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While we might not be able to easily travel right now, our dream destinations are here to stay. So, while we may be in isolation or quarantine or just social distancing, it is good to plan ahead for our next big trips in the meantime. For those seeking a little outdoor adventure, beautiful beaches, and vibrant culture, why not head to Brazil?
A former colony of Portugal, Brazil today is a hugely multicultural country with diverse Indigenous communities, historical settler populations, and new immigrants bringing an array of customs to this massive nation. For many, the first image of Brazil is o Cristo Redentor (Christ the Reedemer) of Rio de Janeiro and as praias (beaches) of Ipanema. While Rio is grand, Brazil itself boasts so many destination cities like Salvador da Bahia, Balneário Camboriú, Manaus, São Paulo, Fortaleza … The list goes on!
Preparing to pack for Brazil really does depend on the region that one will visit there. However, these general tips will make anyone’s trip a breeze and may even impress locals by showing one knows some national trends and indulgences beforehand!
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- Bring lightweight clothing
- Grab a Brazilian Portuguese phrasebook
- Leave behind your preconceptions
- Pack Havaianas (or buy them there)!
- Bring cash
- Do not bother with international calling plans
- Remember your water bottle
- Pack some (stylish) swimwear
- Pack your appetite
Bring lightweight clothing
As one can imagine, Brazil is rather toasty in spring and summer, which spans from September – May there. The north of the country is generally considered warmer than the south, and areas in the Amazon do not even really experience changing seasons given their unique, tropical rainforest climate. Temperatures can generally reach up to 35°C (95°F) in southern São Paulo during the height of the summer season, so be prepared to sweat.
Regardless of where one is going, lightweight clothing is a must. Definitely choose breathable fabrics. Tank tops, shorts, and no boots – which as a staple piece for my general Canadian wardrobe is tough to leave at home!
During the winter (summer in the Northern Hemisphere), temperatures do not usually drop lower than around 16°C (60°F) in Brazil’s temperate southern regions. For Brazilians, this temporal change is rather drastic, so they may bundle up more than visiting tourists then who come from chiller places in general. A sturdy jacket, a raincoat, and long pants are all one will need generally during the off-season.
Grab a Brazilian Portuguese phrasebook
For those who do not speak Portuguese, I would highly recommend a phrasebook for a trip para este país maravilhoso (to this wonderful country). Brazilian Portuguese is a different variety than that spoken in Portugal. And, there are many dialects throughout the South American country itself. Nothing pisses off Brazilians more than having someone speak Spanish to them with confidence. It is a national pet peeve. A phrasebook will do wonders for getting directions, ordering at bars,
making acquaintances and keep you speaking Portuguese!
Brazilians also tend to have great pride in their language, so making the effort to speak Portuguese (perfect or not) will also demonstrate an additional level of respect to one’s hosts. It will be appreciated by many.
Leave behind your preconceptions
Again, Brazil is a huge country. Each state has its own regional cultures, and often there are even rivalries between these municipalities.
In the south, there is heavy influence from Italian and German immigrants and in the northeast and southeast, there have been influential developments in national and local cuisine, music, and art by their large, historic Afro-Brazilian populations.
Do not expect Carnival every day or everyone to be able to samba.
Brazil’s diversity and history cannot be reduced to own narrative or image, so do yourself a favour and come to the country with an open mind.
Pack Havaianas (or buy them there)!
Along with fashionable, breathable outfits, sandals are key to have in this country.
However, if a practical souvenir is your desire, wait until you get to Brazil to pick up some Havaianas. The quintessential Brazilian footwear, this shoe is nationally loved, and I have even been called out in praise by the Brazilian diaspora in Canada for sporting the look around town
These flipflops are relatively cheap and come in a huge selection in their brand stores, which can be found in almost any shopping centre in the country. Either bring them yourself, or I suggest making the purchase abroad and taking home an unusual, but nationally beloved keepsake.
While credit cards are generally accepted in most venues, keeping some cash on you is useful for smaller purchases. The Brazilian real (plural: reais) is not the world’s strongest currency, so little goes a long way if you are coming from the United States, UK, and even Canada (which
also does not have the world’s strongest dollar either).
Pickpocketing, although not a regular occurrence, is more common in densely populated areas, so do not bring all of your cash with you at all times and be aware of your surroundings. However, for beach purchases and local snacks of which Brazil has many perhaps use paper
before card to not rack up those international fees.
Do not bother with international calling plans
Figuring out your phone plan abroad is complicated at the best of times. Luckily, SIM cards are cheap and plentiful in Brazil with data plans offering gigabytes for very few reais.
Save time at home and buy a local phone chip at a corner store once you get there and then stay connected on WiFi for your whole trip.
Brazilians love social media in all forms: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. So, having your data ready is essential for making friends while abroad to share profiles and keep up to date with happenings in your destination city. Municipalities often maintain up-to-date social media presences, so you can always know what festivals or events are taking place when visiting.
Remember your water bottle
With the scorching climate, bringing a water bottle for liquid salvation is a smart move for most tourists. And, water quality in larger cities is rather reliable, so do not feel apprehensive to use the tap.
That said, most Brazilians will opt for filtered or bottled water, and serving tap water is out of the ordinary at dining establishments. Natural water is preferable for many in the country, and for a healthy treat, people like to order freshly squeezed juices too. Brazilians have a huge selection of
tropical fruits at their disposal, so it is not uncommon to find cheap, all-natural juices on café menus and supermarkets nationally.
Pack some (stylish) swimwear
The beach is taken seriously in Brazil. A trip to the sea usually requires a tent, cooler, group of friends, food for the afternoon, and of course, drinks. Ready-made caipirinhas, anyone?
While the stereotype of men wearing swim briefs that leave little to the imagination has some basis, do not expect everyone to be wearing a speedo in Brazil. However, Brazilians do generally take pride in their appearance and considering the nation’s love of Instagram, beach pics are commonplace in outfits that usually compliment physiques.
Feel free to experiment a little bit and bring that swimsuit you were nervous about debuting at home. Showing some skin is fine, and sunbathing to recharge could not be more Brazilian either.
Pack your appetite
Of all the things to talk about in Brazil, food is the big one.
Brazil has such a rich gastronomic landscape, it will be hard to put your fork down for a moment when visiting.
Whether it is the authentic açaí bowls, coxinha (fried croquettes), brigadeiro (truffles), feijoada (pork stew), fresh fruits, cane sugar drinks (caldo de cana), BBQ … Be sure to come with a big appetite. This country does not play around when it comes to food. And, buffet-style serving is popular, so prepare for as big of portions as you want!
One of my favourite Brazilian foods is farofa, which is a fried manioc dust (cassava) garnish that goes great with meats and other savoury dishes. It is common as a side at Brazilian churrascarias (restaurants that specialise in Brazilian BBQ).
How one packs will always influence the experience abroad. I, for one, actually prefer under-packing just a little before a vacation. There is something fun about having to go to the supermarket and figure out what toothpaste to buy or wandering through a department store to find a pair of socks in a foreign country. Brazil is a country that needs multiple trips and visits just to get a good picture of it since so many regions vary in their respective vibes. Expect the unexpected, but do prepare for a warm
and welcoming climate nevertheless.
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About the Author
Ben Chung aka pintsizedpioneer is a travel blogger based in Vancouver, Canada. He writes about language, food, and LGBT+ and BIPOC travel experiences including Indigenous tourism and queer venues abroad. His most recent travels before COVID-19 have taken him to Scotland, Curve Lake First Nation, Bella Bella, and southern Brazil.