Updated on June 13, 2010
6 Things I Wish I had done before going to Uruguay
I’m not going to say that I have not traveled some before. I am not going to say that I expected traveling in a Spanish speaking country to be really easy for a native English speaker. I’m saying that I was really dumb when I was preparing for Uruguay, and there are a few things I wish I had done before leaving.
I say that I have traveled before, but very differently from how Sand and I are traveling now. I have gone on two international trips: the first was an Educational Tour through England and France, and the other trip was one organized by my church to Ireland and Scotland. With both trips that I have gone on, our itinerary was preplanned, our accommodations and travel expenses prepaid, and I could even print off a schedule of what we would be doing and where we would be going each day. Basically, I went on two cookie-cutter tours to see the sights and do some of the touristy things in a few Western European countries.
This did not prepare me for roaming around Uruguay.
1. One of the biggest, and most obvious, differences between the US and Uruguay is the language. I have studied some Spanish, but not a ton; I took 3 years of Spanish classes in high school. So when Seth and I planned our trip I was not overly worried about being able to speak Spanish, but hadn’t taken a class in over a year so I began taking conversational Spanish classes at the Spanish Center at my school, Elon University.
Although I’m glad that I took the classes right before leaving, they did not help me much with what I have the most difficulty with: listening. Because my Spanish education has mainly consisted of reading and writing Spanish, as many students’ education is, I have the hardest time listening to Spanish and figuring out what is being said, even if I could say that sentence myself.
I wish that I had concentrated more on listening to Spanish and recognizing the words. Seth did a better job at this that I did and listened to Spanish tutorials online and Rosetta Stone Spanish. Therefore he can more effectively understand what is being said to him than I can.
2. I also wish I had just gotten over myself. One of the hardest parts of not speaking Spanish well for me was
then being afraid to speak in Spanish at all. I didn’t want to sound like an idiot basically, but never realized that by refusing to speak in Spanish I sounded much dumber than speaking incorrectly and being corrected.
Once my ego was crushed and I accepted that at first I will sound dumb, my Spanish has greatly improved.
3. I wish I had researched Uruguay first. I did read the Uruguay section in Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring, but I wish I had read more about Uruguay. Luckily for me, Sand is an avid online reader and knew everything that I did not about Uruguay. But this trip has showed me that if I want to do more anywhere than the tourist activities anywhere, then I need to first research the country.
Sand and I ran into so many other travelers that would go to different cities only to find that there were no locals around, or there was nothing to do, or everything was closed, etc. I realized that the reason for this is not actually because there are no locals in the city or everything is closed, but because guide books cannot always tell you how a city works or what people tend to do at certain times. Researching and reading blogs are definitely the best ways to find what to do in any city.
For example, I was recently talking to a guy from Ireland who said he arrived in Montevideo, Uruguay on the weekend and wanted to walk around and see the city on Sunday. He said that he walked and walked and found only closed stores, vacant streets, and nearly empty restaurants. So, I asked him where he had been walking around and if he had been on the Rambla. He said that no, he had not gone down to the beach. But that’s where everyone was; on every nice Sunday almost all Uruguayans go to the Rambla.
4. I wish I had thought to bring a towel. Really, this may seem insignificant, but after 2 days traveling to be in Montevideo, the last thing I wanted to do on day 3 was walk around an unknown city searching for a towel. Some hostels do rent towels, but if you are planning on traveling for a while renting is definitely not your most cost efficient option.
5. I wish I had made a daily budget. I really should have made a budget of what I could spend each day before going to Uruguay. I also should have looked up prices of goods before we left, and researched about how much it would cost just for food and lodging every day. If I had done that I would have known when I was way over my daily budget and then I would not have needed to dip into the emergency money that my mom had, thankfully, put into my bank account right before leaving. Making a budget really helps you to not splurge on everything and then find out way too late that you have no money left.
6. I should have told everyone I was going. One of the most frustrating parts of traveling right now is checking my email occasionally and then having to constantly explain to people that I am currently out of the country, have been since May, etc. I really wish that I had not been so bashful about our trip to begin with so that now my friends would know where I am and be excited to see pictures and not be worried about me.
I hope that my blunders can at least help you to plan your trip, although I am sure they were pretty entertaining to read, good luck in your travels!