When I lived in Bolivia about 6 years ago more or less…
I only spent about 3 months there.
Not really a whole of time to “live there” if you want to call it that.
Nonetheless, Bolivia was probably one of my more exciting countries to ever visit.
Out of all of the countries I have been to in Latin America, Bolivia is probably in the top 5 places I had visited.
And then there is Guatemala…
Where I spent roughly 2 months in…
And in hindsight, though I had some fun…
It wasn’t really that exciting in the grand scheme of things.
I had plenty of fun hiking mountains and volcanoes as you can read about here!
But, despite that, I didn’t really enjoy Guatemala all that much.
But how come?
Because I didn’t really go out that much or really enjoy life as much there.
Just wasn’t as active in going out meeting new people or doing too many new things outside of hiking mountains and working for this NGO.
Whereas, in comparison…
In a pretty similar amount of time to work with, Bolivia ended up being much more memorable than Guatemala.
In that time in Bolivia, I probably visited at least 10 different cities or towns from what I remember.
I think a bit more…
I was much more active in going out and making friends.
And did a variety of more things outside of hiking mountains – visiting the Amazon Rainforest, going to the Uyuni salt flats, biking down “Death Road,” and more…
And enjoying the nightlife available much more often.
Suffice to say, I obviously had a much bigger time living in Bolivia than Guatemala.
And it isn’t just comparing Bolivia to my time in Guatemala…
There were other times where I have seen the same thing…
When, for example, I lived in an area of Mexico City near Metro Cuatro Caminos.
And during my time there, I never really did too much because I was very focused on making money and improving my income.
Which was definitely necessary.
But during that time, similar to my time in Guatemala, I never really did too much in the grand scheme of things outside of making money.
And while the broader point here seems pretty obvious…
That going out of your comfort zone…
Making sure to make as many friends as possible…
Enjoying nightlife and all the entertainment you can enjoy in whatever area you visit in Latin America…
Would all obviously make your time abroad more memorable…
It doesn’t seem as obvious from what I have seen.
Be it from my own experience in Guatemala not doing too much outside of work basically..
To some of the other foreigners I have met down here who also do the same thing…
Be it the foreigners who never leave the “gringo bubble” and interact with the locals and go out of their comfort zone to places of Latin America not commonly visited…
And only sticking to the touristy areas of Punta Cana of the DR or Cartagena or Colombia…
To also going down here for work reasons or whatever it might be…
For example, back when I lived in Colombia..
I met this Spanish chick in Colombia who was studying abroad…
And who never wanted to take public transportation, go out and enjoy the nightlife or really do anything…
I don’t think she had any friends actually living in Colombia and never really took the experience of being abroad to enjoy the new country she was in.
And that’s not entirely rare…
Be it the people who are low energy and don’t feel the need to go out of their comfort zone..
To those who are too chicken shit to ever leave the touristy areas…
So the point is obvious here – make sure to enjoy life as much as possible when abroad.
But let me give you some advice on how to do that so this article at least has some practical information you can use to enjoy life as much abroad.
The advice is a bit obvious but does have some info to help you apply it.
Tip 1: Learn Spanish or Portuguese
Obviously you need to learn Spanish to truly enjoy life down here.
Advice for that?
In my experience, practicing it was much more helpful than just focusing on the textbook.
Spend 2 to 4 months going over the grammar rules and vocabulary…
Then after that, make sure to actually practice in person as much as possible.
You can check out this website here that involves talking with people from other countries.
If you are into dating people abroad, you can join some Cupid site like this one here where you can meet people online in Latin America to practice your Spanish.
Maybe there is a local association of people in your area that involves people who speak Spanish.
And when you get down here, you can look online through Facebook, Google or local people you know down here…
For group events that involve speaking Spanish or Portuguese.
In Bolivia, they have these events called Parlana in different cities where you hang out in different bars speaking Spanish with the locals.
In Buenos Aires, Argentina, they have the same thing.
I think Bogota, Colombia had something similar called Gringo Tuesday.
You get the idea.
And by learning the language and also attending those language events down here, you can more easily meet new people to be friends with.
Tip 2: Gringos In Your City
Now I don’t suggest you stick to a gringo bubble and only hang out with other gringos and none of the locals..
But if you are new to Latin America, I get it…
It feels more comfortable starting out by hanging out with other gringos.
So to do that – just look up in Facebook “foreigners/expats/gringos in x Latin city”
You should find something hopefully.
And can get you started on making friends.
And maybe some of those folks you meet can introduce you to some of the locals.
Which, if those locals you are introduced to are hanging out with foreigners, I’d bet they speak some English if your Spanish is still weak.
Tip 3: Meeting the Locals
While meeting other foreigners can be a great way to get started on making friends down here…
Just keep in mind that most of them will be leaving Latin America in the future to go back home or some other country.
And there are plenty of locals who speak English in case your Spanish is still weak.
Plus, it can be a great way to learn Spanish.
My Spanish only really got to the way it was because of practicing it with the locals.
Textbooks only go so far.
On top of that, you can make some friends who are not leaving anytime soon and who have plenty of interesting stories about the local life in wherever you are.
So make sure to eventually leave the gringo bubble.
Tip 4: Don’t be Scared but Don’t be Naïve
The other day, I saw a comment on an expats in Mexico City group…
Where this gringo was complaining about how he couldn’t understand why gringos would ever live in areas outside of the typical touristy areas – condesa, roma, polanco, etc..
I don’t get it.
You live down here – why not explore other areas?
You chicken shit?
You know, I lived in areas outside of those touristy areas and had a few bad things happen for sure.
But I didn’t die.
And I have visited a ton of areas outside touristy areas in Latin America more broadly speaking and almost never had issues.
No theft, muggings, nothing.
My first trip to Latin America was not to a touristy area s you can read here.
And nothing bad happened.
Having said that, don’t be naïve either and think it is entirely safe either.
Apply common sense and don’t be stupid but do enjoy the areas outside the touristy areas.
In my experience in Latin America, so much of the fun I have had down here was in the countryside of Latin America and also outside the touristy areas.
You are missing out if you only visit the Punta Canas of Latin America.
Tip 5: Host Family?
If you are completely new to Latin America, getting a host family to live with is not a bad idea.
I did a few of these in my earliest years of Latin America before I started living in Mexico..
Truth is, it’s not perfect.
It can be annoying as they might have more restrictions..
Like having guests for example…
But it can be fine.
It can help introduce you right away to the local folks and also give you more local folks you can actually talk to and ask for advice on how to stay safe in their city and places they recommend that you visit.
Not a bad idea if you are new down here in Latin America.
Tip 6: Local Work
Back when I was new to Latin America, I often did work for NGOs.
Ended up being a great way to meet other foreigners and also locals as well.
A decent way to practice my Spanish as I was new back when down here..
And also a way to get more insight into what would be great to visit down here.
So, similar to the host family, it’s not a bad idea if you are new to Latin America.
Tip 7: The Local Women
Suffice to say, the local women down here can be very fun to date.
Plenty of local Latina women who are down to meet a gringo and have some fun.
Go to a nightclub maybe and see what happens after.
If you are a single man (or a lesbian I suppose), then don’t forget to enjoy the dating life down here also.
Tip 8: Working Out
This might just be me…
But I find that working out on a particular day makes me less lazy the rest of the day.
Just some physical activity to get my ass off the chair.
And gives me more energy to go out of my way to enjoy the rest of the day.
I prefer to do some exercise after I wake up to get it done and give me a good start to the day.
This is probably advice more important for those who actually live down here.
Because it can be easy over time to fall into a routine down here and forget to have fun…
And ultimately not do much outside of just working…
Which is what I was like when I lived near Cuatro Caminos of CDMX.
But then this brings us to…
Tip 9: The Routine
As hinted at in the last tip…
This tip is also more for those who have lived down here for a few years now or more…
Don’t fall into the routine of just working and going home.
It’s true I think that a lot of folks end up doing this.
And then their life ends up looking similar to how it would be in the US.
Working and sleeping.
Which, in my opinion, defeats some of the fun of living abroad.
So try not to do that and do something outside of the usual working and sleeping each day.
Be with meet up with a new person on some expat group..
Or going out for some drinks with a friend on the spot..
Back when I lived in Colombia, I had a local friend who would often have a beer with me at any local tienda nearby…
And we would meet other Colombians as well and have a good time.
These are just some of the basic ideas for those who have very limited experience in Latin America and are not sure how to get the most out of their first trip down here.
There’s more I could probably say but I want to keep this article short for now.
If you have any ideas yourself, leave a comment below.
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