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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.


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