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How to survive a Central and South America trip with long legs

Being a tall person and traveling in Central and South America. Not always a match made in heaven. Let’s just say, of all things, the Latino’s aren’t really known for their height. So basically none of the facilities are built for persons over 5 ft 5. Whether it’s a local bus, train, accommodation or just a simple walk through the distinctly narrow streets. Luckily, there are many clever ways to deal with these daily struggles. Even for 6 ft 6 persons like Tom. In this blog you’ll find our personal top 10 for survival as a ‘giant’.

Long legs trip Central and South America

#1 Stretch those long legs before the trip

This is an easy one: a proper warm up is key before folding your legs in an unnatural position for a while. Since it isn’t that great for your blood circulation. Also try to keep moving (intro Five’ song starts playing) frequently during the ride (if possible, and no we don’t mean the robot). Especially when you are up in the air.

#2 ‘Test seating’: check that seat upfront

Checking your leg space before hopping on the bus or taxi is a definite plus. Not for every half hour ride of course. But if you’re planning on taking a nightbus, long flight including multiple layovers or arranged taxi ride you don’t want to spend that time in firefly pose (Google it and you get the idea). 

When fixing a long distance cab in Cuba for example, you can even use this tactic to your advantage. Crappy seat and a low ceiling? Voilà, a stronger negotiation position.

With bus transport, however, it’s a slightly different story. Often we simply ask the bus driver at the ticket office to fix a ‘test seating’ prior to our purchase. A good option on the day itself. However, not when you’ve bought your ticket online. In that case: locate the best spot while hopping on. Is it already taken? An allocated seat can be swapped without much effort. Just go over there and (if you don’t hablo Español) show ‘the problem’. The short Latin Americans will definitely understand. Do remember in both cases a little kindness often goes a long way. 

#3 Get that (free) seat with extra leg room

Aboard an aircraft there is something like a holy grail of seats. They call it the emergency, bulkhead or exit row. Leg room all over. Sometimes it’s possible to secure a spot beforehand, but mostly only if you like to break the bank. Personally I’d rather go for this free strategical tactic.

First, book yourself an aisle seat and one at the window for your travel companion. People often travel in groups. Meaning if you’re lucky that seat in the middle will remain empty. And it happens to be perfect for those long limbs. You now have already created a back up plan. We personally like to use the seatmaps of SeatGuru as a guide for this trick.

Be at the check in desk on time. In other words, dramatically early. Of course you already have that online check in. But it doesn’t hurt to be the perfect passenger. And kindly asking the staff for that ideal seat while you’re at it. This often works out surprisingly well.

And third, make sure you are the last person to board (don’t cause delays though). As soon as everybody has found their seats, you will immediately see which ones are still available. Preferably the emergency exit. This is your moment to shine. Use your loveliest smile to ask the flight attendant for a seat swap (in case you didn’t fix an upgrade earlier). 

Also, carefully selecting the travel date and time is crucial. Avoid peak hours and weekends. Wednesdays are a safe choice for us so far. It can even make a difference for the ticket price. 

#4 Protect those knees

A bit obvious. But squeezing your knees against the chair in front of you isn’t exactly paradise. Multiplied by every bump or turbulence. The result? Injuries and a bad mood. Therefore, we always bring along two sarongs. Using one as a blanket (for some reason aircon is like a Siberian winter, period) the other as a knee protector. A lifesaver. Trust us on this one.

#5 Head, shoulders, lower back and toes

You remember that children’s song? A good reminder of the parts your body is overcompensating on when sitting incorrectly for a long time. Support like a pillow (or the tip 4 sarong) helps to protect your posture. With toes we actually mean your feet and ankles. So take off your shoes and let them breathe!

#6 Don’t ever pick thís seat

Seats in front of restrooms (or any other kind of wall structure) are off limits from now on. Bus, train, plane, you name it. Because of the vehicles’ lay out, these seats are the least adjustable. Unfortunately we speak from experience. Very uncomfortable and killing for the last two tips. Also, it ruins your chances of sleep on a night bus. Thankfully you won’t make this mistake after reading our blog. 

#7 Change your sleep position

Most beds in Central and South American are about 5 ft 9. With the result of my legs dangling out. Sometimes near the face of my neighbour in a bunk bed (again sorry for the nightmares). If you recognize this situation, consider the good old fetal position. Before the travelbug got hold of me I always slept on my front or back. But that’s not an option anymore unless you are keen on an 8 hour ab work out. Lying on either side and pulling up your legs solves the problem. It might take time to switch, but in the long run I promise you it’s worth the try! Taking over the whole double bed could also be an option. Although your partner will probably disagree. ‘Stop pushing me off the bed!’

#8 Mind that cozy dinner table

More and more restaurants are creative with tables and chairs. Also in Latin America. Think decorative seats made out of trunks, side tables and pallets. Definitely looks stylish and cozy. Sadly, not practical for my long legs. Meaning I am either too close or too far from the food on the pastel coloured plate. Which is tragic for my shorts and shirts. Now imagine all of it in Latino size. Nowadays if we go out for dinner, we just request for a higher table while making the reservation. They will sometimes create an extra special corner, which makes Anita happy as well.

#9 Watch your step in the narrow streets

Market stalls and surprise ceilings are present everywhere in the colourful busy Central and South American streets. Creating an Andes like pattern of swellings on my head as a consequence. Prevention is better than cure in this case. Therefore I pay extra attention to my walking route. Usually I prefer to walk on the street itself. Reason: most danger objects are located on the pavements (such as fruit stalls, kiosk stands etc). Hobbit height doors of older buildings are another issue. No useful tips on these yet, but it surely leads to hilarious Gandalf imitations. 

#10 And finally: teamwork makes the dream work

Helping out during a taxi negotiation. Politely asking for a better flight seat one more time as well. Literally giving a heads up at potential head bump moments. Or gratefully being your personal footrest. Working together, you often achieve more. 

In the rare case none of this works out there is only one thing left to do: (offline) Netflix binge watching for entertainment and much needed distraction. Good luck!