For weeks, I’ve been drafting new blog posts and have published none. In those weeks, I’ve travelled thousands of kilometres, swam in the sea, hiked through the jungle, interviewed activists in three different cities, started a feminist column, got three different types of parasites, and… freaked out a bit. Why, and what I did about it – read on.
While enumerating these things, I feel a mixed bag of emotions. I marvel at my adventurous life, even though it didn’t feel that marvellous sometimes. To be honest, I frequently felt exhausted, insecure, lost, then again euphoric… it has felt like a constant roller coaster, sometimes I enjoyed the ride and sometimes I just wanted to get out.
It is common to blog about the amazing moments of travel. Who wants to whine about the downsides? It certainly can sound pretentious to complain while doing all those amazing things many people dream of and think you need tons of money for. While I don’t have tons of money, survived on freelance writing and a bit of savings, keeping my costs low through couch surfing, and exploring a truly budget-friendly country, I do recognise that travels are a big privilege. And I am grateful for it. That however doesn’t mean that it’s always easy, and it should be okay to admit that..
But what happened?
Since my last post, I travelled through Medellín, Guatapé, the “eje cafetero” (Jardín, Manizales, Pereira, Arabia),took a plane to the Caribbean on 1st January, explored Barranquilla, Cartagena, Santa Marta, Minca, Parque Tayrona. All by myself. (Then, I went to Palomino, Riohacha and back to Bogotá. Accompanied.)
“Estás viajando sola?!” was one of the frequent questions directed towards me by locals I met on the way. Which means “you’re travelling alone?”. Actually, it is easy to travel Colombia as a solo female traveller. I pick my hostels, ask for couches, and once in a while I can afford a nice hotel room for myself; I pick double rooms with single occupancy so I have a comfy big bed for myself. Hotel employees sometimes find it a bit strange, but they have never made me feel uncomfortable for being a female solo traveller.
The blessing and the curse of solo travel
Travelling “sola” provides me with huge freedom, but it also leaves all decisions and constant planning to myself.
My journey went really smooth (at least until I got the parasites). I never felt in danger, the country turned out to be way safer and calmer I had imagined, nothing bad happened, I did and saw amazing things. Nevertheless, even the beautiful things get exhausting. The constant change of environment, the overload of new places and people…
The symptoms of the traveller blues
And suddenly you find yourself sleeping to much, blaming yourself on missing things for sleeping too much, crying without a proper reason (although, what’s a proper reason anyway)?, or just not feeling much anymore, even if you see and experience wonderful things on the road. How does that happen?
I have identified some things that particularly stress me on the road. And I have sought ways to cope with them.
1 – Long term backpacking is not my thing (now).
I have really come to admire people who manage their emotions while doing a world trip for months or even years, and I might also have come to realise that that’s not for me. I love travel and that has not changed, but I feel four to six weeks of backpacking are a good time frame for me. Afterwards, I truly enjoy having a fix place, friends, hobbies and work – whether in my home country or abroad. Instead of being harsh on myself, I try to listen to my needs and find my own pace. Reading a novel that keeps you turning the pages is another good one. Staying longer at one place instead of rushing through three cities in one week has been beneficial as well.
2 – I have issues with decision making.
Should I stay in this city or should I go to the next one? Which hostel is the best? Which table in the restaurant is the nicest? I really have issues with decision making, wanting to get the best out of my trip and not rely too much on chance and coincidence (might be my German heritage). And that generates additional stress for me.
So, I’ve come to force myself to make decisions in a certain time and then be okay with whatever comes out of it. And actually it has worked quite well.
3 – I expect much of myself.
As I said above, I conducted several interviews, took plenty of pretty photos, met German and Colombian activists, published articles about Colombia and started a feminist column. Still, I am dissatisfied with my work progress of the last two months. Why haven’t I edited videos (yet)? Why not audio features? Now writing that down I feel I’ve been a bit tough on myself. I couldn’t (or didn’t want to) do all at once, I also wanted days for simple exploring and reflecting, not journalism or blogging related. I’ve done fine. And I have to remember myself of it.
4 – I haven’t figured out my future yet.
While still waiting to finally graduate from my Master’s degree in Gender and International Relations, which I am proud of, I am in a time lag (?) between student life and professional future. I thought this might be the last opportunity in years or even decades to simply roam around freely for months, so I packed my stuff and took a plane to South America. But sometimes, concerns creep up: Where do I want to look for a job? In Colombia? At home? What if I find none anywhere? What should I focus on and specialize in?
Since I moved out of my last shared house in Bristol, leaving behind the best flatmates one could possibly imagine, I don’t have my own home. Not in Colombia, not anywhere else. Luckily, my family will always welcome me with open arms and help me out for a couple of weeks, but I’m 26 and like to stand on my own feet. And I am ambitious to turn my knowledge and abilities into a career, but I struggle to decide the details.
The anxiety related to this topic is difficult to fight. So, in the first place, I try to comprehend myself and just recognise my worries without judging myself. Then, I really find Mindfulness helpful. Even 10 minutes of meditation already help me to calm down. And… writing applications. Duh.
5 – I got a solid bunch of bacteria / parasites.
After two months of eating street food and drinking freshly made juices everywhere, I took the ~100th delicious orange juice in Riohacha… and found myself in a serious relationship with the toilet a few hours later. Lucky enough, at this point of the trip I wasn’t alone, and my travel companion got just as sick as me. We spent the night running to the bathroom, either vomiting or sh****ing. Unluckily though, that wasn’t enough for my body to recover. I found myself sleeping and going to the bathroom, and barely eating for five days, until I decided to get examined at the hospital. Result: Three different types of bacteria / parasites. I got antibiotics, my health is improving, but I still feel tired and can’t eat much. The “advantage”: I’m losing the kilos I gained on the road, I am eating super healthily and working out, not too intensely, but enough to get fit again. In front of the house where I’m currently staying, there is a park, and a bunch of muscular and super friendly guys invited me to join them. One of them brings his toddler, and it is just too sweet to see the pumped up guys hugging the little girl when having a break from their infinite series of pull ups and stuff.
So… what can I say? Life is beautiful. Travel is beautiful. But it is important to keep an eye on your energy level, not to force and judge yourself for what doesn’t work for you, and finding your own pace and travel style. I’m on it. Next stop: Tatacoa desert!
Have you ever felt that way on a journey? What did you do about it?