In February, when I staggered off an airplane into the chilly predawn of Santiago, I could never have fathomed how the next six months would go. Of course, I had vague notions about what it would be like to travel cheaply in hostels, but the longest holiday I’d ever been on was three weeks in Scotland with Craig a couple of years ago.
And to be honest, I’ve never really had the “travel bug”. When people used to talk about “backpacking across Europe” or some such romantic notion, it always seemed to me to be very dirty, tiring, and overwhelming.
In some ways, it’s a bit surprising that I’m here. I like my creature comforts, and I’m rather particular about cleanliness and organization. Before we left, one of my favorite things to do was to just sit on my couch, knitting and watching movies with my cat in my lap, preferably with some Cheetos nearby.
But my cat now has another home, my Netflix membership was canceled long ago, and the knitting I do now is with inferior equipment and mostly on long, nausea-inducing bus rides. Don’t even get me started on what the junk food here is like. My life of comfort and familiarity has now been replaced with constant upheaval and various inconveniences.
And yet, I feel the need to persist. If for nothing else than to not disappoint Craig, who dreamed of this trip for many years. But there are other reasons as well. We had a goal of traveling for one year, and I would like to reach that goal. There are still many counties remaining that we haven’t seen. And sometimes, I am struck with the beauty and wonder of our surroundings.
Still, I don’t get the same rush that Craig does when researching a new destination in the guidebook. My tolerance for dirty bathrooms and never-ending bus rides is much lower. I miss having a routine, and I miss knowing where all the good restaurants and shops are. Down here, that feeling of being a fish out of water never really dissipates, despite my improving Spanish. I will never know any of these cities as well as I know Seattle, and sometimes, the thought of walking through my old neighborhood bowls me over with intense longing.
Other thoughts invade my mind as well, and give me nostalgia for strange things. Once, while contemplating the stack of clean, large towels that used to reside in my cupboard back home, I felt that I couldn’t wait until I saw those towels again. I never know what I will miss next, whether it be cheddar cheese or my shoes or my shower. The desires for these things pass through me at random, like the intangible wisps of unattainable hopes.
On the other hand, not having to go to work every day has its merits. I like the thought that I will speak a third language once this trip is done. And when we are back, I will have a million memories to warm me over when life again seems dull, as it inevitably will sometimes, once I’ve gotten over my rediscovery of American supermarkets.
Now that I’ve spent half a year backpacking across South America, I know that it can be dirty, tiring, and overwhelming. But I also know that it’s an experience to treasure. After all, I’m extremely lucky to be able to do this. So many local people that we’ve met are just hovering above the poverty line, trapped in a lifetime of labor. A trip like this is something they could never hope to do. Sometimes, when I describe our trip to them, I feel a strong sense of guilt. And so I tell myself, Don’t take it for granted. Keep going.
I’m still not sure how or if this trip will change my inner mindset in any way. At this point in time, I don’t know if I’d describe it as “life-changing”. Perhaps I’ll find out its full impact when we finally get settled back in Seattle. Maybe then I’ll be able to appreciate the trip in a way that I can’t tonight, at the end of a 10-hour bus ride into yet another new country, feeling very dirty, tired, and overwhelmed.