You get one suitcase, one carry on, and one personal item. Obviously that’s all you need for five months and three seasons, right? WRONG. As a 20-year-old woman who has taken on the challenge of blending in as a porteña, let me just say that it is well worth the extra $70 to pack another suitcase. TRUST ME. Just make sure you leave some extra room for the trip back. The airlines now have size and weight restrictions for luggage, and anything that surpasses said restrictions will cost you some extra Benjamins.
Since I’ve been in Buenos Aires for a couple weeks now, I’ve began reflecting on my packing choices. As a clueless gringa who had never been to Argentina, let alone South America, I really didn’t know what I should bring. I knew it was technically winter here, but weather.com said that it’s in the high 50’s – low 60’s during the day! That’s not so bad at all! It’s basically fall weather where I come from.
Here in Buenos Aires it is so humid, that the outside air feels several degrees colder than it actually is. That chill, damp air can seep through thin layers of clothing and send chills through your entire body – even if it’s only 50 degrees! My 70-year-old host mom, Magda, and I actually got into a few sassy arguments in my first few days here. Her face was full of bewilderment when she saw what I was wearing that first day, and insisted that I go change into my warmest clothes. After learning that I was indeed wearing my warmest clothes, she attempted to get me into her sherpa-lined, leather jacket that was about three sizes too big. After (what I had hoped to be) my polite decline of her generous offer, she began incessantly demanding that I go out and purchase a winter coat, or at least a sweater. She would say over and over again how all of the girls who had come through her house would always get sick because they would never wear warm enough clothing. I nodded my head.. “si.. dale.. claro, Magda,”… But then I learned.
Oh. Silly, gringa…
After six days of sitting and listening, exploring, playing, raging, and not very much sleep: I got sick. What I had hoped to be only a chest cold evolved into the most disgusting sinus infection one could imagine. Even after one week, it’s still hanging around, minding it’s own business in my sinuses.
The moral of the story is this: pack warm clothes when traveling in the midst of argentine winter, and remember that host [grand]mothers always knows best.
Helpful Tips for Packing:
Porteños wear a lot of black and neutrals. I’ve noticed that some statement colors are popular in the spring/summer, but for winter, stock up on dark-tone layers that go hand-in-hand with black.
For women, jeans are an everyday go-to. Skirts/Shorts and tights are also popular and a fun way to express your style. Casual, body-hugging dresses that can be layered are also popular here in a variety of colors and prints.
BOOTS. Bring them. Tall, small, brown, black, leather, suede. Bring them and you will wear them everyday. Don’t have any cute boots? Don’t stress it; it’s so much better to buy them here! (same thing with peacoats and small purses!)
Heels? Tall girls, beware. If you don’t mind stares and cat-calls from strange men on the street when you’re walking to a restaurant/bar/boliche, be my guest and wear them. Most porteña’s are on the shorter side, so they don’t stick out as much when wearing heels.
Designer Items. It’s not wise to wear clothes that scream high class. Why? You will get robbed. There’s a girl in my program who got robbed five times in one week. She’s blonde, beautiful, dresses incredibly well, wears nice jewelry, and carries a longchamp bag. As soon as this girl opens her mouth to speak english on the subte, she becomes a target. She might not even have to speak english for the expert thieves to pick her out of a crowd as the perfect economical target. Just at first glance, one can tell she carries herself at a higher standard. I’m not suggesting one should completely morph one’s style in order to live safely in Buenos Aires. The truth of the matter is that there is a significant amount of discrimination against foreigners in Buenos Aires, and we are the easiest targets for common theft. In order to lessen the chances, simply try not to stick out as the archetypal American. Ie) wear a peacoat or (p)leather jacket instead of a ski coat or a north face.
Here’s one of my favorite blogs on porteño street style:
OCT – BUENOS AIRES STREET STYLE
Don’t worry about laundry – it’s super cheap and the people who work in the lavanderías do it all for you! No detergent or dryer sheets necessary!
Exercise clothes? Do it! There are plenty of gyms that offer monthly memberships and the parks are perfect for running outdoors. I’ve definitely seen a number of people running on the city streets too, just be sure to only venture out during the day.
Accessories. Scarves are immensely popular. If you have them, bring them. If not, buy them here; they’re everywhere! Funky jewelry is also popular, but take caution about bringing expensive items.
Sweatpants aren’t really a thing here. Living in Buenos Aires requires you to get dressed everyday like a real person… sorry I’m not sorry. At least you can wear jeans!
Toiletries. Bring carry-on toiletries, but nothing more. They take up valuable space and weight in your suitcase and you can find most of the same products here. Leave hairdryers, straighteners, and curling irons at home too; they’re too powerful to work with the adaptors, so you’re better off just buying them once you’re all moved in.
Medicine. Make sure you bring your prescription notes in case you get any trouble with customs. It’s not common, but it could happen. Call your insurance before hand to make sure you have a long-enough-lasting supply to bring with you (it’s a bit trickier to fill prescriptions here). Sudafed, tums, ibuprofen – all handy to bring with you, but there are also equivalents sold in the 24-hr pharmacies here.
REMEMBER a gift for your host family! It doesn’t need to be anything too special. It should be something useful that reflects where you’re from. Maybe a certain non-perishable food item from a local company, a postcard from your state, a mug, etc.
Photocopies. Probably the most important things you could bring. Photocopy casi todo! It’s very possible that your wallet will get stolen, so you’ll need a photocopy of all your credit and identification cards, as well as the bank phone numbers (remember to call them before you leave so they don’t put a hold on your account!). You’ll also need several copies of the front page of your passport. Trust me, you’ll need it. Whether it’s to carry in your wallet or purse during the day, or to give to your program to have on file, it’s nice to have some extra copies kept safe in your suitcase. For residencia purposes, they’ll also ask that you give them a front-to-back copy of your passport, blank pages included… But you can always do that at one of the many librerías scattered around the city. It seems like there are at least two on every block!
No need to bring your starbucks card… It doesn’t work here.
DO. NOT. EXCHANGE. AT. THE. AIRPORT. Entiendes? The exchange rate right now is somewhere around USD $1 for A $4.5. If you exchange at the airport, you will get your money; however, they will charge you a significant fee. The ATMs in Buenos Aires are the same way. Not only will the Argentine ATMs charge a fee, but your bank at home will charge you too. Some helpful tips to get the most bang for your buck: try to find Argentine Pesos at home. I think my mom ordered USD $500 worth of pesos before I left. I also brought a significant amount of USD with me to Argentina, which I have been exchanging for pesos in the Black Market at about USD $1 for A $6.15. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself.
Other than that, there’s nothing too terribly important to note.
Huzzah, my first post! ‘twas a hefty one, but long overdue.