Sometimes you get used to things — things that seem commonplace and make your daily life easier. But some of those things were missing on our South American Adventure.

This is merely based on my experience of eight weeks in three South American countries — Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. I can’t speak for all of South America or even the totality of the countries I visited. But these are the five things I missed most during my travels…

1) Free Water

Even though the tap water is safe to drink in Buenos Aires, Colonia, Santiago, and Portillo, the locals don’t drink it. They just don’t like the taste.


Notice the three cylindrical glass bottles of water next to the bottle of wine.

Notice the three cylindrical glass bottles of water next to the bottle of wine.

This also means that they don’t serve it in restaurants. It’s not really possible to order a glass of water in South America. In fact, ordering water will be followed by a question about with or without gas (…and they’re not talking about your husband!).

Mochachino @ Del Viento

The only exception to free water was that most restaurants served a sip of water and a cookie with your coffee order.

We did a lot of eating out since cuisine is one of the best (and most fun) ways to experience a new culture. But even when I order wine (Malbec in Argentina, Tannat in Uruguay, and Carmenere in Chile), I also like to have water to hydrate and flush my palate. The lack of free water made dining decidedly more expensive, especially at fancier restaurants with ornate glass bottles of water.

Water Bottles

water bottle in Buenos Aires

Before I read the article about water bottles, I carried mine around Buenos Aires. Can you spot the tourist walking away from the camera? That water bottle is a dead giveaway!

We also did a lot of walking. Our first few weeks in Buenos Aires, we were walking the equivalent of a marathon every four days! Thankfully, it was winter so it wasn’t hot (although winter is quite mild). But we still needed to hydrate.

We spent six weeks in Buenos Aires to experience the porteño life. As a tourist, I take pains to blend in; you guys already know that I like to belong. So I read articles about life and culture and what tourists do to out themselves as Americans (which is also another term that doesn’t mean what we think it means — in South America, an American is anyone who lives in North or South America, not just people from the USA).

I came across an article entitled “17 Sure Signs You’re a Tourist in Buenos Aires.” It alerted me to the fact that only tourists carry water bottles. So I stopped carrying our reusable water bottle on our long walks. Apparently, I would rather suffer dehydration than look like a tourist!

During our South American Adventure, we spent a lot of money on water. But I still drank from my water bottle in the apartment!

2) Garbage Disposal

I’ve never lived in a house without a garbage disposal. Occasionally, I’ve stayed in cabins or older homes without one, and it just seemed like a hassle to scrape plates and use a special drain to collect scraps.

None of our accommodations in South America had garbage disposals. Since Mr. HalfFull cooks and I clean, this made my job messier and more time consuming, which leads me to my next item…

3) Dishwasher

We didn’t stay in any grand houses with enormous kitchens, so maybe that’s a factor. But in the US, lots of apartments still have dishwashers — mine always did.

I really despise hand washing dishes. It’s so time consuming and unsatisfying. We also had issues with hot water in our apartments (a topic for another post), so I’m not even sure if you can actually clean germs effectively with cold water.

To top it off, there was one tiny dish drying rack in the apartment. The rack design was terrible — knives and other utensils would routinely slip through the rungs. There was even one toppling incident that resulted in a broken glass.

4) Laundry Dryer

Washing Machine & Drying Rack

Ms. HalfEmpty sleeping on the couch (to avoid the construction noise against the bedroom wall) with a view of the washing machine in the background (no dryer) and the drying rack on the right.

Since we are on the topic of cleaning, let me add the lack of laundry dryers to my list. At home, there are certain clothes that I do not put in the dryer — no big deal. But when I have a month’s worth of laundry to do including sheets and towels, a dryer is essential.

I fully understand the concept of hanging clothes on a line. I also have heard that some people prefer the smell of air-dried laundry. I, on the other hand, prefer the scent of a dryer sheet and enjoy soft fabric.

But the real problem with not having a dryer is space. Our apartment included one drying rack. A single drying rack is fine for a load of laundry, but what about sheets or two loads?

It’s not that dryers don’t exist in South America. In fact, I saw them in the laundromat (which we ended up using) on our street in Buenos Aires. It just seems that people don’t generally have them at home.

5) Peanut Butter


That creamy substance between in the middle of the alfajore is not peanut butter, it’s dulce de leche.

Peanut butter is a food that I eat almost daily — except for my two months in South America.

On our first trip to the grocery store, I saw what appeared to be peanut butter throughout the store. But each time, upon closer inspection, it was actually dulce de leche!

After a few such experiences at different grocery stores, we asked Google why we never saw peanut butter in grocery stores and learned that it’s only sold in health food stores since it’s an import. The country has strict import/export laws that require grocery stores to export an item of similar value for every item they import. Since there isn’t high demand for peanut butter, they would lose money by carrying it.

Did We Survive?

This may all sound like a lot of privileged bellyaching.  Of course, none of these five items are essential for survival — but they are definitely nice to have.

  • What items did you miss while traveling?
  • Do you have a garbage disposal and dishwasher in your home?
  • Do you prefer clothes dried on a rack/line or in a dryer?
  • What are your staple foods?

Ms. HalfEmpty is a 30-something introverted realist, perhaps a pessimist. But she’s trying to see the world half full on, which she started in February 2011. Her worldview may not be all bad, as it probably helps keep her husband, Mr. HalfFull, grounded and out of trouble!