A funny thing happened at the end of June. I bought a flight to Mexico City.
It happened just like that – sudden and unexpected. But since it happened I haven’t looked back, so I am taking that as a sign that it was the right decision, since I feel pretty settled in it. So what does that mean?
I am going to Central America for 6 months.
Let me take a step back and explain how I came to this decision. When I returned to the US it was under the promise that I would be leaving again, I just didn’t know where to yet, so I was going to take the summer to figure it out. I knew I had a six month window between the end of my summer job and my sister’s wedding, an unmissable event in San Francisco next spring. With that in mind I narrowed it down to four options:
1. South America. To be honest, I really thought I would be going back to South America. I pretty much came back to go to South America. I knew the exact trip I wanted to do: I would fly to Lima, hit a few places I missed in Peru like Arequipa on my way to a few places I missed in Bolivia like Sucre and Potosi before a border-hopping adventure down Chile and Argentina into Patagonia, then I would loop around the southernmost point of South America and work my way back up to Buenos Aires. Sounds great, right? I even dreamed about continuing up the coast of Brazil to the beach towns I missed like Puerto Alegre, Fortaleza, and Jericoacoara.
2. Wanaka, New Zealand. I knew the work-study visa was an option until I hit 30 and I loved this town so much I thought about just finding a job and staying put for a while. It would be their summer so I could potentially farm or do something on the lake. I would hike, get to know a foreign country well, and do some wandering in the meantime. Maybe I would finally get to do more of the Great Walks or jump over to Tasmania or Perth.
3. Central America. This choice was a continuation of the backpacker lifestyle in a mostly new region. People raved about traveling through CA and my week in Nicaragua in 2011 was enough of a taste to make me want to go back and see more like it. It’s cheap, it’s got the kinds of adventures I like, and my timeline of September to March is the exact right time of year to explore it.
4. Europe. I’ve been talking about moving to Vienna for a long time now, and with so many friends going to Oktoberfest this year maybe it was time to bite the bullet and go for it. I have friends to visit across Europe who I’ve been telling I’ll see at some point, I could fly to England and go through France and the Netherlands on my way to Germany, with a quick Swiss interlude before ending in Vienna. I haven’t been to Europe in years and that should be corrected soon.
With four fantastic options I thought it would take all summer to decide and after Labor Day I’d end up flipping a coin or buying the cheapest flight to one of the regions I was considering. Turns out it didn’t take all summer to decide, but that cheapest flight idea may have been right.
I quickly eliminated Europe. As much as I want to go there, a six month window is not a time to try to move to a new place, it’s a time to do another adventure that I know I will return from. Europe would have to wait until after April. Next to go was New Zealand. I was forcing it on this time because of the age limit on the work-study visa. If I do want to go live in Wanaka I can do that any time, it’ll just be a little more complicated. But for any American under 30 who might be thinking about some extended time in New Zealand or Australia, I highly recommend looking into the work-study visa. It’s a great way to spend a year or two abroad and something I wish I’d known about before.
I was down to two options: South America or Central America. The two backpacking options that would again have me moving around quite a bit. South America had been calling me back ever since I left. I woke up in Myanmar longing for it, a physical pain in my chest that told me I needed to be on a different continent. I knew the exact trip I wanted to do and had originally said I needed 6 months for it. The time frame was right, an estimated December/January arrival in Patagonia would work out perfectly, and I would finally feel like I completed South America (at least for now). At this point you’re probably wondering why I don’t have a flight booked to Lima.
Central America wouldn’t leave my mind. The more I thought about what I wanted out of this six months the more I realized it was in Central America. I still have the stamina to travel in the backpacker way, on chicken buses and in hostels, and this region felt like the last frontier of backpacker life that I had to get to before I grew out of this phase. It has everything I liked from the last trip that would make for a great next trip: mountains and volcanoes to hike, jungles to adventure in, oceans to scuba and snorkel in, awe-inspiring architectural ruins from another era, charming colorful towns, cheap street food, and hammocks all over the place. It’s much quicker to travel around, with 3-hour bus rides between places instead of 24-hour bus rides, allowing me to cover more ground in my time frame. And the likelihood of being able to travel solely based on people’s recommendations was high. This is something that is really important for me on this next trip; I had such a positive experience going to places that friends recommended last time that I want to pick most if not all my locations that way this time.
Then there were the negatives for South America. First of all, it’s way more expensive to get to and from. Second, it’s freaking cold in Patagonia, and the stuff I would have to bring is bulkier and costlier. Third, I could actually do that trip in shorter spurts, going just to Peru or Argentina for two weeks at a time; it didn’t really have to be six months. Fourth, hiking alone is lonely, it would be nice to go with people, and that was putting a lot of stock in meeting people I wanted to hike with. I wasn’t really worried about it given the incredible people I’ve met on the road, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a buddy or few for a trip like that. Fifth, my motivation for returning now was partially fueled by the fact that I’d dropped a lot of money on visas for Bolivia, Argentina and Brazil that expire in 5 or 10 years, and I felt like I should use them again. I already said that visas weren’t a good reason for NZ so I had to remind myself of that again here.
Then there were the book-ends of Central America. I have friends in Mexico City who I would like to visit while they’re still there, and I would love to return to Colombia, which is possible by boat from Panama. Working at an eco-retreat or coffee farm in Colombia was also an option at one point, so ending my six months with a month in Colombia was an intriguing idea.
So one day I looked at flights, just to see what getting to Mexico City looked like. CHEAP. So cheap. And not only was the flight cheap but it was from San Francisco, meaning I could go see friends and family in SF on my way out of the country. Then I realized that my flight to SF could be covered by points, aka free. I slept on the idea and the next night bought the flight before it disappeared. Like I said, I thought I might just end up buying the cheapest flight out of the country…
I got a round trip flight SF to Mexico City and a one way flight Newark to SF all for $260.
September 10th I arrive in San Francisco. September 25th I leave for Mexico City. I plan to be back in San Francisco around March 25, 2016. In between, I will just see how far south I make it. If I end up loving Guatemala I could stay there the whole time, or if I get fed up with chicken buses I could jump down to Colombia early. The beauty of how I’m traveling this time is anything could happen.
I also still have a month plus until departure, and it’s not like Mexico City to Lima flights are totally outrageous, so if for some reason I have buyers remorse about this decision I could still change it at any point. The world is my oyster, and I will go where feels right. But for now, Central America feels pretty damn right.
Now begin the posts about my next adventure, what I have come to call my Round the Central America trip.
Here it goes again.
Not surprisingly, I’ve gotten lots of destination-related questions. I love fielding these questions – I could talk about the places I went for days on end. Not that I don’t also love helping with backpack choices and solo travel tips, but the locations themselves are what drive us all.
So I figured why not post what I’ve responded to the question, “Where should I go?” It might be useful to other people and a good place to point friends to in the future. Plus I just can’t imagine answering the other most-asked question, “What was your favorite place?” How could it ever be possible to pick one place? I’ve been able to narrow it down to some highlights but even then I feel like I’m leaving out so much. This is probably the closest I can come to any kind of “top places” list.
So here they are, my “where you should go” recommendations:
I will always tell people to go to South America. I spent three and a half months there and personally preferred it to the other regions. As I traveled I found myself constantly wondering how expensive flights were from Asia to South America, and this wonder has not ceased now that I’ve returned. Actually South America is part of the reason I came back to the US – it was unreasonable to go straight from Japan so I planned to go by way of the US. Some of the places that I recommend looking into are:
- Colombia. I will never stop loving Colombia and it’s one of the first places I want to go back to. The Caribbean Coast is gorgeous and hot, the cities are fun, and the mountains great to explore. It has lots to offer and some of the friendliest people.
- The Amazon. The Amazon in Brazil, just outside of Manaus, were 6 of the best days of my trip. It’s not an easy itinerary, at least the one we did since we slept in hammocks in the jungle and caught our own dinners (piranha, peacock bass, etc.), but it’s a very cool experience. Plus if you go here then you can go through Rio, which is a fantastic city.
- Buenos Aires. One of my favorite cities in the world. If you want a more urban trip definitely go here – drum shows, theater performances, weekend markets, insane nightlife, delicious food. There’s also some low-key escapes depending on how long you’re there, like the Tigre and Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay.
- The Salt Flats in Bolivia and the Atacama Desert in Chile. If you want otherworldly nature go here. The Salt Flats is a three-day tour through landscapes that don’t look like they should be real, and the desert is a Mars-like playground for sandboarding, hiking, biking, and stargazing.
- Machu Picchu. This is a bit of a bonus since I did not go there on this RTW trip – I was there in 2012 with friends – but it is still one of my top South America experiences so it just didn’t feel right to leave it off this list. We did the 4 day/3 night Inca Trail through SAS travel – our guides knew everything and told stories along the way, we had really good food, and the hike was the perfect mixture of challenging and fun. Plus Cusco is a great place to spend a few days acclimatizing.
Having said all that, you can’t go wrong in Asia either, of course. A lot of people are intrigued by the extreme difference of the culture in Asia and I was right there with them. Some of my favorite experiences happened in Asia. Here are my recommendations:
- The Temples of Angkor/Siem Reap, Cambodia. Another one of the best weeks of my trip. The architecture is stunning, and spending your day on a tuktuk riding past ruins is pretty amazing. Siem Reap has a fun streak to it on Pub Street but it’s really all about Angkor here. I would love to go back to Cambodia and get to Koh Rong on the coast, every backpacker’s favorite beach. Also depending on the length of your trip you could add Laos, which has great outdoor activities to offer but wouldn’t be the first place in Asia I would recommend. I do want to go back though; I was pleasantly surprised by that country.
- Myanmar. Like everyone says, go now, before tourism totally changes it. This country just opened up a few years ago and you can already see the changes, and how it’s not ready to handle them yet. But the people are the kindest I met anywhere and the scenery is beautiful. It will be vastly different from home though so that has to be something you’re okay with.
- I hesitate to recommend Northern Thailand because I had a really different experience there at a festival, but the time I spent in Chiang Mai was great and with everything I’ve heard about Pai it’s one of the places I most want to get to next time I’m there. Most people I met traveling in Southeast Asia put this at the top of their list. If you happen to be planning a Southeast Asia trip in February go to Shambhala.
- Another qualified recommendation is Vietnam. Some people love it, some hate it. I had a different time there due to a family visit but if you’re curious about it then it’s worth checking out. Hanoi was good and Halong Bay/Lan Ha Bay were spectacular. Plus it had the best cheapest food and coffee of my entire trip.
- Japan, especially Tokyo. Fascinating culture, energetic cities, gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, efficient travel, and the best food, there’s no way to go wrong in Japan. Tokyo was actually my favorite, despite the popular opinion that Kyoto is best, for its quirkiness, modernity, and variety of activities. If you have time try to make it to the island of Kyushu – it’s much more low-key but still wonderfully Japanese.
Lastly, New Zealand. Of the Australasia portion of my trip I preferred New Zealand. The scenery is unbeatable, the adventures are endless, and the atmosphere is so chill it’s hard to ever want to leave. I still play with the idea of moving to Wanaka for a while. Go to Wanaka! I love that place. And the Abel Tasman Coast Track. And Milford Sound.
If anyone has any more questions about locations (or anything) just ask! I love talking travel, obviously, and am more than happy to help if I can.
Before leaving I had to make a ton of logistical decisions. Never having done a trip like this before, I made educated guesses informed by reading guidebooks and blog posts. At what was originally my halfway point I wrote a mid-trip analysis of how some of my pre-departure decisions were going, so now that I’m back I figured I should write a final analysis on how it all worked out in the end. Honestly, I was pretty spot-on.
Perfect. They held up so well through being thrown around on all forms of transportation and a few long walks in the rain (even if the color is a little faded and they’re now rocking the ‘worn’ look). They fit every need I had and by the end of the trip I could pack them in about five minutes; everything had its place. I will never travel with a normal suitcase again. Being able to move around with everything on my back is the best way to travel. I even brought my backpack into NYC instead of a typical overnight bag. And I still use the Fjallraven bag daily – it is just the right size, has just the right pockets (inside a small one for wallet and keys plus a laptop sleeve, outside one for quick access stuff), and I’ll never stop raving about the three ways to wear it (shoulder bag, messenger bag, backpack).
The only change I would make for next time is perhaps using a smaller backpack. The main reason for this is airplanes: I would like to be able to fly carry-on (although having a Leatherman with me made that impossible anyway) and budget airlines charge more based on weight, so I never wanted to go over 15 kg. I think I could fit everything into a 40L bag since mine was really never full. However, with the ebb and flow of how much I carried with me, it made sense to have a little extra space for those times when I picked up a few extra things for a short time, like a bulky shawl and a gift in my final days in Japan, or when I had to shove all my stuff into the backpack in Salvador for safety concerns. But any woman who’s looking for a 60L backpack, the Gregory Deva is the best, I highly recommend it.
Overall my clothing decisions were pretty good. Even though I became totally sick of them and all the hostel washing machines wore them down and stretched them out, most of my clothes lasted me the whole year. Along the way I did pick up a few things and drop a few things, either sending them home with people who visited or throwing them out.
Some things that I should have brought that I picked up along the way: scarf, cardigan, and more underwear. Whoever said you just need a weeks worth of underwear must love washing it in the sink. Yes this is doable, and I did it as well, but when family came to visit in Vietnam and Thailand they all brought me more underwear. Great, I thought, I could throw out the old ones. Nope. I kept them all. Girls underwear is small, I had the room, and it meant I did wash less often (to be honest I only washed my clothes when I was out of underwear). A cardigan was a nice addition just to have another layer that wasn’t an outdoorsy jacket. By the time I got to Southeast Asia it was so hot all the time that I didn’t need heavy jackets, but at night it was nice to have some other layer. A scarf had to be my favorite addition. It was an easy fix when I was slightly cold in a t-shirt or absolutely freezing bundled up in all my layers, and came in handy as a blanket on an overnight bus. Plus it easily fit in my second bag so I always had it on me.
In the end though I’m happy I didn’t have everything I needed because now I have souvenirs from all over the place. I didn’t let myself spend precious money on souvenirs, but when I needed cold weather clothes in South America or hot weather clothes in Asia I could justify the minimal amount of money they required. It was a great excuse to pick up some useful things that remind me of the places where I got them.
Something I would have brought next time: sneakers instead of hiking boots. Unless you’re planning on doing some serious trekking, consider sneakers instead of boots. I could have done the hikes I did in sneakers and also worn them daily in cities or actually have gone on runs (I like to think not having the proper footwear is the reason I didn’t work out…). For my trip, they would have worked better. I already have a pair I’m planning to bring on my next trip.
Something I didn’t use: clothes drying line. It’s so easy and cheap to drop off laundry around the world (except Australia, of course) that I never did end up washing all my clothes in the sink (except the occasional underwear). For $2 all my clothes were washed, folded, and ready for wear in 24 hours, and while that was being done I was out exploring. It was worth it to me.
Cameras, great: the Canon G16 was perfect for high quality photos in a reasonably compact camera body, and I used the GoPro even more than I originally thought for adventures both extreme (scuba diving) and daily (rickshaw rides). I can confidently say I documented my trip well and I am exceedingly happy about that.
Laptop, great: the Lenovo IdeaPad Yoga 11S was small and portable enough to not feel like a burden but with a full keyboard and ports (USB, card reader) functioned exactly how I needed it to, plus the rotating touch screen was a nice perk when I wanted to watch The Sopranos or prop it up for music (although the speakers are pretty bad).
Something I will bring next time: portable hard-drive. While Google Drive totally did work for backing up photos in the cloud (I now have 7 email accounts), I was still paranoid about losing everything and kept almost all my pictures on my camera’s memory card until I got home and could put them on my big external hard-drive.
Something I didn’t use: the extra back covers with the openings for the GoPro. I was too worried to ever take off the waterproof back. Also I could probably go without the head mount; the clip mount and a backwards hat worked just fine for the very few times I wanted it on my head.
My surprisingly most-used device: my iPhone. I debated whether or not to even bring it, and now it’s one of the things I tell people they should bring with them. It’s a little portable computer, and now with widespread wifi and map apps that don’t even need wifi (maps.me is a traveler’s best friend – it syncs maps to your phone for offline use and can even find you in the most hectic places, like Hanoi) I have to admit it’s incredibly useful. As much as I liked being disconnected, for those times when technology really does help and a laptop is just not as easily accessible, the iPhone was a great addition.
I left the States with two books: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, and Lonely Planet’s South America on a Shoestring. I did not bring a kindle. I knew hostels had book exchanges so I wanted my reading material to come from those; I hoped to discover books that I may not have thought to purchase myself, and, figuring many of them would be left behind by other travelers, ones that were enjoyed by people with similar interests to mine. It worked wonderfully.
I read 11 books during the year. Since I only had Don Quixote, in Brazil Bobby gave me one of the books from his traveling library as a back-up, The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie. When I finished Don Quixote, a 1000-plus-page feat that took all of South America, I left it behind in my hostel in Buenos Aires and picked up a two small books – a thriller and a German book (ambitious of me) – whose names I forget because I never ended up reading them. Once we got to a hostel in New Zealand with a better option I swapped the thriller for The Pelican Brief by John Grisham. Meanwhile I was reading The Satanic Verses, which I finished and swapped in my Melbourne hostel for The Hunger Games, Part 2 by Suzanne Collins. After the last two serious books I figured I deserved a break, and I had a long flight coming up. I read it cover to cover on that 9-hour entertainment-less flight. In my hostel in Hanoi I swapped it with a girl in my room for Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths, which was left behind in Vientiane for Chelsea Handler’s My Horizontal Life. Meanwhile I had started The Pelican Brief, which I finished in Dreamtime and swapped for Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakmi. In Dreamtime I also left behind the unread German book for Isabel Allende’s My Invented Country: A Memoir, which I plan on reading this summer. I finished Sputnik Sweetheart in Myanmar and, in my hostel in Inle Lake, swapped it for The Harp in the South by Ruth Park. Another fast read, I was done with it by India, where a girl in our Jaipur hostel gave me Wild, From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed. I swapped this in Hampi for another book about finding oneself in the nature of the United States, Into the Wild by John Krakauer. In the meantime I had ditched Chelsea Handler – which I could not finish, it was terrible – and The Harp in the South at our hostel in Goa, where Kwaz gave me Dave Eggers’s The Circle. At this point it was Japan, so I brought that one home with me and instead swapped Into the Wild for The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton in my hostel in Aso, my final book swap. So what this long saga is hoping to convey is how well the book exchange worked. I read books I’ve never heard of as well as books I’ve always wanted to read. I fully plan to travel this way again in the future.
As for the guidebooks, I only had the one for South America and Southeast Asia on a Shoestring (which I ordered through Amazon to my aunt, who nicely brought it to me in Vietnam). The rest was planned by advice from other travelers or online research. I don’t plan to bring a guidebook with me on the next trip because I learned that it is easy, and often much preferred, to pick a next location based on hearsay from other backpackers. But that’s not to say I didn’t at times find them extremely helpful – for sightseeing ideas, border crossing information, history of a region, and last-minute hostel options for those times I just showed up in a place with no reservation and no internet connection. So if you’re considering bringing a guidebook I do think they’re a good investment, especially if it’s your first time on a trip like this. I would also recommend treating them as I did – I ripped out the pages of places I wasn’t going to or had already been, often giving them to other travelers who were on their way to that location. It lightened my load quite a bit, even if the books looked totally massacred by the end. I still have the cover of each as a keepsake.
Health and Wellness
Honestly, all good. I got some back-up supplies from my sister when she joined me just after the 6 month mark, which was super helpful – tissues, wet wipes, and cold and flu medicine (which I used up during the time I thought I had dengue fever). Somehow I never ran out of bug spray or sunscreen – probably because I stopped using sunscreen around Australia when sun no longer burned me. I brought all the extra medicines that were recommended and never ended up needing them – Cipro and things like that, tons of Advil I never touched, and I even came back with spare Malaria pills. I also never did have to show my Yellow Fever vaccination card but at least I had it just in case, and that was one less disease to worry about. Better to be safe than sorry.
I had Travel Insurance the whole time but never once had to use it. I could view that as a waste of money, but I chose to see it as a solid investment. I think it’s one of those things where if I hadn’t gotten insurance I would have needed it, and if I did get it I wouldn’t need it. I prefer the latter, and that ended up being the case. Plus the reasoning behind getting it proved accurate: I never had to worry about anything I wanted to do while I was traveling. Scuba diving, skydiving, sandboarding, jungle treks, wine country biking – I was covered so I went for it all. Better to be safe than sorry again.
So I lived out of a backpack for a year. How did that go?
Living out of a backpack is easier than you think. I actually find myself having a hard time with all the extra stuff I have now that I’m back home. I keep reverting to the clothes that I brought with me on the trip – they feel normal, comfortable, easy. I’m actually hoping to get rid of even more stuff now that I’m back. And now that I know it can be done, packing for the next trip is going to be a cinch. People have more stuff than they ever really need, and experiencing only having a backpack’s worth of possessions was actually freeing. I was totally mobile and prepared to go anywhere in an instant – it felt great.
It’s hard to put into words how I felt at the end of Part 3. I’ve tried to isolate my thoughts about Southeast Asia and India apart from the end of my RTW trip as a whole, to reflect on my reaction to that part of the world specifically, but I don’t think it’s possible. Just like leaving Australia I couldn’t ignore my longing for South America and anticipation for Southeast Asia, leaving India couldn’t be separated from the effects that months of travel had had on me.
It’s not that I was less enthusiastic. If you go back to my blog posts when I first arrived on the Asian continent I was full of hope for what was to come. As I hopped around I had a ton of incredible experiences that have been highlights of my past year, from exploring the ruins of Angkor Wat and the waters of Gili Air to interacting with people in Myanmar and the landscape in Hampi. And I could never forget the formative time I spent at Dreamtime and Shambhala, places that reached to my core and made me truly think about what I value most in life. For all of these things and more, I look back at Southeast Asia with a fondness that will never waver.
But despite all of that, I still hesitate when trying to express what those four months were like to me. Along with the highs, I had the most lows of my trip. I had to flee Vietnam due to an unsettling feeling, I was nearly robbed by a guy on a motorbike and had lingering aftereffects of such an experience, and I had transportation issues from missing a bus to losing money on an unsuccessful tatkal train ticket attempt. These things couldn’t have any effect other than bringing down my overview of this part.
And then there’s the experience of traveling around this part of the world that I may have alluded to in location-specific posts but haven’t outright said yet. It can be sensory overwhelming. Maybe there’s a reason my favorite places were removed from the main trek. The soundtrack of cities was honking horns and zipping motorbikes, people yelling and dogs barking. Intense smells wafted through the air from curries to human piss. I smelled burning crops the other day and felt a wave of familiarity. Months of “walk at your own risk” takes a toll on someone who likes to explore on foot.
At some point a fellow traveler said to me, “You’re either a South America person or a Southeast Asia person.” I wish I’d never heard this. As much as I tried to see Southeast Asia from a clear perspective, in some way I already knew the outcome that was eventually confirmed: I’m a South America person. I don’t really believe it’s that black and white of course, and I sort of hate myself for even admitting this, but there’s just something about South America that vibes with me and Southeast Asia that doesn’t. It’s a feeling, a gut reaction, that can’t be put into words. Does the fact that it was my first three months as opposed to my last four months of a long trip matter? Probably, it shouldn’t be ignored, but I honestly don’t think that’s the reason.
Southeast Asia and India are dynamic places, I don’t want to take that away from them, but as energetic as that could sound it’s also explosive. So in the end I suppose I would say Part 3 was every bit the experience I wanted it to be. That might confuse you after how this post has gone, but let me elaborate. Color, as my friends in Bali would say. I didn’t expect Southeast Asia to be easy. I didn’t want it to be. I wanted to be challenged, dirty, exhausted, and exhilarated by somewhere so unlike anywhere I’d been before. It delivered. I was fascinated by it and experienced intense emotions throughout my time there. I truly believe that I have come out of Part 3 a better version of myself having experienced the things I did.
So now that I’ve come to that realization, I without a doubt recommend going and will happily continue to offer advice on my favorite places. I intend to return myself one day.
It’s my last real day in India.
I say real because I’m about to embark on 40 hours of travel to my next destination, and I don’t think a day spent just on planes, trains and automobiles should count as my last day here.
So it’s from the beautiful, serene, fantastic village of Hampi, India that I say farewell not just to this country but to my itinerary. I did it. I reached the end. It may not be the end of traveling (it definitely is not), but it is the end of the original plan.
For the past nine months I’ve traveled the world. I learned how to survive in the jungle, the cities, and the mountains of South America, adopting Spanish and companions as I went. I drove through, jumped out of a plane over, and played frisbee golf within the vast landscapes of New Zealand, forming a fondness for this faraway place that may result in a prolonged return in my future. I swam with sea turtles, got a solid tan, and enjoyed the gastronomy of Australia, a continent so far yet so familiar. I rode on every form of two- three- and four-wheel transportation imaginable, ate meals that cost little but tasted lots, and sweated my ass off in Asia, while learning hello and thank you in more languages than I can count on one hand.
I feel satisfied. Happy. Accomplished. I did what I set out to do, my 9-month open-ended plan, and now from my last location I am proud to say that I feel like I completed my goal. Everything from here on is bonus.
Thank you to the people in my life, both new and old, who have supported me, shared the adventures with me, and at times helped make this solo journey bearable. Thank you to the countries I encountered for making me feel welcome and showing me everything you have to offer and more. You are all wonderful. Thank you to myself, which feels weird to say but is true, for following through on my life goal, for not backing down when things were tough, and for becoming more myself than I have ever been.
It’s been an incredible journey that has affected me more than I could ever say here. I am not done posting, not even close, because even though the plan ends here the adventures continue. My Travel Abrodge is not quite done.
So where will take 40 hours to get to, you might ask?
Japan, you’re up next. Get some sushi and sake ready for me. I have no doubt that you’ll keep this amazing experience going.
With my departure from Australia I ended Part 2 of my RTW trip. I always knew that the Australasia portion would be a familiar breather in the middle of disparate South America and Asia, and it was part of the reason I included it where I did. A recharge if you will, with modern amenities and plenty of beach time. Plus I had always wanted to go there, and that was the whole premise of this trip – go to the places I’ve always wanted to go.
So you can imagine my surprise when I left Australasia feeling disappointed, lost, and questioning myself. I had just come from the best travel of my life in South America and I missed everything I had experienced there, from the locations to the people. New Zealand still had enough of a new place feel to keep me going, but Australia was unexpectedly hard for me. The tours, the kids, the prices, the beaches – it all came together to make me miss the unpredictable world I’d left behind.
When I think back to my month in Australia none of it is really negative. Noosa was the low point, but it was short-lived. Whitsundays, Byron Bay, Melbourne, and Sydney were all great locations that I would happily recommend to everyone. But there’s something about the impression of the overall trip that left me with a bad taste.
But I’ve come to realize that Australia served a purpose. I now know without a doubt what kind of travel I want to be doing on this trip. Organized tours and giant party hostels may have been great when I was in a different place in life, but where I’m at right now they are not for me. This was important to learn as I still have a few months of travel left and those types of things will not be left behind in Australasia.
Having said that, I still want to go back to these countries. I would love to go back to Wanaka for a season, with a few trips to the last places I didn’t make it to on my first NZ round. And I already have a route in mind for a 3 month Australia road trip. I bet you can guess none of it will be on the East Coast. I want to go to the West Coast and the interior desert; I think if I had done that trip I would have left highly satisfied. But everyone should see the East Coast once in their lives, and it’s probably better I did it before I had even more distance between myself and the other travelers, so I don’t regret the route I took at all.
Now that I’ve separated myself from those two months I look back fondly. Really I can’t imagine regretting any part of this year, and if I thought I would regret it then I would have left much earlier. There’s no reason to stay anywhere that doesn’t feel right. And I am happy to have learned more about the places and ways I want to be travelling; it is a valuable lesson for me.
So with that, I said goodbye to the familiar and embarked on Part 3. Asia would be a whole new experience with tougher language barriers and spicier street food meals, and I couldn’t wait to see what it was all about.
I’m anxious to get to Asia.
Don’t get me wrong, New Zealand and Australia are wonderful countries. But after South America and knowing I have Southeast Asia coming up, this isn’t the kind of travel I really want to be doing.
Australia is full of gap year Europeans hopping along the East Coast from one goon-filled tour to the next. I admit, I got swept up into an East Coast plan too – how can you not when you’re offered things like spending 3 days sailing around the Whitsundays or driving a 4WD around the largest sand island in the world? There’s a reason this is a popular route: it has great activities.
But I’m ready to get out of this route. I miss the travelers of South America, the people who took a chance to go somewhere completely different from home and discover adventures along the way instead of having them laid out in a travel package. The solo travelers who unite in their love of backpacking around that continent and embrace a flexibility that allows them to continue their travel together across new borders.
I miss the challenge of South America. Every day was unique, filled with language barriers, transportation questions, distinctive environments, and new stimulants for all the senses. The warm showers and drinkable water are great things, but I will happily trade them for the excitement of making the unknown known.
I hope that Asia will be the experience I am craving. It will be different too and have its own perks, quirks, and lows, and I am excited to find out what they are.
I realize this is a strange post to write before I even start talking about my time in Australia, but it’s where I’m at right now mentally and it would be wrong to not mention it for the sake of chronology. I will write plenty of positive things about my time here soon, but with just 10 days left until I leave this country I can’t help but shake this anxious feeling.
September 11, 2014. “As I finish my deluxe jamon y queso sandwich (con tomate y lechuga!), sip my Stella (tastes so good after so much South American beer), and enjoy the brisk spring air at an outside table in Cordoba, I think: ‘I am ready for Buenos Aires.’
For me, BA means a few things. It is a big city, and I have lived in big cities for the past 5 years. I find comfort in them. I like them. More than the city, BA is finally my time to stay put. I will be in the city for 2 weeks, my longest time since Rio. Ok I messed this up a bit with booking 2 different hostels (to get to know different parts of town) separated by 2 days in Uruguay, but at least I don’t feel rushed to see and do everything so quickly. I have time. I will get to know BA – its barrios, its public transportation system, its energy.
It feels like I’ve been moving towards Buenos Aires. ‘Just keep going, you can slow down in BA.’
BA symbolizes the end to my South America portion. It is my final destination before I go to a new continent. It is Part 1 completed.
By the time I leave BA, I will have been traveling for over 3 months. It’s hard to reflect on that. It flew, yet Saõ Paulo feels like ages ago. These months in South America were and weren’t what I thought they would be. For starters, I didn’t mean to land cross every border, but I did. Plans I set out with changed along the way, and in some cases (Ecuador) changed back to original plans. In the end, I think I actually did the South America that I meant to back when I started planning this RTW trip over a year ago. It’s funny how that worked out.
I have been to incredible places, and added even more to a mental list of next trips. I have met incredible people, ones who I hope I don’t lose from my life. I have survived in a language I don’t know in places where they don’t speak English. I have slept in bunk beds, real beds, hammocks, buses, airplanes, airports, and one tent. I have eaten all manner of meat from Brazilian BBQ to alpaca to a termite (does that count as meat?) and celebrated any time I got vegetables. I have tried the local spirits from Caipirinhas to Aguardiente to Piscolas and had memorable (and occasionally forgettable) nights with them all. I have encountered the cultures of 7 different countries across this content. And all of this still feels like just scratching the surface of South America.
But it is almost time to experience all new things in an all new continent, and I guess I’m ready. So with Buenos Aires I will say goodbye to South America. Thank you for the best start to this adventure that I could have but also never could have asked for.”