Interior of a chicken bus… not as crowded, though

When I tell people I’m backpacking around the world, it can sometimes be a bit confusing as to what a picture of that actually looks like. In these confusing situations, the picture most people imagine in their minds is that I am traveling through the wilderness, desert, or some far off wasteland while avoiding bandits, outlaws, or wild animals. So let me paint a more accurate perception of my reality while I am venturing around this planet.

Coach buses are much more comfortable for long trips. As you can see.
Courtesy of Art Model, Kayci.Lee this past January when she accompanied
for a month to Nicaragua and up to Guatemala.

While there may be several different types of BackpackERS, BackpackING is usually divided into two distinct categories. First, there is WILDERNESS backpacking. This is usually associated with, as the name suggests, backpacking in the wild. While day trips can fall into this category, I’d say the norm is going to consist of camping and thus the packing choices will reflect this. Ergo, sleeping bag, and plenty of food. Much will depend on the availability of water, distance and the duration of the trip will dictate the remaining needs to sustain you. It goes without saying that you’ll be hiking all this gear around, as opposed to throwing it in your vehicle. Otherwise you’re just car camping.

Guatemala Chicken Bus 

This could be a backpacking trip to simply go camping, rock climbing, hunting, or you could be trekking to a specific destination like a log cabin or over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house. Regardless, you’ll need to be prepared with good hiking boots and weather dependent clothing, and everything you need to protect yourself from environmental concerns, threats from the wildlife, and basic safety. This is not my primary mission.

If I can’t take it on my back, it can’t come. 
As for me, I do TRAVEL backpacking, which can also be defined as a type of adventure travel. I have the same type of backpack that a wilderness backpacker might have. Getting one that fits properly, allows for great weight distribution, comfortable waist, chest, and shoulder straps, as well having convenient pockets and straps for gear that needs to be secured, but readily available on the outside of your pack. I use a Osprey Aether 70, with and empty Osprey Porter 30 strapped to the back of it. The Porter is my day pack for use when I venture from my hotel. Why do I like Osprey bags? Because of their All Mighty Guarantee! So yeah… no roller luggage here.

Sometimes ya gotta hitch a ride on an old commercial fishing boat when the seas are too rough for anything else.

So I travel with two bags (well, three, but one is kept empty while traveling between destination). I have my backpack(s) and then my camera bag which is a large Thintank Urban Disguise 60. I am usually traveling around via public transportation. Sometimes I take international and regional planes, but mostly I am on a local bus for short trips or a coach/tour bus for longer ones. I pack pretty much everything I need for my daily life. I average maybe 5 change of clothes. I say average because sometimes I may throw away a shirt or buy one from the local thrift stores that in Central America are referred to as PACAs. They are named so because they usually arrive from the US in huge baled bundles. So Paca is spanish for bales, not packages, as I recently learned. I can easily get a shirt for a buck or two and change out my clothes periodically, or dependent on a place I visit. I’ve been all along the Caribbean coast here in Colombia where T-shirts and flip flops are practical. Next thing you know, I’m in the mountains of Bogota at an elevation of 8000+ feet and temps of mid-40’s at night.

I also pack camera accessories and gear that I use to produce videos, clean sensors, and extra things that make photo and video more convenient. Along with that, I have my toiletries and sundries, prescription meds, flashlights, knives, etc that also go in my backpack. I try to keep my weight from my backpack under 35lbs. I was 10 pounds over on my venture back to Bogota. I need to lose some weight!

Caught a horse-drawn wagon to the beach

As for city travel and accommodations, I can take public transpo which is usually pennies in any direction. Chicken buses are popular in Central America. You are not riding with a bunch of chickens. You are just packed into them as if you ARE chickens. That’s how they make their money while fares stay cheap. Volume! But they are fun to ride on, just not over great distances or if you are a tall person. Your knees will suffer. They are usually very colorfully decorated re-purposed US school buses that traditionally have religious display art of some sort on them wish flashy lights. You must experience this a few times if you are ever in Central America. Otherwise, I take a cab or even an UBER which are available here in Colombia. Its good to be safe and let your hotel or restaurant hail a cab for you, unless you’re told its safe to do so yourself off the street.

Or sometimes just catching a $20,000 Andalusian horse…more easily done nude, I guess

I stay in hostels mainly. Sometimes, I book a hotel. Hostels are much less expensive comparable to the same accommodations in a hotel. Not all hotels are the same, by any stretch of the imagination and that goes for hostels as well. A hostel will usually be much smaller with basic amenities. You may not have a TV for example, and in some places you don’t even have hot water. I book through for about 90% of my reservations. Just because you are in a hostel does not automatically mean Dorm Room! I only do private rooms. After that, I’m checking whether or not the room has a private bathroom, good wifi, good security, and I compare it to other hostels with respect to location and amenities. Sometimes airport pick-up is important. Other times, it may be policy issues such as do they have a good cancellation policy or whether I an pay on site or do I have to pay in advance. Some make you pay everything at time of booking and other’s just secure a deposit equal to the first night’s stay. You’ll have to decide what’s right for yourself. I’ll be doing a post on hostel stays soon enough.

Regional flights are sometimes necessary, too. This time within Nicaragua.

A typical visit for me my cost me $30/night, but I often find good places where I am spending $20/night. If I know I’ll be in an area for an extended time…such as a month, I’ll rent an apartment for $400-$500 when I can. But once I’m there, I’m living out of my backpack and checking out the local scenes. Ordinarily, I’m in a particular city because there is something there I want to shoot nearby or just because I think it will be a good experience. Right now, I’m in Bogota, Colombia. Its the 4th largest city in all of the Americas. I felt this would be a good experience, even though my interests photographically are in more nature environments. I don’t shoot as much in metro or urban places. So for me, the experience is worth my stay.

When I leave here, I’ll pack up my backpack and camera bag, and choose the best transportation to get to my next location. I have no clue where that will be right now or even when I’ll leave Bogota. Possibly by mid-December…who knows? Chances are, I’ll hop a bus out of the Bogota to either Ecuador or one more city, likely coastal, in Colombia. It’s entirely possible I may stay longer and take a flight to the Colombian-Ecuadorian border and then bus across. Why? Because many of these countries have a thing (or at least the airline does) where you can’t board a flight without a ticket going out. Busing in is different. They leave it up to you to not overstay your visa, typically 90 days…30 in others. Sometimes, you need to apply for a Visa in advance of your trip, like Brazil or Paraguay.

Finally reaching those meager but welcome accommodations.

I’ll continue to do this throughout all of South America, with the exception of Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana, (all on the East Coast). Venezuela isn’t a safe or stable place to travel to at the moment and I don’t feel the same calling to the other countries I mentioned. So, I’ll be taking a plane, bus, or walking across country borders trying to see where I can get some great shots and life experiences.