Making the Decision to Travel to South America


A map of South America with arrows showing the planned path of travel around the Continent - Columbia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Home

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for tavel’s sake. the great affair is to move; to feel the needs and hitches of our life more nearly; to come down off this feather-bed of civilization, and find the globe granite underfoot and strewn with cutting flints.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

As some of you know, I am taking some time off work to do some semi-long term traveling. I’ve chosen to travel through South America for a few reasons: the dollar goes a long way there, Spanish is spoken in every country except Brazil and there are a bunch of beautiful things to see and do. Until recently, much of the continent has been caught in various states of political unrest. However, it appears that within the last 10 years things have cooled off and stabilized, and tourist traffic has increased. Countries experiencing this kind of economic and social turnaround are great places to visit as the people are generally excited to show off their country, and tourist/travelers are welcomed with a warmness that may not be found in countries jaded by years of tourism. Danger exists, but its important to remember that danger exists everywhere.

Making the decision to take time off from my career and my comfortable American life was not an easy one. I’ve taken shorter backpacking trips – 6 weeks in Europe and 3 weeks in India that gave me a taste of what life is like on the road, but this endeavor is something far more daunting, and far more exciting. There was a lot to think about at first, a lot of logistical questions to answer, a lot of “mind hurdles” to jump. What would my friends and family think? How and when should I tell my bosses my plan? When should I go? Where should I go? Can my retired self afford for my 30-yr old self to take 6 months off of 401k contributions? Is this a vain, selfish endeavor? What kind of diseases can I possibly contract while in SA? Will it be possible to get clean drinking water for my American gut? What will I do with all my stuff? Is it ok to spend a Thanksgiving and Christmas away from my family? What credit card to take? What debit card? What countries do I need a visa to enter? How much do I need to budget? What kind of gear do I need?

With the questions, doubts and fears swirling through my mind, I set a clear and actionable goal – 6 months solo backpacking in South America, starting in September of 2012 and ending with Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, in February of 2013. If my goal was to go for 3 weeks or a month, I knew I was less likely to succeed. The time was too short, the trip not interesting enough. “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal” – Tim Ferriss.

With the goal defined, the next steps became more clear. Before I had any plans booked, I started to tell friends about this trip I was going to take. At first I used words like “I’m thinking about taking this trip next year…”, or “I really want to travel in South America…” but as I began to talk about it, the trip became more real. Then, although I stil had not made any travel arrangements or spoken to my employer about it, I began to definitively tell people “I’m going to do some long term travel through South America at the end of next summer.” Well, now it was out in the open. Although people would forgive me if  I decided against taking the trip, once I told them that I was definitely going to do this thing, in my mind I would be a failure and a letdown if I did not follow through. This little bit of welcome social pressure has helped squash many otherwise pesky doubts about my trip. And with a defined goal I could do research to answer many of my questions.

So I’m now three months away from leaving. Before I leave I’ll provide some insight on how I answered the specific questions above. I’ll tell you about the reactions I’ve gotten from friends, family and the company I currently work for. I’ll talk about travel hacks that are helping me pay for parts of this trip – like how I got two round trip tickets to South America for free. I’ll talk about the gear I’m taking. And as I travel I’ll write about what I see and do, the people I meet, the awkward culture clashes I experience and the amazing time I’m about to have.

So if you’re interested, follow my RSS feed, on the right side of the home page, as shown in the image below:

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  • Uncle Will Cronan

    Brandon…Wish I would have done this when I had the chance. Do not, for whatever reason, worry another minute about the possible implications or what others may think. I heard someone say the other day “what are you going to do with this ONE life God gave you to live?” The only answer is to live it to the fullest! I love it when I see you young people taking these great adventures…you will never get your youth and the energy you have now back. Its the best time of your life to do this…everything else will find its natural course and you will be just fine. God speed on this trek…keep in touch…and be safe.
    Uncle Will
    PS – Get yourself a water filtration system – they have these killer UV ray one’s at REI that purify water in one minute. The UV light is built into the lid of the water bottle and by pushing a button illuminates the water killing all the groties in the water. You don’t want to be sick from 3rd world borne illnesses. Secondly, DO NOT touch drugs, at any time – you never know when your being set up — you do not want to end up in a foreign jail.

  • Mary Spallino

    I’m already hooked, Brandon! I feel like I’m taking this journey with you from the comfort of my own home! Good luck~ and don’t forget how much we love you!!