Choosing my battles

A lot of travelling, and how happy you will be while doing it, is down to the choices you make.

Since this is my first trip, and I’m on my own, I’m trying to be kind to myself when I make mistakes or when I’m finding it difficult. It also means I don’t always want (or need!) to take the more challenging choice.

Balancing the more comfortable options with ‘authentic’ travel offers the chance to experience both.

For example;

I do not always have to try to haggle (or haggle with any skill).

I don’t have to practice conversational Spanish with every local I meet. Sometimes a smile is okay.

I don’t have to try every local cuisine, or eat rice and beans every day.

I don’t even have to talk to English-speaking people if what I really want to do is to read my book and go to bed early.

I can definitely go to bed early (favourite part of travel? 😛 )

I don’t have to do every adventurous activity that comes my way, even if it sounds really fun.

This all takes away quite a lot of pressure and, so far, has been making my days sunnier.

 

Whatever happened to my travel principles?

I have to admit, when I came away I had several ideas about how I wanted to travel, and what I could be doing to make it less conventionally easy. I didn’t want easy. After having lived with these principles for a few months, do I still believe in them all?

The short answer is mostly yes.

1. No phones or laptops – I’m still really, really glad that I didn’t bring a phone, let alone a smartphone. I’ve been surprised with how many people here have, but I still think it’s a stupid idea. The pressure of losing it/having it stolen, along with the fact that you’re in a wonderful new place and all you want to do is check Facebook? Not for me. I can appreciate more how useful a laptop would be for planning purposes, but I’m still pretty glad I don’t have one. There is internet to be had everywhere, but at least this way I can choose when and for how long I want to use it. It’s been refreshing.

2. No fancy clothes – Still upholding this, although my wardrobe has expanded to include two more t-shirts. I’m living the fashion dream. But seriously, it’s just more stuff to weigh you down and is completely unecessary.

3. Speak Spanish – Sounds obvious, but so many people don’t make any effort at all. This is one thing I’m maybe most proud of, that I can now be understood in Spanish.

4. It’s not a country-wide pub crawl – I didn’t plan to drink much while I was away (expensive, unecessary, not what I came here to do) and although I have been out to bars, and even clubs, I still think it’s a complete waste to lurch from place to place, constantly smashed.

5. You don’t need a guidebook – When I arrived in South America, I found myself in places on the basis of recommendations, pages stolen from other people’s guidebooks, or pure chance. It was fun! It was also a whole lot less touristy. Now I’ve travelled with one as well, I can say that it does make things easier and especially finding accomodation is probably better. So maybe I would stick with ‘you don’t need one’, but that it can be nice to do so anyway.

 

What I wish I knew before

The advice I got before I left for South America was very vague. ´Learn Spanish´ is already obvious, and unfortunately didn´t make it any easier to learn. And confirming the price of a taxi before you get in is something I do in England, let alone Peru.

I´ve been coming up with a list of things that would have been really, really useful to know before I started travelling.

1. Take a Visa credit card. MasterCard is accepted in a lot of places, but Visa is EVERYWHERE. This would have made managing money a lot easier.

2. Unless it´s Easter, you don´t need to book a room ahead. You just don´t.

3. When getting on a bus, always pack water, food, warm clothes, and all your valuables.

4. Watch your backpack being put on the bus, or put it on yourself.

5. Don´t forget about Couchsurfing events – a good way to meet local people.

6. If you get off the bus for a break, eat very quickly and never take your eyes off the bus. Look to other people for clues as to how long you will be stopping – although they might tell you a time, this is always, always, vastly overexaggerated.

7. Change all your local currency at the border. Yes you will get less than a perfect exchange rate, but it´s more than worth it not to drag a load of different currencies all around the place.

And then there was one…

After three countries and a whole lot of word games on the bus, Emily and I have parted ways. She will go back down Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, catching the stuff we missed on the way up. I´m currently in Guatemala and will be heading to Mexico before flying to California next month.

It´s certainly different travelling with a friend, and I´m really glad I got to experience both travel with a partner and on my own. For one thing, it´s simply easier with someone else – you don´t have to listen quite as hard to instructions, or to watch out for our stop on public transport.

With Emily, I also travelled with the guidance of a guidebook, which is a more efficient way to see a lot when you don´t have much time.

It´s also a lot of fun; it´s nice to have someone to turn to when something ridiculous happens, to share that ´what on earth´feeling. It also means that someone will share my memories when I get home and want to talk about it all.

I think you do have to pick a travel companion quite carefully – Emily was perfect, and I´ll miss travelling with her!

10 things I love about Latin America

This place can be exasperating, but it is also beautiful, chaotic, charming. Here´s a small selection of reasons to love Latin America…

1. Everyone says hello to each other, all the time. They wish strangers good travels and happy eating; it´s such a cheerful and friendly way to interact.

2. The weather. Although I´m often uncomfortable, dramatic weather is definitely my preference. Give me blazing sun and tropical downpours over grey and drizzling anyday.

3. Not knowing what´s going on. This is often extremely annoying, but it´s also the start of all weird stories and hilarious escapades. Trying to decode a different culture´s behaviour is very amusing, as is the recurring realisation that you just cannot understand. I´ve had this everywhere I´ve been, and there´s nothing like it for reminding you that you are a stranger here.

4. Religions; in Latin America, religion is gaudy, celebratory and a heady mix of conservative Christianity and indigenous beliefs. It´s a lot more fun to look at and the stories surrounding religion are some of the most interesting.

5. Everything is more colorful. Parks, hostels, llamas´decorative headwear…it´s like an expression of life and certainly appeals to my tastes.

6. People know how to relax here. Walk slower, sit longer – no-one does a good lazy day in the public park like Latinos.

7. The parenting. Children play happily in the street or the countryside without the watchful eyes of an adult. They spend their time outside, with friends and siblings and no constant, mistrustful warnings of the various dangers they could come across. I think this is very healthy.

8. Animals are part of everyday life – pigs on the road, on the beach, dogs everywhere, horses, chickens…while more exotic wildlife is never too far away. We saw a man carrying a rabbit along in his hand. By a main road. Of course we have no idea why but it made a wonderful image!

9. Being talented and enthusiastic about dance is something to be proud of, not endured with reluctance and cynicism.

10. The soft drinks! Some people like to taste the local beers or wines of each country…my tastes are more teetotal. Different countries´soft drinks are by turn comedic, delicious and downright strange. My favourite so far remains Guarana from Brazil, but there´s still a few countries to go…