This summer, I flew to Santiago, Chile and spent a few days wandering this massive city on my own before meeting up with my group on Easter Island. At this point, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling, and I’m on my own for significant amounts of the time. This doesn’t concern me all that much since I’m actually pretty used to it, but I know a lot of people worry about a twenty-year-old traveling on her own. That is why I’ve decided to write a few of these mini posts to upload between trips about my experiences traveling alone, how to stay safe, and how to get out of your comfort zone when you don’t have friends to help you out.
Part 1: What I Did
I covered Santiago already in an earlier post with more detail, but here’s a summary that sets up what I’m going to talk about next. I arrived in Santiago bright and early – actually I arrived so early, it wasn’t even bright yet. From the airport, I took a shuttle to my hostel, and to be perfectly honest, there was a part of me, as I rode through the grey streets on the outskirts of the city, that was saying, “What am I doing here???” Once I got checked in at the hostel though and took a nap, I was feeling more confident (and more awake), and I set out to see the city. The first day, I did a walking tour of the downtown area, which helped me familiarize myself with the layout of the place. On day two, I saw some more local sights and the Museum of Pre-Colombian Art. I had a nice dinner, did not get lost on my way back to the hostel (a miracle), and spent the next day on a trip to the Andes. Santiago is an amazing city of about 5.6 million people, and the two days I spent there were not nearly enough to see it all, which is why I think it’s so important to get out there and see the city even before you’re comfortable with it.
Part 2: What to Know
Like a lot of cities (that don’t follow the US suburb style), Santiago has a wealthy downtown and poorer outskirts. This is why on the drive from the airport, I was seeing the most run-down parts of the city. While I could probably write a whole post on tourism and wealth and the differences between the city you see and the rest of the city, for right now, I’ll leave my comments at a city is a city, and statistically Santiago is safer than several cities in the US.
Your biggest worry in Santiago should be pickpockets. I didn’t have any issues, and it was only when I was out of downtown in a few of the markets that I actually worried. Whenever I travel in a city though, I adjust my purse strap to make it crossbody style and hanging in front of me where I can keep my hand on it.
There are, of course, a few places it’s best to avoid at night. On walking tour I took the first day, the guide actually mentioned this, suggesting that tourists should avoid the Plaza de Armas after dark. But even if you don’t get helpful tips, just basic common sense goes a long way. If things look sketchy, don’t stay, and stick to roads that are well-lit. Also, alcohol is a thing, and while a terremoto sounded like it would be good, I decided not to risk getting drunk and subsequently getting lost in a city I barely knew.
Part 3: What to Do
When you have a limited amount of time in a really cool place, it’s important to get out and see and do as much as you can. But sometimes, especially when I am jet-lagged and realizing Chilean Spanish is different from any other Spanish, I do not want to leave my comfortable, warm bed in the hostel to sit outside in the Chilean winter. WHICH IS WHY I ABSOLUTELY HAD TO GO OUTSIDE ANYWAY.
The thing about traveling alone is that while it can be super empowering, it is also super terrifying. I’m fine thinking about it before I go, but at some point, there is always a moment of panic and “I can’t do this,” and “I want to go home.” But home is a nine hour flight away, and it’s way too expensive and embarrassing to get on the next flight back. The only way to get over the fear of exploring the area is to go out and explore. My favorite way to start is by walking around and familiarizing myself with the layout of the place I’m visiting. This also really lowers my panic level since, as I’m finding the art museum and the cool historic site, I’m also finding a neat little café or a store I want to visit later. The walking tours I did with Tours4Tips were fantastic, and I wish they existed in every city.
Also, stay out of the hostel or hotel or wherever you’re staying for as long as possible. Leave after breakfast and, if you can, don’t come back until after dinner. The hostel/hotel is a safe space, especially if you have your own room, but coming back a lot makes it harder to go out again, which you need to do to 1.) Enjoy the trip and 2.) Actually see the place you’re visiting. That means, visit museums, especially free ones, walk around, bring a book to read in a park when you get tired of walking, snack on street food, and eat dinner out. I find the more I do, the more I enjoy myself.
Bonus Tip: Remember I mentioned keeping a hand on your purse to prevent pickpockets? Well, that’s also a good look for photos since it adds more visual interest than just having your hands at your sides.