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5 Things I Hate About Traveling Long-Term in South America

Earlier this month I wrote about 5 things I love about living and traveling long term in South America. Let’s be honest though; moving to a new continent, a new culture is not always sunshine and rainbows. Here are some of the things I have grown to hate after living and traveling in South America for two years.

Street Harassment

South America Travel

South America Travel – Street Harassment Graffiti – Photo by Gigi Ibrahim

Moving to South America, I have learned to endure a completely different level of street harassment. Catcalls here are non-stop. The men have no problem getting right in my face to call me “linda, linda” and it’s not just young boys who do it. The other day I had a man, clearly in his 60s, catcall me as I walked down the street and follow me for half a block. It’s even more unnerving considering I’ve been robbed by men, acting just like that, twice. They don’t see it as a problem and the women here ignore it for the most part but one of these days, I swear, I’m going to snap and slap someone.

Getting the “Gringo Price”

It’s different when I’m traveling. I have extra money and I can afford to pay more than the locals so when I get a price a bit higher than the price I know is right, I usually don’t fight it too much. Living and traveling long term in South America though, I have begun to really hate the double standard. I make much less than I did in the US and can’t afford to always be paying the gringo price. The problem though is that I can’t hide the fact that I am a foreigner. Even if my Spanish was good enough, I still have light hair, light skin, and freckles. I stand out and that means I pay more – sometimes a LOT more.

It’s All About Who You Know

I know, I know; this was on the “5 Great Things About South America List” but it’s also one of the things I hate. Moving to South America, being an outsider, a foreigner, has definitely made life a bit more difficult. In the US I knew there was a system; it wasn’t always fair but at least there was a set standard and common set of rules for everyone. Not so in my experiences of living and traveling in South America. When people here don’t know the “rules” they make up rules and unless you know someone higher up, you’re stuck. Not knowing the “right” people has left me scammed and frustrated on more than one occasion. Basically the bureaucratic system seems designed to see you fail.

Import Taxes (Especially on Electronics)

Electronics here are ridiculously expensive and my MacBook Air, even being a bit beat-up and a few years old, could easily cover the cost of a few months of expenses for the average local. Luckily I have never lost it, but back when I first came to South America, I did have to replace my older, much loved and incredibly reliable Dell. Computers (and cameras and most other electronics) in South America are heavily taxed which meant my new computer was going to cost over $1,000 US Dollars more in Colombia than in the US. If you are coming long-term to South America, invest in a new camera, computer, and any other electronic you need and love first.

The Wealth Disparity

South America Travel

South America Travel – Wealth Disparity

Ok, another one related to money – I hate seeing the wealth disparity in South America. It’s extreme and so much more obvious than in most areas of the US. Here people spend $1,000 USD a night on a nice dinner in the major cities but at the same time, right outside, there are people living on the street – whole families. Colombia is actually one of the worst offenders being #3 country in the world for wealth disparity. The result is a negative attitude in the people towards anyone not in their social-economic class.

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