Known as the more, if not most, expensive country in South America, as frugal backpackers we did slightly dread the visit “south south” with fears of breaking the budget and inflicting pain on the purse.
Especially if travelling from north to south, there is no avoiding the shocks of costs and high prices. In comparison to Ireland, with the exception of the regulated transport system and cigarettes, Argentina is that little more expensive.
*Gasp! Shock! Horror!*
Since it was our second last country on the Latin America itinerary, we tried every method available to avoid breaking our strict weekly budget.
Ignoring the extra nights in Buenos Aires, where we spent two days in bed slightly burned out and travel-tired, we managed to meet our weekly budget with ease and so thought to share our pocket money saving tips and advice so you can too.
This is for all the tight-arse Tims and frugal Fionas out there. We got you.
Table of Contents
A simple and safe method of travel since it is a massive cultural aspect and a ‘normal’ thing to do. Locals tend to hitchhike a lot and many times were advised to stick out the thumb. In fact it is easier to grab a lift if you are foreign, as locals want to meet you, they want to speak to you and the majority (we found!) are enthusiastic to practise their English (or learn a few new words!).
It is if no surprise that the long haul busses are expensive (so much so internal flights can be cheaper) but if you are not in the position or feel comfortable to attempt hitchhiking, just avoid booking busses online to dodge the crappy exchange rate and instead be sure to book days in advance. So if you arrive at a location and know roughly when you plan to leave, book a bus as early as possible.
However, if you are eager to hitchhike but find yourself flying solo, it is easy to meet and convince other backpackers to join you. Ask around the hostel or visit one of the many ‘South America Backpacking’ groups on Facebook.
Airbnb is most definitely less expensive than hostels, especially as a couple. A bed in a dorm room can cost anything between €9 – €15 per person and as two people we found that on Airbnb we could secure a private room for as little as €14 per night, across major cities, in centre based areas AND during high season!
As a solo traveller, hostels will of course be cheap and cheerful but do not neglect the Couchsurfing option either. There are lots of hosts willing to offer a free place to stay and let’s face it, the Argentinians are such generous people that providing any type of hospitality is an honour for them.
To find the less fancy and therefore more affordable hostels, a little trick we have successfully used is to approach any of the street entertainers or artisanal folk (the guys and gals who make jewellery) and find out where they are all staying. Trust us, it’ll be cheap!
When we set off on this escapade we never did predict that one day we would be wild camping our way across a country as large as Argentina.
We bought a tent when crossing into Chile (do try picking one up in Colombia or Bolivia as they are far cheaper to buy!) to camp across the well equipped campsites, anything to save a little dosh. It is easy to find campsites and most locations have national parks and public places to camp, and even some hostels offer camping for a way cheaper price than bed.
It wasn’t until we made the call to hitchhike the entire route from Mendoza to Buenos Aires did we discover that main petrol stations such as ‘YPF’, ‘Shell’ ‘GNC’ etc. that are mainly trucker stops have no issues with you setting up your tent in a little designated area to the side or out the back, at no charge. At first we were a little concerned if it was safe but there is 24 hour security and staff. The best part is that all gas stations have bathroom facilities, including showers, hot water (usually for mate) but perfect for pot noodles, coffee etc. and, much to our surprise, the majority of these petrol stations also had plugs and open Wi-Fi.
You might read this and think ‘I am not camping in a petrol station’ but when hitchhiking, unless you are lucky to hitch a ride to your destination, you might have to! We loved the excitement, it was fun meeting truckers and, my favourite, there was always a street dog hanging about looking for some love. It’s funny how we will always look back on those moments pitching a tent in the dark, listening to the chat of truckers, as they prepare for their evenings sleep. Fun times.
#4 Drinking Water
Nothing makes us happier when we are told we can drink tap water. Of course we always triple check but we had no issues with the water and everywhere we went it was safe to drink. This alone cuts back on spend. Be sure to invest in a reusable bottle (bonus points for being kind to the environment) and keep it handy as there are drinkable water fountains and public taps found across many public spaces, even at our trusted petrol stations.
An obvious one but a lot of hostels have kitchens and offer free breakfasts, so make the most of it! If eating out, fast food will always be a cheaper option but instead of living off panchos (hotdogs) and burgers, delve into the world of lomos or empanadas.
When it comes to groceries, we found Carrefour and Disco are the two cheaper supermarkets, unfortunately fruit and veg markets are not as affordable as say in Bolivia, Peru and Colombia so a heads up!
#6 Avoid ATM Charges
ATM withdrawals from any bank across the country are an absolute joke! One withdrawal cost us nearly €10. Yes, cash is king here! If you are travelling from the USA or Europe bring as much cash and change it here for decent rates.
For people like us who have been travelling long term and don’t have cash, a credit card is going to be so handy here! To avoid any bank charges, transfer money onto your credit card and apply credit before withdrawal. If you don’t have a credit card, check out apps such as Azimo.
The idea behind Azimo is that you download the app, set up a profile (quick and easy!) and transfer money from your own account to a nearby cash pickup point (usually a local business).
It does have charges but they are no more than €2 per transaction so you can easily budget for a couple of weeks and withdraw as one. Either way, five transfers with Azimo cost the same as one ATM withdrawal in any of the banks. The exchange rate isn’t so bad either.
#7 Go Tourless
Similar to Chile, when it comes to Argentina you need to ask yourself if splurging on horse riding or water rafting is really worth the expense. There are plenty of tours and attractions to do but at high costs, it made us think of other locations within South America that offer similar yet cheaper experiences. Is this really a once off experience worth paying for? Research and make a choice, if you are on a singular trip by all means splash out but if travelling for an extended period of time, know that you can sandboard in Peru for quarter the price or horse ride in Bolivia for the same as an ATM withdrawal in Argentina etc.
#8 Seek Free Things to Do
We found it easy to find some quirky free things to do, and although they may not always live up to the big tourist trap tours, sometimes going small and staying local offers more fun and a unique experience. For example, wine distilleries in Mendoza, there is a free one to visit. Tango classes or shows in Buenos Aires, there are ones you can watch or join for free. Want to discover the city without paying, take a free walking tour. There are options, so seek them first and pay later.
If you have time to spare, volunteer! A great way to gain experience, up your skills or offer services in exchange for free accomodation or food. Enquire with hostels if they need short-term staff and work a number of hours per week for a free bed. If you have any skills to offer, pitch them! Sure, what’s the worst that can happen?
We have met people who have fixed up websites, designed graphics, assisted with promo videos, social media, painted walls, drew murals as well as helping with the up-keep of said hostel. Don’t be afraid to ask!
For lots of travellers, socialising albeit going for a coffee or a night on the booze can be a huge social expense. It’s not cheap to consume in Argentina. However, there are options to still socialise without breaking the bank.
Although there is an amazing nightlife and cafe culture, hanging in the park is no different to hitting the dance floor. Buy some locally produced wine, or pick up some Fernet to mix with coca cola. Better yet invest in mate, THE (non-alcoholic) hot beverage of Argentina. Mate is so much cheaper than coffee and since buying a mate cup and bombilla is a once of payment, if you are a fan of the taste (it’s a grower!) this is a good investment.
All of the above are cheap to buy making this an extremely cost effective way to meet some locals, easily and unawkwardly socialise with gringos and all while sharing a drink.
The above has all been tried and tested, it gets the Ungraceful seal of approval and saved us hugely as it is the little costs, along with transport and accomodation, that really do add up.
Our weekly budget of €150 (nope, that is not each!) was easily met but our goal of never going over budget was a complete success.
So to the frugal thinkers and less wishful spenders, we hope that this is of some help.
And any questions or if there is anything else we can help with, feel free to pop a comment below.