Fellow travelers along the way have told me that you just have to get over the four-month hump. Another, the six-month. But there is no across the board amount of time to pay attention to. Your sentiments can change day-to-day—heck, even hour-to-hour. When my parents visited me in Buenos Aires during the holiday season, I mentioned the idea of staying abroad for a full year or more. I was robbed less than two weeks later and wanted to go home immediately.
But the time is up to you and only you. I had to take everyone and everything out of the picture and focus on why I began this trip in the first place and what I wanted to learn. This realization didn’t come easily, but I’ve decided to head home a bit earlier than planned. I’m at a perfect place emotionally, exhausted physically and mentally ready to take a step back and look at how the many experiences I’ve had have affected me.
I had my fair share of obstacles. More so than the typical no place to sleep tonight, no buses until tomorrow, diarrhea for a week kind of situations that most travelers encounter. I was sexually accosted by an older man in Ecuador, forcing me to leave my WorkAway after four days and become on high alert in regards to being a female, a solo female and anything to do with a foreign single male. I was robbed in Argentina, leaving me with no form of identity or currency. After said robbery, my new phone and only camera dropped in the toilet and a week later my single form of payment or money withdrawal became compromised. Because of this, the continuation of my trip became reliant on the communication between my parents and Western Union. I am proud to say that I overcame all of these obstacles in my own way and continued on the journey with my head remaining high. However, I became tired of constantly picking myself up. I’m a tough cookie, independent as all get out but a girl can only handle so much. I knew it was time.
And then there’s the solo travel thing. The pros are endless; the benefits and rewards are incredible and worth the struggles. But the personal difficulties that I dealt with on a consistent basis added up throughout the weeks and months. I certainly wouldn’t have made it without my support system that sent their love and lent their ears from miles away. Nor the fellow backpackers that I’ve met along the way. Meeting those from around the world, sharing stories and laughs, finding common ground in the smallest of things is an inspiring—and powerful—thing. A simple hello, invite or interjection can change the plans for that night’s dinner or your entire next 10 days. It’s magical. But the friendships come and go, and the conversations tend to become redundant. One night I realized that I was more immersed in texting my best friend thousands of miles away instead of conversing with the Chilean couple across the table. I knew it was time.
I arrived in Puerto Varas after my time in Patagonia with an unwelcome feeling. The need to navigate the bus system, find my hostel and plan a few activities for the next couple of days became a hassle instead of an enjoyment. More importantly, the unfamiliar became familiar. I was no longer as excited about striking up a random conversation in Spanish on the bus or taking photos of new food or new landscapes. I no longer wandered the markets with the same eye for detail like I did in Ecuador or tried to read a newspaper when I found one. I knew it was time.
I’ve faced some fears like snorkeling and jumping off bridges. I’ve taken myself up cliffs and on five-day hiking trips. I’ve proved to myself that I can kick ass, no matter the situation. I can do anything I set my mind to—and it all started with taking the steps to embark on this journey in the first place. I only needed to prove that to me, myself and I. And I have. Am I leaving South America with answers to all of my questions? No. That would be impossible. But I’m leaving with a stronger sense of my own personal identity—and knowing who you are at age 22 is pretty liberating.
So my backpacking trip is ending six months after it started on April 7, 2016. I will spend my last few days savoring moments in the cultural haven of Valparaiso before flying from Santiago to Puerto Rico where I’ll spend a week in paradise with friends. Landing in the States, driving home with my parents and walking into my home will not be easy. Adjusting back to normal life will come with its own culture shock. I’ll search for my backpack for the first week and try to order meals in Spanish. I’ll also overload on my favorite foods, ride my bike on familiar roads and receive huge bear hugs from my favorite people. It will be a bittersweet reunion, but I’m ready to take the chapters I’ve written to the next stage. They always say you don’t realize how you’ve changed until you’re back home, so really, the trip isn’t over—it’s just beginning again.