Here it is the post you have all been waiting for….the tips and tricks of traveling in Colombia. If 25 years of road trips, airplane flights, hitchhiking and a few international voyages are enough to qualify me as an expert opinion please keep reading because this post is going to give you the pieces of advice I have learned from a lifetime of traveling solo, with parents and with friends. If you are a registered democrat and voted for Obama please click HERE for the official travel advisory from the US State Department. If you are a Freethinker, Hippy, Libertarian, Sovereign, Anarcho-Punk Rocker, Cowboy/Cowgirl, Native American, Latin American, Anglo-American, British, Catholic, Christian, Muslim or any other conceivable idea or label; then keep reading because this is for you!!!
Planning Your Trip
I am very fond of lists, I like to keep lists of places I want to go, things to pack, errands and pretty much any other type of information that can be organized into a column with numbers and/or stars. You don’t have to be a list maker but it helps. At the very least there are a few things that even a light weight dirty hippy should carry.
1. Passport: I hate borders but as long as they exist there will always be an asshole with a gun to guard them so know the entry/exit requirements before you cross that bridge or board your flight.
2. Baby Wipes & Toilet Paper: Sometimes even the cleanest person has to skip a shower or two when hopping across continents and enduring layovers. Don’t sit in your filth scratching that itch down there because after 24 hours of travel it might turn into more than an itch. A change of clean underwear helps, toss the old pair so you don’t have to smell it in your purse.
3. Cash: There is a lot of shit you can live without but in Colombia and many parts of south America cash is one thing that you should have. Not only is it easier and more discreet than a credit card but the ATMs suck and some businesses don’t accept credit cards. If you allow that bum on the corner to help you load your suitcases don’t be a cheap ass, hand over a few coins so he can buy a cigarette or eat some lunch. If you park your car in an area that has a bum guarding it, be prepared to pay a few coins or a small bill when you get back that way he doesn’t rob your ass if you park there again later.
Language and Customs
This is a tricky subject because we all have different perceptions and different styles of communication. However there are a few things you should know and be aware of when you are not in your home country.
1. “Come Here”: in the north American continent we are accustomed to a little upward crook of the finger, a small come hither wave with the palm facing up or even a whistle if you are talented enough. In South America all you have to do is flip your palm downward and act like your feet smell bad. In Brazil just pretend you are dropping coins by opening and closing your fist palm down.
2. Excuses are your friend: don’t say no to an invitation, that’s just rude. Instead just insist that you are busy because of whatever crazy thing you have to do and consider actually saying yes the next time. You might actually enjoy it.
3. Strangers: Remember when you were 5 and your mommy said to be a good kid and don’t talk to strangers? Bitch slap that piece of advice and grow up because asking for help and advice can save you a lot of time and trouble. The world is a big scary place but only if you act like it is. Some of the best travel experiences I have ever had came from talking to strangers and going home with them too! I’m not saying you should wander into the ghetto or break bread with the smelly bum on the corner, just trust your instincts, use your judgement and know your limits.
4. Spanish: Colombia is a beautiful country, it has friendly people and it is rapidly developing. However, knowing basic Spanish can save you a lot of time and frustration. At the minimum you should get off your ass, learn numbers up to 1,000,000, days of the week, basic greetings, commands and directions. This is not Europe or New York City and a little respect goes a long ways, the best way to show it is by being prepared to communicate.
Traveling is a far out experience that can change your perceptions of the world, challenge your beliefs and expand your mind. I’m not saying that bad things don’t happen, sometimes you get robbed while trying to buy some weed in Bogotá, but don’t let it ruin the experience. If you are observant of your surroundings, careful with your belongings and aware of your limits then you have a chance to see and experience amazing things. It doesn’t matter if you are alone or in a group as long as you are obeying the laws and using your judgement. Don’t be afraid of strangers, traveling is very boring at times so get to know the people around you and be willing to take a chance or allow some spontaneity to happen. Happy Trails!!