A reader named Suzanne recently wrote me with this query:
This summer, I am hoping to travel to South America. My plan was to fly into Caracas and out of Buenos Aires. I was going to give myself about 10 weeks for this, traveling by boat and bus. Tonight I received a very strongly opinionated letter from my dad saying that he literally doesn’t want me to go, and that he can’t fathom a 20-year-old female making this journey by herself. This letter really made me think twice about my plans. What do you think I should do?
This is what I told Suzanne:
It sounds like you have a great trip in the works. One thing to keep in mind is that South America is huge, and 10 weeks really isn’t that much time to cover a lot of ground. So in addition to safety factors (it may well be a little sketchy if you go from Caracas to Brazil entirely overland), it might be in your interest to tackle some of those legs by plane. Maybe do a Venezuela loop, then fly on to Salvador or Rio, and do a Brazil loop (keeping in mind that Brazil is gigantic — focus on one area). Then from there you can try an overland to Argentina, maybe via Uruguay or Paraguay. That will keep you plenty busy for 10 weeks.
As for traveling solo as a woman, just use common sense. You will get harassed eventually, but you won’t find yourself in danger unless you put yourself in a compromised situation. So just be careful, and don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home (travel in sketchy neighborhoods, wander alone at night, mix in with surly drunks, etc.). South America is a popular travel destination, so there should be plenty of other travelers to mix with if you feel likely company from time to time. If you take the proper precautions and maintain a careful travel attitude, your father’s worries (and yours) need not be prohibitive.