We’ve been doing a lot of research, but the internet can only tell you so much… or so little. What better way to get feedback, than from two of our oldest friends (they’re barely 30, so not old… but long-standing, even further back than Paul and I). Ok, you get the point. Basically we trust them. Their answers gave us great insight into not only the travel logistics, but also the experience. So here are a lot of questions.
Nate and Jenn spent four months living and volunteering in Buenos Aires, traveling to nearby Iguazu Falls, Mendoza and Uruguay. It’s been 7+ years since their trip, and in their words, kinda flew by the seat of their pants. Sorta sums up our flight plan.
Dani and John decided to head west from NYC after their wedding in 2011. They shipped their belongings to SLC, and then traveled for nearly 9 months, popping back and forth to the states on standby so as not to miss big holidays and friends’ weddings. (We’re a little jealous of this kind of flexibility, as Paul and I will be missing two close friends’ weddings, Christmas, Thanksgiving, and lots of birthdays). Their trip was a big inspiration for ours.
Check out their blog to see more. http://daniandjohnkucera.wordpress.com/
G E N E R A L P L A N N I N G
1. What immunizations did you get and were they needed?
N+J: None, but I know we checked on the CDC website beforehand to be sure we didn’t need any.
D+J: We spoke to our doctor and told her the places we were going. We got everything she recommended. Rabies, tetanus, all hepatitis, prescription for malaria pills but never bought (expensive, bad side effects, countries we traveled weren’t high risk), z pack (never used), acetazolamide (for high altitude, never used), ciprofloxacin (never had to use but glad we had it, would recommend it), basic first aid kit. We also had water purification drops for trekking – needed them in Patagonia but not in Nepal.
2. Any tips on finding good accommodation either before or during travel?
N+J: We went through Craigslist of all places to find our apartment (as we were staying for 3.5 months) and landed a place with WiFi in the Palermo neighborhood (which I’d recommend staying in if you go to BA as it is safe, hip, central and has killer food) for a reasonable price (everything was 1/3 the cost here at the time). Aside from that, for our side trips to Iguazu (can’t miss waterfall on the border of Brazil and Paraguay), Mendoza, and the beaches of Uruguay, we either found accommodations at hostels online (which was pretty straight forward) or had our trip planned for us through the volunteer agency we found when we were down there.
D+J: Trip Advisor worked well for us. Kayak and Hotwire – to see what’s out there and get a sense of pricing. Personal recommendations from other travelers on the road.
3. Things you wish you would have done – Pre-travel recommendations
N+J: I thought we nailed it during our trip. Would definitely recommend BA (take a Tango class, drink Mate, eat incredible steak, hit a discotec, volunteer for a children’s organization/visit Ciudad Oculta (with a chaperone, don’t go alone), etc.), el Tigre (like 45 minutes outside of BA), Montevideo (beaches in Uruguay), Mendoza (wine / olive country), Iguazu Falls (can’t miss, with great hiking in addition to spectacular views at the falls), and Ciudad del Este in Paraguay (literally a lawless town just outside of Iguazu—be very careful (rent a moto-taxi into the city from Iguazu—super cheap. Don’t buy anything as it likely will be helping fund terrorism. Crazy experience that I loved though).
4. Travel resources, websites we should use abroad. Other logistical advice?
N+J: be sure to use several resources.
D+J: Travelers you meet are a great resource! Talk to a lot of people.
– When you’re thinking about how long to spend in a given location make sure you consider transit times (at least 2 days). It takes a while to get to and from the airport, especially when you’re traveling on a budget. (i.e. 24 hr bus ride from Buenos Aires to Bariloche, 30 hr bus from Bariloche to El Chalten).
– Min. stay in given location 2 nights. Takes a while to travel, find accommodation, get oriented, and go through all frustrations…
Talk to as many people as possible!! Locals and other travelers. Learn their stories. – Dani
5. Financial tips-exchanging money, credit cards, safety belt, saving money.
N+J: Safety belt for sure. Obviously check with your financial institutions in advance to let them know you are going and ask what sort of ATM fees you’ll incur. We used cash primarily. I called my banks in advance to get advice
Dani: John wore a money belt that fit under his pants. We found it was the best because it would be really hard to pick pocket. John carried most of the money and I carried day cash. We opened a new checking account with only our travel money and a linked debit card . We had a cc that didn’t charge foreign transaction fees and a backup cc in case the others were stolen (i.e. one Amex, one Visa). Travel with minimal cash – have $150 USD for emergencies and no more than $500 in total currency in case it was to be stolen. We found that the best way to exchange money (taking into account exchange rates and fees) was to use an ATM card that had minimal fees for foreign exchange. We also took copies of all important documents (credit cards, passport, driver’s license, etc) and gave one to our parents and kept one copy with us.
6. Culturally sensitive areas? How did you deal with it, prepare before? What was it?
Nate: Castellano Spanish is rapid-fire and much more difficult to understand than “Mexican” Spanish (different slang and super quick dialect). We took a two-week crash course when we arrived after I determined I was out of my league and then we were good to go.
D+J: India, Israel, Japan. We tried to research local customs before each country and a few words that we could use. We tried our best to be sensitive and polite as possible. Dressing appropriately was important in these places too. We also tried to read the local news so we could speak to locals.
7. Did you volunteer or work abroad and how did you find it? Did you pay for the experience?
N+J: Because it was so expensive to sign up with an organization in advance, we found one when we arrived in BA. Check out L.I.F.E. http://www.lifeargentina.org
D+J: We taught at a small school during our trek in Nepal and did not pay. It was an incredible experience and I would highly recommend some form of volunteering. It gives you a chance to make meaningful contact and hopefully can lead to interesting conversation. I remember I went on a long walk around the small town with one of the students. It was great to speak with her one on one and learn about her aspirations, struggles, and life.
8. Things to avoid? (ie. food, ppl, experiences, types of locations)
N+J: We just used our best judgment. Be extremely vigilant / careful, especially when visiting Ciuded del Este, Ciudad Oculta, etc. if you do so.
D+J: Based on stories we heard we decided to avoid meat and uncooked/raw foods in high risk areas (i.e. India, Nepal) in effort not to get sick. We didn’t get sick, not sure if that was the reason. The food was still delicious. We tried to always eat hot, cooked food.
9. What did you do when/if you got sick? From what – food, water, meds (malaria), vaccines?
N+J: Fortunately, neither of us got sick.
D+J: I threw up once after eating a tomato in Nepal, and I had a really bad chest cold in Spain. John was never sick
Health was the most important thing in our opinion. When I did get sick, we put everything on hold until I felt 100%.
10. Looking back would you do anything differently? (i.e. last minute train ticket in India, different accommodations, time of year, etc).
N+J: Wish we’d had more time to visit Cordoba (great if you like history and architecture) and Patagonia. Knowing your love of outdoor activities, Patagonia would be right up your alley, but it’s way far south.
Dani: I would have liked to take the train in India! haha. I think we feel pretty content on this because we did our weekly review and had a chance to ask ourselves “what would we have done differently?” and implement it into the next week or leg of our trip. I wish I would have had one question to ask the people I met. It would be interesting to see how the answer would or wouldn’t change by culture or region. (Something along the lines of what is the meaning of life – ok not that deep but something like it).
G E A R
1. What couldn’t you live without?
N+J: Good walking shoes—we walked around a ridiculous amount.
D+J: good pack and small day pack, head lamp, buffs, sleeping bag liner, dry fit anything (socks and underwear), John really liked his convertible zip pants, lightweight dry fit warm layer, international power converter (ours had about 5 different socket settings), baby wipes (for bathrooms with no toilet paper and “showers”), hand sanitizer, lulu leggings
2. Did you have non-essential item that you were glad you packed? (ie. a good camera vs just an ok one)
N+J: Wish we’d brought a better camera, though an iPhone 5 these days would be fine
D+J: Journal, earplugs, baseball cap. Our bags filled up pretty quickly so we were glad we didn’t bring too many non-essentials. The only camera we had was our iPhone – it worked well.
3. What item did you wish you left at home?
D+J: Real books, any papers or research (they just take up too much space and are heavy)
L O C A T I O N
1. Your top experiences. Where were they and what made them great?
N+J: If you can, try to take a volunteering trip to Iguazu (and at the very least be sure to see it). We worked for several days at a remote village, playing / teaching children, de-lousing them, teaching hygiene, preparing meals, etc., then spent several days afterward exploring Iguazu Fallz, Foz du Iguacu (Brazil side of the falls), and Ciuded del Este. That and our trip to Mendoza were incredible. And BA is so amazing; I don’t even know where to begin.
The experiences we had volunteering were incredible. – Nate
Dani: All treks (Patagonia and Nepal), volunteering in Nepal, living in Bariloche and studying Spanish for one month, Jerusalem (Dead Sea and Old City religious sites), biking in NW.
John: visiting Old City and major sites in Jerusalem, trekking in Nepal and S. America, sea kayaking with fins and snorkels in Thailand.
D+J: We’ve been to a lot of big cities but we’ve learned that we wouldn’t go back to big cities, we might avoid them if possible. We’d stay only to transition to a small town. Both of us loved the time we got to spend with friends and family living abroad. Also meeting my parents in Spain was fun.
2. Your favorite places. Why and what made them top choices?
N+J: See above. If you like the beach, definitely check out Montevideo.
Dani: – treks in Nepal: for the physical challenge and opportunity to become part of the culture, amazing nature. Patagonia: challenge of trek, opportunity to learn Spanish and really live in a foreign place, have group of friends. Israel.
John – Israel, Nepal, Patagonia.
3. What places would you leave out and why?
N+J: Given that you’ll likely have limited time, I’d stick with BA and Iguazu as those were the best. Mendoza is a close third.
D+J: None – we tried to have a good reason for going each place, whether it was seeing friends or family, or a place that would be less accessible later in life.
4. What kind of experiences do you wish you could have done more of?
D+J: More outdoors, would have been fun to volunteer a little longer and learn Spanish a little longer
5. Where do you still want to go and why?
D+J: The interior of Turkey (hiking), Alaska, Eastern Europe and Russia, Mongolia, Croatia, New Zealand, backpacking in the Alps
6. Where would you go back?
D+J: Japan, Nepal, Patagonia, SE Asia
Any other tips or recommendations? planning, research, gear, while traveling, to prepare (physically, emotionally)
D+J: We researched and sought out places to exercise (Bikram and spinning in Prauge; tennis and gym in Dehli; tennis, yoga, and joined gym in Bariloche; spinning in Bangkok; jogging in lots of places)
D+J: goals were important for us. Time goes by incredibly fast and it’s nice to know the things you want to achieve
D+J: pre-dawn hikes with headlamps to see the sun rise
There [are] going to be a lot of challenging times. – Dani
Nate: as long as you and Paul stick together you will be fine and will have the experience of a lifetime (can’t tell you how jealous we are), given what good travel companions you made for one another during your Europe trip. Jenn and I were apart for literally only one afternoon when Jenn was too tired to volunteer and we couldn’t have had a better time. I bring this up because…
…having one another tempered the cultural isolation we felt.
A lot of days we’d just wander around and end up doing one random activity or another, which is kind of our preferred style for this sort of thing.