Each and every time I embark on an adventure, I am blind to the magnitude of how much it will transform me. The changes that occur inside of me as I travel are inevitable, irreplaceable, and imperative in terms of shaping whom I am, as well as who I want to become.
Currently, I am over halfway through a four-month solo-backpacking escapade from Mexico to Colombia. Oftentimes when explaining to others that I was setting out to backpack Central America alone, as a female, and at just nineteen years old, I received fretful reactions. There wasan overwhelming amount of people that told me, simply, “Do not go!”Violence and safety issues consumed their minds, while I was tenacious to explore this part of the world. With a reluctant goodbye from my parents, I was allowed to follow my heart, more ready than ever to embark on this backpacking journey.
Murder, gangs, and drug cartels run ramped in people’s minds when they think about Central America. I cannot blame others for this misguidedperspective, as the Western news often only seems to focus on the most negative attributes of these countries. Every single day on this journey I am thankful I took the leap of courage to see wherethe separation of truth from fiction in the world actually occurs.
From central Mexico, to the shores of Belize, into the jungle of Guatemala, to the sunny islands of Honduras, the surf villages of Nicaragua, the National Parks of Costa Rica, and now, in the west of Panama – I have yet to undergo one dull, or dangerous moment. Exceptional hospitality would be a wholly inadequate way to describe the people who accounted for many of my experiences so far in Central America.
It is heartwarming how welcome the ‘locals’ have made me feel in almost every place. I will never forget the moment I lost my debit card in Antigua, Guatemala, and the sheer panic I went through, only to have a local woman find and return it to me, after she took the time to search my name on Facebook and meet me in town. Or the woman, Maribel, in Nicaragua, who cooked me a free lunch on her street food cart so that I could get a taste of “real, local, Nicaraguan food”. There was the bus driver in Costa Rica, a gem of a man, who drove around for twenty minutes looking to find a sloth in the park since I had never seen one. It is simple interactions and affairs like these, where you see the heart of another, that keep me addicted to traveling. Kindness has no borders and belongs to no particular Nationality, something travel reinforces all the time.
Paradigms inside of me are changing, and I love it. Epiphany appears around every new band, sometimes popping up unexpectedly on the side of the road. I consistently find myself diving into activities, friendships and cities without expectations, just to be blown away in the end. If I can expect anything, it is to expect the unexpected.
Before the trip I found myself premeditating every move and decision, trying to see and plan in it all out before it ever happened. Now, I have found that “just going for it” works as well, and definitely leads to more interesting stories.Whether it is trekking up a 13,000-foot volcano, scuba diving 60 feet underwateror bungee jumping over a cloud forest in Costa Rica, I have shocked myself, and come out of these now daily tests of my mettle with memories that will last a lifetime. At home I would never dive into these heart-pounding, exhilarating acts with complete strangers, but here, it all makes sense.
I am letting go, in all of the right ways.
As I travel, I let go of the old me and embrace the new and improved me. The self-conscious and shy Dylan is now an attribute of the past. I can honestly say that living a more carefree and stress free lifestyle has led to much more inner peace. Through this change from deep inside of me, I have felt my relationships with others become more powerful, real, and raw. At first, letting go seemed absolutely terrifying and foreign, yet in the end it is one of the best lessons I have learned this trip so far. The more I let go, the more I get closer to the person I have always wanted to be.
Interactions with travelers from all over the world have enhanced this trip more than I can ever fully explain. For starters, the local family that I lived with while studying Spanish in Guatemala led to captivating dinner table conversations around homemade food everyday. I then found myself traveling with a thirty one year old Dutch woman through three countries, for over a month. Who knew a 19-year old from America and a 31-year old from across the planet could become the best of friends? Opportunities for relationships like these are not abundant at home, and it is for these exact reasons that once the travel bug bites, it keeps you infected.
Honduras proved to me that it is important to flow with your emotions, and follow exactly where they are leading you. It just so happens that you may meet an incredible man from halfway across the world, and momentarily fall in love with them, knowing it won’t last but being 100% okay with this reality – as the falling in love is worth more than the pain of leaving.
Traveling constantly proves to me that experiencing emotions with others will always providefor gripping, special and magical memories. The blissful time spent with others is the exact reason goodbyes become so devastating. In the end, I am extremely thankful for each person, city and country that made the goodbyes so dreadful, because the elation I experienced in the moment was worth every tear shed at our parting.
As much as I never want to return home and continue the adventure forever, this time I have quite an exciting opportunity to look forward to when I go home. I am eager to return with my profound new sense of self, something it has taken me almost 20 years to find, but I knew was out there.
I am eager to continue a life at home with confidence that I can handle life’s challenges, I am ready, willing and able ready to step out of my comfort zone. Backpacking alonearound Central America has already altered my life trajectory for the better, impacting who I become from this day forward in innumerable ways. The ways in which I have grown are not lessons any person, professor or book could have ever shown me, but are only verities I could have found within, on a trip where the world made me face my fears.
The moreI travel, the more the world becomes my favorite classroom. There is something valuable to be learned from every town, building, plant, person and animal. In September I will return home, and while may indeed be the same, I am forever changed. More knowledge of the outside world and other cultures will keep me craving that next trip. Not the kind of craving ascribed to escape or that of being without, but a craving to return to a foreign lands that I can learn and grow from.
What country I may end up in next will certainly consume my mind during those free moments after I return home. If I have learned anything the past two and half months, it is that preconceived notions are far more than often flat out wrong. You can’t sit back and let another tell you what the world is like, as they will paint images in your head that simply won’t do the place in question justice. Experiencing it all on my terms, firsthand, is just too profound to miss.
I have a plethora of excitement in returning home, finishing my degree, and seeing what happens next. I do not know where my inevitable love of travel came from; I consider myself lucky for always possessing this constant yearning to go on adventures near, and far. I have found out that I would rather save every penny for travel, rather than materialistic items. I am lucky that I have the ability to let people from all over the world embroider my life with such color and richness. Luckily, I can decide from firsthand experiences what the world really is like, unfettered and without prejudice. Most of all, I am not just lucky, but blessed, that traveling has given me the means to grow and develop into a better person. It is the most rewarding endeavor I have done for myself.