Life in Buenos Aires: A Survival Guide

Written by Mia Wagenbach
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Before actually arriving in the city, I did as most travelers do and researched the city all over the internet. Apart from what I had heard about the city on the news, I had no idea what the city would be like. Overwhelmed by the amount of information on where to go sightseeing, eating, shopping and all those other tourism tips I finally decided to lay the phone down and let myself get surprised.

Honestly, I think those tips do not help you out until you are in the city. So, I had no real expectations, but of course, I had a few fears as this it was also my first time travelling completely on my own. Although I was quite sure, everything would turn out fine, I did fear what the argentine capitol would be like. Especially whether it would be dangerous to walk around alone or what the people would be like.

Let me get this clear before going on:

Buenos Aires is a big city with a lot of people rather crowded together (as a comparison for all German people reading this: the city itself is smaller than Frankfurt/Main and has only a few less people than Berlin). And you do have those rather fishy neighborhoods like every big city does. Nevertheless, if you follow a few rules, like keeping your eyes and ears open, you will most likely not have any bad experiences. In fact, I feel safer in Buenos Aires than in some European cities. You don't have to worry too much.

Once you arrive in the city, especially if you’re living more in the centre you will quickly notice how beautiful Buenos Aires is. The architecture is astonishing, there are many churches and old buildings and it is satisfying to see that someone takes care of the image of the city. You will quickly notice that there is a lot more to see than your travel guides tell you about. That was my first impression of the city during the taxi drive from the International Airport to my accommodation in the Heart of the city.

My first week here was… let’s just say it was a bit chaotic. I was extremely tired from the long flight, a bit jetlagged and in that state, I started to wonder if it was the best idea to come to Buenos Aires. On top of that my Spanish skills were horrible, which didn’t make it any easier. Although the people in the centre usually speak English quite well, I did realise how much of a burden a language barrier can be. I hadn’t expected it to affect me that much. At some point I started to ignore the negative things that happened and even if something went wrong, I noticed that I was a lot more relaxed about those things which was very relieving.

Once you mentally arrive in the city you’ll see that it does not only has a lot to offer, it is also a very friendly city. The people are open-minded, welcoming, caring, energetic, charming and the best small-talkers I have ever met. If not for them, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with the city as much as I did.

The city’s atmosphere is like its habitants: warm and happy, chill and yet energetic.

I had to get used to how late the argentine people stay up and especially eat. Trying to get your time schedule to work with them isn't as easy as it sounds like. If you're used to eating dinner at 6 pm you might experience a little disappointment, particularly if you eat out with someone. Even in a group with other foreigners, you will most likely not leave before at least 8 pm. It is still hard for me to force myself to eat after 7 pm, but then again if you don't have to depend on anyone else you can cook and eat however you please.

At first, I thought that Buenos Aires was actually quite cheap. I went grocery shopping, which is cheap if you do it right and not just buy what you know from home. But shopping for clothing or jewelry isn’t as cheap. In fact, most things are actually a lot more expensive than in Europe.

There are a few nice spots to go window shopping, but I do not recommend to go to Buenos Aires with the expectation to get a good deal with cloths here, you should rather save that money for a fancy restaurant. Which brings me to my next point on costs: Food. Like I said, grocery shopping is not too expensive, which is why I absolutely do recommend to cook as often as you can. Since eating out is also not as cheap as you might think, I would recommend to only go out to eat once or twice a week if you didn't bring that much money (note: by eating out I also mean those noon-snack empanadas you'll soon learn to love).

You also need to calculate that you will need to pay for the public transportation (train, subway and buses). Either ask for a SUBE-Card at your hostel or go buy one at the next lottery, load it with 50 or 100$ (depending on how often you need to go somewhere and how long you stay, personally I need at least 100$ per week and if I’m lazy I’ll need a bit more for those 15 blocks subway rides, when you just want to go home and not by walking).

Some people buy an SIM-Card, but most people that don't stay longer than 4 months don't buy one. Check if you have free Wifi at your accommodation and if yes, you most probably won’t need one. I sometimes don’t even take my phone with me if I leave the house, because honestly, what could be so important that I need my phone and can’t just figure out myself (you don’t need Google maps non-stop, just take a map with you). If I have to go to a specific address that isn’t a common sightseeing spot, I just take a screenshot of the routes and then I’ll be good to go. Also: If you find it hard to find addresses, especially if you plan to use the public transportation you have a few resources to choose from. If you have enough free space on your phone left, you can download the “Como llego” App for the SUBE system in Buenos Aires. Personally, Google Maps works perfectly fine for me. Just type in where you want to go, opt for public transportation and choose how you want to get there (by bus, subway, train or a combination of these). Screenshot and that’s it.

In the first few weeks you’ll be a bit terrified and think you’ll never be able to use the SUBE system on your own, but trust me: It’s not that hard. Just go for it. The train and subway are especially tourist friendly, for the buses you’ll need a few Spanish and orientation skills, but you can always ask the bus drivers where they go to and if they can tell you when to get off (which a lot of people do). But remember: Raise your hand when the bus approaches, otherwise it will not stop for you and think you’re waiting for a different one.

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