2014 started out rough.
Work was all-consuming in a very stressful, emotional way, with tons of changes and uncertainties. My life changed in a big way when my mom immigrated to the U.S. permanently. Sure, I had been planning for the moment to come for the past 10 years and I had pictured how this was going to go down hundreds and thousands of times in my head… but this was huge. Being responsible for someone starting a new life in a completely foreign country is a big task. When we ran into unforeseen challenges — her wallet getting stolen on her second day with all of her identifications and money, needing urgent medical help when she’s without health insurance — SHIT GOT REAL. The combined weight of personal and professional responsibilities, insurmountable amount of stress, and feeling guilty for being stressed all led me to excuse myself for having no patience or compassion. Basically, I’m sorry if you had to interact with me during those times.
I wasn’t a good teammate. I wasn’t a good daughter. I wasn’t a good friend. I wasn’t a good roommate. I wasn’t a good person. I didn’t feel that way anyway and I felt frustrated feeling helpless and tired all. the. time. I desperately wanted to escape the reality and remove myself from it all. It’s unfair, I know, it’s cowardice, I know. But I wanted to do something for me — not my clients, coworkers, family, or friends. I wanted to be unknown, unfound, uninterrupted. I recognize the ability to flee is a tremendous luxury and I am very privileged to be able to do so without immediate or extreme financial hardship.
I often day dream about traveling the world but being the Type A planner that I am, international trips usually don’t happen “spontaneously.” I would require at least 3 months of planning, calculating, researching… But something came over me one day, when I randomly searched for a roundtrip ticket to Rio De Janeiro and found one for $950. Without much thought or hesitation, I bought the ticket. A nonrefundable ticket. Luckily, I have a flexible job and a cool manager (who received a desperate weekend text “Can I take two weeks off please I already booked my flight” and responded “sounds good.”) which allowed me the spontaneous escape. For you Aussies and Europeans who travel frequently for long periods of time, this may seem a bit dramatic for only a two week vacation, but for an average American with a job to keep, two weeks is not a trivial length to be away from work (back me up, fellow hard working Americans!). Also, given this was my first time traveling alone, this seemed like a much bigger deal to me than it probably would to other seasoned travelers…
I had never been to South America and Brazil seemed like a cool enough place. I hadn’t done any research. Soon I found out… 1) I need a visa to go to Brazil 2) World Cup is happening in Brazil in June, therefore all consulate appointments are full 3) It’s “winter” in Brazil 4) Rio is not recommended for solo female travelers due to the high level of violence and crime rate. OH…. great.
But where there is a will, there is a way. Actually, scratch that. Throw money at your problems and they will go away. Problems 1 & 2 were resolved by doing just that — I used a local travel visa agency to expedite my visa. Not cheap. #3? Occasional rain and upwards of 70 degree weather… survivable. #4 was the ultimate risk. To ensure I travel solo, I purposely did not announce my trip to friends or family until closer to the departure date. And when I did, most of the reactions involved worry, horror, warnings, head shakes, and face palming. They sent me terrifying articles about crimes in Rio, blog posts and travel site comments about the violence, and encouraged me to rethink my trip destination — some suggested I delay the trip until I find a travel companion. I did a fair share of research myself, and yes, it was scary. “But how bad can it really be?” I thought. “People live there.” Let’s be clear, I was fully aware of the need to be extra cautious as a woman traveling alone in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language, where I can’t “pass” as being a local. But anywhere, San Francisco included, can be dangerous if you refuse to use common sense and caution. Ultimately, my desire to venture out outweighed the risks. I decided to play ignorant and be brave. “I’M YOUNG AND BOLD” I told myself, half the time believing in it and the other half… cursing myself and banging my head against a wall. With lots of justification and self-assurance, I prepared myself for the adventure.
Every major decision in my life that was beneficial to me in retrospect all came with a degree of uncertainty, risk, and that butterfly-in-your-stomach kind of feeling. This felt like one of those moments. So I packed my backpack and took off.
Why not a suitcase, you ask? I wanted to be lightweight and nimble. I wanted to not need a lot of “things.” The backpack met most of the travel modes’ baggage requirements for carry-on. Plus, it’s much more romantic this way. People don’t say “I suitcased around South America,” right?
I will be posting a series of blog posts journaling my experience in South America. Not sure how long this will take, but I’m hoping my writing will provide useful information, inspire others to travel, and most importantly, help make my experience longer lasting.