Backpacking through Latin America as a solo traveler is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. Here are some tips for people who want to do the same!
My biggest goal for 2018 is to be a more seasoned solo traveler, so I want to take more trips alone. These trips can be something as simple as going to a different neighborhood in Miami, or it could be something as extravagant as my solo trip to Medellín, Colombia.
The majority of my travel experience (whether independent or with a group) has taken place across Latin America. And due to outdated stereotypes and prejudices that persist about the region, I’ve encountered many individuals who are afraid to visit Latin America. Here’s a list of some general worries I hear about whenever I talk about my solo travel throughout the Americas, as well as some trips and tips that have worked for me in the region.
Disclaimer: This advice should be taken with a grain of salt. These tips are based solely on my experience traveling throughout various parts of Latin America, and my experience is in no way representative of the general population’s experience. This advice should be regarded as such, and it should not take the place of travel warnings and official information and alerts.
If you don’t speak Spanish…
Whether you’re a solo traveler or not, this can be a challenge!
I speak Spanish, but I have encountered many situations where store clerks or transportation officers don’t speak English. So, personally, heading off to Latin America without knowing Spanish would make me a little nervous. However, English-speakers are more prevalent in tourist destinations and large urban centers. In places like Patagonia and the Atacama Desert, it shouldn’t be much of a problem. I’d also imagine there are large concentrations of English-speakers in places like Cusco, although I’ve never been there myself.
With that being said, I’ve known many individuals who visited the region without knowing a drop of Spanish. They thrived, but I’d probably be too afraid to do this. There are some cities, however, that seem to have higher English-speaking populations than others. For example, Buenos Aires has many English-speakers, whereas throughout Colombia (even in Cartagena) there seemed to be fewer bilingual options. (This definitely has to do with which countries have been privy to the North American tourism market, but that’s a blog post for another time!)
If you’re nervous about hostels…
A solo traveler has tons of great options!
I love hostels, but I used to be afraid of them. I’ve never had trouble staying in one, but like I said in this blog post, I take every recommended precaution when I’m in a shared room. Hostels are super popular in the solo traveler community, and rightly so. They offer cheap accommodation, they’re usually in tourist hubs and high-traffic zones and the community aspect allows you to make travel companions as you go.
Despite all this, the general concept of a hostel is kind of terrifying. And inherently strange. And as a solo traveler, I was really nervous the first time I stayed in a hostel, too. (That fear disappeared once I actually stayed in one, but I remember it.) If you’re really nervous about a shared room, it’s not your only option. Your mental health is worth more than your money, so if it makes sense for you to stay in a hotel or a private room, do that instead.
However, if you’re set on trying a hostel, Hostelworld is a helpful database that allows you to read guest reviews and see photos about the establishment before you book a room, which you can also do through the site. This really helps me when I’m looking for a place to stay because sifting through hundreds of options any other way would be very draining.
If you’re nervous about machismo culture…
There are ways to feel comfortable as a solo traveler!
Machismo culture exists throughout Latin America whether you’re a solo traveler or not. This is a fact. And it can feel particularly unsettling when you’re alone in a new country and you’ve got men constantly approaching you and leering from afar. As a female walking alone, you will encounter catcalls and hissing. Men will shout preposterous marital propositions at you from various street corners. Somehow, your name will become everything from “mi reina” (“my queen”) to “mi vida” (“my life”).
No, this behavior is not okay. But, yes, it is a fact of life in Latin America. In my travels, I’ve tried various ways to combat it — dressing conservatively to avoid marriage proposals (doesn’t work), smiling at people in the street so they’ll see me as a person and not an object (doesn’t work) or even traveling in a large group (doesn’t work, so long as it’s an all-female group.) In my experience, the only way to eliminate this harrassment is to walk with a man.
This option doesn’t usually practical for me as a solo traveler, so the only thing I can do is ignore the harrassment. For me, the biggest discomfort comes from hearing these lewd comments. So, it helps me to walk around the city wearing headphones — but without actually listening music. I’m still alert to my surroundings, but I look more unapproachable.
Personally, I’ve never had any trouble traveling through Latin America as a solo traveler. But, again, my experience is not representative of everyone’s. Traveling anywhere — whether alone or in a group — has risks. But for me, Latin America is definitely worth it.
Have any other questions or any tips about being a solo traveler? Drop me a comment below! I’d love to hear from you!
(Header Image: Andes Mountains in the Atacama Region. | Chile)