to finding themselves in the same position. That when you have the opportunity you go, go, go because it would be a waste not to! Even though deep down, all you want to do is curl up in a comfortable bed, read a book, sleep, or binge-watch Netflix.

Therefore this time in many ways has brought me what I needed without having to justify my actions… until I got to this stage now and which I will write about below.

Let me say that I realize that I’m in a position where I don’t have to take care of 4 kids and a husband who are suddenly all at home 24/7 and which would not even make me think about what I wrote below. Everyone’s life is different and some people might not have any extra time on hand. The idea I’m presenting below might still resonate and you might be able to take in an aspect on what this extraordinary situation does to our life.

The dilemma doesn’t only refer to me but also to what I heard my friends talk about or the messages of the posts I could see on social media.
At the beginning of the self-isolation phase, I noticed people being either happy about having so much free time or wondering what the hell to make out of it.

During the past weeks, however, I’ve seen more and more people (including me) struggle to be unproductive and associate this as something concerning and unnerving. Many of us, including me, have tried to find something useful to do, so as in not to ‘waste’ this time given to us. It made me feel almost stressed. I was trying so hard to set up a full-day program that I felt more worn-out and unsatisfied that during a regular week in my life. I was battling procrastination, instant gratification, wanting to do ‘more’ and not knowing where to start. Starting on five different ‘projects,’ then losing motivation. I felt all over the place and not at peace.

So, eventually, I had to guide myself back into spending my day with moments where I would deliberately do nothing – and that was (and still is) really really hard to do.

In my definition, that means being present but not thinking about what to do next. Not running through your imaginary to-do list. Not trying to compare me with other people’s efforts and achievements during quarantine times. Not having every single minute of my day filled, trying to achieve something.
Instead, being present and only present in that one moment (also outside of my daily meditation, which had been a ‘thoughts-overloaded’ ordeal for a bit)
Doing nothing is pretty much impossible (we are always breathing, right?!).

So I was looking for these ‘pockets’ in my day where I could drop everything for a bit and either didn’t carry out any conscious action or did something (in my eyes) ‘unproductive.’

I managed to tone down my multi-tasking and started going for walks without my phone, which was difficult but also incredibly liberating! I started looking at the trees and how all the buds were turning into leaves and flowers. I suddenly felt such an intense eye for detail, even more than I already thought I had. I smelled the spring air, the pebbles of the beach underneath my feet and took it in just by myself without taking pictures to post later.
I also put my phone away while I was eating and stared at the plants on my terrace instead. There was so much peace suddenly within me.
I started feeling annoyed by all the clutter in my life – digital non-sense that I was devoting my day to.
Also, sometimes, I would just lay on the couch and be there. This brought me some more meditative moments in life, not just when I’d deliberately sit down but just when getting on with my day.

And then there were days when I just lay in bed, read a good book and binge-watched Netflix (A Coisa Mais Linda, my go-to series for listening to Portuguese and getting those Rio vibes back). I had not done that in years and letting go of the productive me for a day was so fulfilling. It made me recover energy that I felt I had lost and gave me the motivation to, e.g., write on this blog the day after.

I also eventually realized that I did neither have to nor want to renounce my daily routine completely.
My personal life has seen constant changes over the past two years. It would have been easy to feel like the ground was pulled away from underneath my feet. Keeping my routine (which is merely about 2 hours of my day) has helped me frame my day with an official ‘start’ and ‘closure.’ My routine had helped me stay on track when I didn’t have much to do and felt like wasting my life away. It had also helped me in days when everything seemed overwhelming and I didn’t know where my head was. Knowing that I have a structure, the one that stays no matter what happens during the day, has helped me find some feeling ‘safe and secure.’

In my opinion, the challenge is not to ‘over plan’ the free time of my day but to leave enough time for unexpected circumstances happening, ‘pockets’ of nothingness and moments of spontaneous creativity and flow.

Yoga and it’s relation to meditation and the power of home-made food / Travel Insights Series #3

This is part 3 of my reflection series on the travel insights I had during my 14 month trip through South-America and how I am applying them being back in ‘normal life’. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The second place I went on to volunteer at was another farm in Brazil close to Sao Paulo. This farm, however, was focusing on using their vast space to host events rather than focus on agriculture (they had some staff for it, but kept it on a minuscule scale). The dwellings belonging to the farm were beautifully restored. Scattered all around the property, they included a swimming pool, a bar, and a chapel that hosted weddings. Our task as volunteers was to help with housekeeping and running the events – catering, ticketing, setting spaces

Due to the variety of our assignments, we had no fixed schedule, which made it difficult to be ‘off’ work, never knowing when you’d be expected to help again. We were in a rather remote area as well with nowhere to go. A fantastic plus was having a restaurant-sized kitchen at our disposal to e.g., make yogurt, etc. (see more below). I spent a good two weeks at this farm, leaving all together with some new friends I had made and others who I am still in touch with to this day.

Again, I will show you a part of my post and then write my reflection and how I am taking this into my current life.

Left farm no. 2. It’s been a place full of new experiences and challenges of adapting to an ever-changing schedule and environment. Yet I’ve shared it with great people in our small green volunteer house, which quickly became home 🙂 and which I will miss ❤️

I learnt how to make yogurt and cheese (and vegan ice cream out of bananas ❤️), indulged in popcorn over movie nights, shared many fun conversations and connected with people. It’s awesome what each of us can contribute to a community of travelers: recipes and homemade food, haircuts, embroidery, handmade bracelets, songs, guitar play, life stories,…

So many ‘product’ can be made from scratch, for example yogurt, bread, cheese…! I wish we would still learn more about this. However, being in a country such as Germany where a lot more products are available at a low price, I understand why people wouldn’t spend their time making things from scratch all the time. I remember making natural yogurt in Brazil and Peru because unsweetened yogurt was hard to come by and expensive. Here in Germany, you can buy organic yogurt for a little over one dollar for 500 grams, so no, I do not have to make it myself anymore….

It isn’t only about the price either. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating a meal or food in general. You can see the result immediately, instead of having to wait for a while, which is the case in most scenarios in life. I have met people who loved kneading bread dough, or who could spend hours on some peculiar task such as decorating a cake. Call it meditative creation 😉

I had the chance to practice my Portuguese at the farm’s festival, selling coupons as the cashier and making drinks at the bar – finally putting into practice what I’ve been working on over the past months! Shows again that the best way to learn a language is by simply speaking with whatever you have!

I experienced beautiful and experimental concerts – small artists who are given space to express themselves in beautiful surroundings.

It shows that a remote place doesn’t have to be lonely or boring – get a few people together, and the whole place will change its atmosphere.

This place also taught me that it isn’t necessarily about being in a ‘vibrant area,’ but that people can enrich your life – you don’t need a buzzing concert to create a great atmosphere. Everywhere in the world, you will be able to find people that you will connect to, as long as you stay open for new experiences. Everyone you meet can teach you something, and has a story to share as long as you create a space that is conducive to do so! I am feeling grateful to have read this old post of mine, as I started thinking in a very narrow mindset once back in Germany, thinking I would have a hard time meeting people who I would be able to connect with (and of course and thank God I was wrong in that).

I learned how yoga is not only exercise but how it can deeply connect you with yourself and be a way of meditation in itself.

Over the last months, I haven’t been practicing yoga as much as I thought I would. I have focused on some higher intensity home workouts as I felt that was more beneficial to me during the winter with me not being active outside much. However, I have found my meditation practice to increase whenever my yoga practice decreases, as if one is trying to make up for the lack of the other. I definitely see the connection that the two have. Yoga is much more than exercise and has so many more facets to it than is known to most people. I feel as if I’ve only dipped my toe into the beginning of this vast ocean an hope that I will continue to explore it!

I learned how feeling into an uncomfortable feeling instead of trying to suppress it through food/drinks/distraction will help make it ease away.

Feeling into uncomfortable feelings instead of suppressing them with food – well, this one is one that I am totally aware of and still majorly struggle with!

Food seems like a lazy way to ease a bad feeling. It’s like knowing you should make a salad or a wholesome meal, but you reach for some processed snack instead, just for the ease of it…. I have found moments in these past weeks where I found myself reaching for food because I was upset/bored etc. first questioned myself in WHY I really wanted to make that feeling go away. Sitting with it for a while, noticing it, feeling into it, is not exactly bliss but it eventually eases and that’s when you start feeling more whole again (and proud of yourself for going through the struggle). Most people I know struggle with meditation and I thoroughly think that the struggle is the moment that we can learn from as long as we’re willing to go through it.

I learned how challenging yet necessary it is for me to set boundaries (in this case, about my own time and work vs. being available all the time).

This place for me was one that taught me that disorganization could cost you so much time, even when you have quite some at hand.

I often think about how to maximize what I get out of my time. Sometimes you waste time by being disorganized, misplacing things, starting one task without finishing it, jumping over to the next. I also get reminded that when you have a job that is not 9-5 but in which you are expected to be available outside of that timeframe in case necessary, you need to make sure to set your own boundaries: replying to emails at times that you don’t think are interfering with your own private time, i.e., not during weekends or late at night. By setting your own boundaries, you are protecting yourself from being ‘always on call.’

And my stay reminded me again and again how age is just a number and how it differs from the age we actually radiate! You can learn so much from people younger and older than you, and it is great to see that the older you get, the younger your soul can seem. ☀️

Again, I knew this, and I encourage other people to try it! I have fantastic friends that are twice my age and friends that are over a decade younger than me. I have learned from both sides and seen a maturity in certain aspects well beyond the years in my younger friends and a sort of ‘playfulness’ in people you’d think of as much more serious!

One of my friends once gave me the quote’ strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet,’ and from my own good experience, I often think back of this quote fondly!

On a practical note….
I experienced that electricity is not a given and how to adapt to a day or night without it. Internet at home can be such a luxury (every time it rained, our internet at home went off – so quite often :P).

I’m constantly on the verge of hating how connected we are thanks to the internet and at the same time deeply grateful for it. Another point I’m trying to figure out how to handle it within life. These days I think the benefits of a good internet connection are again even more highlighted than at other times.

However, I am feeling the danger of always updating the news, which is seemingly changing every couple of hours. There is, even more, a need now to use the internet responsibly.

I also experienced how nature can turn a tiny creek at the back of our house into a raging stream after just a couple of hours of rain 😛
Arriving in a city after three weeks on the farm was surprisingly disappointing. Nothing I had missed, not even the coffee shops. All I wanted to see was some green nature…
Quickly found the next remote place ….update soon. Hint: I’m finally at the beach 😉

And this is what the post will be about – volunteering in a different setting.

The last point again is one that made me most happy to have experienced. I’m even less materialistic than before my trip and am finding less and less value in the convenience and consumerism of larger cities.

Ushuaia – at the end of the world

Of all the places that I have seen over the last year one area, I had my eyes especially set on:

Patagonia.

While doing research, I started to realise
a) how big the area was and
b) that I better catch a flight from Buenos Aires.
The question was where to?

From what I had heard, the top areas where the Torres del Paine National Park on the Chilean side and the mountains, especially Mt. Fitzroy at El Chaltén. Bariloche, another hotspot was in the North and as I was definitely going to travel South-North it wasn’t the smartest to fly in there.

However, another area to visit came up. Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. That reason alone already sparked my interest; however, I hadn’t heard much about the city, other than it being the starting point for many cruises to Antarctica (which as a backpacker you can only dream about).

I started looking into information online and talked to friends I knew who had been.

Eventually, I googled ‘Is it worth visiting Ushuaia’

Why did I do that? Because traveling that far south meant that you would have to travel up north quite a bit and busses in Argentina are not exactly the cheapest, especially not in remote areas.

Not getting to any conclusion (really, why would I form an opinion from other people?), I decided to go.

And I did not regret it.


I’m going to tell you a little about the areas I visited. I’ll tell you the areas I skipped and what my reasons were. I’m not telling you to go, but I want to give you an idea, what this area can offer.



Let me start by saying that the area in ‘Tierra del Fuego’ is very different from Central Patagonia and Northern Patagonia. The climate is rather fresh and even in summer, you have to prepare for temperatures that rather feel like winter.

The area is all about nature and hiking, so if you’re not into that, then maybe look into other places 😉 Ushuaia itself as a city isn’t what I’d call a ‘highlight’ yet the surroundings make the place.

The main natural highlights to visit (except for Antarctica) are glaciers, mountains, lakes and the Beagle channel.

Compared to Central Patagonia, the area will feel a little more ‘barren’ and the glaciers won’t be as sparkling white as, say ‘Perito Moreno’ close to El Calafate (which you absolutely should visit, no matter how touristy. It’s the most beautiful glacier I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a few). However, there is a certain mystical feeling to it, being at this place so far from everywhere else. I felt like exploring places that weren’t overrun by tourists (yet) and very close to nature. It had a basic and ‘barebones’ feeling to it, making you connect with yourself and nature at its basic level.

Staying at hostels was very comfy, like staying in mountain huts, despite being in the city. Everyone goes out for hot chocolate or to stock up on hiking gear. The stores cater snacks and food for hikers and the general atmosphere reflects that. It is for outdoor people (in case you haven’t gotten that by now ;)).

I stayed in Ushuaia for 4 days. I had planned in 1 or 2 rest days as I hadn’t properly hiked in about 2 years and wanted to make sure my body could adapt.

When deciding upon the places to visit, I chose according to a) price and b) exposure to tourism.

That left out a few popular places. The Beagle channel, for example, offers boat tours to a nearby small island with birds. I wasn’t particularly interested and it was a little pricy, so I skipped it. I heard from other people though, that they were happy with the tour. There are many little stands at the port, each advertising for different tours, so just shop around. Apparently, if you arrive right before the tour leaves you might be able to get one of the last spots at a discounted rate (that’s how a friend of mine did it).

The other place I didn’t visit was the National Park. The mini-shuttle bus to reach the park seemed expensive and from what I felt, it was probably one of the most touristy places as it was easy to reach and tours would go and visit. Pictures looked quite nice to me, but nothing I had never seen.


Which places did I actually end up visiting?

My favorite place was probably the least known: Glacier Vinciguerra and Laguna de Los Témpanos

I don’t want to spoil the whole experience for you, but here’s a little idea of what you’ll get to see 😉

When I enquired about the hike at my hostel, they told me, it was a little tricky to find and that just the day before four people had gotten lost on the trail and had to be rescued by helicopter. They did recommend a tour which we declined. Eventually, they said that we would be ok as long as we had the offline map of the trail on maps.me and made sure to stay on the trail (this was the moment that I finally downloaded this amazing app!!!)

Seeing that it wasn’t one of the main tourist attractions, there was no direct bus to the start of the hike, so we’d have to reach it by a combination of bus+walking an extra 7km or catching a taxi.

A friend and I opted for the cheaper version (of course). We had no trouble finding the start of the hike, which was located next to a café. First, you walk through an (extremely muddy) valley and then you ascend the mountain which is marked by a clear sign. Up to this point, it was very easy but after a while of hiking on the mountain, we realized why we needed the GPS. There was hardly any clear ‘trail’, yet rather colorful markers on the trees that you had to look out for and follow. This was sometimes easy, sometimes a little tricky. We did end up going off trail a little but with the help of maps.me and the GPS got back on track. The hike finally ends up at the gorgeous ice-blue Laguna de Los Témpanos with the glacier as its backdrop. Note, that despite it being sunny and warm in the valley it was very windy and cold on top. You can approach the glacier and I saw some people walking on it, yet we didn’t go too far as it started raining. The view was fantastic though, somewhat surreal or from a sci-fi movie, not a ‘saturated’ colorful view but rather a stark contrast between the ice-blue lake and the white and black glacier. Personally, I absolutely loved it and found it pretty unique.

On the way back, we went off trail a little half-way through to go to another smaller laguna that we found on maps.me. That was a nice cute resting point until we decided to head back down the mountain. By that time, we realized that even though the mountain wasn’t overrun by people, the valley now was. It was a gorgeous day and pretty warm, so many local families were hanging out by the river. It would have been a great picnic spot, hadn’t we already devoured all of our food on the way 😉

We managed to share a ride with someone back into town, otherwise, we would have taken taxis that were waiting around.

This is definitely a full-day hike of about 7h, so make sure you start early!

Grab a friend and maps.me and discover this beauty!


Among the other places I visited was the Glaciar Martial right above the city. This one you can easily reach by taxi and walking (if you share the taxi with friends it’s really affordable as the ride isn’t far and it saves you walking up the asphalt road towards the start of the hike). It is probably one of the most-visited areas in Ushuaia and the glacier is very small and not particularly spectacular, however, the view over the Beagle Channel and Ushuaia are extraordinary. Top tip: There will be a trail leading to your left when you descend the mountain. Take it and walk for 10-20 minutes. You’ll be rewarded with a much more panoramic view than from the glacier. Return the way you came and then descend the mountain.




The third place I visited was ‘Laguna Esmeralda’. Again, a rather popular spot but not too overrun. It was easy to reach by shuttle bus (400 pesos return from the bus station next to the harbor). In hindsight, it would probably have been possible to hitch-hike as the road out of town led right next to it.

This hike was about 4h and you walk through marshland towards a blue lagoon. The lagoon itself was unfortunately quite busy with tourists hanging around, listening to music when I was there, however, the walk was very scenic, with an ice-blue gulping river running through the area and majestic mountains as a backdrop.

A final piece of advice: No matter where you go hiking, it will be extremely muddy, so don’t take shoes that can’t get dirty and best, wear water-proof shoes. Always take a raincoat and a wind-proof jacket, as well as a hat and gloves, you might need it, no matter what the weather looks like in town!!

These were my experiences in Ushuaia. I’m really glad I got to visit this little corner of the world and I hope it helped you decide whether it is for you or not. Happy travels!

Paraguay?! Some facts about this little-known country

During my trip through South-America, I spent 10 days in Paraguay.

As most people and you probably included, I had prior hardly heard of anyone who had visited the country. Finding information online also proved to be a challenge.

This, however somehow intrigued me. I was convinced that I would be able to discover something there and as I was right across the border, at the Iguazu waterfalls and my tourist visa in Brazil had expired, I decided to cross the border.

That was the first interesting introduction. Compared to other borders, there was no-one who would stop you to check your documents, rather, it was your own responsibility to get a leaving stamp on the Brazilian immigration office and to get the entering stamp for Paraguay (and yes, you do need it, because any other border out of the country will forcefully stop you and check it!).

Below I noted down some of the interesting insights I had in this ‘mysterious’ country that might give you a better picture as well.

Language: Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani. Guarani is an ancient language and spoken by 90% of the population! You will rather hear Spanish spoken in the big cities and Guarani in the countryside.

Prices: It’s a very cheap country to travel to. This is a place where a couple of dollars can still get you very far (except for accommodation, that’s already meeting other countries’ price levels, unfortunately). Some examples: lunch typically costs you 3 USD, ice cream 1 USD or less, a coffee 1.20 USD, a piece of fruit 20 Cents, a pastry from a bakery 80 Cents. I could finally treat myself a little after Brazil, which is definitely more expensive.

Transportation options are sparse. There are buses to even the tiniest villages but they don’t run very often. Leaving a big city in the morning was usually not a problem but getting back always turned into an adventure. I waited for a good hour at times to get a bus or ended up having to hitchhike (which apparently isn’t practiced much and I had to wait comparatively long until I got a ride). Once I even had to stay at a random person’s home as there wasn’t a way for me to get back easily anymore. This was a major challenge during my trip as it prevented me from seeing more places at times.

bus terminal in Villarica

People ride horse carriages! It was really amusing seeing them in small towns, such as Villarica and it somehow made me feel like being transported into a different century.


Street vendors on the bus: Vendors jump on at any time the bus stops or before it leaves and try to sell you anything they can carry: the usual fruit, vegetables, bread, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, but also goods such as flash drives, power banks, earphones as well as necklaces, belts and even blankets! They are very personal when they are selling, they address each passenger individually which can be quite direct but they also let go quickly enough when they notice that you don’t show interest.

Colonies: There are LOADS of GERMANS who live in so called colonies in this country. I wasn’t fully aware of this but due to that people always immediately assumed correctly that I was German (oh you’re not Paraguayan – are you German? – Uhm yeah…) That meant that I found nice bakeries with good baked goods and I felt that the quality of bread here was much better than in other countries I’ve been to! Not this super-soft spongy bread that tastes like cardboard to me but crusty and fluffy (though mainly white) bread rolls.

Tourists and the English language: There are hardly any tourists in the country and people in general who speak English. That meant having to use Spanish 99% of the time (I met one traveler who was a native English speaker in those 10 days, everyone else spoke Spanish). I was personally amazed at how my Spanish improved or at least came back after not having used it for years. When you have no other options, you get better really fast.

Sights: If you’re hungry for sights, this might not be the country for you. It has some beautiful spots, old colonial cities, and small mountainous and waterfalls but it definitely doesn’t stand a chance compared to other countries. That being said I think it’s a great country to travel to, especially because of the people and because tourists are so rare and you can really explore the country without following the beaten traveler’s trail.

The Scenery: It’s a flat country with loads of pastures, cows, horses, small towns and dirt roads. I never saw really tall mountain ranges, mainly rolling hills. Large cities are raw, with Ciudad del Este being the main exception as well as Asunción and Encarnación which are medium-sized cities.

Climate: It’s hot! I encountered over 30 degrees daily, which was probably the hardest thing about traveling there. I was often out in the plain sun and am really grateful that the locals literally made me buy a cap to have at least some sort of protection. I also appreciated how the locals would always give me ice or Tereré (see the next point) when I asked for water as that was definitely necessary.

Tereré: This is the local drink in the country and I loved it! It is an herbal tea, called mate, which is known in Argentina and Uruguay in its hot form. However, in Paraguay, this mate is drunk with ice (mostly added in huge chunks) which really helps to battle the heat and sometimes some extra spices are added (I once saw people add saffron and other herbs I wasn’t able to identify). Paraguayans love this drink and will take their huge thermos container with them wherever they go (even hiking up mountains!!) Locals are sitting around outside everywhere enjoying time together drinking tereré. It brings people together here and I’d recommend accepting an offer for tereré as locals will bond over this drink with you.

Trash: Finally, one thing I noticed and which is the case in many South-American countries is the high usage of plastic and especially Styrofoam (for takeaway coffee and ice cream. This really broke my heart. Plastic bags are the essence of transporting any good, plastic straws given out automatically when buying bottled drinks and all the trash ends up on the road. It really opened my eyes to how far some countries have come (and how far behind others are in this process).




Is Paraguay worth visiting some people ask? I generally don’t think there is a black or white answer to this question, however, I’ll put up a post soon, giving you my stance on that! Until then! (Edit: you can read this post now here 🙂)

Accommodation and transportation in South-America

You’re planning to travel South-America. Where do you book buses? How do you find a place to stay? Are there any things that are different or worth noticing from other countries?

Below I’m sharing my experience and the websites that have served me best. I also included some travel hacks and tips to get a cheaper price. Enjoy!


Accommodation

For booking accommodation, I would recommend ‘booking.com’. They have most lodgings on there and if you book through them regularly, then you will start receiving discounts on some places or free included breakfast (which the website calls the genius discount).
Another good website for looking up hostels is hostelworld.com. I haven’t found it useful in South-America but everywhere else I’ve traveled to. One big advantage is that they give you detailed directions on how to get to their place which is never the case for booking.com
Let me give you a travel hack regarding booking.com. I often only reserve one night and if I decide to stay longer, I’ll negotiate with the host regarding the price. Often, booking directly in person is cheaper than through a website. In case a cheaper price than on booking is openly advertised in the hostel/hotel, you should definitely point that out and you might be able to cancel the booking on booking.com upon arriving at the lodging and then reserve/pay the property directly. This has happened to me several times.
In some countries, especially in Bolivia, I simply looked up some places online beforehand and then walked around in the areas that seemed to have lodgings accumulated. This is how you get the lowest price for a private room. Look for places that are called ‘hostal’ and simply ask for the rate and to see the room. The cheapest room often won’t have a window and sometimes a shared bathroom. You can though give it a try and negotiate with the owner. I once got 40% of a triple family room because the place wasn’t busy when I arrived in the late afternoon. Keep in mind that in South-America, small talk is very important before you ask for a discount. Always happily chat for a few minutes, answer the questions the owner might have and then eventually bring forward your request. You can also try and get a deal for a stay of more than one night at a reduced rate.
Haggling was difficult for me in the beginning but once I realized that everyone does it and it’s not offending if you keep it reasonable, I did really get into it. You don’t need perfect Spanish for that either – just asking for a ‘descuento’ can do wonders 🙂


Flights

Regarding booking flights, I have been using Skyscanner for a while. I usually end up going to the website offering the flight directly as those prices will be more updated and I simply feel more reassured booking through an airline directly than a third-party website. I have done that successfully as well, but I’d watch out for additional fees, such as baggage fees which are usually not included, especially for budget airlines and you then have to figure out how to add the luggage to your flight (if you do that at the ticketing counter when you check-in, it’ll become more expensive than when you do it beforehand).


One piece of advice. If you take an international flight, some countries might ask you for a proof that you’re going to leave the country within the period of the validity of the tourist visa they’re going to issue you. This is a ‘hit-and-miss’ but I’d always be prepared, either booking a cheap bus or a cheap/cancelable onward flight-ticket out of the country. Otherwise, you risk not even be let on the plane!


Another useful app is ‘hopper‘ which I mentioned in a previous post about my ‘favorite apps for traveling’. This app tracks flight prices and will give you advice on whether to purchase now or later. In case the latter is advised, you can set up an alert when it’s best to purchase the flight.


Buses

For buses, there are country-specific websites, but busbud works for South-America as a whole and gives a good idea about available bus companies and destinations. Keep in mind though that the website never shows all available buses and if you don’t find a connection between two cities, make sure to simply visit the terminal and ask. Often, the tickets you purchase directly at the terminal are cheaper than through the website. You can book them right beforehand, as unless it’s a public holiday or the weekend, the buses won’t be fully booked. Very popular backpacker routes with few bus companies should be booked beforehand, such as any bus on the Route 40 in Patagonia in Argentina (believe me you don’t want to get stuck in an expensive mountain resort town, having to wait for 3 days for the next bus).
Tip: Make sure to use the word ‘pasaje’ and not the word used in Spain ‘billete’! People will give you a look if you don’t 😉

Other websites I’ve used for booking bus tickets are redbus (Peru and Colombia), recorrido (Chile), plataforma10 (Argentina)
In Peru, I found it advisable to book on the company websites themselves as search engine websites don’t always display all the buses available (so you need to search yourself on the web for a bit as each company offers different routes). In Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay you should book your bus at the terminal itself. If you do manage to find a ticket that can be booked online (which is highly doubtful for most routes), it will definitely be more expensive. Prices in Argentina tended to be the same online as at the terminal.