6 random (and useful) things I wish I knew before I visited Peru

I’m going to be really honest and tell you that other than pining for years about seeing Machu Picchu, I never gave much thought to what else I could see or do in Peru if I ever got to go. Crazy, huh? But it’s true.

Sometimes I select a destination based on the single (and shameful) criteria of visiting its most iconic landmark. At other times, my interest is sparked by something I’ve read about the country’s history, culture and customs, or maybe it was scenes from a movie that captured my attention.  And lately, pretty surreal imagery on Instagram is also proving to be a powerful lure.

Whatever my motivation, when I decide on where I’d like to go, I usually give myself time to do thorough research about the place and its people. However, I booked my Peruvian vacation about 10 days before I boarded a plane – in the midst of a hectic work schedule – so I didn’t have the luxury of good prep work ahead of time.

It ended up being a good trip, but a few things caught me off guard. Below are six random (and useful) things I wish I knew before I landed in Lima. 

1. There is no metered cab system. Check with airport information or your hotel front desk about approximate fares and distances to venues, and negotiate your rate with your driver BEFORE you get into the taxi. If you’d rather not haggle, and you have an international plan or steady access to WiFi, use Uber. The app worked fine for me there and with help from residents, I also used a popular local competitor called Taxi Beat. Of course, if something doesn’t feel right about a driver or situation, trust your instincts and don’t get in the vehicle.

2. The lack of regular rainfall in Lima and Cusco, coupled with the need to service the throngs of people living there and visiting on an annual basis, have made maintaining adequate water pressure a huge issue. What’s more, the country is dead serious about being kind to the planet. Less tactfully translated, that means you are asked NOT to flush anything down the toilet. Instead, you’re instructed to use the trash bins provided. Just to be clear, the messaging isn’t focused on the obvious items like accidentally tossed cell phones, or more deliberate waste such as sanitary napkins or tampons. It includes USED toilet tissue. I did a double and triple take, asked the direct question most people would avoid …and the answer is yes, you have to put that in the bin too. The signs are everywhere.

3. As is customary in many places around  the world, the currency conversion rates differ by company. However, in addition to that dymanic, the closer you get to Machu Picchu, the more draconian the exchange rate becomes. If you plan to change money, do it at a bank in Lima. I got 3.31 soles for 1 US dollar while the cambios were offering a rate of 3.25. In Cusco, that rate dropped to 3.21. I didn’t even bother asking what it was in Ollaytantambo (the town where you board a train to take you to the base of Machu Picchu), let alone in Agua Calientes (the place you get the buses to go up to the famous World Wonder).

If you’re more comfortable using credit cards,  take Visa or Mastercard. American Express, though accepted in some places, is definitely NOT a preferred company.

4. Due to the vast differences in geography across the regions, the temperature varies greatly from city to city. I ended up having to dress in layers because I only went with a carry-on and had to optimize on the small space by avoiding bulky (and warm) clothing.

5. The food is ahhhmazing. Had I known how good it would be, I’d have gone to the gym less sporadically before I visited or tried out one of those lose-the-weight-quick diets.  I only found out after I got there that Peru was named Best Culinary Destination in the World  for six consecutive years (2012-2017), and one of my tour guides proudly stated they had such a large variety of cuisines and dishes you could go as long as three years without repeating the same meal. The latter has got to be a stretch of course, but they do utilize a lot of their agricultural products and get creative with their menus. I didn’t have one bad meal while there. The chefs truly combine the best of their coastal, Andean and Amazon jungle traditions.

6. Earthquakes are common in Peru (especially the coastal areas of Lima) because it sits in a seismic zone. Had I known that, perhaps I’d have better prepared myself on their emergency procedures and what to do if I felt tremors. Thankfully, I was told most of them tend to register only three points and under on the Richter scale. The seismic movement is so minimal, you don’t feel it.

Have you been to Peru? If so, what other random facts would you add to this list? Please share them in the comment section below.


Ways you can save money to travel

Lately, my direct messages via Instagram, Facebook and Whatsapp have been blowing up with comments and questions from former colleagues and associates, as well as friends and family members. The question on everyone’s lips is, “how are you traveling so much?” It’s honestly taken me by surprise because it doesn’t feel like I’m on the road that much, although admittedly, I do have a penchant for using my passport.

“I want to travel with u,” was the most recent ping last week, which eventually led to a quick, catch up phone call about a bunch of things, as well as musings as to where I was going next. That person and I keep tabs on each other through social media, but we hadn’t actually spoken in about two years.

“When I grow up, I want to be just like you,” is another comment I get fairly often. For the most part, I know the sentiment is well meant, but on a few occasions I have definitely felt a few snarky undercurrents seeping through. In the Caribbean, we call that kind of thing drinking hater-aid. [Side note: People will draw all the positive energy out of you if you allow them to. Don’t!]

But perhaps the message that touched me most, and the trigger that started me thinking about writing this post, is this one I received towards the end of January. Text message re travel inspiration

Enter (still to be created) melting heart emoji.

I share my stories and pictures to encourage other people to travel because we learn a great deal about ourselves and others when we step outside our comfort zones. So, if you’ve also been bitten by the travel bug (an incurable malady) and want to know how you can put aside money to travel, this is my three-step plan. Feel free to use it, too.

[All currency quoted is in US dollars.]

1. Save consistently.
How many times have you heard the phrase “it’s not what you make that matters, it’s what you save?” More times than you care to count, I’m sure. Well, it’s true. Every little bit matters. Since everybody has a different level of financial responsibility, I won’t attempt to give you a percentage guide here. The important thing is picking a number that’s feasible for you and sticking with it, then balancing consistency with spending restraint. If you’re thinking that’s easier said than done, it really isn’t. I’m making less money than I was five years ago, yet I still have been able to visit new countries within the same timeframe. That’s because I maintain a set monthly savings goal so that I have the comfort level of a financial cushion if anything unexpected happens, and then I set aside funds for travel.

2. Live within (or below) your means.
There are so many ways you can do this without affecting your true quality of life. For example, I recommend buying or renting a home in a community that doesn’t tap out your monthly income. That means you can go for nice; it just doesn’t have to be luxury. (Travel goals aside, it’s also reassuring to know you can afford to live in a place for a while even if your job situation changes suddenly.)

Ladies, I’m going to ask you to think carefully about whether or not you need the latest designer clothes, accessories and cosmetic products as soon as they come out. The truth is, you really don’t.  Yves St. Laurent, Diane von Furstenberg, Rihanna Fenty Beauty evurrythang, and  other moguls like them won’t miss our extra dollars lining their already plum pockets, thank you very much. No, they’re able to fly anywhere they want to go via their private jets, while you and I are gonna have to settle for keeping each other company in coach.

And guys, take this from me, you won’t be any less dreamy (to the right person) if you don’t lease the latest SUV or snazzy sports car and upgrade it every three years. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not out here saying you need to be taking the bus forever either, bae (wink, wink). At the end of the day, we just have to walk in our truth.

I’ve been BMW convertible obsessed for a while now, but I’ve avoided a hefty car payment and  insurance premium by driving a 10 year-old, unsexy as heck Japanese vehicle that’s still in pretty decent condition.  I’m sure that saves me anywhere from $500 – $600 per month. Also, even though I don’t like cooking, I’m preparing more meals at home these days versus dining out. Believe me, all those daily $10-15 work lunches, $80+ three-course dinners with wine pairings, and lengthy happy hours add up! Cut back a little bit and you’ll see the gains. You can easily save $200-300 a month on lunch alone by that small lifestyle change.

3. Aim for little or no debt.
This goes beyond simply balancing your checkbook at the end of the month. I curtail any of my potentially excessive shopping habits like avoiding shoe stores as much as possible. By leaving my credit cards at home, I also force myself to pay cash when I succumb to temptation.

In addition, I recommend consolidating your credit cards – more than two bank cards is asking for trouble – and paying off your balances as quickly as you can. Interest is designed to line the pockets of creditors, not ours. Plus, money spent on late fees is a waste. Those dollars could go towards an AirbnB stay, or pay for the entrance ticket to your next must-see attraction.

See, that doesn’t seem undoable, does it? If you agree, help me spread the word by pinning and sharing this post. Saving for travel can be as easy as 1, 2, 3…

How to save money for travel