¡Hola, todos! For the past month, I’ve been on the road — first at a conference of financial bloggers in Chicago, and then trekking through the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes. For most of this time, I’ve been without an internet connection. It’s tough to blog about money when you’re trekking to the top of a 5350-meter (17,650-foot) mountain!

The adventurous part of my trip is over. I’m back with the ten million residents of Lima, Peru, and my wife will soon join me. We’ll spend a couple of weeks doing the tourist thing while our brave housesitter herds our five cats.

Now that I’m back in the world of reliable telecommunications, it’s time for me to share a few of the things I’ve seen, to give a glimpse of what life is like in this corner of South America.

Constant Chaos
Peru graffitiFor me, the most difficult adjustment has been coping with the constant chaos. As Kris will attest, I’m not the most ordered and organized person in the world. But I am American. As Americans, we’re used to schedules and systems and routine. Those notions don’t always work here. Sometimes they don’t work at all. I’ve had to relax and just go with whatever happens. (Our guides often joke about “Peruvian time” — schedules are approximate.)

The most obvious chaos is the traffic. I’m sure there are traffic laws in Peru and Bolivia, but they’re not really followed. Instead, there’s a complex dance between cars, buses, and pedestrians. It’s frightening at first, but exhilarating once you surrender and join the fun. But that’s not the only chaos.

For instance, on the night before we crossed from Peru into Bolivia, our guide came to me. “I have bad news,” said Pepe Lucho. “Americans need a visa to enter Bolivia. That means you need to fill out some paperwork. You also need passport photos. And $135 US. We leave at 7am.” It was 9pm.

No worries. I grabbed one of my new friends, and we headed into Puno’s crowded streets. Though it was a Wednesday evening, the local university students were parading through town, beating drums, blowing trumpets, and dancing. We never figured out why, but the celebration lasted for hours. Stephen and I threaded our way around the throng of partiers to find a bank machine. We also located a place that would take passport photos. Using my rudimentary Spanish — I’ve only been learning since the middle of June — I paid seven soles (about $3 US), climbed a rickety staircase, and had my photo taken in a closet. Five minutes later, we were back at the hotel ready to go.

But the next morning, Pepe Lucho had more bad news. “Your photos are on a white background. The Bolivians want them on a red background. It’s crazy! But we don’t have time. Let’s just use these and see what happens.”

What happened was that the men at the border post didn’t even want the photos. The shack was crowded and people were pushy and they were frustrated with my Spanish skills (or lack thereof). Muttering to each other, they took my money ($140 US — no change), ignored my photos, and rushed me through the visa process. What we had feared might take an hour only took three minutes. I’m fairly certain that things weren’t done “by the book”, but I’m not complaining. I was in Bolivia, on my way to the Condoriri Real.

Having Enough
By U.S. standards, much of Bolivia and Peru might seem poor and unkempt. It’s easy to lapse into judgements based on our own cultural values, but I worry that’s a mistake. Yes, trash litters the streets. Yes, there are lots of unfinished projects everywhere you look. Yes, the work ethic is different. But different doesn’t mean wrong.

“The Aymara people are not lazy,” cautioned Freddy, our Bolivian guide, as our boat motored across Lake Titicaca. The Aymara are an indigenous group predominant on the Bolivian side of the lake. “They don’t live like this because they’re lazy. It’s not that they don’t want to work. They live like this because they have Enough.” I grabbed my pen and notepad and began to write.

El Mercado Rodriguez, La Paz, Bolivia
A banana-seller en el mercado Rodriguez de La Paz, Bolivia


“If you go to a market and try to buy all the fruit from the vendor, she won’t sell it to you,” Freddy explained. “She’ll say, ‘If you buy all of this, what am I going to do for the rest of the day?’ There’s more to the transaction than money.”

“Plus, the Aymara hold onto what they earn. They save. Sometimes they’re called the jews of the Andes. You’ll see an Aymara work with basic tools and what looks like very little wealth. But then they go to the bank and they have a lot saved. In fact, often they work for months, living with nothing, in order to spend extravagantly for four or five days. They’ll spend all their money quickly on a fiesta, to throw a party for friends and family.”

“Why?” asked somebody in our group. “Why do they spend it all at once?”

“Why?” Freddy said. “Because if you’ve drinked, if you’ve danced, if you’ve loved, all of that is yours. Nobody can take it.”

Note: “Are you a journalist?” Freddy asked me later. “I noticed you took notes about what I was saying.” I told him that I’m a professional blogger, and that piqued his interest. Freddy was a journalist for many years, and even wrote a satire about Bolivian history. Now he writes blogs of his own to document life as a tour guide.


Cost of Living
Wages are low in Bolivia, but so is the cost of living. People are poor financially, especially when compared to countries like the United States, but they eat well. “For the cost of one glass of Coca-Cola in a Swiss restaurant, I could buy twelve liters here,” Freddy told us at lunch one day.

And there’s no question that the cost of living is different. At the moment, the exchange rate is roughly 6-2/3 Bolivianos (Bs) to one U.S. Dollar. That’s fifteen cents per Boliviano. Or, as I liked to think of it, 20 Bs to $3. And twenty Bolivianos goes a long way.

Here are some examples:

    • One morning, I bought a bottle of Coke for 1.5 Bs (about 22 cents). I had to drink the bottle right there and hand it back to the vendor, but it was worth it.


    • I purchased a glossy news magazine for 15 Bs (or about $2.25).


    • I got a meticulous shave and haircut for 50 Bs (or about $7.50).


Haircut and shave in La Paz, Boliva
Getting a haircut and a shave in La Paz, Bolivia


    • In a typical cafe, a cheeseburger costs 25 Bs or 30 Bs (about $4 or $5) and a soft drink costs about 7 Bs ($1). (At one cafe, the owner came out to chat with us. He was from New York, and owns several restaurants in La Paz. When he heard I was from Oregon, he raved about how much he loved the state.)


    • On our final night together, we had delicious 400g Argentinian steaks for 85 Bs (about $12.75).


    • And one afternoon, we stopped to indulge in the two-for-one ice cream deal at a popular store where the locals were queued under the hot sun. For 9 Bs each (about $1.35), we came away with gigantic bowls of ice cream and cookies.


  • My favorite: I can buy Bolivian comics for 5 Bs to 10 Bs each (between 75 cents and $1.50).

Here’s another example: While wandering the markets of La Paz, my new friend Stephen found a woman weaving small bracelets with individual names on them. “I want to get one of these for my son James,” he said. After waiting twenty minutes and paying five Bolivianos (about 75 cents), Stephen had his hand-made bracelet.

The Cost of Travel
Our Bolivian guide had done some traveling of his own. Freddy has been to England, Denmark, Switzerland, and Germany. “With the money I spent on travel, I could have bought a new car here in Bolivia. But I bought a used Volkswagen instead,” Freddy told me as we walked to the top of Isla del Sol in Lake Titicaca. (There are a surprising number of old VW Bugs floating around the country.)

“I think that was the best investment I made in my life. By traveling, I learned many things.”

And while some of you will groan to hear me sing this song once again, I agree. Though cheap relative to my Africa trip last February, my South American adventure is still costing me $150 a day — not including airfare. To me, this is a bargain. The past three weeks have been pure magic.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the world


In October, I’ve walked more than 120km across beautiful Peruvian mountains, over the high plains of Bolivia, and through vibrant cities teeming with people. I’ve chewed coca leaves, sipped corn juice, and eaten alpaca. (And guinea pig — guinea pig is delicious!) I’ve traveled with a group of intelligent, hilarious Australians. I’ve had conversations with other travelers from around the world.

Right now, at this point in my life, this is money well spent.

Sure, I could stay at home and read about these places. I could look at photos on the internet. But sometimes photos aren’t enough. Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes the only way to experience a place is to experience it. It’s not enough for me to just read about travel. I want to do it.

I write a lot about conscious spending,about how to track your financial health and maintaining your credit report also about cutting back hard on the things that don’t matter so that you can spend on the things that do matter. This notion may seem tired or mundane. It’s not. The deeper I get into the third stage of personal finance, the more I realize that conscious spending is what it’s all about.

Learn what you love. Manage your money so you can spend on whatever this might be. Ignore everything else. Do this, my friends, and you will have all the wealth you need.

Crossing the 4950-meter pass near Salcantay
Crossing a 4950-meter pass near Salcantay — chewing coca leaves


Reminder: You can read more about my adventures at Far Away Places.


77 Replies to “Saving and Spending in South America”

  1. SB @ One Cent At A Time says:

    Very true closing statement JD. Save money to spend on things you like. Getting the things we like is true wealth, in deed.

    I was reading this post oand in every line I found similarity between my birth country and Peru. In India we have all the traffic laws, but its not followed. You’ll hardly find a car without dents and bends. Vehicles honk to caution others about their urgency, you let it pass. Problem is every one honks at each other.

    Like Peru, cost of living in India is lower. We enjoy a good meal for $1 or less. We have our own concept of time, Indian standard time, events following IST means they would start a few mins after the scheduled start time, never on time.

    Thanks for sharing a piece of Peru, enjoyed a lot. Good that Chris is joining you. All the best for rest of the trip.

    • Autumn says:

      Thank you very much for the Bolivia information. I’m planning a trip to Bolivia and I had no idea I needed a visa until I read your article. Could you please share with me the hotel where you stayed? Any other information it would be greatly appreciated.

  2. cca says:

    I feel as if i with you! Such good life lessons. Thanks for sharing

  3. Nicole says:

    Sounds great! Glad you’re having a good time!

  4. KS says:

    Haven’t had a chance to catch up on your blog lately – but loving your adventures! I’m “spending money on the things I love” by writing today at a local pub – with great lunch, hot tea, wonderful music, and a pub owner who remembered me from when I arrived 6 months ago.

  5. Penny Pincher says:

    Thanks for sharing! I had a similarly cheap trip to Germany about 17 years ago. What made it cheap was staying at a friend’s relative’s house, and I sang opera on the street to subsidize it. We cooked our own food instead of eating in restaurants constantly (although there were restaurants). It’s possible to travel cheap even in expensive countries.

  6. Pamela says:

    Love your description of your trip so far. It certainly convinces me that your use of money on this trip is more satisfying than another dozen pairs of shoes, a new car, and weekly, greasy meals out. 🙂

  7. Becka says:

    Absolutely. You don’t save money to have a big bank account; you save money so you can use it on things that improve your life. Your trip sounds amazing, JD.

    Excellent use of “pique”! 😉

  8. Emily Guy Birken says:

    One of the things I love about traveling is how it takes you outside of your assumptions and biases and self! There is nothing like experiencing another culture to help you recognize that your own thoughts are following a well-worn groove and that you might need to shake things up in how you do things.

    I spent 6 months in France when I was 21, and though Western Europe is very much like America, I found that my time there really helped me to understand that much of what I take for granted is not how the rest of the world necessarily sees things. It’s made me a more tolerant and open person.

    I’m jealous that you’re able to take this wonderful trip! Please continue to keep us posted.

  9. Theresa says:

    I know exactly how you feel about traveling, JD. I am leaving in exactly a week to spend a month traveling all around Australia. Next year I want to take a shorter trip to South America, especially Peru and Machu Picchu. That would leave Antarctica as the only continent I haven’t visited and/or lived on. 🙂

  10. Eileen says:

    That shaving photo is priceless. I could stare at that photo for hours, years. There is so much in that photo. I’m so glad you guys got that.

  11. Annelise says:

    “But different doesn’t mean wrong.”

    I think it’s a good point that we shouldn’t go around the world assuming the American (or whatever country’s) way is best and that anything different is wrong. However, at the same time I don’t think we should be afraid to criticize other countries or cultures if our criticisms are thoughtful and constructive. If everybody was content with “Enough” just think of all the technological breakthroughs and social changes that make our lives so much better that wouldn’t have happened because nobody could be bothered to challenge the status quo or strive for better.

    • Steven says:

      To a point, I’d agree with you…then, how much of that advancement has only been to further the mindless consumer culture?

    • SEinSF says:

      Good point. It goes the other way too, though. There may be things that other countries do differently that might work better than the way we do it in America.

      My first thought is the siesta. It is a shame that, by American culture becoming pervasive, the siesta is becoming extinct. I think we’d be so much healthier, and probably less obese too, if we valued sleep and rest here in America.

  12. Andrew says:

    Hey, if you were looking for a place where traffic laws aren’t really followed and cars do an intricate dance, you didn’t have to go all the way to Peru. Just come to Boston! (extra added attraction–no useful street signs!)

    All kidding aside, though, it sounds like a wonderful trip!

    • J.D. Roth says:

      This is going to sound nerdy, I know, but traffic around the world fascinates me. I’ve never been to Boston, but I’ve been to some other U.S. cities where traffic scares the hell out of me. But maybe that’s how everyone feels when they go to a city that isn’t there own.

      Here in Portland, we have a lot of pedestrians and, especially, a lot of bicyclists. I know a lot of new drivers here are scared by all the cyclists and afraid of causing accidents. But after a while, you get used to it, and you learn to share the road.

      That’s probably what it’s like to drive in Lima or in La Paz. It seems like chaos at first, but eventually you get used to it. Just today, I picked up on some of the honking behavior here. Cabbies use their horns to communicate with cars and with pedestrians: “Do you want a ride?” May seem obvious to some folks, but it was new to me.

      Anyhow, I love this topic, even though it’s nerdy. (And the worst traffic I’ve ever encountered is still that in Paris.)

      • Lawyerette says:

        JD, if traffic fascinates you, read Tom Vanderbilt’s book of the same name (if you haven’t already). Great read on why Americans drive the way we do, and some comparative analysis to other places.

      • bethh says:

        I always think something is wrong with me when I drive in Portland after being away for a while (I live elsewhere but visit often). The drivers are so freaking mellow I always feel like some insane road rage person! Of course I learned to drive in Rhode Island and I swear this is true: for years I didn’t realize drivers are required to use turn signals 🙂 That sums up the RI mentality for you!

        I lived in Boston for 3 years and loved being a pedestrian there – you get to be fearless/insane.

        OH and I was a passenger in the Dominican Republic – where you can still drive up to a booth and get some drinks for your driving pleasure (at least that was true in 1999). The roads there are mayhem.

  13. Adrian says:

    It is my personal belief that your vacation epitomizes the true nature of “richness” behind the concept of “Get Rich Slowly” as this blog isn’t simply a diatribe concerning varied methodology for maximizing financial & materialistic gain, but rather it is often a psychological dialogue amongst readers; encouraging us to define and seek our very own concept of ‘wealth’ of life.

    Savor the richness of company, beauty & scenery J.D. — you deserve it.

    P.S. The photograph of Machu Picchu is breath-taking! I am also quite pleased with the excellent material written in your absence 🙂

  14. Sandra says:

    “But different doesn’t mean wrong”

    I wish more people understood this. Judging everything by what we’re used to causes travelers to miss out on so many rich experiences.

    I’m glad you’re having such a great adventure. Your descriptions are a delight

  15. Anne says:

    I guess I’m the only one who finds all this travel duller than dull to read about. Ahhhh yes another pretty landscape picture of a pretty place. (Oh I forgot, it’s halfway across the world so it must an amazing experience worthy of my awe and jealousy.)

    I’m sorry, but I don’t think travel writing is your strength. I had hoped you’d keep it on your travel blog.

    It’s not shocking or even interesting that people in different countries and places have different ways of going about their daily lives. Anyone who has ever left his home and gone ten miles knows that! You don’t need to go to Lake Titicaca to learn it. All you need to do is go ANYWHERE. The next town over would do or go into the nearest city if you live close to one.

    This reminds me of the blog I wrote for family and friends when we went abroad a few years ago. Facebook is where this belongs. (And what I would use if I was travelling now.) At least your staff writers are holding up their end well.

    • Judy says:

      The deep philosophical perspective that ran through the commentary is not something that I would expect to find on a travel blog. This definitely inspires me to figure out ways to live more frugally in order to do more traveling. Money does not equal wealth; experience equals wealth. I don’t read travel blogs. I don’t care for spectator sports. I’d rather be a participant. I don’t consider this a financial blog but a lifestyle blog. I want to learn more about how to get the most out of life. This was a very inciteful piece of journalism possibly written just for me instead of you.

    • Adam P says:

      I agree with you Anne, seeing other people’s travels is boring to me…with a minor “but”, I think the point of:

      “Learn what you love. Manage your money so you can spend on whatever this might be. Ignore everything else. Do this, my friends, and you will have all the wealth you need.”

      is a very good point JD makes and maybe showing his enthusiasm for his travel brings this point to life? So therefore it’s relevant here because he brings it back to that good point? Maybe.

      I dunno. Going to a 3rd world slum to see the Real People ™ living in garbage doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest. I’ve lived as an expat in a few countries, my tolerance for extreme poverty contrasted against extreme wealth is pretty low.

    • Mark says:

      Completely agree anne, JD is a much better money writer then travel writer.

      congrats that you are doing something you value, but this really belongs on that travel blog.

    • Steven says:

      I disagree. There are a million and one lessons in this blog that are relevent to the site. I’m not going to list them all here because it’s not my job to interpret a post, but I think if you read the post without the prejudice of it being “just another travel post” then the points that JD are trying to relate to personal finance, life, priorities, etc are perfectly clear. I didn’t read this post as a “Hey, look at me” post at all.

    • Annelise says:

      Anne, I did quite enjoy the article, but I understand your point of view. My main problem with the article was the subtle moral relativism angle of it, which crops up a lot in travel journalism, especially when referring to corrupt or poor Third World countries. Another thing that irked me, as I’ve mentioned before, was the use of metric units. I had no idea 120 kilometers is equal to about 75 miles, for example (I thought it was closer to 100). And would any of us know how big a “400g steak” was without Googling it first? Assuming most of the readers of this blog are American, you’d no more expect metric units to be used than for the article to be written in Spanish.

      • Allie says:

        It did bug me, but I think it’s not that far out of the realm of possibility to work out a general idea of what 400 grams is if you’ve paid much attention to boxed and canned food packaging, where I see repeated over and over the equivalence between one pound and 454 grams. I can’t do the exact math of 400 grams in my head but I can get a general idea of what it’s close to.

  16. TrixieSF says:

    When I was in Peru 10 years ago, it was explained to me that houses aren’t taxed until they are “completed”, so that’s why they all seem unfinished, with rebar sticking up into the sky. That plus the rooftop satellite TV dishes make a nice dichotomy.

  17. Lanjha says:

    Sorry JD,

    You came off for a bit as a Poverty tourist through some comments in this article.

  18. Jen says:

    You’ve gotten me all fired up again about doing what I want. Travel is a bug that’s been niggling at me for years. After extensive travel throughout the US and one trip to England, I’ve been stagnant at home for the past 8 years. One of my goals is to walk the Inca Trail, which is very hard if you’re in good shape (which I’m not). So, I’m now exercising to get myself in shape, lose weight and eating better.

    On the PF front, I’m paying off the last of my CC debt (early next year, baby!), then will split half that payment to savings and the other half to my student loans. If the car isn’t paid off by then, then that’s next. After the car loan’s done, it will leave me with the mortgage…and no other debt! Online calculators are predicting 6 years to pay off the student and car loans. I want to halve that at the bare minimum.

    I envy your traveling, but I’ll be out there in a few years!

  19. Robert says:

    Who is J.D. Roth and what is he doing writing for this blog?

  20. Alex says:

    You could have edited or addressed the implicit stereotyping and anti-semitism in your guide’s comment about Jewish people and saving. It’s one thing to avoid uncomfortable situations by not addressing it when it happens, but it’s irresponsible to write about it to your many readers without comment. I have been a long time reader and supporter of this blog, but this post has made me uncomfortable with my subscription. I hope you will post and address this concern. Thank you.

    • SEinSF says:

      I disagree. I wouldn’t want J.D. to sanitize the quote from his guide to make it more PC for American audiences. I would prefer to hear the guide’s thoughts in his own words, especially because in this case it wasn’t a negative thing from the guide’s perspective, but a positive quality. I think it would be a bad practice to misquote someone because they used a word you do not like.

      Also, if we don’t acknowledge the current situation we can’t change it. People won’t stop using “the J word” if we pretend like it never happens. You can’t change the way people think and the language they use if you refuse to accept the current reality as the starting point.

      • Alex says:

        I see your point SEinSF, but I think that not commenting at all implies tacit acceptance of the premise. The natural reaction to the text as it is written is that ‘Jew’ is a benign descriptive of someone who saves money. The fact that it may have been meant as a ‘positive’ is irrelevant. Many harmful and insensitive comments are often cloaked in that veil of harmlessness.

        • jim says:

          I have to agree with Alex. Lets not assume that guys comment was positive. He may have been disparaging two groups at once with a jolly smile on his face. Historically Jews have been stereotyped negatively in this respect and repeating such stereotypes isn’t good. I don’t think there is a need to repeat peoples racial/religious stereotypical comments regardless of their origin or intent.

      • A Jew says:

        Umm… It’s not offensive to use the word Jew in its proper context. I am a Jew. (Not an insult). Using the term “J word” is offensive. It implies the mere mention of Jewishness is offensive.

        What is offensive is allowing this man’s antisemitism to be presented as some kind of folksy wisdom.

        • Dana says:

          This is the first time I have ever posted a comment on any blog, though I have been reading GRS and other blogs daily for years. JD, I, too, was saddened to see you repeat this slur so cavalierly. This was an offensive comment based on dangerous stereotypes. It is not a matter of “political correctness”, but recognition of a thousand years of persecution based on exactly this sort of stereotyping, which I believe should have led you either to decline to repeat the slur, or at least to disavow its antisemitic content. Words have power and meaning, and to deny that (especially on the lame “the world is a harsh place” sort of rationalization expressed above) is to deny reality. I expected better from you.

    • G. M. N. says:

      I think that people in this day and age are too sensitive for their own good. There will be prejudice and bad mouthing as long as there are human beings in the world. The only thing we can do to make things better is to act responsibly ourselves and not down others for their views.

      I do not have any prejudices because I would lose 3/4 of the human race to talk to. But I believe people are the best things God ever made and, if he doesn’t force them to a certain viewpoint, why should I think I have the right or the power to make them change their ways? I can only love everyone and hope love can change some of the.

  21. Tyler Karaszewski says:

    “For the cost of one glass of Coca-Cola in a Swiss restaurant, I could buy twelve liters here”

    Reminds me of ordering a diet coke in Munich and getting charged 6 euros for it. I just drank beer for the rest of the trip, it comes in glasses twice as big for half the price.

  22. evelyn says:

    J.D., I think your account is fascinating. Great photos too! I especially like how you weave your travel experience in with the financial aspect, which ties in so perfectly to this blog. I’m very interested in other cultures’ priorities when it comes to working vs. leisure time, and what those terms mean in different cultures. It always makes me reevaluate my own priorities. I think this was one of your best blog entries yet. Thank you!

  23. Julie says:

    “Guinea Pig is delicious.” Well, that solves two financial problems: how much we spend at the pet store and how much we spend at the grocery store.

    • J.D. Roth says:

      Well, the guinea pig isn’t exactly inexpensive here. In fact, it’s usually the priciest item on the menu. And the tastiest.

      • Brendan says:

        Guinea pig is expensive. I lived in Ecuador for a few years and it was a delicacy. It was also common banquet food. I went to a few weddings and I was usually served a quarter guinea pig, a quarter rabbit, AND a quarter chicken on top of half a dozen boiled potatoes and a few cups of corn (mote). I was the godfather at a wedding/baptism for one of the poorest families I knew and they had saved 7 years to have that party. They gave away tons of food and it was a great party. They even gave me 10 guinea pigs to take home as a present (along with a huge helping of leftovers).

  24. Quest says:

    Fabulous post. I just love to read about your travels.

    Conscious spending really is the key isn’t it? I’m still finding that out but it’s beginning to stick. Just this morning, I let the immediate family know that I’m going to London and Paris this spring and that I’m cutting back on expenses until then so that I can afford to go with the spouse. It has become suddenly very important that I accomplish this trip with the spouse because the things I care the most about right now are to be found on that trip. Those ‘things’ would be the people I haven’t seen in such a long while.

  25. Piccolina says:

    Good for you JD!! I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself and fulfilling your dreams!

    And the overall point of the post is very relevant to personal finance– spend money on the things that matter to you. Whether you’re an American who wants to travel to Bolivia or a Bolivian who wants to celebrate with his friends.

  26. El Nerdo says:


    Oh, the politics maaaaaan! Whyyyy?

    Rich country / poor country = politics
    Indigenous rights = politics
    Eating little pets = politics
    Bolivia / Peru = politics
    Tourism = politics
    Coca leaf = politics!!
    Coca-cola = politics!!!
    The metric system = politics (the French Revolution)
    Currency exchange = politics
    Cheap labor = politics
    Lima vs. The Andes = politics maaaaaan!!

    Oh I am tired of all the politics at GRS. Why can’t you tell us about credit card rates. Boo hoo hooo waaaaah.


    Anyway, good to hear you’re having fun! Cuy (not a pig, not from Guinea ;)) is expensive only at restaurants– very cheap to keep at home so people raise them in rural areas. Micro-cattle, kitchen-sized.

    Now that you’re in Lima enjoy the great fish & seafood. Seriously. And sánguches! At 4am!! Oh yes… Chancho beats pavo by the way. Go & see. And you might still be able to find turrón the doña pepa (it’s the season for it). You’re in a gastronomic paradise (sorry for the politics).

    Nice post by the way. My new conscious spending item is slavery-free chocolate, thanks to this blog!

  27. margot says:

    The most powerful idea I’ve heard in a long time = the idea of “having enough” and realizing it. That would truly revolutionize American culture if only people would internalize it – no debt, so much less unhappiness (and mental health drugs), more time spent doing what people love and more free time, more contentment, less stress, etc.

  28. Sara S says:

    Hi J.D.
    Glad to hear you are having a great time! I am a frequent visitor (first time commenter) and reader of the blog and was excited to see a post about Peru and Bolivia. I have traveled in both and spend time in Peru traveling and visiting family. I am also doing doctoral work related to Peru and violence against women.
    Although as a traveler it may be easy to get the idea that people in these two countries live well with the little money they have, if you did a bit deeper (and leave the positive talk of your paid tour guide) you will find a much different story. Large proportions of populations in both countries live in serious poverty and have trouble meeting the basic needs of their family (food, shelter, etc..). The crazy traffic, while exhilarating for a traveler, is a huge burden to residents who often travel for long periods to get to work each day, not to mention the pollution associated with the growing number of cars on the road. There are also high rates of fatal traffic accidents in both countries. I would also argue that buying handmade tourist charms for $0.75 is not something to be proud of- these people work hard in difficult conditions in order to meet the basic needs of their families. It is wonderful to travel in South America, there is so much natural and man-made beauty and culture. The people are typically kind, welcoming and generous. I also agree that people are able to find happiness with few monetary resources, but they also have serious struggles. Food insecurity, violence, and access to quality education are serious and common problems that many people in Bolivia and Peru face on a daily basis. Enjoy your vacation- you should- but also remember that things may not be as they first appear. Best of luck!

  29. Sandal says:

    JD – enjoy the blog and like the travel post but you are doing a terrible disservice to the travelbugs out there: traveling in the developing world for $150/day? I’ve been to S. America twice, and learned Spanish (very poor Spanish) along the way and lived without a guide to sanitize the experience. Kids – do not, not, not feel you need a guide – buy a LP book, a Spanish for Dummies + dictionary, and get moving. You’ll figure it out, trust me. Have a great time but please find an author who can help teach folks how to travel on a budget, e.g. http://www.vagabonding.net/

    • J.D. Roth says:

      Hey, Sandal. I don’t feel the cost is outrageous for the level of service I’m receiving. Remember: This is the first time I’ve done anything like this (trekking), and I’m a bit of a chicken. I’m a small-town boy from Oregon, and just learning to travel.

      Having said that, I’m eager to try something like this again on my own in the future. Doing this once gives me the confidence that I can make my way on my own in the future. Right now, my travel isn’t the cheapest, and I know that. But my goal is to travel for much less in the future. 🙂

  30. Vince Thorne says:

    Amazing post. You make me want to be there. Keep it coming!

  31. MJ says:

    I agree on the remark about their being “the jews” of the region. This stuck out like a neon light in this otherwise interesting article. I don’t think quoting people’s casual anti-Semitism is innocuous. This surprised me because this blog is normally so level-headed and thoughtful. But that remark was beyond the pale.

  32. Harmony says:

    I have to say I think this belonged on his travel blog not GRS. The main point was about travel not money. It didn’t even qualify as an article about how to travel frugally (3 weeks at $150/day = $3,150 not including airfare) How is this helpful?

    You could argue that the article is about conscious spending, but that topic has been done to death lately. JD, please try to write an articles without using this term for a few weeks, because at the end of the day conscious spending is still about SPENDING. It is like a weightloss blog constantly talking about desserts.

    I understand that you have achieved your personal finance goals and are now enjoying the results, but the original goal of GRS was how to get rich, not what to do if you are already there.

  33. Kristen says:

    Boy. Seems a lot of people put on their cranky pants before reading the article. Sheesh.

    • PMAISKI says:

      Thought so too, but then I have always thought americans in general are overly concerned about political correctness.
      oh well maybe dats wat make them unique?

  34. Maggie says:

    I’m really surprised that you felt the need to point out that people in South America are “not lazy”. It implies that you thought they were lazy before. That and referring to Jews in terms of their money making abilities suggests that perhaps you need to take a long hard look at your stereotyping of ethnic groups that you do not belong to. Also you are surprised by the presence of Volkswagon bugs, but please realize that they were made until the mid-2000’s in both Brazil and Mexico.

    • J.D. Roth says:

      Maggie, I didn’t make the remark about jews, and I didn’t stereotype South Americans as lazy. Somebody else did. In truth, I haven’t found the people in Peru or Bolivia lazy at all.

      • jim says:

        Yeah we know you didn’t say it. Thats not an excuse to print it. You don’t have to write down and then report in your blog every stupid thing your tour guide says. You choose what to share with us and what to filter. I think you chose wrong in this case.

        The comment about Jews doesn’t really add to the article. It could have easily been omitted. Its clearly offensive.
        I don’t see a good reason for including it.

      • Cesar says:

        JD keep on doing what you do exactly how you do it. Continue to publish your articles raw and uncensored. The idea that you have to censor what someone else said is absurd. If that’s exactly the way the tour guide said it then that’s exactly the way I want to read it. If I can’t handle that then the problem lies with me and not the author.

        • JCC says:

          I agree that it’s not offensive for JD to report what the guide said. It’s factual, doesn’t mean he agrees with it. What kind of narrative would a non-fiction narrative be if the writer left out awkward moments, dumb comments, etc.?

  35. Melissa says:

    JD, I don’t want to pile on abuse, but I would also like to voice my concern that you’d include the “jews of the Andes” comment here. It seems clearly, extremely inappropriate to me; what was your perspective on it?

    • J.D. Roth says:

      My perspective on the comment is that we’d never use it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness, but everyone in the group understood what the guide meant, and it wasn’t appropriate to challenge him on cultural stereotypes at that moment. It was, however, a little ironic, that he was using a cultural stereotype while trying to counter what he perceived as a cultural stereotype of his own people.

      • midwesty says:

        Would we never say it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness, or because some of us realize it’s offensive?

      • Debtheaven says:

        “My perspective on the comment is that we’d never use it in the U.S. because we’re concerned about political correctness”

        But, by quoting it, you did indeed choose to “use it in the US”, since your blog is based in the US. By the way, Jew takes a capital “J”. If you’re going to be “politically incorrect”, at least use proper usage.

        That comment saddened me greatly. I expected more from you JD. Looks like maybe you can expand your horizons even from home.

        Personally I think one of the primary joys of travelling is to help dispel prejudices and clichés, not to perpetuate them.

      • Anne says:

        Roth, now you are coming off as an asshole.

        Stop trying to defend the inclusion. Take your licks. Be a gentleman and apologize to your readership and especially your Jewish readership.

        While you are doing all this world travel to expand your mind (as if you were some teenager), you might want to stop at a Holocaust museum.

        • Brendan says:

          Anne, you many have a valid argument to make and I am always able to respect well-reasoned points of view with which I happen to disagree, but you don’t help yourself by taking petty shots. Also, when people are trying to carefully express their opinions on a controversial issue, being the first to call someone an asshole kind of makes everyone else want to hold up a mirror.

        • Anne says:

          I don’t think Roth is an asshole. I think he’s coming off as one. I used the phrase deliberately.

          His response was rude and cruel.

  36. michelle says:

    I read everyday but have never commented before. I, for one, am tired of reading about how tired and sick to death of certain topics commenters are. While I can appreciate the value of feedback and the opportunity to voice your opinion (I’m doing it right now!), I feel like some readers are trying to force J.D. and this blog to retain its initial vision. That’s just not realistic. We all know that the only constant in life is change.

    If we want this blog to retain J.D.’s authentic voice – which is probably what attracted most of us to this blog and what separates it from many other blogs – we need to allow his vision for this site to grow, expand and yes, maybe even change. I would much prefer to read a blog that has an authentic voice. I’m not interested in reading a blog that is artificially restricted to repeating the same topics.

    Maybe this blog is becoming about more than just personal finance. I am more than okay with that as long as J.D. continues to have a voice here.

  37. Andrea says:

    1. Cuy– you ate Cuy??? I couldn’t do it in Ecuador- I saw three guinea pigs skewered together. Probably I would have been even less likely at one of the places where they filet the piggy whole and fry it with potatoes

  38. Brendan says:

    Wow, all of you who are judging JD and saying he needs to grow or mature or you are disappointed in him are truly pathetic, irritating people. I have been in Peru and a number of other countries and spent enough time in them to learn about a lot of our cultural differences and that absolutely includes views on race, religion, gender, and politics. You don’t really get into a culture and walk around in it when you are “on vacation” or a business trip. I lived in South America for years. The world is a very diverse place. JD is just giving us an honest view of his experiences. If you think he should filter or censor or whatever the real world because you feel entitled to be coddled and babied then I feel sorry for you.

  39. JCC says:

    What an unbelievable experience and opportunity! I would love to be able to do that. Who cares what it cost – it’s not like JD is spending massive amounts of money while he’s doing it, and this is something that he will treasure forever. (I am very jealous!)
    There’s more to life than worrying about money.

  40. MikeTheRed says:

    I find a lot of comments on this thread in particular interesting as they illustrate something that has bugged me about American culture for the last decade. The idea that offensive topics, thoughts, words should not be acknowledged or allowed to be brought up. As if ignoring them will make the bad things go away.

    Racial stereotypes and biases (especially antisemitism) exist in the wide world beyond our tidy suburban enclaves. It’s out there, and it’s been out there for all of human history. To try and turn a blind eye to it, to just not speak of it doesn’t accomplish anything.

    You have to face the fact that the rest of the world isn’t as “enlightened” as you are, and in some places using the word “Jew” as an adjective is just something that happens. Reporting on something said by someone else doesn’t condone what they say. It is merely repeating a conversation that happened that was trying to describe a cultural issue that the tour guide felt needed to be said.

    This head-in-the-sand approach to things that aren’t politically correct frightens me to be honest. We’re all so geared up to be offended by everything these days, so ready to pass negative judgement on everyone else for saying things we find offensive, that we’re just isolating ourselves further and further from the rest of the world. And feeling too smug about it in the process.

    The world is out there. It’s dirty, sometimes mean, at times smelly, and often enough it can be down-right different. It’s not all bad. Jump in and try to experience it with an open mind before declaring issues, words etc taboo.

    • Brendan says:

      Very well put.

      • Anne says:

        I disagree. Very poorly put IMO.

        I’ve experienced foreign racism of various types. When encountering it, I don’t fight it. Though I have often be rendered speechless. I wouldn’t casually perpetuate racist language by passing it on to others without comment. It gives the impression that this is something appropriate. It’s not.

        Unless of course Roth approves of the comment. Maybe he does. Who knows?

        • jim says:

          “I wouldn’t casually perpetuate racist language by passing it on to others without comment. It gives the impression that this is something appropriate.”


          Nobody is saying we should shove our heads in the sand and pretend that bigotry doesn’t exist. But don’t mix the bigotry in with other things stir it up and then slap it on the web in a personal finance blog as if the bigotry actually belongs there or is relevant.

          If the tour guide cursed like a drunken sailor would JD have repeated all the cursing verbatim? No I don’t think so. Thats an example of applying a reasonable filter to what you report. Preferring that personal finance articles aren’t laced with 2nd hand curse words for no good reason isn’t shoving our heads in the sand, being hyper sensitive and pretending that cursing doesn’t exist.

          Unless the point is to relay how your tour guide was kind of a bigot, relaying his bigotry verbatim isn’t necessary and is at best confusing. It doesn’t add to the story. Removing the comment about Jews doesn’t detract from the story about the work ethic and monetary views of the Aymara people any more than removing random curse words would.

  41. bethh says:

    I’d like to hear a practical suggestion – if he chose to include the guide’s comment, yet wanted to do a disclaimer, how could it have been written that would feel okay to the readers? Is there any way to include that anecdote that would make it “okay” or is dropping it out of the story the only acceptable option? I’m genuinely curious here.

    • Erin says:

      It wasn’t so much that JD quoted this guy that bothered me, it’s that he quoted it without comment, which made it seem acceptable to him. If he had said parenthetically after the quote what he said in his response in the comments, which is that he found it ironic that the guide was perpetuating one stereotype while trying to dispel another about his own culture, then it would have been clear that he himself realized that what the man said is very offensive to many people.

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