In 2008 I uncovered one of my biggest life passions – TRAVEL (hence, the travel blog you are reading today). This all came about when my friend, Adam, was working in Bogotá, Colombia and talked me into coming to visit him for the country’s Carnival festival. I had traveled a little prior to this, but mostly in the US with a trip or two to Canada and Mexico. But, with Colombia’s reputation for crime, drugs and kidnappings, let’s just say I was being very adventurous. This was my first big, solo international trip and I was both excited and nervous.
I remember that on my lay over in Atlanta, on the way to Bogotá, I met a guy, in a bar, who teased me that I better be careful or I’d wake up on ice with one less kidney. Nervous laugh. Then when I finally arrived in Bogotá and was deboarding the plane, I realized that all of the men carrying manilla envelopes were not in fact a tour group, but a plane of paroled deportees. One even tried to give me his phone number incase I wanted him to show me around while I was in Bogotá. I politely declined after remembering the travel warning on the State Department website. DO NOT TAKE ANYTHING FROM STRANGERS.
When I was there, I told Adam that I would write an essay with my Top 10 Travel Tips to Colombia. Recently, I found my journal, with these tips. So, better 5 years later than never, right?
And as an important side note, now that I’ve done a bit more traveling, these tips not only apply to Colombia, but nearly anywhere outside the United States.
10. Pack your patience. Our flight from Bogotá to Barranquilla was scheduled at 6pm. At 8pm, we were still sitting in the Bogotá airport, with absolutely zero communication from the airline staff. Then all of a sudden, without word, they boarded and the plane quickly departed. If I had gone to the bathroom, I would’ve missed the flight. Adam’s response – “Latin Efficiency.”
9. Bring your dancing shoes. We Americans can be really lame – myself included. In every other country in the world, the moment a song comes on, people start dancing and Colombia is no exception. Old men. Young men. Grandmothers. Great grandfathers. Babies. Everyone loves to dance.
8. Ride at your own risk. It’s perfectly acceptable to go 0 to 60 with brake lights an 1/8 of a mile up the road, only to hit the brakes 1 inch before you slam into the car in front of you. Why would you drive any other way? I’m talking to you, Colombian taxi drivers (and Chinese taxi-drivers, as I learned in 2010).
7. Forget the diet. How can you not indulge in the local food? When in Barranquilla, we stayed at a friend of Adam’s family’s house. They were so gracious and made us breakfast each morning. Greasy sausage, potatoes and other fried yummy things. Now that I think of it, it’s not that different from going to certain restaurants in Tennessee.
6. Don’t play the American card unless you have to. We spent the day being stars in the Carnival parade with Adam’s American colleagues and the party was just getting started. Why? Because not only was it Carnival, but it was also Super Bowl Sunday. We figured we’d just roll into a bar and kindly ask the bartender to put the game on. Well, it was Carnival and the bars were packed with Colombians who could give two squats about American Futbol. So, someone busted out the American card and an hour later we were having a great meal in a Chinese restaurant, in a private room, watching the Super Bowl. I’m not proud of it, but we were hungry and wanted to watch the game. And we may or may not have used the card again to get into a sold out party later than night.
5. Don’t get in a bus/taxi line without using the bathroom first. Refer to #10, because Murphy’s Law will come into play. you’ll get in line, do the pee-pee dance, wait, get frustrated, leave to find a bathroom, 20 taxi’s will pull up in your absence and then you’ll get to wait again.
4. When given the opportunity, shower first. Otherwise, prepare yourself for cold water.
3. Bring your own toilet paper. This was a rookie move. I now know the drill. BYOTP. And #3.1 is bring hand sanitizer.
2. Savior the country, the people, the food, the landscape. When I was dancing through the streets of Barranquilla in my ridiculous Carnival costume, I stopped looked at the people, the landscape, the buildings, the children, etc. Now, this is something I always do.
1. Don’t judge a country based on its reputation. Being in Colombia opened my eyes to the world and made me realize that you can not judge a country by its reputation. I never once felt uncomfortable or at risk, which I can’t say the same in my own country. Bogotá was very cosmopolitan, like New York City surrounded by mountains. Every city, every country has a sketchy side. EVERY SINGLE ONE. Most times, this case included, the reputation is simply not true. Believing these reputations would mean missing out on some amazing places, people and experiences.
To view photos from Colombia, click here.