Tuesday, November 27, 2012


Cruises, Crossroads, Continents

Fortnighter's Alexander Basek answers travel questions.

1. I have a job that lets me travel a fair bit (yey!), but up to this point the travel has mostly been around Europe, which I know pretty well, being a Brit.

However, I have just been promoted to a new position in which I will be heading to Brazil twice a year, which I am VERY EXCITED about. Since work will be paying for the flights, and it's a pretty long way to go just for work, I want to tag on a couple of weeks holiday for myself and my boyfriend, but I know little or nothing about South America — where to begin? Should I stay in Brazil, or head off to Chile, or Argentina, perhaps? Where will I get to see the most for my money??

Congratulations on being British yet also going to Europe (ahem “Fog in Channel, Continent Cut Off,” ahem). ANYWAY: South America! You are going to have a lovely time exploring for a couple weeks. I mean, it is a continent, so it can really be as expansive or as specialized as you like. Want a really functional capital? Santiago is your place. It’s the Washington, DC of South America (I mean that in a good way, not in a pleated khaki, bad haircut way). From there you can jump to Valparaiso for a cool port town experience or up to the Atacama if you want something, for lack of a better term, more lunar. The former is going to be a better value than the latter.

Farther to the north, you can hit Lima for more of a Los Angeles-type experience — spread out, ocean, sunny, bustling food scene — at places like Saqra, which serves purple spaghetti and algae salad. You’ll have to report back on that last one for me. 

Brazil/Argentina/Uruguay is your other bundle option here. Brazil is, for lack of a better term, ginormous. Rio and Sao Paulo alone could occupy you for a considerable stretch of time, plus beaches wherever you see fit. I'm not a huge fan of Brazil for whatever reason, but if you want to learn more, Seth Kugel, the Times' current Frugal Traveler, is your man. He lived there for a while and regularly publishes updates on how to explore the country cheaply and efficiently.

Which leaves us with Argentina and Uruguay. I think this is the more-fun move here. Buenos Aires is a weird, weird, wonderful place, and their economy falls off a fiscal cliff of its own with a Wile E. Coyote-esque regularity. From there, it's an easy flight to Montevideo, another strange yet sleepy capital, and if you need a lively beach scene, continue on to Punta del Este.

And if you’re a meat-eater, regardless of where you’re headed, I highly recommend teaching yourself the Spanish words for the different cuts and temperatures.

2. Hello! I am a woman in her 30s at a crossroads in her life. It's been suggested to me that maybe I should spend a couple of years working abroad. This is a very appealing idea, but I don't really know how to go about doing that. In my early 20s, I traveled extensively and lived abroad, which was great. But I feel like most organized programs are geared toward kids — I'm at a point where I don't want going away for a couple of years to negatively impact my resume or chances to get back on some kind of career track in the US. What kind of programs are available to adults? Or things I can do? Or, do I have to get a work visa? I have no clue where to start. Thanks!

Crossroads, you are not alone. Fortnighter gets a lot of questions like these to our Travel Desk. I can’t say why, really, beyond women maybe being more inclined to go on a trip to hit the reset button on their lives (or at least a pause button)? Regardless, go for it!

Friend of the Hairpin Jodi Ettenberg is a good resource for the kind of travel that you’re considering. I’d check out her site, Legal Nomads, as a place to get started and to answer questions about visas (maybe! depends if you want to be paid under the table or not) and official programs. But you can also just design your own way. Pick what YOU like to do. That’s the point of being at a crossroads, right? Think about what's important to you. A robust social scene? Volunteering and doing good? Getting as far away from the things that pushed you to the crossroads in the first place? In the meantime, buy comfortable shoes!

3. I love going places, but I kind of hate fun, and when I go somewhere I mostly like to pretend I'm living there, being as boring abroad as I am at home. Right now, I'd like to go on a vacation where the goal is to get a lot of writing done but also enjoy myself and relax if the writing isn't going well. I'm picturing the countryside, having places to walk around and explore in a low-key manner, easy access to good food, and living somewhere cute with a bathtub. The sea would be nice? Europe is preferable because I live here (but I'm American and recently moved to this continent after not being a huge traveler, hence why I'm asking), but other suggestions welcome as well. Thanks!!

There’s sort of two separate things going on here: You want easy access to good food, and you also want to have a nice place to stay, with a bathtub. I’m thinking of a couple of things. One is Vienna, which is a very writerly city. There’s also a ton of fantastic, relatively inexpensive hotels there. I'm a particular fan of the Hotel Rathaus, which I promise is so much better than the name. It’s in Josefstadt, which is a leafy, Greenwich Village-type neighborhood, and each room is themed after a different kind of Austrian wine. Plus, cool bathtubs. I envision you going for walks in the Wienerwald and having coffee in the afternoons, thinking great thoughts, stuff like that.

Alternately, somewhere in the Scottish or English countryside. I’d work backward from places that have won culinary awards in the UK, as they tend to be inns, and shuttle between a couple of them with nice train rides in between.

4. I love cruising, but cruises are often expensive, especially for solo travelers. Solution? Take a "repositioning cruise" (one-way trips when ships relocate). These cruises are never fully booked, so there are great deals to be had. I've done two of these, buying the whole cabin so I could travel solo. Each time the cruise cost under $1500, plus airfare. The first cruise was from Fort Lauderdale to Lisbon, the second was from Miami to Rome. Both times my cabin was upgraded, once to a mini-suite! Each of the cruises was for two glorious weeks on the sea, with only a couple of port calls. I love "sea days"!  

Well, cruises are my own personal version of hell. Not everyone gets seasick, but I can guarantee you that hell is other people on cruises and being stuck with said people. I’m not suggesting that certain types of people GO on cruises, since there’s a cruise for every type of person at this point, from the Coachella Cruise to the John Mayer Cougar Cruise to the James Deen cruise which does not exist but probably should.

This is, again, more of an existential travel question (?). I feel guilty about ordering room service, dirty weekends excepted, because I feel like I need to GET OUT and see things. To which a cruise (especially a repositioning cruise) is antithetical.

However, it can be great to have things organized for you, and if you're interested in that, I'd recommend Intrepid Travel for a guided tour, or a startup like Culinary Backstreets for food tours. See you on dry land.

PreviouslyIdeas for a Solo Traveler.

Alexander Basek is the co-founder of Fortnighter, a startup that provides customized travel planning. He lives in Brooklyn with his two cats, right near the mayonnaise store.

45 Comments / Post A Comment

Chiara Atik@twitter

If IIIIIIIIIIII were the person who asked the first question, I would choose Argentina! It seems so exciting and romantic and bustling, and do people really tango in the streets there, or is that just a Hollywood conceit, I wonder?


@Chiara Atik@twitter Lol, being British, she may still want to walk softly in Argentina...some folks are still mad about that whole Falkland Islands dustup...


@Chiara Atik@twitter I was just in Buenos Aires two weeks ago and there is tango in the streets...but it feels really cheesy and not-at-all-romantic because it's mostly contained to a small, very touristy part of town. I'd recommend paying to see an evening tango show instead. Also, yeah, they are none too pleased with the British still. You'll see a lot of demonstrations about the Islas Malvinas (Falklands).

In all, I liiiiked Buenos Aires but I feel like it's trying very hard to hold onto that image of being romantic and bustling when in reality it's really crumbling and dirty (probably due to previously mentioned economic problems).


Hey hey hey, stop knocking DC because it's easy. DC is an awesome city with its own amazing quirks (Exhibit A: Marion Barry is still in politics). Only a small minority have bad haircuts and wear pleated khakis - and those are usually the people from other cities who come here for a season to intern or get into politics.


@slanket DC represent! I know it's a fun target, but DC is a nice city, and if you ever leave the National Mall, you'll find real neighborhoods full of real people, some of whom even have good hair.

Annnnyway, LW1, go to Peru. Skip Lima unless you love huge foggy Latin American cities (it's not really that sunny there unless you go in the middle of summer, and Lima is the kind of sprawling place that reeeeeally benefits from having a local friend in town if you visit) and go to Cusco and Arequipa. Perfect weather, lovely old buildings, fantastic food, amazing history, and you can go to Machu Picchu to top it off, which is even more incredible in person than you would think.

If you're really on a budget, Ecuador is a great country - much cheaper even than Peru, and since it's small, you can see a lot of stuff in a short amount of time. I would recommend a couple of days in Quito (lovely old colonial capital/relatively well-functioning new city), a visit to the Otavalo market (touristy but cool), a couple of days in Banos or Tena doing whitewater rafting/mountain biking/hot-spring-soaking, a trip into the Amazon basin, and a few days vegging out in Vilcabamba. I do think you need to speak Spanish at least a little bit to navigate Ecuador successfully, though. If you don't speak any, Peru is a better choice.


@slanket DC is an awesome city! This is the first year since 2009 that I won't be spending about a week in DC around the holidays, and I am totally bummed about it!


@slanket I figured "the Washington, D.C. of South America" must mean "a well-planned city with beautiful architecture, lots of green space and plenty of world-class museums".

RK Fire

@Blushingflwr: Hahaha, or "home to the best concentration of Ethiopian food in the region."

I have been to Santiago though, and unfortunately I think their Ethiopian food is lacking. :(


@RK Fire Ha! Indeed. I also love how many pupuserias there are in DC - but I haven't had pupusas anywhere else to compare, so I'm an uninformed and biased pupusa eater.


Seconding the vote for Buenos Aires/Argentina! The countryside is really pretty, and B.A. has a super-fun nightlife (dancing, wine, great live music, steaks if you are not a veggie) plus tons of cool museums and dramatic cemeteries with many cats to visit during the day.

Also this might be just me, but I thought Santiago didn't have much personality -- the architecture was bland and sprawling, the city was smoggy, the food was hot dogs and corn cut into pasta. But Valparaiso is beautiful, and the lake district also has tons of cool little port cities (and penguins!).


@SockHopBop Somewhat agreed - parts of Santiago can be superbland, but some neighborhoods are fantastic and interesting. The city is enormous so it can be hit or miss. But Valparaiso is unforgettable. In the coastal towns north of Valparaiso (driving/short bus ride distance) you can have amazing seafood empanadas. San Pedro de Atacama is the most calming place I've ever been and is probably one of my favorite places on earth. Sorry, Hairpin, i feel compelled to comment on Chile every time it comes up...i love it and hey, i live internationally.


@Kulojam Agreed. I originally came to Santiago as a volunteer with an NGO and there was just something about it that I loved...so I decided to come back and live here for a while. I found it to be a pretty easy transition (despite my lack of Spanish) although the food is certainly nothing to rave about. It's easy to take day trips to hike in the mountains, to explore Valparaíso or to sit on the beach in Viña del Mar. I haven't yet had the opportunity to go anywhere further outside the city but I'd love to get to San Pedro de Atacama.

Any chance there are other 'Pinners in Santiago? :)


@whatsherface I'm in Vina! And I know at least one other 'Pinner here in Vina. Meet-up? Meet-up!


@Kulojam Yes! Meet-up!!


@Kulojam You can email me at whatsherface [at] hotmail [dot] ca if you want to get in touch...


@whatsherface I just emailed you! Thanks for sharing your address. Enjoy your weekend!

Lily Rowan

Learn those meat terms in Spanish unless you're staying in Brazil, no? Then you'd want Portuguese.


Thanks for the mention, Mr. Basek! To LW2, if you're Canadian there are work visas available for you up until you're 35, where you can have a visa to work and travel at the same time. List of countries is here: http://www.international.gc.ca/experience/destinations_out-destinations_sortant.aspx?lang=eng&view=d. If not, companies like Escape the City often post work abroad/in travel opportunities that might be a good fit.

For what it's worth, I'm a former lawyer (now food and travel writer) but I've been interviewing colleagues who took a career break about their experiences upon return. Without fail, they said all the interviews they had centered on their travels and that interviewees found it the most interesting part of the resume. I've got more career-breaky resources on the page Alex linked to, but at least in the legal field, friends and colleagues did not feel that taking the break negatively impacted their chances at employment upon their return.

Hope this helps! And LW3, I'd consider one of the many tiny medieval towns in Umbria, Italy -gorgeous scenery, great food and quieter than Tuscany.


'Somewhere in the Scottish or English countryside'? EXCUSE ME? Wales! Is the place! For LW3!
option a) Gwynedd. Snowdonia is basically the most beautiful place in the world, and the sea is right by the mountains. Lots of great little towns to pootle round, especially if you are a castle fan (Conwy, Caernarfon etc.) There's a steam railway through the mountains to Porthmadog! A beardy man in Llanberis who keeps bees and makes delicious honey icecream! Loads of nice pubs and BnBs. Public transport surprisingly excellent (Snowdon buses from Caernarfon, most other places from Bangor).
option b) The borders: I had a great weekend pottering round the zillion bookshops in Hay on Wye, Black mountains, Hereford Cathedral, etc. Ludlow and Shrewsbury also nice. And it's a VERY foodie area- lots of very fancy pubs-with-rooms. Also Llanthony Priory! A priory you can stay in and pretend to be a monk! (This option may be more difficult sans car).

(TL;DR I love Wales).

oh! valencia

@questingbeast well that all sounds delightful.

Chiara Atik@twitter

@questingbeast Not to MENTION the fact that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge call it home!


@Chiara Atik@twitter Indeed! Just get lost up Snowdon and you'll probably get a helicopter ride off him.


@questingbeast Hay on Wye is the beeeeest.


@anachronistique I spent SO MUCH MONEY.


@questingbeast I totally second Gwynedd - it is seriously the most beautiful place I've ever been - Mt. Snowdon is just gorgeous, and there's a tea shop you can stop at on the way down that has delicious scones. And definitely check out Edward's castle!

Plus, I saw my name in graffiti for the first time there!


@questingbeast (Unrelated, I love those names! Caernarfon, Porthmadog, Gwynedd, Snowdon- how medievally/castley.)


@questingbeast I had a nice holiday with my boyfriend in the Welsh borders a few years ago - it was so gorgeous. (Granted, we did get snowed in a bit and had no food, but it was an adventure! Hopefully we will go again at some point when there is not an unprecedented amount of snow.)

Hot Doom

For the person looking for a place to write, with access to good food and countryside, Scotland was a good suggestion. Edinburgh is ridiculously picturesque and smallish, has excellent food and has countryside all around it, and even a bit in the city, with Arthur's Seat. It's situated on the Firth of Forth, so the North Sea is nearby too. Alternatively, St Andrews, just 45 minutes north by train is also incredibly beautiful, and has the ability to be 'fun' or chill and sleepy. There is great food there too, with a brilliant bakery and a Michelin star restaurant just outside of town (I single out the bakery because of their most legendary 'fudge' donuts, filled with custard. That's really at the crux of my argument for St As).

Also, what about Aix-en-Provence, in France? I've not been, but I've heard it's the mellower version of Nice, and v. lovely.

Tuna Surprise

LW2: as a 30-something lady who just moved abroad, I might as well throw in my two cents. It really depends on what your current career is, but my personal opinion is that you should either look for a real job that furthers your career or just go full eat/pray/love and use good anecdotes to explain away the break later.

I was fortunate enough to get a transfer from my current employer (who asked me to move) but I've met plenty of expats who have a variety of stories on how they made a move:

1. one friend worked for a big multi-national corp in the US and called their HR and requested job openings abroad and they matched him up with somthing in the UK. It wasn't 100% the same job he was doing so it never hurts to ask if you're currently employed by a place with overseas offices.

2. one friend came over on an entreprenuer visa - he is working for a small start up and since he's a partner in the business (although a very small percent) he could qualify for the visa.

3. I have three friends who work for NGOs who just applied for job openings and the employer sponsored the visa. Nothing overly-special about thier skill sets, just boot leather job application type stuff.

I think if you want a full time job, you should focus where your skills are and try to target multi-national companies. My company has a mix of nationalities here and for them it's not a big deal to sponsor a visa.

Marquise de Morville

@Tuna Surprise I find your advice much more useful than the one given to LW2. Consider working illegally is really bad advice. Why does working outside the US lead so easily into not following the laws of your prospective host country? Moving abroad for personal development is fine, but foreign countries are not just some fantasy place where you can live out your vision no matter what the local laws say. Looking into a work visa should be the very first thing. (Maybe I am just annoyed because I am stuck on a non-working visa, and being visaless abroad can turn into a nightmare if you really want to stay in your host country).

The Lady of Shalott

@Marquise de Morville Oh my god yes. Dude. Everything you just said. Because hey, what if you really want to move to your new country permanently? Illegally working without a visa can be not only a gigantic headache, but a reason to be deported. But yes, everything you just said.

Judith Slutler

#3, Tuscany? You can google "agroturisme" for farms that have guest rooms! I stayed at one that had bikes for us to borrow and ride around the wine country. It was pretty great, and in mid-September, it seemed like the tourist season was already kinda over - everything was super low key.


@Emmanuelle Cunt Tuscany is GOOOOORGEOUS and super inspiring. I think I would pick somewhere that fits the type of book I'm writing, personally. Like, if you're writing a historical romance set in Constantinople, what better place to go to write it than the city itself? Even if it's a contemporary novel, if it's set somewhere you don't live, go there!


LW3, the Lake District is also for you! There's a reason the Romantics spent a lot of time there.


@meetapossum wellll part of it was that they couldn't do the traditional tour of the Continent cuz most of it was at war and it was the next best thing, but yeah, it's also pretty.


@Megano! Shh. Quiet, you, with your history.


Oh, I am so in sync with the cruise lady! I love vacation and being in new places, but I do not care for lots of planning or the physical act of traveling (and the two combined, like doing a long trip with lots of hops and legs to be coordinated, makes me want to curl up in a ball), so cruises are great. I've been on two, both straight from a port near my city on the east coast (from NYC when I lived there, from Baltimore after I got married in Maryland). You can just hang out on deck with a book or walk around a port yourself, you don't have to actually do any of the silly events or anything like that. It's awesome.


"nice train rides" in the UK.
*dies laughing*
No really, they can be cool if you don't need to rely on them all the time.


Lw1 absolutely must go to Valparaiso. It is the best city, end of story.

Pablo Neruda's houses are worth a trip, all of them are interesting. Southern Chile is nice, and you can climb volcanoes and see glaciers. And if you go to Northern Chile the Atacama desert is incredible. But there is also Argentina, Columbia, Ecuador, and Peru that are definitely worth a visit.

Also, Peru is really awesome and if you have the time you should visit it. Everyone I met in Peru was amazingly friendly. The food in Peru is a million times better than the food in Chile, because of Ceviche!


@orejitasmiamor Yes yes to Valparaiso! It's gorgeous and those funiculares make for such fun exploring. Agreed about the food from Peru, too, though I pretty much ate my body weight in avocados in Chile. Mmm....avocados.

Katie Weber@facebook

What, no mention of Ecuador to the South American traveler? That's weird, because Ecuador was awesome! I went there for just 2 weeks and felt like I got to get a bunch in. I was a huge fan of Cuenca. It's much smaller than Quito, but in my mind, had more charm and interesting things in the vicinity. I'm just surprised Ecuador didn't make the list!!


Since a couple people mentioned San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, just wondered if anyone had more specific suggestions about places to visit in that area. I'm heading there in January (post-visiting Bolivia Uyuni salt flats). Any suggestions on Bolivia (La Paz, Uyuni) or Peru (Lima, Cuzco, Puno) would be much appreciated too!


@cobalt I do! It is my favorite place in Chile by far and there is so much to do. As you walk along the main drag in San Pedro, you'll see tons of tour companies offering variations on the same theme. I've used a couple of different tour companies and if you email me at chilejamie at gmail dot com, I'll share them with you (i'd do it now but i have to do some digging). Anyway, in general I'd recommend the Tatio geysers tour, the Valle de Luna trip and the Lagos Altiplanicos. for the geysers, you wake up at the buttcrack of dawn but it is worth it, especially for the hotsprings soak on the way back to town. Valle de la Luna is just stunning, and you can do it the same afternoon of the geysers. The Altiplanico lakes offer unparalleled views and flamingos! Oh, and on my last trip, I rented a bike and rode out to the Inca ruins and the natural swimming pool and had a blast in the sunshine with myself and a stray dog I made friends with. I really loved the hostal I stayed in on my most recent trip, and I can also recommend a few good restaurants (though the town is tourist-oriented and therefore pretty expensive compared to other parts of Chile, good deals and fun times with the locals can be found).

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