Traveling, at least the long-term kind, is a life altering experience. There’s no investment quite like it, and I wouldn’t trade the past nine months of my South American tour for even the most modern of conveniences in the US. I have, however, run into several hiccups along the way (several occurred here in Buenos Aires), and I know a slew of others who have experienced similar, equally disastrous scenarios. If you’re reading this, you’re a traveler who will, undoubtedly, meet your own speed bumps along the proverbial road. But by following these five insider tips, you might avoid the same sticky situations I, and others like me, have encountered.
Before getting on a plane destined for the beautiful Buenos Aires, Argentina, ensure that all technology and electronics are glitch-free and updated, including laptops, iPods, iPads, Kindles, etc. Also, ensure all necessary cords and chargers are working properly. This is especially important for those of you coming to the city for an extended stay, in which case you will likely rely heavily on these items to study, work, keep comfortable and stay connected.
For those who, like me, decide not to update or check the state of your trusty tech equipment prior to traveling, prepare to drop some dough: imported tech products have about a 30% import tax. I came to Buenos Aires with a less than perfect (and slightly dog-chewed) Macbook charger…it had lasted for months in this sketchy state, what’s a few more, right? Wrong. I recently spent about $200 US on a new charger from one of the few authorized Apple resellers in the city, as opposed to the $80 US I would’ve spent at my local Apple store at home.
Have an external hard drive
Bring a hard drive or have an online drop box in the event of a computer meltdown. This tip goes hand-in-hand with the previous one, but here at LandingPad B.A., we think this bit of advice deserves its own section. Good workflow is important no matter where you are in the world, but complications certainly intensify when thousands of miles away from conveniences such as Apple Care, Dell Customer Service (haha!), or even some “PC Doctor.” For expats and students, the computer (and its contents) will probably be the most important piece of equipment, and any crashes will result in utter panic and stress. Come armed with a good Plan B for your important files and you’ll alleviate the stress.
I’ve witnessed this computer-loss chaos on several occasions, with both PCs and Macs. LandingPadBA’s owner just recently suffered a computer crash, but was intelligently armed with a hard drive. He restored his files on an old laptop and is able to continue work as normal.
Have an unlocked cell phone
Bring an unlocked cell phone with you when you travel to Buenos Aires, as you’ll likely use the pay-as-you-go chip system to communicate locally with other Porteños (local Buenos Aires residents). Buy one of those cheapo phones from Wal-Mart or Ebay, as both options are probably cheaper than the dated, low-quality phones (think green screen) offered here that cost about $50 US.
Even if you don’t think you’ll need an unlocked phone, I still suggest leaving your new, expensive smartphone at home unless you can be sure you can avoid any accidents. I’ve lost/had stolen two very pricey phones, ones I used only for Wi-Fi. It’s not worth it!
Have a back-up debit card
Should your debit card become lost or stolen, or should an ATM eat your card (yes, this happens), having a back-up debit card will keep you from borrowing money from your friends, or worse, from being flat broke while abroad. Once your card is gone, your options will be limited: restaurants don’t always boast a credit card payment option, and Western Union and other money gram organizations charge heavy taxes and fees for currency exchange.
Tragically enough, my Bank of America debit card was pick-pocketed during my travels a few months ago. After waiting for the card to arrive for almost two months, and consequently, incurring debt with my very understanding and generous roommates (thank you, amigos), I learned my lesson. I brought an inactive, unused debit card to Buenos Aires. This is one of the two cards Bank of America issued me when I first lost mine (as we thought the first was lost in post). Check with your bank to see the options for either issuing an alternative debit card for your account or providing you with an inactive one in case of an emergency.
*Hot Tip: Before arriving to Buenos Aires, Argentina, long-term travelers should consider opening an account with Schwab, or any other banking institution that refunds ATM fees or does not charge international swipe fees.
This last bit of insider travel advice is the catchall duffle bag of necessary toiletries and items crucial to happy, healthy travels. This bag varies for everyone, of course, but here are a few things I can’t live without when on the road. Some of these are available here in Buenos Aires*, and others you’ll need to bring from home.
Motion sickness medication – I prefer Dramamine
Pepto Bismol – pack the chewable tablets to avoid spills in your luggage
Pain reliever/ fever reducer
Here are a few other suggestions if you’ll be traveling by bus to other areas outside of Buenos Aires. These items are readily available here in the city, and are always nice to have. Think of this as your little boy scout pack.
Reusable water bottle – the water is safe to drink in Buenos Aires
Lip balm & Chapstick (if you have a preferred type or flavor)
Baby Wipes or Wet Ones antibacterial wipes
* Getting behind-the-counter medications is much easier in Buenos Aires than in the US. You don’t need a prescription as often. Should you need any antibiotics or the like, a Google search for the Spanish equivalent and a trip to the farmacia usually does the trick. That being said, have a quick check-up to make sure you don’t have any surprising medical maladies before travel. My wisdom teeth started painfully growing in a couple months ago, and there’s a chance I’ll need to have the removal surgery here in Buenos Aires. Prevention is the best medicine, especially when traveling!
This list of tips isn’t conclusive of all the problems you may experience while traveling, unfortunately. But armed with information I only wish someone would’ve given me before my travels, you should have a much smoother (but no less eventful) ride than I’ve had. Just remember, without the occasional chaos and stress, we probably wouldn’t appreciate the peace. Enjoy!