It’s been a week since my trip, and I have about a million thoughts to share.
I’ve been keeping in touch with my backpacking friends from Colombia all week, sharing pictures and hearing about each other’s continued travels or life back home…it’s beyond heartwarming to know that our world is getting smaller, and I love how social media makes it easy to keep in touch with friends from all over ❤
I got back at 2am last Wednesday and went right to work the next morning, and basically worked nonstop through the weekend until I finished up on Monday. Then almost immediately after…I got sick. I guess my body was under a lot of stress the past few weeks: lack of sleep + bouncing around hostels + jumping straight into work = a recipe for getting sick!
Now that I’m back, settled, recovered (almost), and processed my thoughts, I have some reflection to share from my trip.
- Backpackers in South America are very seasoned. Something I noticed quickly was that I felt like the youngest person at all my hostels, whereas in Thailand I felt like the oldest. I think South America attracts older, more seasoned backpackers versus SE Asia. Also most everyone I met was doing extended solo trips (6+ months).
- Not knowing Spanish was HARD. My absolute biggest regret on this trip was not learning some Spanish beforehand. Even if I had spent 1 hour a day for 1 week, it would have made all the difference. It felt like every interaction with locals was so awkward as they were speaking in Spanish, I in English, and both staring at each other blankly and waving our hands around. I don’t think I’ll go back to South America until I take the time learn more Spanish, because I felt like I missed out a lot on cultural experiences from my inability to communicate.
- Little things to feel at home / pack more generously. I’ve always been a light packer, and I wanted to stretch my limits this time knowing I’d be jumping around every 3 days or so. And so, I fit everything into my tiny gym backpack for my two weeks in Colombia…I think I reached my limits. I remember the last few days of the trip feeling so gross since I had worn every outfit at least 4 times. I was disgusting and smelly and COLD too! At one point I used a dress as a scarf because I had run out of clothes and was freezing in Salento. Backpacking can be really stressful, lonely, and exhausting, and having simple necessities like warm, clean clothes or even just a small item that reminds you of home can make all the difference in feeling more at home. I will definitely be packing more next time.
- Being nicer to strangers. Something about living in big cities gives me the instinct to ignore every person that says hi to me on the streets. But within a few days in Colombia, my heart softened…people there are so proud to have foreigners actually want to visit, a huge change given their violent history, and so it made sense why locals were so friendly to me and other “gringos.” And so, if some local smiled at me or just said “hola,” I didn’t see the harm in saying hi back. Of course, I still aired on the side of caution.
- History = important. On a similar note, Colombia is one of those places where taking time to learn about their history will really help enrich your trip. I’m not a big history person, but learning about how far the people have overcome a terrible point in their recent history definitely shaped my perspective and helped me appreciate their culture and people.
- Everything is on “Colombian time.” Expect everything to be 10-20 minutes late in Colombia, or as they say, on “Colombian time” –> buses, tours, or just generally meeting up for plans. Colombians are relaxed people that aren’t tied to strict schedules.
- Fearlessly making connections. I remember in Thailand was when I realized the strong comraderie among backpackers, and I became less shy in reaching out to meet new people. Well this time, I took it further as I was genuinely so excited to hear about other people’s amazing lives, that I found myself asking endless personal questions that I usually wouldn’t ask, and it surprised me how willing they were to answer! I think being fearless with truly getting to know people brought my connections to a much deeper lever on this trip than ever before, and I’m so grateful for the friends I made. Backpackers are all alike in wanting to find a community (especially solo travelers), even if just for a few days, and so reaching out and having these genuine, deep conversations was really fulfilling.
- On being American. A question I like to ask backpackers from different countries is “what do you think of Americans?” I was surprised by the mix of answers including: superficial, loud, annoying, workaholics…while also hearing that we’re really friendly, outgoing…it’s made me realize that I live in a country where its people think they’re the greatest in the world, but outside the U.S., people don’t really think that. I also found that people responded better to when I said I lived in California/New York, since people widely know that these are two more progressive states. With that said, I try and tone down my “American-ness” when I travel – if that makes sense; things like being more laid back, not planning as much, and being as genuine as possible have helped me connect more with backpackers – I know this topic can be a bit controversial so please know this was all just drawn from my personal experiences!
- Take it day by day. This was the first trip I ever took where I didn’t book anything more than my roundtrip plane ticket and first night’s hostel. Everything else: where to go, tours, flights, buses, accommodation…all done on the fly! It went SOOO well this time that I will never do it differently ever again, at least when I’m solo. Leaving room for spontaneity led me to try new things, end up in places I never thought I would, talk to other backpackers to get advice, and it made me more relaxed when things didn’t go to plan, because there was no plan! The best example was when my flight unexpectedly detoured to Medellin, and I ended up staying there for 3 stays. What a blessing in disguise ❤
- You can’t see everything. One time I was hanging out with my Amazon Rainforest crew getting advice on where to go next, and they could tell I was having doubts. Then, Victor said the most calming piece of advice I heard the whole trip: “Whatever you do, enjoy it. You can’t see everything, so just go and enjoy wherever you go.” I absolutely loved these words. You really can’t see everything, especially in two short weeks – even backpackers I met who were travelling for 6+ months felt the same! What’s important is being in the moment and enjoying what you have in front of you, and not using your energy to wonder what would have happened if you went somewhere else.
Now for some final thoughts…
As this blog knows, I was going through a rough patch for a few months before this trip. I think it’d make a good story to come back and say my life turned upside down after this trip and everything is great now, but the reality is, everything is exactly how I left it…but even though my circumstances haven’t changed, I know I have.
Like all my solo trips, Colombia helped give me a stronger sense of self. I learned to rely on myself, be decisive and live with my choices, stop having prejudices and open my heart to new perspectives, be more patient/spontaneous/outgoing, put my fears aside to try something new, appreciate every moment for what it was, and that life is too short to settle and not fight for happiness.
This trip also made me realize that there’s so much more to life in my 20s than chasing money/prestige…especially in the SF bubble I live in. I want to look back and know that I lived my life to the fullest by being a good person, seeing the world, making good choices, and helping those around me. Learning these lessons and finding myself is exactly why I take a trip like this once or twice a year – it calibrates my priorities and also helps me realize what kind of person/friend/sister/daughter I want to be.
For that, I couldn’t be more grateful for these two weeks in Colombia ❤