Rease Kirchner, a bilingual American expat and travel writer living in Buenos Aires is our Tripper of the Week. She loves traveling and gaining and sharing knowledge of local cultures and customs. Here she gives us a glimpse into the life of an adventurous twenty-something living and traveling in Latin America.
What inspired you to move to Buenos Aires?
I studied abroad in Mendoza in 2006 and traveled back through South America in 2009. I always kept the idea of moving abroad in the back of my mind but always made excuses. In 2010 a lot of changes came about in my life and I felt like I was being constantly challenged, life was rough and I had been living in the same city for most of my life, so I figured it was time for a change of scenery. When I take on a challenge, I don’t mess around, so I didn’t just want to switch cities or states, I wanted a whole new country. I was between Guadalajara, Mexico, Mendoza, Argentina or Buenos Aires. Argentina seemed more like home to me and Buenos Aires had more to offer than Mendoza, so here I am!
When did you first discover your love of travel?
Not until I was 18. My family went on very few vacations and they were usually just to a bordering state. When I went to college I was given an opportunity to spend the summer in Mendoza, Argentina. At the time, I didn’t even have a passport and the only plane ride I had ever taken was a 2 hour one to Florida when I was 5 years old, but I wanted to do something huge. After that first trip, I was totally hooked.
Share with us one of your favorite instances of cultural exchange.
I loved my host family in Mendoza. All my classmates lived with upper class families in big houses with maids, but I lived in a tiny apartment with a single mom and her 3 kids, 2 boys and a girl. My family is also a single mom with 2 boys and a girl, so I felt like I fit in right away. I really felt at home and loved just hanging out around the house. I still think I learned more from them than I did in some of the classes I was taking while I was there. For my birthday, my host mom bought me a book, ice cream and made sure there was orange Fanta for dinner. She apologized profusely for not having something more glamorous for me, but I was touched that she had gone through so much trouble. In my world, Book + Fanta + Ice Cream = Heaven.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of living abroad?
Aside from the emotional stuff like being away from friends and family, I would say finances. Living abroad is so much different than traveling abroad. You really have to learn how to function in the economy you live in and start thinking in their currency, not yours. In Buenos Aires there is the added struggle of high prices for foreigners. Renting an apartment without an Argentina ID basically means they will charge you in dollars and it will be outrageously high. My advice for anyone who wants to move abroad is to save up as much as you possible can and make a budget. Once you have figured out how much you think you need, double it. Trust me, a lot of totally unexpected costs come up in the process of an international move. My biggest expense was flying my dog down with me!
You are part of the team at Travelated, the online travel magazine and group travel blog. How did this come about?
I used to work at a Internet Marketing company when I was in university. While I was good at it and liked most of my co-workers, I hated my bosses and felt like I was wasting my life. I believe in working hard but only at things you love, so I quite in the middle of a recession. My friend and co-worker Alex had done the same thing a couple months earlier. We had always worked well together so we decided to start a site together. Eventually, we brought on Emily. She’s a great writer and skilled editor (shameless plug: She has a YA novel looking for publishers. It is fantastic), Alex is great with marketing and building the site and I do writing and advising. We make the perfect trio, I know the site couldn’t function without all three of us.
Fitness challenges are tough, especially when traveling. Yet you have completed a couple of them. What are your top tips for travelers who want to stay in shape?
I love creating my own fitness challenges, but yes, it is very tough to do them while you’re traveling. I have created and completed two fitness challenges since my move. Each involved working out 6 mornings a week and doing yoga 6 nights a week. There were a lot of rules that forced me to finish the workouts before certain times, banned me from negative self-talk, and even a reward system. I think the negative talk ban was especially important. My friend Emily (from Travelated) actually came up with that rule. She and I live in different continents but we completed one of those fitness challenges together. Having an accountability partner really makes fitness challenges easier, even if you are far away from that person. She and I would send emails that just said “I finished my work out and I feel like death” to which the other would reply some over the top form of encouragement. We’d also have to admit if we skipped a workout, which added a sense of responsibility. Also I just like flooding Emily’s inbox with one-line nonsense emails.
My all time favourite fitness challenge while traveling was when I ran a Half Marathon in Denver, Colorado. Three of my best friends made shirts to wear while they cheered me on and I felt like I had (victoriously) punched the city of Denver in the face when I crossed the finish line. Take that, Denver, who needs proper amounts of oxygen anyway?
What is the best travel advice you ever got?
I’m not sure if this is strictly travel related, but my friend Ellen gave me some great advice on getting the courage to speak Spanish to locals, she basically said to just forget about being freaked out because you just look like an idiot if you sit there silently. You have to speak up and try or you’ll never get anywhere. No seriously, that taxi does not know where you need to go so spit it out.
What is the one thing, in addition to your friends, that you would miss most if you were to move back to the U.S. tomorrow? Miss least?
I would miss the freedom. I’m a total workaholic so my schedule is always jammed packed. However, even though I am still busy here, the lifestyle of the locals and just being away from home really forced me to slow down more. I just don’t think I could do that in the US. As for what I would miss the least, it would be how slow and unreliable service is here, which I know almost contradicts what I just said. I just cannot get over the fact that employees just do not seem to care about you at all, even at places like the police station!
Of the local customs you have encountered on your travels, which one has been the most surprising/unusual?
Last year there was Census Day. In the US the Census is a process spread out over several months that largely relies on mail. In Argentina, they simply shut the whole country down for a day. One person from each household is ordered to stay home until a census worker comes by. The entire city of Buenos Aires was like a ghost town. The only places of business that were open were a couple hot dog stands and ice cream vendors who were charging double the usual price. It was so creepy!
You’ve traveled a fair amount in Latin America since moving to Argentina. What has been your favorite experience?
I feel like I have two totally different experiences that are worth mentioning- one for adventure and other for vegging out.
In Cordoba, Argentina I went skydiving on a whim. It was absolutely amazing and I would do it again in a second!
Another great experience was going to Iguazu Falls with my friend Rachel. It was her birthday so we splurged for a hotel. We got out laundry done (which is more exciting than it sounds when you’ve been washing your underwear in the sink), watched trashy American movies and killed a bottle of wine between the two of us. I even convinced the bartender to open said bottle even though we purchased it elsewhere. Oh and those giant water falls, those were sweet too.
Want to connect with Rease? Reach out to her via her Tripping profile and drop her a line if you’re in Buenos Aires. And don’t forget to check out her contributions to Travelated.com as well as her previous guest post contributions to our blog.