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10 South American Travel Tips from Hunter S. Thompson That Will Blow Your Mind

Traveling like a gonzo journalist is easier than you think

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In 1962 and 1963, before he became America's iconic "gonzo journalist," the young Hunter S. Thompson cut his teeth as a freewheeling, freelance foreign correspondent in South America. In The Footloose American: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America, travel writer Brian Kevin sets out to cross the continent using Thompson's forgotten, fifty-year-old articles as his guide. A few pointed observations from the twenty-five-year-old Thompson's year abroad.

Don’t sweat your budget.

Via Giphy

“I am down to 10 U.S. dollars but have developed a theory which will go down as Thompson’s Law of Travel Economics. To wit: full speed ahead and damn the cost; it will all come out in the wash.”

Personal correspondence, May 26, 1962

Collected in The Proud Highway

But remember that money can be useful.

Via Giphy

“As it is, I’m traveling at least half on gall. But in the course of these travels, I have discovered that gall is not always the best currency, and there are times when I would be far better off with the other kind.”

“Chatty Letters During a Journey from Aruba to Rio,” Dec. 31, 1962

National Observer

Stick to rum near the Equator.

Via Giphy

“It is bad enough drink Scotch all day in any climate, but to come to the tropics and start belting it down for three hours each morning before breakfast can bring on a general failure of health.”

“A Footloose American in a Smuggler’s Den,” Aug. 6, 1962

National Observer

Pack heat.

Via Giphy

“Whatever you do — and wherever you go — take weapons. Once outside the U.S. you might as well try to buy gold bricks as a good pistol.”

Personal correspondence, Jan. 1, 1963

Collected in The Proud Highway

Skip Bolivia.

Via Shutterstock

“If Bolivia were half as bad as it looks on paper, the government would send a crew to all this country’s points of entry to post signs saying, ‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.’”

“A Never-Never Land High Above the Sea,” April. 15, 1963

National Observer

Don’t expect excitement in Asuncion.

Via Shutterstock

“Asuncion is as different from Buenos Aires as Bowling Green, Kentucky, is from Chicago. It would not take a dictator to drive a man out of this town, and most of Paraguay’s ‘exiles’ did not need a dictator to make them leave.”

“It’s a Dictatorship, but Few Seem to Care Enough to Stay and Fight,” Jan. 28, 1963

National Observer

Learning the language can be fun.

Via Giphy

“I am at last cracking the language barrier, using sex as a wedge and drink to dilute the ignorance.”

Personal correspondence, Aug. 28, 1962

Collected in The Proud Highway

Don’t treat culture shock with booze.

Via Giphy

“Another problem that plagues the gringo is drink. Because he never really feels at home in a foreign language; because his income is usually embarrassingly large by local standards; because he worries continually about being cheated whenever he buys anything; because he never gets over the feeling that most upper-class Latins consider him a boob from a country where even the boobs are rich; and because he can never understand why people don’t seem to like him for what he is — just a good guy who feels a bit out of place among these strange surroundings and customs — because of all these tensions and many more of the same kind, he tends to drink far more than he does at home.”

“Why Anti-Gringo Winds Often Blow South of the Border,” Aug. 19, 1963

National Observer

Brazilians take sex seriously.

Via Shutterstock

“Thus do the Brazilians view the Majesty of the Law, and the majesty of just about everything else for that matter — with a quiet, mocking smile and a keen regard for the urgencies of the flesh.”

“Brazilian’s Fable of a Phony Carries the Touch of Mark Twain,” April 20, 1964

National Observer

Carry cash. Or don’t.

Via Giphy

“[T]he hotel won’t take my check so I can’t leave. I just sit in the room and ring the bell for more beer. Life has improved immeasurably since I have been forced to stop taking it seriously.”

Personal correspondence, Aug. 28, 1962

Collected in The Proud Highway

For more on Hunter S. Thompson's trek through South America, pick up a copy of The Footloose American, out now.

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