How to Survive a Brazilian Roadtrip

brazilian roadtrip

A Brazilian roadtrip sounded like the perfect way to explore a country I’d never seen. Who doesn’t love a good roadtrip? And by good, I mean the kind where almost everything goes wrong. Who wants to listen to someone’s perfectly executed roadtrip? Bor-ing! So when my boyfriend and I decided to throw together a three day Brazilian roadtrip from Sao Paulo to Paraty, we thought, how hard could it be?

brazilian roadtrip Lower Your Expectations  

Renting a car in Brazil was a piece of cake – I hopped onto Europecar, threw in my city pairs, chose my compact car and, because my partner and I can’t speak a lick of Portuguese, we paid for GPS for good measure. Click, purchase, done!  We figured with a few printed maps we’d be fine. That is until we arrived at Sao Paulo airport after 20 hours of travel to find a gutless-tin can, with bald tires and no GPS waiting for us.

Polish Up Your Portuguese 

If humankind managed to find their way from the Africa to the Asian subcontinent over a million years ago without the aid of technology, surely we could make the 4 hour journey from Sao Paulo to Paraty without GPS right? The short answer is yes, the long answer, it took 9 hours, about 20 wrong turns, and enough sugar and caffeine to fuel an entire army of hackers for a week.

Our first challenge was getting out of Sao Paulo, which, if you look on a map seems relatively easy, except that if you miss your turnoff, it can take over an hour to find the next freeway entrance. Be prepare to be perpetually lost (and lost in translation). Tip of the day? Either bring your OWN GPS that you can calibrate, learn to understand enough Portuguese to read the road signs, and slip your navigator just enough Gravol to prevent them from projectile vomiting every time they look down at a map.

brazilian roadtrip

Bring Your Change Purse brazilian roadtrip

There are more tollbooths on Brazilian highways than there are cars. Slight exaggeration, but it felt like we were shelling out Reais every 10 minutes. Bring small bills or change, and have it ready in hand when you pull up or prepare for a barrage of honks behind you for being a slowpoke.

Get Crazy 

Brazilian driving etiquette is not for the faint of heart. If you drive like your eighty-six year old Grandma, hand the keys over to someone else, this isn’t for you. Brazilians might be friendly, but they can be downright insane on the road. They weave in and out, cut you off, ride your bumper and blare their horn…and that’s just in the parking lot. Traffic is heavy on the highways, and with sudden weather changes, especially on the coast, it can treacherous. So chin up, grip that wheel with both hands, and be confident, and keep your eyes peeled for motorbikes, mid-highway speed bumps and speed traps.

Stop to Enjoy the Views

Brazilian Roadtrips

Roadtrips shouldn’t be about punching a clock. Who cares if you’re three hours behind, Brazilians are always late – Do as the Romans do. A Brazilian roadtrip is probably one of the most scenic roadtrips you’ll ever take, and there are TONS of vista turn-out points and hidden beaches to explore. Pack a picnic, lot’s of water, and take a breather from the highway chaos.

brazilian roadtrip

Keep a Sense of Humour 

Brazilian roadtrips are the leading cause of travel divorces. Okay, I totally made that up, but it’s not that farfetched. Think about how pissed off you get when your partner backseat drives at home! Before you set out on a roadtrip in any country, be okay with getting lost, agree not to take it out on each other, and above all, remember that all mishaps make for great storytelling later on.

7 Brazil Travel Tips to Know Before You Go

brazil travel
brazil travel

Rio de Janeiro

I recently had the pleasure of adding Brazil to my growing list of most beautiful countries to visit. I took 9 flights, visited 10 cities and lounged on a handful of beaches in just over two weeks, and as always, I’ve returned with tons of awesome travel tips and fun facts starting with these 7 Brazil travel tips to give you a jump start on your own trip planning.

1) Learn the Lingo 

English is not widely spoken in Brazil, and while you don’t have a hope in hell of mastering this complicated language before you go, learning a few key phrases will not only help you navigate around, the locals are more likely to want to interact with you. Downloading an awesome language app like Duolingo or Vidalingua will help you with all the basics, and help you build your vocabulary along the way.

brazil travel


2) Travel in the Off Season 

Brazil is expensive, there’s no way around it. It may not come as a shock to seasoned South American travelers, but it will to those not familiar with the inner workings of the Brazilian economy. But in addition to saving yourself on reais (pronounced: hey-eyes in Portuguese), traveling in the off season means you’re not dealing with heavy crowds. According to local Brazilians, the best time for Brazil travel is after the first week of January. And then March to early October, accommodation, car rentals and some restaurants lower their prices quite dramatically.

3) Be Careful, not Paranoid 

I consider myself to be a fairly well seasoned traveler, but I have to be honest, it was tough not be influenced by all the paranoid hysteria coming at me. I turned to my favorite guidebooks, and even those pages were riddled with hair-raising stories of murder and mayhem across Brazil. Yes, Brazil has a reputation for high crime, especially touristic places like Rio De Janeiro, Recife and Sao Paulo. But with the world keeping a close eye on the newest World Cup host, Brazil has seriously stepped up both its police and military presence. One one of the best Brazil travel tips I can offer you is to use common sense – Don’t flash your diamonds, don’t carry around wads of cash, and don’t wander around white knuckling your possessions. Act natural, be aware, and enjoy yourself.

4) Don’t Rely on Guidebooks 

Guide books are great, but they can’t cover everything and the moment they’re in print, they’re out of date. Even the best guide book can’t compete with current local knowledge. Now that you’ve fired up your handy language app, use it! Find out from the locals where you can get a proper Caipirinha; where you can eat some fantastic Feijoada; or where you can join in on a hyper local festival. The only thing Brazilians love more than football and music is showing you how proud they are of their culture and cuisine.

brazil travel

Traditional Feijoada

5) Don’t be Afraid to Rent a Car 

Most travel blogs offering advice on Brazil travel will advise against renting a car. They’ll tell you it’s expensive, it’s difficult to find parking, and it’s dangerous. Fear mongering at its finest. I rented a car and drove it from Sao Paulo to Paraty on the coast. Without GPS, a map, or more than 5 Portguese words. If I can do it, so can you. And while I did get lost a few times, it is the absolute best way, in my opinion, to see the country. I booked through Europecar and paid less than $200CAD for a 4 day rental. Just a heads up, many of the highways are tolled so make sure you have a handful of Reais kicking around. I would not advise renting a car in the larger cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife or Salvador – It is difficult to find parking, and theft is more of an issue.

6) Be wary of Pousada Reviews  

A pousada (literally translates as a “place to stay” or “to land”) is the most common form of accommodation across Brazil. They are individually owned properties with varying degrees of service, and don’t have a regulated star rating like you would find in North America or Europe. They are often historic, charming and simple, offering an “authentic” experience, which is part of what makes them so attractive. Be mindful of reviews you read on Trip Advisor – Newcomers to Brazil arrive with unrealistic expectations. Pousada’s located in poorer areas, while beautiful and friendly, can experience things like water shortages, or scheduled power outages. It’s all part of the experience!

7) Bring Your Confidence to the Beach

I recently read an article in the Guardian that shared a few Brazil travel tips for those coming to watch the World Cup, and one of them mentioned having to “buff up” before hitting the beach. Absurd. No one cares what you look like. Be it Copacabana, Ipanema or Leblon, people of all shapes and sizes squeeze themselves into the itsy-bitsy-teeniest-of-anything! If you’ve been hiding under a moo-moo for the last decade, Brazil is the place to buy an armful of thongs and shamelessly strut your stuff!

Love this post? I delve more into my time in Brazil in the coming weeks!


Why I Study an Endangered Language

Photo of Gitxsan Dancers at the Coastal First Nations Dance Festival at the UBC Museum of Anthropology

As you all know, I sort of lead a double life. I’m  full time freelance writer, but I’m also a full time 4th year anthropology student at the University of British Columbia. Anthropology wasn’t always the plan. I wanted to do good in the world, but I thought the best way for me to do that was to work for the United Nations.  I was passionate about history and International Relations, so a Poli-Sci degree seemed like a smart way to go. After two semesters of riling against propaganda-pushing professors, I needed a change. After taking a class in Human Evolution with archaeology professor Bob Muckle at Capilano University, my fate was sealed. Professor Muckle took me aside one day and asked me what I was majoring in. I told him, and he laughed. “No, no. You’re too much of a doer, you should be an anthropologist”. He was right.

Anthropology is one of those disciplines that makes people cross-eyed with confusion, yet wildly curious at the same time. If you tell someone you’re a psychologist, economist, or oncologist, they have a sense of what your day looks like. But anthropology is one of those fields with arms so far reaching, it’s difficult to sum it up in a sentence without doing the entire discipline a disservice. In short, anthropology is the study of human culture, of humanity, and all that it comprises including the social and biological aspects. That’s the super condensed, Coles Notes  version (don’t laugh, I’m from the Pre-Wikipedia era, and it was glorious!) So why am I talking about anthropology when this post is about an endangered language?

Anthropology is about learning about, and understanding culture. It’s about bridging the gap between discriminatory ignorance, and cultural knowledges (among other things). And it’s the reason why I chose to study an endangered language for my degree. I remember glancing over the language course offerings; French, Spanish, German, Russian, Mandarin. I felt so uninspired. I’d always been firmly against my limited language offerings growing up – A poor reflection of the colonial nature of the Canadian education system. Like most non-aboriginal Canadians, I had grew up on land that had once been aboriginal land, a land where bands had thrived for several thousand years, until the arrival of European settlers. The acts against aboriginal groups across this country (and the United States) were unspeakable. Imagine if you woke up one day, and you were forbidden to speak your own language. A language your mother had whispered into your crib, a language your grandparents had carried on from their grandparents, and theirs before them. Language is everything, and while my government attempted to wipe these languages out forever, I wanted to be an ally to aboriginal language revitalization, and not a perpetrator.

Approximately 60% of the First Nations languages of Canada are spoken in B.C, and there are 32 First Nations languages spoken in B.C.! For the last year and a half I’ve been studying an endangered language called Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm, a dialect of Coast Salish. There are currently only 7 semi-fluent speakers in the Musqueam Community. Students like myself, have the opportunity to study the language through the FNLG program at UBC under the direction of Professor Patricia Shaw, Elder Larry Grant and Marny Point.

So why learn an endangered language? I take Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm because it teaches me about a culture through the nuances of its language. I take it because I have the privilege and honour to travel to the Musqueam Reserve twice a week, to learn about the Musqueam People, their traditions, their relationships with one another, and most importantly, I get to hear the stories. I get to ask questions about their thoughts on contemporary life, about how things have changed, and how the language reflects these changes, and how it preserves beloved traditions of the past. Most importantly, I take it because I believe every culture has a right to know their own language, to speak it, to pass it down through generations, to celebrate it. The notion of a language dying out because of cultural genocide is unacceptable to me, and I am proud to play a role, as small as it may be, in the revitalization of an endangered language.