in Travel Advice, Tips and Thoughts

The 5 kinds of days you’ll have when you travel

When you’re travelling for a really long time, it’s important to maintain a good balance of how you spend your time, so your time on the road doesn’t end up driving you loco in the coco. 

Here are the 5 most typical types of days that you will – nay, SHOULD – mix up, to prevent losing your marbles. 

1. The “tourist” tour day

These are the days where you get up early, get on a tour bus, you might have a guide commentating facts of local interest or at the event itself. You’re tethered to your tour group for most of the day, or it’s just such a busy place that you’re surrounded by tourists the whole time (Cough, cough! Iguazu Falls!) and even though you’re not being super active, it’s somehow exhausting. Sometimes these days are inevitable, and a tour really is the best way to experience something, but we try to avoid these where possible. Partly because of the expense, but also because experiencing something surrounded by so many other people, and in such a structured way, can sometimes punch the fun out of the exploration itself. If you have a good guide though (as we did on a visit to a penguin colony in Argentina) it can really enhance your day, and learning inside info can be a refreshing change to DIY backpacking, but it’s a risk, and quite a high risk too, if you’re on a budget.

2. The “go it alone” tour day

These are probably our favourite kind of day. Takes a little more effort, but instead of taking the easy way out and buying a tour package, you can often access the place of interest (national park, wildlife sanctuary, etc.) by public bus, for a fraction of the price. And usually, once you’re there and you’ve got a map, the place is pretty self-explanatory and you can enjoy it just you. We’ve also found in South America, you have to pay the National Park directly, so tours don’t include entrance, and are often a rip off (don’t include lunch, only include one or two additional activities) so it’s really best to go it alone. Plus you get more of a sense of exploration that way! And if you still have questions about what you’ve seen when you get back, there’s always Google.

3. The “bedding in” day

Don’t underestimate how tired you’ll be when you first arrive at a town. Even if you’ve booked ahead with your accommodation, travel is still exhausting, and you should factor in at least one day/evening just to look around town, get your bearings, and recharge your batteries ahead of a sightseeing day. At the start of travels, we were only staying 2 nights in each location then doing big travels in between, and it nearly caused us to burn out. Try and add ‘fringe days’ to bed in, and before you move onto the next place.

4. The travel day

Well, obviously. There are lots of days you lose in transit, or doing complicated multi-stage journeys, with bad connections and sometimes unreliable transport. Unfortunately it’s just something you have to swallow. It’s kind of why you came travelling in the first place anyway, huh?

5. The “duvet day”

This is one we’ve discovered the (guilty) pleasures of just recently. You don’t have work to go to, so why are you working yourself so hard? It’s easy to slip into a fast-paced tour of countries, fitting in as much as possible with little respite. However, if you have the time, you enjoy things much more with carefully interspersed downtime. Hang around your hostel, chat to people, spend a long morning in bed on the internet or sitting outside in the sunshine with a picnic. Cook a nice hearty meal. Put the Lonely Planet down for a couple of days. Just watch the world go by for a bit. It’s a legitimate way to spend the day (and an even better way to spend a hangover!) Enjoy!

El Bolson, Argentina

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Our time in El Bolson was just what the doctor ordered. After hitting the tourist trail pretty hard for our first few weeks of travel, we made the concerted decision to find somewhere nice to chill for a while, and El Bolson was just the ticket.

It’s a cute little hippy town in the Argentine Lake District, surrounded by mountains on all sides, with a cute little park in the middle, and beautiful lakes, national parks and treks all nearby. There’s a cute craft market on every other day, selling stuff like wooden handicrafts, hippy clothes (think Camden in the 90s) and delicious local food. They produce 75% of the country’s hops there, so there are microbreweries selling local beers, and they also produce loads of fruits and berries there due to its particular warm microclimate, and we had the most delicious berries (and berry beers) there. And here’s the clincher – they’ve also declared themselves a ‘non nuclear zone’ and an ‘ecomunicipality’, so you can picture the kind of folk who live there. Alternative types, ageing hippies, musicians, artists, grungers doing poi in the park, etc. etc.

In short, it was pretty easily to wile away the best part of a week there! We found a lovely hostel with a huge kitchen and sunflowers growing in the garden, and spent our days in the park or sitting by lakes in glorious sunshine, soaking in the local flavour and enjoying the free music in the park (there was always some kind of band or hip hop going on… one particularly hilarious satirical band was really lol, even in Spanish we could get some of the jokes!) and one evening, there was a hip hop open mic (think 8 Mile but in a park, and in Spanish) and this kid totally stole the show. I think he was about 9 years old. And by evening, we sat in the garden drinking fernet and cokes, sharing some errr.. comical cigarettes… with our new hostel buddies, cooking dinner together, listening to them play instruments like harmonica, guitar and ‘cass cass’ (wooden percussion ball thingies), and generally being massive hippies.

Also worth a note – we found, OFFICIALLY, the best icecream ever created. Argentine helado is generally amazing (and arguably better than Italian), but this was made with organic milk, local berries/ingredients, and was INCREDIBLE. From a local place called Juaja, we opted from a conservative quarter litre (most people were going for half or family-sized full litres) we sampled ‘dulce de leche con morros’ (DDL with blackberries), cassis (cherry) and banana (you guessed it!). I’ve never tasted any icecream that tasted so much of fruit… I could’ve lived on that stuff.

So, anyway! After a week of chill times, we decided to move onwards and upwards to Bariloche, another town in the Lake District, before heading back into Chile….

Puerto Varas, Chile

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There’s a real buzz about Puerto Varas, and it’s been dubbed the next big thing in the Chilean Lakes District. A bit less touristy than over places, but still close to a great national park with a huge volcano, and lots of outdoorsy activities available. We really liked the town – pretty small and cute, but with a nice local flavour.

The area was built by 19th century German immigrants, so the town is full of old German buildings, and down the road is a bizarre little German-influenced seaside town called Fruillar, where we spent our first day. It’s kind of like being in a little British seaside town (maybe this feeling was exacerbated by the cloud on the day we visited!) There’s a little pier, swan pedaloes, an inflatable playground on the water, and cute little goblin-themed cafes (a 19th C German thing, apaz) where you can buy ‘kuchen’ (cake), and elaborate coffees and hot chocolate, with cream and flavours like orange, mint and berries. We spent a couple of hours here looking at antique books, and stuffing ourselves silly with sugary treats. The buses in Chile are so cheap, it was only a pound to get there and back so we didn’t feel bad for bailing after a couple of hours!

We stayed in an absolutely stunning hostel – an old 1930s mansion house with high ceilings, beautiful big double rooms and a great kitchen with original features, and a huge living room with a roaring wood burner in it. Naturally, we hung out a fair bit at the hostel (especially given the 2 days of cloud!) and spent a fun night drinking loads of wine and chatting with fellow travellers, exchanging tips and Whatsapps (now par for the course…) and then stumbled out to a nearby cafe for late night ‘completos’ (hot dogs with avocado and tomato)

On our 2nd day, despite the overcast weather (and our monstrous hangovers… 1.5L+ of red wine is clearly too much) we got up early and went to nearly Parque Nacional Vincente Perez to hike the park trails. It was a pretty cool park, different to the ones we’d visited previously. As the park’s basically around a huge volcano, it’s mainly black sand beaches, and trails of volcanic ash. Occasionally we came across huge volcanic canyons that the flowing lava had cut through the ground, which were pretty impressive!

There were a couple of cool miradors (lookouts) and we stopped a while on the black sand bays, where we got volcanic ash on our bums from sitting on charred tree stumps! I also had my first ‘going native’ experience when nature called, of having to do a number 2 in the woods (miraculously i wasn’t caught short on our 5 day trek, but instead it happened on a 4 hour trail!) It was an experience. Let’s leave it at that.

This also happened to be our 18 month anniversary so in the evening we headed back to Cafe Danes for a slap-up meal. We sampled local favourite ‘pastel de choclo’ (corn pie with chicken… think a chickeny corny version of shepherd’s pie) and ‘lobre a la pobre’ or ‘poor man’s steak’ which is a huge piece of steak with eggs, fried onions and chips (they love a good heart-attack inducing meal in Chile!)

On our last day, we were FINALLY blessed with some sunshine! So we took a walk around town, visiting a beautiful old 19th century church where we stopped in to check out the MANY Jesus statues, and we went to chill by the lake where we could FINALLY see the 2 volcanoes we’d come to see! In the park, it had been so cloudy we’d only seen the base of the volcano but finally we saw the main Volcan Osorno and a smaller volcano, beautiful and grand, glistening on the horizon of the sunny bay.

We chilled for a while on the pier, watching boys playing on kayaks and being chased around in the water by crazy stray dogs, and enjoying the novelty of really hot sunshine after a couple of days of cloud.

We’d drunkenly decided on our next move – down to remote Chilean island ‘Chiloe’ – after chatting to a couple of cool Bristolians in the hostel. So we boarded our bus for the 3 hour journey….