Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to find myself alone in Argentina. Despite the concerns of my mother and most people aware of my plans, the worst thing that happened to me was being stranded by a beautiful lake in Patagonia. After a misunderstanding with a bus driver, I missed my stop to go kayaking. Initially, I refused to acknowledge I was lost. I had a gorgeous, mountainside lake all to myself -I wanted to enjoy it! My bliss was cut short, though, once I realized I was not only stranded but my phone was about to die.
With no return busses or schedules in sight, I forced myself to subdue the crater-like feeling in my chest. I had been in some serious binds before, but never like this. Alone on a strange but scenic road, I trudged along for nearly two hours before finding a hotel. I remember forcing myself to enjoy the scenery while trying think of anything besides the fact I was alone in a strange place. Thanks to a friendly Australian couple, I was able to get a ride back to my accommodation before dark, but I still cringe thinking about all the ways that scenario could have gone awry.
Like many other young people, I tend to eschew the risks of the world around me. It’s not that I want to – I’m actually a fairly cautious person despite the aforementioned anecdote. Though, I’m not naive either. I know there are plenty of people out there who would like to hurt me, rob me, or worse. My fears of encountering such people remain omnipresent and always linger in the back of my mind – whether I’m at home or abroad. So far my instincts have mostly been right, but I realize one misjudgment can have grave consequences. People I met along the way loved to point this out to me. I was always told me to be careful, as if I weren’t aware of the safety nuisances that plague most women’s lives, including my own.
Unfortunately, those well-meaning people had a point and their concerns were impossible to ignore. But if I fixate on my own vulnerability and shift all my attention towards the uglier aspects of our world, how will I (or any of us) ever lead a life worth living? Our planet, while sometimes threatening and volatile, demands to be experienced. There are mountains to climb, things to see, and people to meet. While traveling earlier this year, my friends were all busy with jobs, school or relationships. I wasn’t willing to put my own dreams on hold simply because I didn’t want to go alone and neither should you.
Sadly, there are some corners of the globe women should avoid visiting alone, but Argentina is not one of them. I’m happy to say I left Argentina without incident and had an overwhelmingly positive experience. Though many travelers (of both genders) can not say the same. Robberies are common, sometimes force is involved, but most of the instances I heard of only involved pickpocketing. According to the most recent United Nations Development Program report, Argentina ranks number one for most robberies in Latin America. This certainly doesn’t bode well for Argentina’s tourism industry, but if you have your heart set on dancing in Buenos Aires or hiking through Patagonia, please don’t let this report be a deterrent.
I’ve visited a lot of major cities, and I generally felt safe in Buenos Aires. Per usual, I did not walk around alone at night and I was careful with my cell phone in public. I also only carried cross-body bags and seldom carried more than a few hundred pesos (10 pesos is less than $1 USD.) My debit card usually stayed at home, as did my passport and anything else I couldn’t live without. Fortunately, these measures proved to only be precautionary as nothing noteworthy happened to me. However, my friend had her iPhone stolen in broad daylight and another friend was robbed at gunpoint with her dad. Meanwhile, I was fine as a gringa with a tendency to bee bop.
Aside from avoiding certain neighborhoods (La Boca is considered dangerous even though it holds Buenos Aires’ famous colorful houses) and undertaking basic safety precautions, there’s only so much you can do to protect yourself in any city. Shit happens, it’s inevitable. Usually, it’s beyond our control anyways. So, why let something you can’t control dictate your life? When I did encounter problems, the locals were always friendly and eager to help. When travel anxiety gets the worst of me, friendly Australian couples or sympathetic locals tend to come out of the woodwork. Maybe this is another naivety, but most travelers will probably agree that traveling alone tends to leave one mesmerized by the kindness and generosity of strangers.
However, when it comes to dealing with strangers in Argentina, be prepared for a difficult language barrier if you don’t speak Spanish. Ultimately, my poor Spanish skills left me feeling more vulnerable than any of my original safety concerns. A firmer grasp on the language would have greatly improved my sense of comfort and confidence in new surroundings. So, if you don’t know much Spanish, I highly recommend you take a survival course before leaving or whilst in Argentina!
As a woman alone in Argentina, sexual harassment is unfortunately almost guaranteed. Regardless of what I was wearing, not a day passed without receiving unsolicited feedback on my looks. Usually, it came in the form of compliments or whistles. Other times, I had no idea what the remarks were – those instances were the only times I felt grateful not to understand Spanish. Within a week, the constant barrage of “compliments” became overwhelming. Unfortunately, this seems to be the norm throughout Latin America. To combat any unwanted attention, I usually donned sunglasses to avoid awkward eye contact and wore headphones of the very large “don’t talk to me, I can’t hear you anyway” variety.
If you’re a woman interested traveling alone to Argentina who stumbled along this page via Google, I hope you will heed to my advice. Obviously, I can’t sugar coat the fact that Argentina isn’t perfect, but nowhere and nothing is. Still, I would rather lose my cell phone or wallet to a pickpocket than forgo experiences out of fear. Be smart, be safe, but don’t forget that fortune favors the brave! ¡Buen viaje!