One of the best investments anyone considering visiting South America can make is a copy of Rand McNally's "South America Handbook."
Although priced at $29.95, it's good value. The guide's 1,300 pages are packed with information, and it's updated annually.
It's designed to assist travelers heading for South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Not only does the guide cover the nitty gritty (health precautions, history, museums, hotels and hostels, sights, restaurants, transportation and currency regulations), it also includes numerous helpful hints for situations that you might not have considered.
For example, the handbook warns that you should take as much film as possible because it's expensive everywhere there. "Exposed film can be protected in humid areas," the guide adds, "simply by putting it in a balloon and tying a knot."
It's common knowledge that wearing jewelry to some South American destinations can encourage theft. The handbook, however, adds suggestions on how to protect yourself from problems created by thefts. "Take two kinds of checks if a large number of one kind has recently been forged or stolen, making people suspicious. It is unlikely to have happened simultaneously with the other kind."
Other warnings that young travelers should heed include: Some countries ban the wearing of army surplus clothing and "English is absolutely useless off the beaten track."
One of the changes for the 1986 edition is that the lowest level of accommodation category, known as "F," which used to cover listings for lodgings up to $7 a night, has been adjusted to cover lodgings with a limit of $5 a night.
Rand McNally's "South America Handbook" is available at retail bookstores.
An option open to young travelers who would like to see South America is to join a camping adventure tour. Companies such as Goway Travel (which has been operating low-cost tours through South America for 14 years) offer the following advantages:
--You have the assistance of a guide who knows the ropes in that area of world.
--You don't have to worry about making transportation arrangements.
--Your costs are kept low because lodging is either in tents (everything but sleeping bags provided) or in budget hotels.
--Food is inexpensive, too, because participants share costs and preparation chores. The shared food kitty runs $4 on camping days and $10 in cities.
A possible disadvantage is that when traveling with a group you are less likely to get to know residents of the countries you're visiting. Travel groups tend to stick together.
Goway is the only major overland company operating in South America to maintain a route that includes Argentina. The complete 70-day Rio-to-Quito journey costs $1,849 plus food kitty contributions. That includes an Amazon Basin jungle trek, and equipment, supplies and instructions for a four-day independent Inca trail hike.
It's also possible to join for smaller sections of that route. To add an eight-day visit from Quito to the Galapagos Islands at the end of a trip costs an additional $879. For further details contact a travel agent or write to Goway Travel, Second Floor, 40 Wellington St. E., Toronto, Ont. M5C-1C7, Canada.
It's always wise to shop around and compare before committing yourself to a tour. Two other companies that also operate a variety of overland adventures in South America are Encounter Overland and Exodus Expeditions. You can get details about their programs through travel agents or by writing to Adventure Center, 5540 College Ave., Oakland, Calif. 94618.