South For The Winter

In June of 2013,  I was given the most incredible opportunity to become a tour leader with an adventure travel company, running backpacking trips in the southern cone of South America. Part of it was through connections, part of it was performing well in the interview process, but to be completely honest I still feel to this day that it was mostly luck. After having to constantly answer the question “How did you get this job?” (emphasis on the YOU), that’s the best answer I’ve come up with. I don’t blame any travelers from my trips or really anyone for that matter for asking me this. If I took my valuable PTO from my job and flew halfway around the world only to came across my pale skinned, 22-year-old, American self at a hotel in Brazil explaining that I was there to ensure you have a safe and kick-ass time from city to city all the way across a continent, I would not have taken myself seriously upon first sight either.

Flying into the monster sprawl of Buenos Aires for training week and meeting my managers and the other new guides only intimidated me more. My Spanish was pretty good and I thought I was well enough traveled, but these guys/gals were mostly locals, and TRAVELED. All were older and while there were a few other “non-locals” among us (people not from South America), I was the only one without a latino name (I’ll write a piece about the meaning of authenticity in the tourism industry at a later time). To be candid, I felt like I was not supposed to be there, like a mistake was made in the hiring process or something. Needless to say, I questioned my decision to pack up my life in the States and head south pretty much right when I made it.

From the moment I stepped off the plane on a crisp fall morning (in June) in Buenos Aires, I had to prove myself. To the managers who I knew were taking a risk by hiring someone like me, to my fellow trainees and colleagues, to the passengers who were on my trips, to myself. Every single day I had to prove that I belonged to all of it. That I could not only survive the 18 month contract in a place that I had never been, but I would thrive. That instead of falling for societal pressures and jumping into the safety net of an office job or grad school in familiar Colorado, I was taking a calculated risk by jumping into the unknown, and I that would be better for it.

Nearly two years went by, though it felt more like twenty. I had experienced more in life in that short amount of time in South America than in my then 23 years of existence. I hadn’t slept anywhere longer than a few days. I had learned how to speak Portuguese along with my Spanish. The countries that had intimidated and frankly scared the shit out of me had become my home. Passengers from my trips had turned into some of my best friends, and fellow trainees and other coworkers had become family. There were times that I felt like I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I had truly changed. Most importantly, I had “proved it” to everyone, including myself.  I had learned far more personally and professionally than any business school or entry level job could have taught. I felt victorious.

Piranha fishing in Brazil

However, the art of romantically living out of a backpack and pleasing tourists also beats the living hell out of you. That’s why I’ve been residing in Denver for the past few years, trying out the young professional lifestyle like a good domestic millennial should. Gone are the days of border bribing, tango dancing, wine tasting, booze cruising, tourist herding, and sleep lacking. Instead, there’s been a lot of 9-to-5’ing, commuting, conference calling, bar hopping, festival attending, and bill paying. I picked up an office job at SnapEngage, a small and quirky tech company in Boulder, moved into a sweet townhouse in the heart of Denver with two awesome roommates that have turned into best friends, and even took my love for electronic music to the next level by learning how to DJ and showcase the music I love. Overall, life at home has been pretty solid.

But alas, the story has not ended! You might have guessed that since you’re reading this right now. You see, everyone tells you to make big life decisions and go on a huge trip somewhere in the world, but no one tells you what to do with it after you come home. Why would they? Readjusting to life after living abroad is not romantic. Sitting in front of a computer 50+ hours a week and answering emails all day simply does not provide the same fulfillment, no matter how fun you try to make it. Domestic life is great, but I could feel the comforting grip of routine taking ahold…and making me older at a quickening pace. I would also think back to what I was doing in South America and not even believing myself that I had actually done half the things I did.

I often found myself spacing out at my desk, riveted with uncontrollable flashbacks of jungle hikes in Brazil or negotiating fairer cab fares for my groups in Uruguay, and I would think “Is this really what all the fuss was about when I was away?”

It was time for a new adventure.

The not foreseen lasting consequences of deciding to move to South America four years ago has left me even more curious about life, rather than satisfying any “travel bug itch”. To me, traveling runs counterintuitively to what everyone tells you. The more places I go, the less I seem to actually know about the world. Traveling hasn’t made the world smaller, it’s made it bigger. 

“Curiosity fuels more curiosity.” – Some famous person I’m too lazy to look up. 

 I was primed for another move, but what, where and how big a move? I didn’t want to jump to another office job quite yet and I didn’t want to go back to running the same trips in South America. It just wouldn’t have been the same. After a few calls and negotiations, G Adventures has granted me yet another amazing opportunity. The result: coming out of guide-life retirement and flying down to Central America for the upcoming high season! The narrow body of land that sits in between Mexico City and Panama City that’s jam packed with hot jungles, rich in indigenous culture, and still holds the “best sunsets in the world” trophy for me. Having lived in Nicaragua for a semester in college, I cannot help but feel a sense of homecoming to it all. It’s where it all really began for me, and I cannot wait to become a part of it again in an even bigger way!

Gasping for air in the Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

With this blog, I’m not going to write too deeply about how travel, especially extended trips abroad, can change you and all the hippie mumbo-jumbo that the endless amount of blogs and Facebook articles can take care of. It’s not that I don’t believe in all that stuff, but I feel like we’ve seen enough “candid” Instagram posts of people looking off into a sunset or standing on top of some amazing mountain that you can’t pronounce to see that everyone is branding themselves while on holiday (myself included). Besides, it’s the unshared misadventures and gritty unexpected moments from travel that tend to stick with you long after you slap on that 48% Ludwig filter to that beach in Thailand with that perfect “live life” caption and posted it to the envy of your friends. I’m not going to preach about how there’s more to life than “paying bills then dying” and tell you to throw your computer out your office window and give your boss the finger. That market is oversaturated. If you want to go somewhere and you have the means to do it, then do it. If you’re able to get paid while abroad, even better. That’s really all there is to it.  Travel is what you make it, full stop.

Packing up your life at 26, now more than a few years into a professional life, is a lot different than packing it all up as a 22 college graduate. I know that 36 year old me will find this naive, but you always feel like you are never smarter than you are right now, right? I can’t help but question if I’m making the correct decision….again. Still, I told myself that if I was going to pack it all up again and fly south of the border yet again, that it would not be in vain. Alas, firing up the travel blog, documenting as many experiences as possible, and telling as many stories about what it’s like living and guiding in the most beautiful (and ugly) places this planet can offer. Hopefully I can give you some laughs and good stories along the way.

So for now, in the name of adventure, it’s back to life on the road, if only for a little while.


(writing from Denver, CO  and published from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico!)