By Chantell Collins from Adoration 4 Adventure
To be honest, I was more than a little nervous before going to Brazil.
I mean, I had been backpacking before and I loved travelling solo – so those weren’t the issues.
This was a country I knew barely anything about, on a continent that was totally new to me. All I had heard about Brazil were tales of the party scene in Rio de Janeiro and crazy escapades during Carnival. Or the sobering stories of poverty and crime that is enough to give any traveller pause.
Before embarking on my trip, the only real research I did was pouring over a map and reading up about beautiful beaches and towns to visit. I took no time to learn about Brazil’s culture and its people.
Here are some of the things that I learned while backpacking in Brazil as a solo female traveller.
Besides in the tourist areas of major cities, English isn’t that widely-spoken. Unless you are travelling on a tour or with someone who speaks Portuguese, it is a good idea to learn some key words at least.
Key words to learn in Portuguese
- Ola (Hello)
- Bom dia (Good morning)
- Boa tarde (Good afternoon)
- Boa noite (Good night)
- Por favor (Please)
- Sim (Yes)
- Nao (No)
- Obrigado / Obrigada (Thank you – masculine / feminine)
- Tchau (Goodbye)
Speaking Spanish can be a bonus as there are a lot of similar words, however there are also a lot of words which are completely different (for example: “fork” in Portuguese is “garfo” and in Spanish is “tenedor”). The pronunciation of many of the consonants in Portuguese and Spanish can differ as well.
I love using the app “Duo Lingo”, as it works with a combination of reading, writing, speaking and listening. If you are more of a textual learner, then invest in a Portuguese language book or a simple language guide that you can use while on the go.
Language lessons are a must if you are planning on getting serious about Portuguese. There are numerous schools in Brazil that can help you learn with either classroom style or one-on-one lessons for a fraction of the cost compared to back home. Be sure to ask for a teacher who is a native Portuguese speaker, as pronunciation is a crucial part of the language.
Also, a good point to remember is that the accent can change depending on which region you are in. The accent of a Paulista (from the state of Sao Paulo) will be different to the accent of a Carioca (from Rio de Janeiro).
Brazilians are typically warm, friendly and touchy. It is customary to greet each other and say goodbye with a kiss on the cheek (or sometimes multiple depending on which state you are in). There is no rushing out of a party in a hurry – as you will need to go around and individually kiss everyone before departing. I found this to be both adorable and amusing.
Brazilians will generally go out of their way to help you and make you feel welcome. Even after leaving Brazil, I have encountered various Brazilians during my travels who have taken me in as if I was an old friend. While backpacking solo in Thailand, I met a group of Brazilians travelling by boat to Rayleigh Beach. Once they found out that I speak Portuguese, they invited me to spend the day with them, sharing their beers and food.
It is very easy to strike up a conversation with a Brazilian. Even if you don’t speak Portuguese that well, they will still be kind and try to communicate with you.
Known for their passion and fire, Brazilians are a romantic bunch. If you are single and looking to mingle, then Brazil is definitely the place for you.
As a female traveling solo, I certainly got more than a few suggestive looks, wolf whistles and appreciative comments whenever I would step outside. I knew of other girls who were approached by guys on the street straight out asking for a kiss.
During my time traveling in Brazil, I was in a relationship, so I tried to deflect any romantic intentions that came my way. As one friend explained to me, the culture is very different than in Western countries. A friendly smile and eye contact could be perceived as flirtation or a sign of interest.
On one particular night I went to a samba club with some girlfriends. In order to avoid any possible misunderstandings, I declined to dance whenever I was asked. I watched my friends dance with guys who then spent the rest of the night trying to sweet talk them and refusing to take “no” as an answer. Often the response “Eu tenho um namorado” (I have a boyfriend) can be completely disregarded.
I also ran into a little trouble when I organized a few meet ups through online social forums with the intention of making new friends. Unfortunately at each event I was hit on (even by another female). Although flattering, it could be a little frustrating at times.
The food in Brazil is delicious! There are so many dishes I miss such as “pao de queijo” (cheese bread) and “provolone a milanesa” (fried cheese balls). Fresh fruit juice is very popular in Brazil – in addition to the standard “suco de laranja” (orange juice), however there are also some other more exotic juices such as “maracuja” (passionfruit). “Arroz e feijao” (rice and beans) are a staple, often for lunch and dinner along with vegetables and meat.
Great and cheap places to grab a hot meal are “Padarias” (bakeries) and Lanchonetes (snack bars) which can serve sandwiches, fried snacks and even pizza. Brazilians usually eat pizza with a knife and fork, so make sure you don’t pick up a slice with your hand.
As I mentioned before, Brazilians are very welcoming and will try to share their food with you even if it is a small portion like a snack. It is considered rude not to offer what you are eating to the person you are with, especially if they don’t have any food themselves.
When going to a party, all the beers will be chucked in the fridge and available for anyone to grab whichever they want. No one counts how many beers each person had or keeps their drinks off to the side.
Unfortunately there are real issues of poverty and crime throughout Brazil. It is very important to always be aware of your surroundings and be sensible. Obviously some areas of Brazil are safer than others, however it is my belief that being safe is better than sorry.
I was fortunate enough that I never ran into any major safety issues in Brazil. I do believe this is because I was super cautious. I knew many friends (even locals) who had been robbed at gun or knife point.
Safety tips for backpacking in Brazil
- Ask a local (friend, hostel or hotel manager) which areas are safe to walk around and which are better to avoid.
- Try not to carry anything of value on you and if you do, try not to take it out of your bag too often (e.g. be discreet with your iPhone).
- Keep your bag in front of you if possible and never leave it unattended (e.g. don’t have it hanging off the back of your chair at a restaurant).
- Avoid walking alone and never walk alone at night.
- In the less “safe areas” avoid speaking English too much or too loudly as it can attract unwanted attention.
- While traveling by car, keep your door locked and don’t keep anything valuable on the seat (such as a handbag).
- If you are held up, just hand everything over without any disagreement or struggle.
Brazil is home to breathtaking waterfalls, mysterious rain forests, exotic animals and some of the most beautiful beaches in the world proving there is more to Brazil than Carnival, soccer, cheap beer and Copacabana.
As the fifth largest country in the world, there is so much to explore. I would encourage anyone to visit Brazil and take time to get to know more about the Brazilian culture. You will encounter some of the friendliest and warmest people you could ever meet.
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Author: Australian born horse rider and hula hooper. Chantell went on her first plane at 21 and first international trip at 24. Since then she has travelled to over 30 countries as well as lived in the United States of America and Brazil. Her dreams are to become fluent in Portuguese and travel to every country in the world
Make sure you check out Chantell’s blog here!