While in South Africa a few weeks ago, I realized that I was already three months into the trip. A quarter of the way through. The strangest part about it is that it didn’t seem all that long ago that I thought up this crazy plan and started putting it into action. It took about nine months more of planning than I thought, hence the fact that I’m traveling now as opposed to my original intention of 2013. So it’s strange to see how time has flown since then.
Here are the places I visited, things I did and saw, and lessons I learned in my first three months:
Continents: 4 (North America, South America, Antarctica, Africa)
Countries: 4 (U.S., Peru, Argentina, South Africa)
Cities: 8 (Portland, Seattle, Denver, Cuzco, Lima, Buenos Aires, Ushuaia, Cape Town)
Airport route: PDX-SEA-DEN-LAX-LIM-CUZ-LIM-EZE-AEP-USH-EZE-GRU-JNB-CPT
Animal close encounters: penguins, seals, dolphins, birds, whales, sharks (great white and white tip reef), crocodiles, monkeys, lemurs, rays, turtle, fish (and distant sightings of lions, leopards, tigers and snakes)
Scam close encounters: aside from generally paying a bit too much for certain things, none that I can think of so far. Success! Or are scams to common that I’m forgetting them?
Here are a few things I’ve learned in my first three months:
– The world isn’t nearly as scary as I thought
And that’s coming from someone who had been to about 35 countries before this trip. The fear factor never completely goes away, but that’s okay because it keeps me on my toes. I was absolutely terrified of Africa since I had never been, but in South Africa I encountered nothing but generous, helpful, friendly people.
– Finding the right work-blog-travel balance is WAY harder than I thought
Initially I had the idea that I would stop and stay for a month or so at a few places to get a good understanding of them. The idea was that too many travelers blaze through a place in a matter of a few days, so picking a few cities and staying a while would give me a better understanding of those cities and I could take shorter trips to other regions/cities/countries in between. A great idea, right?
Well, not so much. What ended up happening in my extended stays in Buenos Aires and Cape Town is that instead of going out and meeting locals, exploring every inch of the city and getting to the know the place in a meaningful way, I started accepting enormous work projects. Not that that’s a bad thing – I knew I’d have to work a regular schedule (more or less) while traveling.
However, I’m currently on track to have the most successful year of my career – if put in terms of how much money I’ll make. But my take on “success” – and the entire point of this trip – is that it can’t be measured in monetary terms alone. If I made a million dollars this year it wouldn’t be worth the time I gave up not being able to see the next neighborhood of Buenos Aires or not having had the time to stroll through a township in South Africa and get a sense of how people less fortunate than myself live.
I feel like I’ve missed opportunities in both places, and the times I got out and saw anything were the times when Chris was here, because I didn’t want to waste his time by working non-stop. So why don’t I value my own time in the same way?
Lesson learned – my last week in Cape Town I worked only part-time and did a few activities on my own. These included a surf lesson, township tour, winery tour, horse-back riding and meeting up with a friend of a friend and several of his friends. More on that in my six-month update.
– I’ve been too idle and too prepared.
I thought being organized and prepared well ahead of time was always a great idea, but lately I feel I’ve missed out on cooler places and things that I only discovered once I arrived because I couldn’t get out of a booking. Case in point – I wanted to see other parts of Peru but had already pre-booked my hotel in Cuzco. Cuzco is an absolutely gorgeous city, but it’s touristy and its novelty can therefore wear off after a few days. I started to get a bit bored having spent two and a half weeks there.
– Being financially secure in my travels isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.
The fact that I can earn money while traveling is making me lazy in my travels. I’ve stayed in some very nice places, but at the same time they tend to be a bit isolated from the heart of things. The problem, in my view, is that I’m stuck in a traveler’s purgatory in which, at 34, I feel a little too old to be staying in hostels (and WAY too old to go out partying all day/night), but too young and adventurous to be staying in places where other clientele book all-inclusive, package tours and see interaction with other travelers as a hassle more than an enhancement of the experience. I long for the days when I traveled in my 20s and would drop my plans because I got an invite for better ones from other travelers or locals. (By the way, this has nothing to do with age and everything to do with an adventurous spirit.)
I have yet to stay in a hostel on this trip because I haven’t had to out of economic necessity, but will definitely give it a try in the next few months.
– I packed too much, but still struggle to figure out what I can leave behind.
When I set out from Denver, my suitcase weighed 21.5 kg (45 lbs). By the time I left Cape Town, it had ballooned to 27 kg (59 lbs), not including the 12 kg (26 lbs) of hand luggage I’m hauling around. I’m SHOCKED that I haven’t been slapped with extra baggage fees yet. I’m hoping to get down to 20 kg (25 kg total) by the time I leave Africa. Wish me luck.
In short, I’m glad I figured some of these things out in month 3 rather than month 12.
Most memorable moments
– Finally reaching the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu after some grueling and at times terrifying hiking.
– Every minute on the ship in Antarctica. Sounds cliché, but it really is the coolest (no pun intended) thing I’ve ever done.
– My first week in South Africa with Chris. We saw some amazing things and I immediately fell in love with the entire Western Cape region. It was a great introduction to Africa before heading to some of the more challenging parts of the continent (see upcoming posts on Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia!).
Least memorable moments
– Spending 2 weeks straight working in B.A. while fighting a nasty cold
– GIANT cockroach ON MY BED in B.A.
– Thinking I was going to die on the Inca Trail
Goals going forward
– Be bolder in starting conversations with locals
– See one new thing every day, take at least five pictures (even if it’s of the inside of my hotel room)
– Plan less – just show up. I’ll book hotels the first night I arrive in a city so I don’t end up roaming unfamiliar streets with my giant bag, but I’ll try to not have everything else already planned and booked to the point that I can’t change my plans if I find something/somewhere better to do/go.
– Read one book on every country I go to (not just guide books, but also historical/cultural books)
– Get more exercise
– I promised my mom I’d check in often. I haven’t been good about that.
Have you done any long-term travel? I’m always open to advice and tips on how to make a long-term trip (or any trip for that matter!) more rewarding and memorable.