The Incredible Power Of A Reference Point (Or, Why I Only Spent A Week In Chile)

A little while ago, I posted some quick notes on Chile, after staying there only about 7-10 days.

What sometimes occurs after I publish a post like this was that a few people claimed I was making snap-judgements, and moving way too fast through countries in order to make a proper evaluation of the country.

I can see where they’re coming from. For instance, getting to know the people of Chile (i.e. developing relationships) is something that can’t really be rushed, and may be the most important part of getting to know a foreign land. I didn’t leave a lot of time for that.

Plus, there is definitely more to Chile than what I experienced. There are not only many more places in Chile to check out, there is also the large metropolis of Santiago itself, a globally-important city which would take at least several months to get to know well.

But, let’s be honest here. I’m not trying to make a full, comprehensive or otherwise proper anthropological evaluation of the country.

What I’m trying to do is decide whether I would like living there… And I accomplished that just fine, thank you! 😉

Going Abroad To Live, Not Just To Travel

You see, I have a very strong idea of what I’m looking for in a country, based on a handful of factors that are relevant to me at this point in my life, within the context of my values and priorities.

I’m not trying to do a ’round-the-world’ trip, or be some backpacker-blogger who can follow a hostel trail, take pictures, say the world is wonderful and move on. I’m not trying to ‘see the world’, I’m trying to find something.

And, after being abroad and traveling a good bit over the past 2 years, it simply does not take me long to see whether I would like to live in a country or not, when compared to Colombia (specifically Medellin) or Brazil (which I intend to explore more).

I came to a ‘nay’ on living Chile rather quickly. (In my experience, the ‘nays’ come quickly but the ‘yays’ come slowly.) I’d say if Chile were cheaper, I might spend more time there to get a better handle on things, but there’s just no way I’m going to stay in a place that doesn’t really resonate with me while paying US prices (or more).

There wasn’t really much about the city that drew me to it. I say this after putting boots-on-the-ground and experiencing the city for myself.

Brazil has high prices and attracted me. Chile has high prices and didn’t attract me.

My attraction to a place, by the way, isn’t capricious. In fact, it’s part of a general process I go through when I am looking for liveable cities. (I actually feel that this is a process that most people should do, provided that they engage in it intelligently and don’t make foolish financial decisions. So pay attention…)

Here are some of the steps in the process (which I detail here):

  • Have a point of comparison that you love
  • Read the boots-on-the-ground reports of bloggers
  • Don’t put too much weight on guide books
  • Examine as many logistics (weather, costs, location, size) as you can before you visit
  • Only spend your time in places that really resonate with you

To me, it’s simple… Just like you would visit various neighborhoods to see if you would live there, or visit various universities to decide whether you would attend, you also would travel to see if you would like to live in a place.

Having a reference point (or more than one) is the fastest way to decide whether you actually would live in a place.

It didn’t take me long to see I’d prefer Rio de Janeiro over Santiago.

Move On Or Return To Your Darling Cities

The reason I spent only one week in Chile is that I didn’t need to take another week away from living in or exploring other places that are already desirable to me, in favor of one that was 1) expensive and 2) less attractive.

There’s incredible power in a reference point.

Chile has a lot of things going for it, especially economically. I’m sure it’s a good choice for a lot of people.

But for my lively-but-sensible, internet-bootstrapper lifestyle, right now there’s no way I’d stay there. And honestly even if I had the extra income to afford it, I likely still wouldn’t live there.

Going to Brazil helped me reach this conclusion.

  • Life is too short to spend time trying to like places you don’t feel right in. I think our guts know best and can make pretty quick and sound judgments. Sure, you might like it more if you go back and spend more time there but you might also miss out on other places that you’ll love right off the bat!

    • Couldn’t have said it better! Thanks for the comment, Britany.

  • John

    Ok honestly though of course Rio is a better place to live than Santiago… Rio is absolutely gorgeous. But there is no way that Rio is a better place to live than Viña or Valpo. Viña is a million times safer than Rio, with just as much life (everyone stays out till 6 or 7 on the weekends) and tons of foreign girls (if you aren’t into Chileans, which I wouldn’t understand why not) from Argentina and Brazil. An important part of living here and enjoying yourself would be to quickly learn the words of Chilean slang.. It is widely considered the most difficult dialect of Spanish to understand…

    As for the internet, all over here it is as good as anything I’ve had in the US. Which is super fast. It is all over too, most cafe’s have wi fi.

    Living in Viña is expensive if you aren’t smart about you’re money.. But if you want to rent an apartment for yourself near the city center you can do so for less than $300 a month. In the city center it’s about $500.. With how great the transportation works here, it would not be a big deal to live slightly outside of downtown Viña in an apartment. You could get there in 3 minutes or less for a quarter. Or just walk. Plus with the weather being moderate year round, you never have to spend money on heating or cooling. But utilities are expensive so just be smart about water and electricity use.

    You can eat a full, good meal, for less than 5 USD in many restaurants. Just don’t eat at the touristy places, which suck anyway. There are also great fish markets where you can get a soup, salad, a HUGE piece of fish, and rice/fries for 8 USD.. And if you buy your own food and cook, it is dirt cheap. You can buy a kilo of strawberries for less than $1… For the cheapest bottle of wine it’s about $4… and this is REALLY good tasting wine too.

    If you ever need to fly anywhere, the bus to Santiago costs $8, takes about an hour and a half, and runs every thirty minutes to and from Viña directly. The beaches all around are fantastic as well.

    You need to spend more time in Viña before writing Chile off as “too expensive and less attractive”…

    Source, I have been to Rio for a week and have now lived in Viña for a month.

    • Thanks for the input, John! Always love boots-on-the-ground reports… Viña was one place I was curious about but didn’t stick around to investigate further. What’s the best way to get those lower priced rentals and meals you speak of?

      • John

        Meals are cheap if you cook for yourself, just like anywhere else in the world. But there are also restaurants that are REALLY good where you can get a whole meal for less than $7 including a drink. You just have to get to know the city and if you ever visit again I can give you an extensive list..

        As for renting apartments/rooms, this site has an extensive listing.

        Although there might be alternative ways of doing this as well. I am living with a family and it is great. Rent is less than $300 per month (including internet, utilities) and I have my own, decent sized room. For your own apartment it would probably cost around $500 per month depending on where, although I am sure you could find cheaper. My room is literally on the Plaza de Viña which is one of the best locations in town. A few minutes from here the rent is surely cheaper and just as conveniently located.

  • im from chile and i think your opinion is very accurate, this country is expensive, and it is not as atractive for foreigners as other latinamerican countries..

    we dont have carnavals, and we are not very friendly at first until you get to know us.

    so most people from north america or europa find chile boring, there is nothing very exotic about the country, it is expensive.. but it is safe and it has good internet lol.. anyway, there is a lot of outstanding places in the south and north of chile, but the goodies of chile are not there if you don’t have enough money. Even for chileans is cheaper to go on vacations to Peru or Argentina than going to a good hotel in a nice place here in chile.

    ps. sorry for my english 😛

    • Thanks for the comment Andres!