So, you decided to take the leap and study abroad in a foreign country. Congrats! Maybe in your semester abroad you want to become fluent at another language, broaden your taste pallet with a new world of culinary delicacies, or maybe you want to fully and completely immerse yourself in a new culture.
Maybe, like me, you’re looking for all of the above plus the opportunity to travel around a new continent—the weekend trips, the spring break expeditions, the post-semester backpacking journeys. If it’s your first time traveling around South America, get ready for a wonderful, life-changing experience.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned during my travels already:
- They call it backpacking for good reason. It’s difficult to wheel around a suitcase with you wherever you go (especially if your trip involves a lot of stops or a lot of walking), so a few years ago I invested in a 44L hiker’s backpack to take around with me when I travel. I haven’t regretted that decision once. The backpack makes it easy to walk around from bus station to hostel and vice versa, keeps your hands free, and helps you limit what you’re bringing to just the necessities. My best advice is to carry around a big backpack for all of your clothes and toiletries, and then have a smaller daypack or bag to carry the stuff you’ll use throughout the day (sunscreen, water bottle, wallet, etc).
- Don’t be scared to take the bus. Unlike in Europe, flights in South America are not cheap, even if you’re only traveling domestically through Argentina. Unless you book way in advance, it’s usually cheaper to hop on a luxury coach bus to get to your next destination. Even though some of the trips can be pretty long, the money you’re saving will be worth it—plus, if you hop on an overnight bus, you’ll be asleep for most of the trip and you’ll avoid paying for a hostel that night as well. If it’s a long route, spring for the cama or cama ejecutivo seats over the semi-cama, it’s usually only a few hundred more pesos, but it’s the difference between coach seats and first class in an airplane. Seats will recline back 180 degrees so it’s easy to fall asleep, and most buses offer meal services for long trips.
- Stay in a hostel. Hostels are much cheaper than Argentine hotels, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Most hostels are clean, safe, and they’re a great way to make friends with like-minded travelers! Check online to see if your hostel offers wifi or a free breakfast. Bring a lock (like the one you used in gym class) because a lot of hostels offer lockers for you to keep your luggage while you’re exploring during the day. If you don’t see any lockers, ask your receptionist if you can leave your bags with him or her at the desk or in a secure room during the day.
- Do your research! Whether it’s buying a guide book or looking at Pinterest posts, there’s a wide range of travel advice floating around online. I guarantee that for any trip you’re interested in taking, someone else has already done it and written a blog post with all of their advice. I am addicted to homemade YouTube videos of people’s Patagonian adventures and I love looking at bloggers’ travel itineraries and recommended activities.
- But leave a little room in your itinerary for changes. Although it’s best to have an idea of what you’re doing and where you plan to go for the duration of your trip, you don’t have to book everything months in advance. A lot of the smaller day trips, activities, or bus tickets can be arranged through tour agencies or hostels the day you need them—and often, that gives you the opportunity to negotiate prices and save some money. Waiting until the last minute is also good in this case because this way, if you meet locals or travelers who’ve already done your route, you can incorporate their advice for places to go or activities to skip as needed.
- Don’t let someone else plan your trip for you. While planning trips can be scary (especially if it’s your first time traveling in a foreign country!) don’t let someone else plan out every detail of your trip for you. Make sure that you’re spending your time (and money) visiting the sites that you’re interested in seeing, not just falling into convenient plans. Plus, if you spend time researching the places you go to, it’ll be much more satisfying when you actually get to see everything in person.
- Have fun! Things can always go wrong when you’re traveling—lost luggage, minor robberies, tours that were a waste of money—but it’s all part of the experience. Don’t let one bad event ruin a trip for you, no matter how serious it seems at the time. Having a good attitude and being optimistic can make travelling so much more rewarding. You’re a college student getting the opportunity to travel the world while everyone else is stressing for exams at home; make the most of your time here.
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<p>I am Maria Oldenburg, and I'm a sophomore Economics and International Studies double major at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. On campus, you can find me pretending to be a professional photographer, exploring the local coffee scene, or hopelessly planning my dream backpacking trip across Southeast Asia. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I can't wait to eat my weight in empanadas, learn quality puns in Spanish, and tango with the best of them during my semester in Buenos Aires!</p>