Tuesday, 5 November 2019


When we first planned to come to South America almost a year ago, we listened eagerly as people gave us pearls of travel advice. Ironically, the more you hear that you need to be careful and flexible and maybe should go somewhere safer, the more you want to ignore the lot of them. So, even after a year of warnings, we never imagined that on Day ONE of our trip we would hastily be cancelling a flight, rescheduling weeks of our itinerary and missing out an entire country!

I’ve heard some pretty insincere ‘good luck’s in my time but telling people in the UK that we would be backpacking South America was a whole new ball game. One dear customer who asked about my plans couldn’t even manage more than the ‘guh’ sound, apparently physically incapable of expressing any goodwill towards my decision, as a young and vulnerable female, to take on the streets of Rio de Janeiro. Even the fact that I was going with two other people provided little reassurance. I may as well have told him I was planning a jolly in the warzones of Syria.

You’ve probably worked out that Georgie and I don’t like being told we can’t do things, especially if the reason that we can’t do them is: we are women. That said, we also know that unfortunately, you simply can’t be an on-street feminist in certain cultures. As the only woman on the plane flying into Chennai (southern India) back in April, I had a pretty unsavoury reminder that equality has a long way to go. Just by being on that plane I was drawing attention to myself, and it was certainly not the time or place to start flashing my armpit hair or demanding that people stop staring.

It’s not anti-feminist to research where you’re going, dress appropriately, abide by curfew warnings and keep your wits about you; it’s just not being stupid.
We booked our route across South America a long time ago, and always planned to spend six weeks travelling between Rio and Santiago before heading over to New Zealand for a wonderful sunny Christmas.

The guy working in our hostel is Argentinian. After enthusiastically talking to us about what we can do around Buenos Aires, his face dropped when we mentioned that we intended to spend two weeks around Santiago. He simply shook his head at us and said, “People are going missing in Chile. Tortured. Killed. Stay in Argentina.” 

And that’s when I learnt that a tone of voice can be more powerful than a stream of BBC news articles.

We’d seen that Chile was rioting, but not thought much of it. After all, we were so used to the looks of disapproval and repeated reminders than South America is dangerous, we had almost become immune to the warnings. On arrival, the people of Rio (including a lovely friend of Georgie’s who has lived here for three years working for an incredible charity and who took the time to show us around - love to you, Rosie!) confirmed that the concerns of the city being dubious were not to be disregarded, but were certainly over-exaggerated. We were encouraged to go out and enjoy ourselves. Perfect. So when the locals too advised us against Santiago, we realised that we may have bitten off more than we can chew. There are warnings from a pensioner who has never left Norfolk, and then there are warnings from people whose neighbours are favelas controlled by drug-gangs.
 No, we don’t like being told we can’t do something because we’re vulnerable. But some things, like the desire not to be kidnapped or murdered, make that particular pill easier to swallow.

Not to mention the fact that our decision was made a lot easier by the fact that Georgie accidentally bought travel insurance when she booked our flight from Buenos Aires to Santiago.

So, after a little bit of research into costs and scheduling, we’re no longer going to be travelling Chile. Instead, we are thinking of exploring more of Argentina - maybe the mountains of Patagonia, or going over to the salt deserts in Bolivia. We’ll also be spending longer in places along the route in Brazil. We’ve only been in Rio for a few days, and are already absolutely in LOVE with the city and its people.

So, five lessons after Day One of travelling: 

  • Don’t become too proud to ignore people’s advice. It’s tedious hearing the same old warnings, but there’s a fine line between bravery and stupidity!
  • Although the idea is to get away from home, don’t shut yourself off to global affairs and the news!

  •  An accidental extra £15 to have flexible flights might be the wisest £15 you’ve ever spent.

  • Whilst having a loose plan is important in terms of budgeting and peace of mind, don’t become too attached to it. You HAVE to be flexible.

  • Talk to people who have been to the countries your visiting, especially natives - their advice is invaluable!

Love, Haze xxxxxxxxxxx

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