If you are new to the traveling world, things can seem a little but crazy at first. I know that when I began traveling there were a lot of things I had to get accustomed to. From the irregularity of the bus system to the lack of streets signs, South America at times feels like one big joke…on you. To make a long story short, the fundamental character of traveling (especially in South America) is that of unpredictability. For those of you who are a little stressed or anxious about what lies ahead, here are some things to keep in mind on your first journey into the unknown.
1. The transportation system in South America runs on its own time:
Most travelers get from place to place by bus. While buses offer a cheap alternative, to the much more expensive and limited air routes, in a sense, you are getting what you pay for. For instance, the buses in Chile and Argentina are distinctly more expensive than those offered in Peru and Bolivia. Thus these buses provide more luxurious seating, meals, as well as a bathroom. In the former countries, on the other hand, buses are often without bathrooms and offer no complementary service. Moreover, buses in South America almost always leave late, and certainly arrive later than scheduled to the final destination (anywhere from an hour to a day). *Note: do not get nervous if the bus makes a number of unscheduled stops to pick up and drop off people, that is part of the system.
2. Always ask about the water.
In some countries in South America, such as Argentina and parts of Chile you can drink from the tap, no problem. In others (namely Peru) the water can cause serious stomach sickness and digestive problems. With that said, even if you do avoid the local water the best that you can, the majority of travelers, at some point during their trip experience some type of sickness due to the quality of water with which the food is cooked and the cutlery is washed. Don’t worry, antibiotics and other over the counter medicines are readily available and usually can quickly remedy the situation.
3. Talk to locals and other travelers.
When your traveling don’t try and do it all yourself. Take advantage of the experience of other travelers as well as locals as you decide your next move. In such a way you can avoid making the mistakes of others. Just remember it is important to get a variety of opinions. What one person loves, another person might despise. Don’t take any one person’s word for it as the end all be all, and instead try to take a survey of experiences. Also, never underestimate the value of a local´s insight; the nooks and crannies they will share with you just might end up being the most memorable experience of your trip.
4. And lastly, DON’T FORGET TO PRACTICE YOUR SPANISH! When you travel, English is the reigning mode of communication in both hostels and bars.
During my most recent trip in South America, I found myself speaking in English almost all the time. Only on the rare opportunities when I found myself alone, or I needed to ask for directions did I make use of my Spanish. A the end of my two month stint, my Spanish skills were distinctly worse than when I began, something I was very frustrated with! Don’t make my mistake. Try and look at traveling as an opportunity, not just to see beautiful places and meet amazing people, but to practice your Spanish as well!