What I really learned in South America:
- If you order nachos, you will just get chips. Just plain, dry chips. Most disappointing meal ever.
- Don’t call an elderly woman “amigo.”
- It is totally okay to type a phrase in google translate and show it to someone you are trying to talk with. Completely hypothetical example: “I think the front door is locked and I can’t get it open.” (asking for a friend)
- Don’t ever expect wifi, even in public areas (duh). Don’t expect people to speak English (duh). Don’t expect American-level customer service in a restaurant, ie: service right away, a menu, utensils, a bug free environment. (more on these points later)
- Basically, don’t have expectations.
- It is luxury to have all five of the following in any one bathroom: toilet paper, soap, towel to dry your hands, water with which to wash your hands, a flushable toilet. If you get all of these, you have hit the jackpot!
- I get poetic during the 23984785 hours on the bus.
- You don’t pronounce quesadilla as kway-sa-dill-uh. Yes… I witnessed someone ordering one.
- I should learn Spanish.
I’m going to be honest with you… Traveling is hard.
It offers a unique perspective, one you can’t acquire elsewhere. You learn to adjust your expectations and standards, for now you are the one treading foreign ground, not knowing the language. I try to embrace the differences in cultures, and do my best to not complain when there are drastic distinctions between my own country and theirs. You learn how little you actually need to live on, how little possessions matter, how unnecessary material wealth really is. I’ve gained a rich education simply by adapting to my surroundings and amending my sometimes very American mindset.
Traveling is hard. Yeah, having a starting and ending point in two different continents and nothing planned in between is exhilarating, but also head-explodingly stressful at times.
In choosing to travel after I got my two-year college degree rather than go back to school right away, I’ve learned more about life than I ever could have gleaned from sitting in a classroom. Now is the time to be on the move, while I’m not tied down, and I am blessed enough to not be in debt and have to immediately set off in a dead-end career choice. And yes, it doesn’t really fall in the category of a “gap year” or typical vacation, but traveling is what I love to do.
That rush of being completely free and only having what possessions you carry on your back, of constantly seeing scenery and cultures completely fresh and new, of being utterly immersed in an unfamiliar place, every day holding a new place to explore… it is challenging not to be caught up in the thrill of it all. A lot goes on beneath the surface and the hardships of a gypsy lifestyle are the things no one talks about.
For me, with culture shock came a sense of false invincibility in a way and I ended up doing things I never would dare to attempt back home. This could be in a positive way sometimes, such as trying a strange new food or wanting to try bungee jumping just for kicks, but there are two sides to every coin, and I proceeded to make some not so wise decisions as well.
I’ve put myself in dangerous situations that could have been avoided. I have trusted too easily, had too much to drink, and made stupid choices in the moment. Luckily no harm came to me, but I know that’s not always the case. I’m young, I’m “finding myself” (I hate that term), but that doesn’t give me an excuse to behave recklessly and not expect consequences.
I’m sorry for the ambiguity… but at any rate, all I can hope to do from here on out is to learn from my mistakes and keep moving forward, taking each lesson as it comes, painful as it may be. Most of that happens in the weeks after returning home, especially after such a whirlwind experience, and processing makes merging back in with society a bit more of a chore. I’m learning slowly, taking what I now know and choosing to grow from it.
What does that mean from here? Well, as always, I am trying to figure out what is next. I’ve decided next time I travel, I want it to be with a purpose, to give back somehow instead of merely consuming, whatever that may look like. I’m easing back into that stir-crazy feeling, though, and already crave a new adventure.
Alas, the travel bug bites again.