Yes. You read it right. I went solo-backpacking in Brazil. As a woman. ‘Oooooooh scaaaryyyyy!’…..
Seriously though, all anyone ever said when I told them I was going to travel around Brazil for two months on my own was ‘OMG but aren’t you scared to go travelling alone??’. The answer, quite simply, was: no.
I refuse to be afraid of a place just because of its reputation. What I will do, however, is listen to the advice of the locals. Be aware instead of weary. You’ll miss out on the fun otherwise.
Now, it’s been over a year since I came back from my solo-trip to Brazil. The memories are fading, but I made so many vivid ones that will weather the trials of time, and so many reasons to go back.
My first memory is of me packing my backpack, realising I had packed way too much stuff and consequently calling in advice from a friend who had just returned from backpacking around South America for 6 months. I needed an expert. She cut down my backpack by another 3 or so kg so my starting weight at liftoff was 10kg. Check out my packing list here.
Her advice was: only pack essentials. Anything you think you can buy there if it turns out you need it, don’t pack it. Cause you might not end up needing it and then you’ve carried it literally halfway around the world for nothing.
The flight itself was unremarkable, I flew via Amsterdam with KLM straight to Saõ Paulo. Now I was actually picked up from the airport by friends of my sister’s boyfriend, which I am eternally grateful for. I don’t think I would have known what to do or where to go and what taxi was safe to take etc etc.
Hot Tip (!) for you guys travelling alone: check if the country has Uber or something similar and download and set them up before you arrive. Brasil has Uber and 99Pop. 99Pop is cheaper, but you run a risk of being cancelled more because the drivers will drive for 99Pop and Uber and will therefore prefer to take a customer from Uber, as they will earn more from them.
So my sister’s boyfriend’s friends (ugh, glad we got through that one alright) picked me up from the airport and drove me to my hostel. In retrospect, even having been tired beyond belief, I should have accepted their invitation for dinner just to be polite. But I met up with the woman the next day and she showed me through Saõ Paulo a bit.
We also got me a Brazilian sim card. Now these vary throughout Brazil and it might be, that you won’t have reception in some areas because of that. But they are a great thing to have for on-the-go internet to check up on maps and such. Also good for calling people.
Hot Tip (!) get your sim card at the airport before you exit to the main area. The people there will set it up for you. Once outside, you will need a Brazilian Identification number to activate your sim card. Thankfully I had my friend who put in hers, otherwise I would have been screwed.
I’d booked the hostel in advance and had it booked for 4 or 5 nights, I don’t recall. In any way, it turned out to be far too long a time to be spending in Saõ Paulo, as there isn’t much to do. If you do end up visiting Saõ Paulo, make sure to be staying over the weekend, as Sundays are a great day to spend on Avenida Paulista! They close off all the streets to cars and have live music and market stalls all over the place. It’s very much worth seeing!
Hot Tip (!) book your hostels for 1 or 2 nights, to see if you like the hostel and the area. If not, you can change without losing money and if you like the hostel, there is nearly always a space for you in the hostel you’re staying at. You also might not even end up staying in that town but move on instead. I used the app hotellook to scope out hostels ahead of time. Again, install and set this up with your credit card details before you leave your home country!
In the first hostel I was in, I met a really nice young girl from Riberaõ Preto, a town about 3 hours inland from Saõ Paulo, who invited me to visit her.
Now, before I left on this trip, I swore to myself that I would listen to my gut feeling, because it has always been right. There have been a few cases where I have ignored it and regretted it retrospectively.
I had a bit of time to kill before taking a flight up to Fortaleza to visit my sister, who was visiting her boyfriend at the time. My gut feeling told me I should take this girl up on her offer, so I went to visit her and her family.
Honestly, not a city I would recommend visiting for its own sake, but it was really fun to get to know the family. And, seeing as we girls had originally bonded over her Deathly Hallows tattoo, we started watching the Harry Potter movies. Which is how I came to realise that I had been missing the extended versions my entire life! Catastrophe. A mistake I need to rectify in the near future.
She showed me around, we went shopping and swimming in the pool at the top of the high-rise they were living in, joked around with the cute neighbour and basically just lived a very chill life. This was my first encounter with any sort of gated housing, though.
Funny story: I mentioned I loved passion fruit, so the mother bought some on her next trip to the shops. Then the whole family continued to stare at me in horror when I cut one open and started spooning it right out of the shell. Apparently, that’s not how passionfruit is eaten in Brazil. It’s only made into fresh juice or baked into stuff. Who knew 😀
Brazil does not do Urban Planning well. There are high-rises scattered all over the city and it just seems like absolute chaos. However, the need for these buildings became apparent quite soon: They are gated communities that are easy to sustain, because you only need one doorman (I mean maybe two for 24h surveillance).
It was a very new concept for me, coming from Hamburg, Germany, where the only high-rises are office buildings and doormen are a thing from the movies. But then again, there are way less homeless people and less crime in Germany than there are in Brazilian cities.
The time came for me to leave, so I hopped back on a bus to Curitiba this time, where I was going to stay at the house of the parents of a girl (Paula) who was in Italy with me when I was on exchange with AFS in 2010/11. Paula’s parents were the cutest, nicest people and I fell in love with their two dogs (dachshund).
Curitiba is one of the more modern cities in Brazil, with a great public transport system and just a general air of progression. Funnily enough, Paula’s father works in Urban Planning and said the company has so many contracts and is turning away people left right and centre, because they can’t keep up. Sounds like it’s coming to Brazil as well then 🙂 I also let Paula’s parents feed me to no end.
Completely coincidentally, there was a music festival being held when I was visiting! So I picked out some shows I wanted to go to and saw some pretty cool experimental live performances. I just soaked it all up. It was awesome.
Other than that, I took a hop-on-hop-off tour of the city, which I can recommend, it is really well organised and quite cheap. I used a lot of public transport in my travel around Brazil and I always found it to be exactly what I needed, even if busses always ran late. I did tend to use google maps or maps.me for these things.
Hot Tip (!) I would not recommend taking out your phone in public. If you’re lost, walk into a shop and take out your phone there or ask for directions.
Some of the busses in Curitiba were ‘transit card only’ which meant you had to have a local public transport card to pay electronically. I made this mistake once and thankfully had a nice lady pay for me and I gave her the fee in cash. Having the ‘sweet little girl’ face in your arsenal comes in handy a lot!
Oh! I almost forgot to mention: My sweet, and unbinding love for açai started in Saõ Paulo and continued to be my faithful companion throughout my journey. I’ve tried recreating it in Germany, but the powdered stuff is just not the same. I don’t know how people eat that stuff. Be careful though! If you’re vegan, always ask them to serve you açai ‘sem leite’ or ‘sem leite em po’! Milkpowder is a vegan’s worst enemy.
Alright, this blog is already long enough. I will continue writing down my memories and hopefully sharing some helpful insight with you if you are thinking of going solo backpacking, so check back in soon!