lacking wanderlust: what my trip to peru taught me about traveling

Photo Credit: Jeison Spaniol via Unsplash

Photo Credit: Jeison Spaniol via Unsplash

I first came up with the idea to travel to Peru last summer.  I had just gotten out of one of those rollercoaster relationships and needed a way to gain back my confidence, a way to challenge myself, a way to figure out who I really was and what my limits were.  I had spent so much time and energy making sacrifices for someone else that I had somehow forgotten some of those dreams I’d had before.  Like traveling.  And seeing how much Ramen I could eat in a week. So, with this newfound freedom, I decided that I wanted to do what I had always put off doing: getting the heck out of the USA for a little while.  And not only leave the country but find a way to accomplish something significant in the process. Like I said, I needed a confidence boost.

As any normal white girl would do, I trolled Pinterest travel pages to choose my destination, and while Thailand looked beautiful and I knew I could eat my way through Italy with ease, I ended up choosing Peru.  I wanted to feel in awe of something again, to feel the presence of something bigger than myself, and the athlete in me also wanted to push myself to accomplish some physical feat  (like a 4-day, 3-night hike with 30 lbs strapped to my back).  The Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu fit that criteria.  I was excited.  I was nervous.  And as a friend said, this wasn’t vacationing.  This was traveling. And it was potentially going to be rough.

But I did it.  I spent two days in the base town getting acclimated to the altitude, 4 days tackling the trail, and a few days recovering from the trek on the beach.  It was a great experience, and I’ll talk more about it in a little bit. But first, I want to tell you the #1 thing I realized while I was away for those 10 days in Peru:

I lack wanderlust.

I know, I know – I just drove a knife right through the heart of many of you.  It’s just that while there I realized I am not one of those people who has the urge to travel for months on end.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in Peru – it literally was a trip of a lifetime; however, I found myself constantly missing everything I had left back here in the states.  I missed my friends.  I missed my blog.  I missed the routine of my job and my coworkers.  I missed talking to my family and cooking myself dinner at night.  I missed cheeseburgers and French fries and being able to throw toilet paper in the toilet (seriously, you can’t do that in Peru).  I missed it all.  And for a moment I berated myself for having the opportunity to experience something so magnificent and wanting to be back home.  But was it really so horrible? I had created this fantastic life that I truly loved and missed even while being in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited.  And how wonderful is that?

That’s something I want and wish for everyone – that no matter where you go, you never dread the thought of going home.  Because let’s face it:  that little bubble is where you more than likely will spend most of your time, and if you wake up every morning dreading your work day or where you live or who you’re spending your time with, then you more than likely will be looking at travel as an escape and not an additional bonus to this life you created.  And I don’t want that for you. And you shouldn’t either. If you’re stuck in a situation that’s causing you to be unhappy, start looking to make a change.  Learn skills to find a better job, start waitressing on the weekends to pay off that debt that’s bogging you down, get rid of those toxic friends. Yes, it may mean a little sacrifice now on your part, but coming from someone with experience, the other side is a great place to be :) Now, back to Peru.

I will never negate the fact that traveling is important – it opens our eyes to those parts of the world we are hidden from in our day-to-day lives. And while you probably won’t find me wanting to jet off for months at a time (there is nothing like sleeping in your own bed), I am still excited to see more of what the world has to offer.  My 10 days in Peru taught me more than I had originally thought it ever would, and I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to experience and share it with you.  So, without further ado, here are the top 4 things I learned about life on my first (but not last) international trip:

You Have to Take Leaps of Faith

I waited too long to travel.  I had my excuses: it was too expensive, it was never the right time with work, I couldn’t find someone to go with, blah, blah, blah.  You’ve heard them.  You’ve made them. They’re all crap.

When I decided to do this trip, I had no idea what I was doing.  All I knew is that I was going no matter what, and I’d figure out everything along the way.  And you know what?  When you make decisions like that, things start falling into place. I had originally thought I’d be going alone but when I mentioned the trip to a friend over drinks, he said he’d always wanted to do it as well, and suddenly I had found myself a travel partner. Who had been to South America.  And was an avid hiker. Just like that.

There will always be a million reasons why we shouldn’t do something but they normally don’t outweigh the reasons why we should.  Even if it’s intimidating, even if you have absolutely NO idea what the hell you’re doing or how you’re going to do it (like me), if you truly want something in this life, then grab it. Even if no one believes in you.  Even if you have to do it alone.  Just dive in.  Take the leap of faith.  You don’t have to know everything, and sometimes that’s the beauty of the entire experience.

We Are Blessed.  And Extremely Rich.

This was probably the most unsettling realization of the whole trip.

At every corner you turned in Peru, it seemed like poverty was screaming at you.  In the base town of Cuzco, you’d pass 4 or 5 different people on every block who were trying to sell you scissors or calculators from 1984 or shoes that looked like they were picked out of garbage bins.  Day after day. In the outskirts of town, most farmers still used donkeys or picked the harvests by hand. In northern Peru, it was night and day between the resorts where tourists stayed and the graffitied, dirt floor homes of the people who actually lived there.  It never left you, and seeing it firsthand made it all more real to me.  These people were glad to get $1 and I had just spent 50x time on a night out back home.  I was lucky.  And spoiled.

But I think that’s the main point of traveling: to put your small world into the perspective of the bigger world out there. It made me feel grateful to be born in a place with such amazing opportunities, where I can make a better life for myself and own a home with air-conditioning and afford nice restaurants. And it made me want to do more to help those around me. Not a bad lesson to be learned from people I’ve never met who live 3,500 miles away.

Comfort Zones Aren’t Meant to Be Lived In

The Inca trail was really challenging, as I knew it would be.  While most in our group hired porters to carry a portion of their belongings, I was determined to finish the entire 4 days carrying all of mine, which meant I’d be hauling an additional 30 lbs on my back.  While climbing a mountain. At a 10,000 – 14,000 foot elevation.

It wasn’t comfortable, and it sure as heck wasn’t easy.  Towards the end of day three, my pack was starting to make my collar bones ache and my knees throbbed from constantly pounding against rock.  Needless to say, there were times when I cursed the decision to even go on the hike.  But you know what?  I did it.  It was rough and I didn’t shower for 4 days and I had to go to the bathroom in holes in the ground, but I did it.  And it was an exhilarating sense of accomplishment. 

I realized that even though our inner selves like to stay in our little boxes, it’s important that we continue to push ourselves outside of them.  It helps to discover parts of ourselves we didn’t know we had and continue to grow as a person.  And those little lessons help us become better spouses, parents, friends, siblings, and that’s what we’re all trying to be, right?

Relationships Make the Memories 

I’m not saying this to be wishy-washy but because it is actually the truth:  the best part of the Inca Trail wasn’t the hike itself but the people I met along the way.  In our group alone, we had a couple from Utah who decided to the do the trek in celebration of their 15 year anniversary. We had a member of the British military who carried both he and his wife’s backpacks the entire trip after she got altitude sickness the first day, and he stayed by her side the entire trek as she slowly made her way through the hikes.  We had a guy from Michigan who is seriously one of the wittiest people I have ever met.  We had a mother & two daughters from Canada who taught me that “douche” in French does not mean what it does in English (it’s a shower, FYI). 

I could keep going but you get the gist – they were a great group and leaving them at the end of our 4 days together was the worst part of it all.  As I was looking back on it after I returned to the states, I realized that they were what made it so fun and so special.  And while we all came from different places and had different backgrounds, you could still find a common thread among us all, which is wonderful to witness.

On that last day after visiting Macchu Picchu, our groupl went back to a hotel in the small town near the ruins to eat one final lunch, and that hotel happened to have WiFi.  As we all got reconnected to the “real world,” I looked around and realized that the trip was so great because we didn’t have the distractions of our phones. We were forced to be in the moment and interact with each other, and that was one of the loveliest things I took away from it all:  when we’re with others, we need to be with others - physically and mentally.  You connect in such a different way when you’re not constantly checking Snapchat or Instagram, and I can’t reiterate enough how apparent that was after going on this hike.  It was one of my main resolutions coming away from Peru: to start living in the present instead of through my phone.  

While I don’t feel the itch to travel the world for months on end, I do vow each year to go somewhere I’ve never been before:  to broaden my horizons, see the world, experience new things.  It’s been one of the best life resolutions I’ve set, and I hope that after reading this you decide to do the same.  And trust me, it doesn’t have to be a mega-trip like a 10-day excursion to Peru – sometimes you experience and learn the most within 100 miles of your own home.  Just go.

If hiking the Inca Trail is something you are interested in, I’ll be writing a post in a few weeks detailing all you need to know to do it.  So stay tuned!  Until then, check out some of the pictures from my trek – and yes, I did have costume day and I did dress like Where’s Waldo.   

Happy Exploring!