Sep 29, 5 years ago

Advice to help you chill out in Chile to help you chill out in Chile

I wouldn’t consider myself a particularly uptight person. I am occasionally late, my socks occasionally don’t match and I definitely observe the 5-second-rule. But to my credit, before planning my backpacking trek through South America I spent an obsessive amount of time reading guidebooks, searching hostel and bus terminal websites and trying desperately to plan a successful trip in which every problem could be avoided. I had flow charts and contingency plans. I had extra money built into the budget. I was prepared to WIN AT TRAVEL PLANNING.

Unfortunately, it is this kind of detail-oriented attitude that will destroy you in Chile. You can’t anticipate every problem. I’ve discovered, after much pain and suffering, that some of the most valuable preparation for your trip can be an attitude shift. Basically, help yourself CHILL OUT in Chile by understanding these travel truths:

You can’t book all the transportation in advance

Your guidebook may give a tiny town in the winery region 5 stars, but then give no information about transportation to and from said town. The bigger bus companies provide schedules and seat availability online, but beware! Many times the information is spotty, out-of-date, or simply unavailable. For the smaller town bus terminals, a website simply doesn’t exist. You may find a bus to the general region of your destination (give or take 50 km), but there is no further information about public mini-bus connections or taxi prices. People tend to expect the play-it-by-ear for hostels or tours, but have a much more difficult time with transportation.

Tranquila! If there is a destination mentioned in your guidebook or online, there is probably a way to get there. Probe the bus terminal attendant or sales agent to see if they know the protocol. Hostels are also an excellent source of information, and desk attendants can typically point you in the right direction or provide a map. Hang out in the common areas and ask other travelers. Chances are, someone will have just done what you are about to do. When you are comfortable enough, you can move on to the most laissez-faire approach to travel planning imaginable: get off one bus and ask where the next bus is.

Booking buses in Chile

Booking buses in Chile. Screenshot from

When it comes to booking online or in advance, many of the Chilean bus and airline companies require a RUT number (a Chilean social security number), to execute online transactions. Example: TurBus. Without this number you may find online transactions impossible. In this instance you will have to physically go to the bus terminal when you arrive (or take the trip one day if you’re living in Chile already), to buy your tickets. Another warning: sometimes bus companies have a *ridiculous* policy in which you cannot buy tickets more than five days in advance.

In these situations, try not to go nuts worrying about seat availability. Buses don’t typically sell out as fast as a Justin Bieber concert, so you don’t need to clench your gut with grief until you have the tickets in hand. Will the buses sell out sometimes? Yes, of course. Holidays and Sunday evenings are big red flags. If you can, try to plan any bus or air travel for the middle of the week. In the smaller towns, ask to buy your return ticket when you arrive at the terminal, if possible.

Finally, airline reservations in Chile can be a mess. The newer and smaller airlines can offer cheaper fares, but occasionally their online booking pages don’t work well. In these instances (I’m thinking of Sky Airline in particular) you can email the customer service department with your travel plans and credit card info. As things frequently go wrong when you’re traveling, know the cancellation policy! Sometimes the difference between a 60% refund and a 40% refund can be a matter of hours.

You could be the most prepared and detail-oriented person in the world and you will still have to adapt a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants attitude when booking transportation in Chile. My advice to you: it’s inevitable. Coming to grips with this simple travel truth will only help you relax and enjoy the ride that much faster.

Lead photo: Pichilemu Surf Hostel, CC Image courtesy of kjdozzi on flickr


Katy is currently an English teacher and freelance writer in Santiago, Chile. She enjoys traveling on the weekends and eating empanadas.

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