South America Travel Wise...
Travel smart and rip the benefits
South America Travel © Dieter Spears/Istockphoto
Am I going to be safe in South America?..
This is a question that crops up very often in our website, thus South America travel wise was born, to address issues that will definitely help you to have both, a safe and pleasurable South America experience.
We aren't authorities by any standard, but after traveling South America and most of the world for over three decades - and counting - we have learnt a thing or two we'd like to share with you.
Carrying expensive Nikon and Leica gear through several continents for years makes you specially aware of the risks involved, so personal and property safety is considered below.
Is Europe safe?....is North America safe?...and how about Asia or Africa? Are they safe places to travel around? Very vague and broad question that take us nowhere.
The answer is both yes and not.
Your South America travel experience will be as safe as you want it to be.
It's a poverty stricken region, with a huge gap between rich and poor - a trend we increasingly see throughout the world nowadays, whether we talk about emergent economies or the so called first world countries.
Be aware of this fact, irrelevant of the continent you are traveling to.
Personal safety is a very flexible word, particularly when traveling abroad - away from the comfort zone of our home town, language and familiar faces - because it's our own acts and behavior the ones to determine the outcome of it.
Or at least in most cases.
Throughout the years, we have never been robbed, however, we've been through both, delicate and plain dangerous situations more than once.
Pay attention to the following South America travel wise tips and you will be on your way to enjoy a very unique (and safe) South America travel experience of your own.
South America Travel Wise:
- Learn a few basic words or carry a common phrase dictionary.
With the exception of Brazil (official language is Portuguese), Malvinas Islands (English) and the Guianas (with a huge blend of cultures and languages spoken), Spanish will take you anywhere in South America. It's also a show of respect and consideration on your part to learn the basics while interacting with locals.
Be courteous, be humble, be respectful at all times. Very important South America travel wise tip!
- Learn something in advance about the country you are travelling to.
Pay close attention to the way you dress - particularly if you are a woman - what you wear at home might not be appropriate in other cultures. Traditions and religious issues are also very important, never disregard other people's believes. Always remember that you are the foreigner. Behave as such.
- Leave your Rolex or any other expensive jewelry at home.
You travel to discover and to enjoy your time abroad, not to impress anyone, right? So keep your valuables in the right perspective.
- Leave your passport in the hotel/hostel safe. Idem for credit card/s.
Carry only a photocopy of your passport in case you are approached by the police. Basic but valuable South America travel wise tip.
You don't want to spend your vacations doing paperwork at the Consulate.
- Always, always, carry some cash with you (even a fifty dollars note).
In case of being robbed you have something to give away, instead of facing the frustration of the robber/s. If they are under the effect of drugs it could be harder to reason and violence could take place. Somebody needs to remain cool and to inspire confidence, yourself!
- Keep a list of Consulates and contact info you own country has abroad.
In the unlikely event that you find yourself in trouble, find the way to contact the nearest ASAP.
By being ready you can act faster.
- Don't walk like an elephant in a glasshouse.
Be aware of the surroundings while strolling around. Scan with your eyes and relax. It doesn't mean to get paranoid by any means, only aware and conscious of the road you are walking into. In time you'll develop the sense of potential danger or weird situations. In other words, you'll learn to smell danger.
- Walk with confidence.
The way you carry yourself it's very important, particularly if you are on your own in distant places. Your body language speaks louder than words to the occasional observer. Never forget that.
If you feel you are being followed, just walk into the nearest shop and ask for a taxi or call your hotel to send you one. Otherwise, ask for help to the nearest person you find around.
If alone, face it and negotiate your best.
- Don't play Rambo (unless you are one, of course):
If attacked, never, ever show fear, even if you are scared shitless. Stay calm, stay cool. Look into the eye and try to be friendly and reasonable. Never confrontational. Keep control of yourself at all times.
The same apply if you come across to a mad dog. Yes, the four legged animal!...they sense fear more than humans do.
- Avoid walking alone at night in poorly lit areas.
Just about any city has areas or suburbs where is not recommended to visit, day, night or both. Learn about which are they upon your arrival. Pick the brain of your hotel's concierge to get you started and by engaging in conversation with other guests. They might be more experienced than yourself.
Yes, your South America travel experience would also benefit from a bit of common sense as well, like anywhere else in the world.
- Evaluate carefully if ever asked for a bribe by a corrupt officer.
At an isolated border crossing for instance, you may be at the mercy of the local authorities. They can make life harder for you in some cases. Acknowledge when you lack a negotiation angle. Apart from the language barrier, you don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere in inferiority of conditions, do you?
Get out of there as fast as you can, even if you end up a couple of hundreds dollars shorter.
- Don't hang your camera/filming gear around you neck like an Olimpic Gold medalist.
You can be detected at hundred meters away by doing so. The least you want is to call attention to yourself. What's the need for it? Are you in the advertising business by any chance? Need to impress somebody?
Keep all your stuff in a cheap backpack instead, or a discreet vest, and use your gear when need it. Avoid fancy, branded camera bag because they advertise loudly what you're carrying inside.
- Dress to blend-in rather than to stand-out.
Spend a few dollars and dress like locals do. No need to advertise your condition as foreigner, right? If you're tall, blonde and blue eyed you will automatically be conspicuous in several countries in South America. Wear a hat or cap, sunglasses and keep a low profile to minimize the impact.
Besides, summer or winter temperatures will force you to do so anyway, use them to your advantage. Be a smart gringo or gringa, not a natural target.
- Travel light.
Limit yourself to one piece of luggage if you could, and not too big. You will be both, able to move faster and to have less things to worry about while on the road.
- Finally, remember the old Arab Proverb: "Trust Allah but tie your camel"
Whichever religion you fancy it's your personal choice, just remember that nobody is going to cover your lower back side unless you do. You get the message, do you?
That's all for South America travel wise tips for now. Feel free to bring your own tips to the table, we'll be more than happy to add your personal recollection of travel wise tips. Just contact us.
Travel safe, travel smart and above all...Enjoy it!