Travel Diaries: The South America Lessons Learned

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Every time I come back from a long trip (okay, I’ve only done two in my life, but STILL), I’ve found solo traveling to be a great time for reflection and realizations. Each trip has had its own themes. My first trip to Southeast Asia was all about learning how to live in the moment, accept the present, and have faith that I can make things work (my motto from that trip became: “FUCK IT! Who cares!”).

South America was a very different trip for me, however. Just a year after my last trip to Southeast Asia, I found this trip to be all about getting rid of the toxic energies and feelings that have been plaguing my life for the past few years. Or more.


Despite all the great, life-changing, and downright AMAZING times that I had during my travels throughout Peru and Bolivia, my trip to South America wasn’t easy at first. NEVER assume that you will have fun. Traveling can be  hard at times. It can get lonely, it can be overwhelming, it can be dangerous – just like anything else you experience in your own life back home. Traveling, however, at best, is all about gaining a better perspective and understanding, and being grounded – in all senses of those words.

As you can see, I can be a little negative sometimes (okay, maybe often). And shy. But that’s the great part about solo traveling – at your best, you learn to deal with those demons!


1.  Being Okay With Loneliness / Aloneness

I LOVED traveling solo throughout Southeast Asia last year because I met lots of great people (locals and tourists alike) and enjoyed getting lost in the crowd sometimes. During my trip through Peru and Bolivia during the low season however, I found solo traveling to sometimes feel a bit lonely – even though I did meet some great people during my two months out there.

There were times when everyone else seemed to be having a great time with their own groups of friends (either folks from back at home, or friends met while traveling) while I wandered the streets solo and ate at restaurants by myself. Besides being a bit boring from time to time, the other problem was that I would sometimes have this fear of being judged for being alone – like, “oh look at her, she has no friends/she’s not likeable”. In reality: 1) many people travel solo and enjoy the solitude; 2) you don’t know what others are going through – they might have bad experiences from time to time too, you just don’t see it; AND 3) if people really judged me for being alone, WHO CARES and SO WHAT? (If that’s really what they’re thinking, they can really go and fuck themselves) I learned to let go of my insecurities about feeling like a reject solo traveler and focused on what I did enjoy in EVERY moment and creating my own “fun”. Being alone and being able to brush aside potential judgment and haterade is a very liberating and empowering feeling (it’s also a very useful mental attitude to have in life, generally speaking).

I wasn’t the only one that noticed that it was hard to meet people from time to time. I met a woman from Israel, who also mentioned how hard it was for her to find other people to travel with. During her other trips, she made lots of friends who sometimes partnered with her as she went to other countries and cities. Sometimes it just be like that!

Besides, once in a while I would also see travelers arguing with their friends in public. In fact, everyone I know that has traveled with friends has fought (sometimes A LOT) during their extended trips. That’s definitely one problem that I didn’t have as a solo traveler, thank gawd! No one was slowing me down at any time.

Just remember – when you’re traveling and feeling alone, you’re NOT really alone! For the most part, other people experience the same joys and pains that you do from time to time.


2. When Something Doesn’t Work Out, Don’t Get Discouraged — Keep Trying, Even When Your Confidence Shakes

There were one or two times when I tried to make friends with people and it just didn’t work out. Most of the time it happened when I was around groups of friends that were all from Europe or South America(Peru, Argentina, Chile, or Brazil in particular), who have a bit of disdain for gringos (which is understandable). My most striking incident happened during my overnight tour to Lake Titicaca’s islands, where I left that trip feeling like I didn’t make a single friend (which of course wasn’t true, it just felt that way).

Later on, I realized that I needed to stop being so shy and just try harder. Does one not-so-great experience mean that all my experiences are going to be just as bad? Did I initiate conversations, or did I just expect people to come up to me and start talking? I did more of the latter, which is a poor plan for being social. I also realized some other things, such as: 1) Getting single rooms instead of staying in dormitory-style rooms greatly limited my opportunities for being social, and 2) You’re not going to like everyone that you meet, and that’s totally fine. I learned that, despite one (two, or a handful of) bad experiences trying to get to know people, I shouldn’t get discouraged and give up. I eventually made a lot of friends along the way (mostly other solo travelers, but also some groups of friends – MANY from South America!) and have a bunch of folks that I still keep in contact with today (mostly through Facebook :).


3. You Create Your Own Happiness Wherever You Go / Home is Something That You Make

It’s ALL about perspective. I learned to make a lot out of nothing during my travels. I didn’t enjoy the food? Well shit, I need to just appreciate that I even HAVE food – and the ability to travel abroad! What a fucking PRIVILEGE. I’m bored at dinner? Use the time to read a book or practice my Spanish so that I can speak with more skill and ease. I got sick during my stay in cold-ass La Paz? Well, it could be a lot worse. It’s not like I have to be anywhere tomorrow! I should enjoy the fact that I get to sleep and rest all day without worrying about what I have to do next. I get lonely? Well go out and meet people, or chat your friends at home. There’s always another option. Why not choose the more positive and fun one?

From time to time I’d miss the conforts of home – the friends I could depend on, the guaranteed hot showers, the familiarity of the streets I walked. However, over time, I learned to create that sense of home in every city I visited. I made friends with the shop owners and the locals by frequenting certain places. I connected with friends of friends living in Bolivia, and spent lots of time with them. After spending more than a week in Cochabamba, I felt a HUGE sense of community and connection with all the folks I met out there (I still talk to some of them over email or chat today!)

Sometimes I get scared about leaving/losing my sense of home, about drifting or floating in life, about being/feeling lost. But no matter where you go, have the confidence that you can create a sense of community and home wherever you go. You just have to find it. Or make it happen.

valle angelica

4. Confidence And Energy Are Everything

I forget this from time to time, but it’s true – the energy you project to the world often dictates how others view and treat you. If you’re feeling shitty or insecure on the inside, you oftentimes radiate cold, low, or negative (oftentimes unfriendly) energy. If you’re confident, at peace with yourself, and open to the world, others will oftentimes (but not always) be open to you too. At the very least, you increase your odds of inviting good people into your life.

Our energy affects our choice of words in conversations, our tone of voice, the expressions on our face, our posture, our outlook on life, and how we cope with stresses and challenges. I try to remind myself to have a can-do attitude – even in the face of hardship or adversity – so that I can make the best out of any situation that comes my way.


5. Impermanence 

This is a given: Nothing lasts forever. But sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I think that if I’m having a bad time, those feelings are going to last throughout my trip. They rarely/never ever do. As with everything, things are constantly changing. One moment I may be having a bad time, the next moment I may be loving life. The reverse is also true – If I’m having the most amazing experience during my travels, those things too shall pass. The only thing you can do is have gratitude for your experiences and appreciate every moment. Even our worst moments are our teachers.

Ciudad de itas

6. Traveling = Gaining A Better Perspective On Life

Besides learning a lot by meeting other people and experiencing what life is like in another country/continent, solotraveling afforded me a lot (A LOT) of time to think deeply about some of the stuff that has been going on in my life. Since I was far away from home (and the situations that were deeply affecting me), I gained a much clearer understanding of everything – and WHY those things have been happening. I appreciated every moment of reflection time and worked out a lot of inner demons. It was such an amazing and profound experience. Sometimes you gotta name the problem and really understand it, before you’re fully able to let it go.

“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.” 
― Rumi 


7. Take Everything In As A Learning Experience / Fall In Love With The Journey

Enough said. (See all of the above). Every moment, good or bad, is an adventure. Is something exciting. Is a new puzzle to solve.



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