Issue - February 2016
Bolivia for Beginners
Traveling Alone in Bolivia with Limited Spanish and Common Sense; 10 Things to Consider When Traveling Alone for the First Time
La Paz - downtown
Photo by: Ximena Noya
It’s daunting if you haven’t done it before, but there is always a first time. If you choose Bolivia as your first journey to a new country, here are some tips from someone who’s done it; not knowing the language very well and also not quite knowing what to expect. The lessons I learned are things I think anyone can take heed of while navigating their way around a new country and a new culture.
1. Choose the bus when you can. The bus trips are usually done overnight and are fairly cost effective. Sure, planes are faster but they are also a lot more expensive and the buses provide a scenic view of the night, with stars brighter than any urban place. It also serves as a built- in accommodation while you’re travelling to and from a place. Why pay for lodging for another night?
2. Be vigilant at the bus station. There will be people shouting destinations at you from all directions and this can be overwhelming. Avoid these companies if you can; the logic being if the product is good, no one needs to rub your face in it. The same goes for traveling. I have used four different companies while traveling in Bolivia and the ones that shouted the loudest were the less comfortable ones. The earlier you book in the day the better.
3. Take a ‘Spanish to English’ dictionary with you everywhere you go, and memorize phrases that you feel will be useful to you. This way, if you’re ordering food or hailing a taxi you know what you have to say. Keep the questions short and directed to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer the best you can. More in-depth questions require a strong comprehension of Spanish, which can be difficult for learners. It’s also better to ask staff in establishments like a store, a café, or a hotel for directions. These people are more likely to understand English if needed and can be trusted more than strangers on the street.
4. Many assume Bolivia is warm all the time due to its proximity to the equator. Spoiler alert; it isn’t! You will find yourself from being in near sauna conditions to watching icicles form in your breath while a poodle sitting next you on the bus to Oruro licks your face. Take a sleeping bag and blankets and even a hot water bottle, hug the dog if you must. Just be prepared for anything that could come your way.
5. Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Wherever you go there will be hostels with other people on their own. Hunt them out online or use apps like Backpackr before you go to get an idea where these people are. This way you can make friends and share experiences with one another. But you don’t have to! You can travel alone and be fine; some people like to take a step back and let the surroundings envelope them. Remember, you will always meet people on tours.
Being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely. Wherever you go there will be hostels with other people on their own. Hunt them out online or use apps like Backpackr before you go to get an idea where these people are.
6. Research what tours you are taking; are they English speaking? Does the price include lunch? What is the transportation? Where will they pick you up from? Where will they drop you off? These are all very important questions to ask as they will determine the value of the tour. You wouldn’t want to be sat in the back of a five-seat Volvo in the middle of a six-hour tour with a non-English speaking guide which you had to walk 20 blocks to get to that morning, starving because you didn’t bring any food, with you left longing for that 20 block walk back to your hotelall of which you had the pleasure of spending 250 bolivianos for. The more research you do, the more you’re likely to get out of the tour.
Things to Consider When Traveling Alone
Photo by: Cochabanner
7. They say you won’t need expensive technology while you’re traveling. But of course you’ll want to be able to watch films and listen to music on the long journeys. So, I suggest getting a sports belt- they are slimmer than a standard money belt and made of lighter material so they aren’t cumbersome to wear. Wear it halfway up your chest and under your clothes and now your stuff is held and concealed on your person where you can feel and access it with ease. No, it’s never going to hold an iPad, but it could hold a small media player that should keep you entertained on a seven-hour overnight bus journey. Portable chargers are also a must! Your seemingly eternal cheap phone will eventually die when you most need it, and they are relatively inexpensive and provide a good backup.
8. Get a Bolivian phone. International charges on phones are ridiculous and can be a money drain without you even knowing. Bolivian pay-as-you-go phones are cost effective- about $30 including credit- and are even cheaper to call internationally than most phones. Also, by having and using an inexpensive phone in a public space, you don’t draw attention from thieves.
9. Be aware of your alcohol consumption. You’re most likely at a higher altitude than your body is used to, so that means your body and blood is getting less oxygen. By introducing alcohol into the equation you could get drunker faster. This puts you at risk of all sorts of dangers, especially in a place you don’t know very well. It is very easy to get drunk because your limits will have changed, so be mindful of how many drinks you’re having.
Be aware of your alcohol consumption. You’re most likely at a higher altitude than your body is used to, so that means your body and blood is getting less oxygen. By introducing alcohol into the equation you could get La Paz - downtown drunker faster.
10. Take photocopies of your passport and your visa. Interpol has been known to check passports of obvious travelers- if you aren’t doing anything wrong you have nothing to be worried about, but carrying your passport with you everywhere carries a certain amount of danger. By carrying photocopies you have all your personal details with you without the risk of losing your passport. Be aware of the fake policeman scam, though! A policeman is not likely to randomly stop you in the street. Continue walking, if they chase after you for a long way they are the real thing. Someone trying to pickpocket you won’t bother for too long.
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