Some things don’t require planning: life’s surprises, in fact, often trump schedules. Or at least that is the philosophy that has pervaded my existence thus far. I inherited impulsiveness from my family: we arranged vacations two days before we took them, and bought our Christmas trees on December 24th.
Now, as an adult accustomed to a laissez-faire lifestyle, I find planning an anathema. I even tend to shun it when I travel.
In my multiple South America experiences, however, I have discovered that certain planning basics — such as checking bus schedules and routes, making reservations in hostels, and authorizing your visa card for international use — tend to be necessary.
When, in 2004, the Brazilian border police rejected me because I did not have a Yellow Fever vaccination, I made a mental note to become a more detail-oriented person. Due to that one medicinal oversight, my travel companion and I had to cancel our flight to Rio de Janeiro, and stay overnight in a small, drug-running, border town. There, I waited in a long line with 25 Bolivians — all under the age of ten — to get vaccinated at a public health clinic. Then we had to beg the airline to let us on a fully-booked flight the next day. It was 24 hours of worry and waste.
You’d think I would learn. You’d think that, instead of just winging it on my Argentina-Paraguay-Brazil trip that week; I would have made certain inquiries. And, indeed, I sort of did: I booked a hostel in Rio, and looked up the address of one in Cordoba (granted, it was after I had already arrived in Cordoba), still I was proud of myself for taking these actions. Hey, Mom, look: I can plan!
Old habits, however, die hard. Let me explain. After eight hours of travel in a tiny, knee-crunching minibus through the rather dismal Argentine north, I strolled across a metal bridge from Argentina into Paraguayan territory. The idea was to then take a local bus to Asunción after passing customs. Except that I never did pass customs: once again, I was stymied by the border police. It turns out that Americans need visas to enter the country. I suppose that is something I could have looked up. But for Paraguay? Honestly. Who knew?