by Clarissa Sosin ’13
(This was written by Clarissa when she was studying abroad in Chile)
Traveling without my parents is something new to me. My first trip alone was last summer when I went to Valencia in Spain for a weekend by myself. It was simple. I had been in Madrid for 6 weeks studying with Syracuse and as a final hurrah I booked a roundtrip train ticket and found a hostel. I’d say my only real mistakes were not knowing ahead of time that most of the museums and things to do would be closed during one of my days there and the type of luggage I brought (a piece of advice: invest in a good and big hiking backpack. It’s worth it not having three little bags when you don’t want to travel with your huge suitcase.) That trip gave me confidence and also made me laugh at my mom. I thought, “Planning trips isn’t that hard! Why is she always complaining!” Oh how wrong I was.
Right now I’m currently studying abroad in Chile and on the long weekends I’ve been trying to take advantage of having such easy access to so many amazing places. So far I’ve been to Mendoza, Easter Island and San Pedro de Atacama. By the end of the year I’ll have also been to Pucon, Valdivia, Patagonia, Buenos Aires, Northern Argentina and Valparaiso. The three big trips that I’ve taken were amazing. Each destination was gorgeous and full of new things to explore. I’ve learned and experienced a ton. Also, each trip was better than the last. With each mistake made I used what I learned in the next trip. Each trip got smoother, better, and cheaper. I was wrong after my trip to Valencia. Traveling is hard. Here is my advice so maybe it will be easier for you!
Number of people: I love everybody in my Tufts-in-Chile group but honestly a group of fifteen people traveling together is too much! All fifteen of us went to Mendoza together back in August as our first trip. It was complicated. We kept losing people and disagreeing. It’s hard to please everybody at once and we lost a lot of time that could have been spent seeing the city trying to agree. Smaller is better. Easter Island was a smaller group of only seven people that then was divided into two groups of three and four. It was better but even that was too many at times. The best was San Pedro de Atacama. I went with only one other girl and it was amazing. My advice: find one or two people that have similar travel styles and stick to them.
Tickets: BUY THEM EARLY AND LOOK AT ALL OF YOUR OPTIONS! It’s less expensive and helps you be more organized. Mendoza was a spur of the moment decision and while it was inexpensive because we took a bus ride, we didn’t have much time to research good hostels or activities. I bought my plane flights to Easter Island and to San Pedro de Atacama much earlier and it was better. The only thing I’d change is the amount of money I spent. We went straight to the LAN website and bought what was available. Browse a little more. Some good sites are kayak.com or if you are in Latin America, despegar.com. Also if you book your tickets separately from the other people you are traveling with make sure you book the correct date… that happened to a friend of mine.
Do your research: Use every source available, the Internet, guidebooks, friends and even strangers. Knowing where is a good place to sleep and what activities are a must-do before arriving will help you figure out logistics when there. As friends who have been there before where they stayed and what they did. They can tell you what they loved and what they would have done differently. Guidebooks are really great too. I know print is going extinct and the Internet is taking over our lives but they are really handy when you are in a bus terminal without Internet access. My favorite is Lonely Planet. It even has maps of certain areas in case you are lost. Hostelworld.com is a great site to find ratings on hostels and hotels but just keep in mind that it doesn’t have everything. We booked our hostel late for San Pedro de Atacama and it was over a long weekend so everything was full. We thought that we were going to have to stay in the worst rated hostel on Hostelworld.com but in the end we found an amazing hostel by just searching in Google! Also, speaking of hostels, meet people in hostels! Strangers that you meet in hostels can be great sources for travel advice. I met one couple that is currently halfway through a yearlong trip that is going to email me about what did in when they were in Northern Argentina.
Bring food: Making sure that your hostel has a kitchen and packing food to cook can save you a lot of money. Try the local dishes but bring food for breakfast and snacks. Also you can buy fresh things in supermarkets to supplement what you bring with you. Staying at a hostel that has breakfast included is convenient as well.
Pack light and use a backpack: Invest in a big, preferably sixty-five liters or bigger, hiking backpack! It’s a life savior. It’ll fit everything, food and clothing, plus some. You can also double up on backpacks. Carry a smaller one with your important documents etc in front of you and you’ll be well balanced and have something convenient to carry around what you need during the day. A backpack is much better than an annoying suitcase when you are wandering around trying to find your way and when you are in crowds, metros, or even just climbing stairs. Also if you are traveling with a friend try to only pack one shampoo, one toothpaste etc. Having communal things will lighten up your loads a lot.
My last bit of advice: HAVE FUN! 🙂