Some people can’t fathom sleeping in a different bed every night. Some people can’t conceive not cooking Sunday dinner in their own kitchen or playing music off their state of the art sound system or watching TV on their comfy sectional couch. But for gap year travelers like Neil and me, it’s not what we can’t do while we’re away. It’s about what we can do far, far away.
On our 9-month South America leg of our gap year, we’ve taken over 10,000 pictures and 3000 videos, stored on two hard drives and backed-up in little storage accounts on the internet. We’ve snorkeled in the Galapagos Islands and hiked close to Iguazu Falls. Here are some of the highlights of what you could do while away from home.
We ate locally. While we didn’t venture into too many markets in Ecuador and Peru, local restaurants still offer some of the best and most flavorful dishes, even for backpacker budgets. Rice and beans are staples in the countries north of Chile and Argentina but that doesn’t mean it’s all the same. Some rice and beans come with fish, others with meat, salad, chicken, pork, or cuy (guinea pig).
We made friends. Probably the best part of extensive travel, making friends on the road is an experience unlike any other. On the backpacker trail, we met travelers from almost every continent and shared some of our holidays with them. We hiked through deserts and milled through museums.
We planned for New Years in Cusco and we ran into friends in random back alley restaurants in the Andes. The world is small but there’s always room for more buddies. When we first arrived in South America, we landed in Ecuador’s capital and made our first friend: Pily. She runs a fantastic homestay in Quito, offers great hospitality, and up to date travel information. Plus her rooms are less than US$20. If you follow the link, you’ll see her reviews are excellent. Tell her we say “Hola, mami!”
We played games. Not every day will be filled with trekking in Huaraz or photographing Inca architecture. Many days, we just lounged and read. Many nights we played board games. The nights can be simple. We liked jenga and poker and hearts. We liked watching movies and reruns of sitcoms from the states. Extensive travel requires downtime just like any other activity. Enjoy and slow down. That’s the point.
We enticed old friends to join us. Our friends Tim and Julie joined us in Buenos Aires. We saw the sites and even managed to squeeze in a side trip to Colonia, Uruguay. Many people on the travel trail had family visit them too. It’s a great opportunity to share a little piece of life on the road and these memories will last for decades.
We watched other people. Travelers like to brag that they are traveling for 1 month, 1 year or 10. But locals have a story to tell too. Artisans, shopkeepers, and waiters have a life–often just as interesting. If you’re shy, you can just people watch and experience little slices of other peoples’ lives. How they live and enjoy their time. It’ll ground you and inspire your life too.
We stayed in fabulous hotels. Not always, but sometimes, we stayed in little oasis hotels with great views and incredible amenities. Not every budget can encompass constant luxury. But every backpacker should try and splurge once in awhile. Our friends from Belgium treated themselves to a fantastic French restaurant in Cusco one
night. They loved it so much they planned to return the next day. Neil and I were so intrigued by their zeal for this cuisine that we’d never had. We busted out the credit card and joined them for a decadent night of duck, trout, and pate.
We shopped. Not often because our backpacks were already jammed with electronics, but we liked to window shop at the very least. Little markets and famous markets have amazing character in South America. If you do your research you can even visit market towns like Peguche in Ecuador or little towns outside of Cusco, Peru for handicrafts.
We drank champagne. Well, sparkling wine really. Wine in Argentina is a highlight of any itinerary regardless of budget or palette. Even Neil indulged in the whites and sipped his fair share of reds. On our wine tour in Mendoza, our guide at the Trapiche Winery treated us to a special fourth tasting that was not included on our itinerary. It was a wonderful rose made from Malbec grapes, a light and fruity finish after a day of biking.
I could go on. I could ramble about reading and writing and wandering colonial streets. Long-term travel gives you time to pursue lifelong hobbies and indulge in little moments. Right? Add your thoughts!