Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Preparing For Your South American Journey: Chin Chin! Travel Adventure 2012

People often ask how I prepare for my trips abroad. Friends and family wonder how I find those perfect places to stay, meet locals and develop friendships that last, and create unique experiences that make such wonderful stories upon my return. It really comes down to 3 basic principles that reflect my personality in general:

(1) By nature I'm detailed oriented and love to conduct lots of research. The evolution of the Internet over the past decade has helped independent travellers such as myself to explore destinations, book accomodations and create an itinerary on their own. It's an excellent starting point. I take this research one step further by connecting via email or phone with hotel/apartment owners, tour guides and cooking school chefs in the cities I plan to visit. By the time I meet these people in person, I've already made that personal connection that helps enrich the travel experience.

(2) Trip preparation also means opening yourself early to the culture and language of your intended destination. Every since I can remember I've loved learning foreign languages, have listened to music from around the world and have a yearly subscription to the Bytowne movie cinema in Ottawa that presents foreign films regularly. So when I'm bound for a foreign destination, I ferret out pockets of that destination in my home town.

(3) Inject fun into priming yourself for that "trip of a lifetime". To prepare for "Argentina 3.0", I just started a language class to brush up on my Spanish and in about 2 hours I'm heading to a Salsa dance class.  Reconnecting with South American friends and acquaintenaces who live in Ottawa for coffee, brunch and drinks (Malbec wine, of course!) is also helping me create an energetic swirl of anticipation.  Soon, I'll invite a small group of friends and Chin Chin! travel adventurers to my place for an evening of Argentine food, music, wine and fun.

So as you can imagine, when I embarked upon my first trip to Buenos Aires the excitement did not begin the moment the plane landed at Ministro Pistarini (EZE) airport in November 2005. The excitement began building during the four months leading up to that time. This would be my first time in South America and I was determined to enjoy every moment of anticipation. Below I'd like to share with you some of my Argentina "Chin Chin! Before You Go" tips that I've learned along the way:

"Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #1:
Dance to the Rhythm of the City: When a travelling companion suggested we take tango lessons before our 2005 trip (thank you, Mildred Lynn!), I was game. Not only did these weekly dance outings bring us closer to the glorious music of Carlos Gardel, they came in handy during our milonga forays in San Telmo.  The tango, we learned, is the quintessential dance of Argentina that came to be a fundamental expression of Argentine culture and the Golden Age that lasted through the 1940s and 1950s.

"Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #2:
Foreign Country, Foreign Language: To help navigate the city streets, order in restaurants and feel more like a local, I took beginner Spanish lessons at an Ottawa college.  Although I was by no means fluent when I arrived in Buenos Aires, the few phrases and words I learned were more than useful when asking for a different color in that exquisite taffeta wrap I purchased!  In addition, the local people I did get the occasion to speak with were very appreciative that I was making an effort to speak their language.

Note: In Buenos Aires you will find that many people speak English and love to have the chance to practice with native speakers.

"Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #3:
Movies Reflect the Culture of a Nation: Argentina has one of the longest traditions of filmmaking in Latin America, stretching back to the turn of the 20th century. However, after a “golden era” in the 1960s, the national film industry fell into decline during decades of political upheaval and economic turmoil. Over the past 15 years, though, Argentine cinema has been going through a rebirth and continues to reflect an important facet of local culture.  Here are some great movies that will give you a feel for the culture, creativity and life in Argentina.  You may be able to rent some of these from your local library: The Secret in Their Eyes / El Secreto de Sus Oyos (2009 Oscar Winner), The Tango Lesson (directed by Sally Potter); Nine Queens / 9 Reinas; The Motocycle Diaries (early life of Che Guevara); Who Says It's Easy / Quien Dice que Es Facil; Live-In Maid / Cama Adentro.

"Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #4:
Make Local Connections while in your Home Country: Above all, the most important and beneficial action I took was to make connections with wonderful Argentinians before the trip.  I reached out to local apartment owners to find the most central neighbourhoods with lots of amenties close by. One of these apartment owners, Alicia, introduced me by email to local tour guide Cecilia with whom I booked a city tour. So by the time my friends and I landed in Buenos Aires, we knew we would be staying in an apartment in a safe district in the heart of the city, we had a city tour arranged for the day after we arrived and had made the acquaintance of two wonderful local people who graciously showed us 'their Buenos Aires'. 

"Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #5:
Prepare Well Your Travel Wardrobe: Portenos (people from Buenos Aires) are some of the most well-dressed people on the planet. Both men and women take great care in their coiffure, dress and presentation. Sneakers, white socks and t-shirts with logos are not the way to go. If you want to fit in, pack for a cosmopolitan city. Get together with a friend or two and help each other prepare at least 3-4 head to toe outfits. Do this over a nice glass of wine to enhance the experience! Sandals and shoes can be comfortable, but must be chic.  Once there, you will be surrounded with beautiful shops and unique boutiques displaying elegant clothing, leather and precious jewellry and acessories at prices so reasonable they will make your jaw drop. So your remaining outfits will be purchased 'on location'.  Which leads me to "Chin Chin! Before You Go" Tip #6: Bring an empty suitcase, or be prepared to buy one before coming back home!

If you (or a friend) would like more information on our upcoming Chin Chin! Travel Adventure, please send me an email - - or leave a comment below. I will be happy to respond.

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