To make the most of your trip, and to save time and energy when you are there, it is worth doing some preparation. In some countries in South America it is difficult to get access to the internet, which makes it hard to look things up when you are there.
It is also worth doing your homework so you have some some basic knowledge, to avoid getting ripped off. Aside from the obvious like checking the currency and exchange rate, and visa and entry requirements, I suggest that you:
- find out what the locals wear. A Google image search can be enough. Do they cover up? In Muslim countries, you may find that people wear long clothes, so you might not want to wear shorts, even if it will be hot. Do they generally dress in smart or casual clothes? In Cuba, the women wear leggings and vest tops, and the men wear shorts and t-shirts. Older men wear trousers but everyone dresses in bright colours. I never saw anyone in a suit, and the smartest dressed people were the bus drivers.
Knowing how the locals dress will help you decide what to pack, so that you don’t draw attention to yourself. (See my posts Staying Safe and Spending as Little as Possible to learn the advantages of blending in.)
- Check the weather for the time of year: it sounds silly but I went to Rio de Janeiro in May and assumed that it would be warm as Brazil is a hot country, right?
- check the average rain fall for the time of year. It might be warm but it may still rain! I went to Japan in June
- Talk to people that have been there: the UK foreign office website may say lots of dramatic things about the country that you are planning to visit, but they seem to advise against going anywhere outside Europe. Someone that has been recently will know best, provided they went independently and didn’t go to a resort (staying in a tourist bubble isn’t going to teach you anything about the place that you are in).
If you don’t know anyone that has been, look online. There are lots of travel forums where people share their tips and stories. These can be very useful and you may learn something you hadn’t even considered.As well as the suggestions that I have covered, ask them:
how much they paid for taxisif there are any common scams to look out for
whether locals were friendly towards tourists if there are any areas where they felt unsafe
- Read about the recent history: this can give you a basis for further understanding the economic situation, the culture and how people live.
- Look up the minimum wage, so you have an idea of what is expensive in that country. For example, in Cuba, the minimum wage is 9-10 CUC per month, so when the taxi driver at the airport asks you for 30 CUC to take you into the city, you know you can laugh in his face.