Before I left San Diego, a friend suggested that I write a monthly “real talk” post about what life as a backpacker is really like. Is traveling the world really as glamorous as it appears on Instagram? How do I make it all work? What about the learning moments and the tough times? I could also discuss fun things like, how many times per week do I shower/shave/wash my hair/wear makeup? You know, the important things. ; )
I really liked the idea for that post, and now that I’ve been traveling for nearly 4 months (WOW) I think it’s time to start sharing! Read on, and please be sure to submit any questions you have for me so I can include them in a future post!
First of all, am I happy? Yes! I am living a much simpler, less materialistic life than I was back at home, and I feel happier overall. Certainly other factors come into play, like exploring new countries, learning a new language, and experiencing other cultures. I am also living in the moment instead of worrying about what I will do next week or next month, or fretting over the past. Living in the present was one of my intentions for this trip because I don’t think we do it enough.
What’s my daily budget, and how did I arrive at it? I did research before my trip and read that $30-35/day is feasible for budget backpacker travel in Latin America, so I decided I would take the higher end of $35/day and make it work for me. At home I love to spend, so I admit I was a bit worried about sticking to this seemingly low budget. It turns out I developed some great habits from other backpackers at the beginning of my trip, and so far I’ve traveled on an average of just $22/day! I was even told $35/day was HIGH, so I officially adjusted my budget to $30/day…which apparently is still high? Many people I’ve met spend just $15-25/day so I’ve learned a lot from them. At home I would often spend upwards of $20 on 1 meal or on a happy hour with my girlfriends. Now I’m making food, shelter, entertainment, and transportation all work for the same daily price as a salad and Kombucha from Whole Foods back at home. I plan to do a complete post on budgeting later because I’ve learned a lot and want to share!
Do I have to give anything up to stay on budget? It has been more of an overall lifestyle change. I no longer go shopping, do happy hours, or get my hair cut and colored. I try to think local in terms of food and transport. I get around by taking the cheapest option available which is typically a bus (and sometimes not even receiving a proper seat). I eat at local restaurants or markets which usually means a $2 set menu lunch. I drink local beer and buy local alcohol when it’s time to party. (Aguadiente is drink of choice in Colombia. I’ve even had rum. Who am I??) I book the cheapest room in a hostel (often a coed dorm with bunkbeds) and try to stay at places where breakfast is included. When I stay at a hostel with a kitchen, I cook many of my meals. I still drink coffee regularly since it costs only pennies. I’ve also incorporated several weeks of volunteering which includes free lodging and sometimes even free meals.
What do I miss the most from home? Aside from my friends and family (obviously!), I mostly miss my yoga studios, morning runs with Nicole, the Whole Foods salad bar, and leafy greens. The tropical fruit here is amazinggg (I dare you to find a sweeter pineapple), but leafy greens are not a typical part of the Latin culture. The other day I treated myself to a sit-down restaurant and found a KALE SALAD on the menu!! This was the first time I was able to find kale since the start of my travels, and I gobbled it up. (I will also miss Thanksgiving. Tear.) I’m getting yoga in occasionally when a hostel offers it or through an online studio, but I still miss the community and my teachers back home.
Do I ever get lonely? I’m rarely alone during my travels, so I haven’t felt lonely per se. Occasionally I reminisce about life back home and experience a bit of FOMO. I’m still tied to social media so I get to see what my family and friends are up to. This makes me feel connected, but at times I feel left out or worried that I’m missing important milestones. I started WhatsApp groups with my family and friends, and we share photos and stores with each other. Now that the holiday season is upon us, I am definitely feeling more nostalgic, but I am very fortunate that my parents & Rebeca will be meeting me in Costa Rica for Christmas this year! I can’t wait for my first group of visitors. : )
What’s a day in the life like? No two days are ever the same, and that’s what I like about my current lifestyle. At home I had such a structured routine (wake, run, work, yoga, dinner, sleep, repeat) which worked for me, but now I typically decide in the moment or up to one day in advance. I truly love it and think it makes me a kinder, less stressed out person. I’m generally inclined to over plan my days and weeks, so this is a welcomed change for my brain.
Here’s an example of my day in Bogota, Colombia last week: After breakfast, my friend Hannah and I took the bus downtown where we then took a cable car to the top of Monserrate mountain (10,300ft) and got a breathtaking view of Bogota, a city of nearly 10 million people. After soaking it in, we walked to meet up with two new local friends for lunch. (They also hosted us at their house for a week!) We then went to the Bogota Brewing Company to watch the Colombia vs. Chile soccer/futbol game. We got back on the bus during rush hour, and I was basically carried to the door in a sea of crazy Colombians who do not know how to properly board public transportation. We ended the day by going to a local performance featuring folklore dances from Ecuador, Costa Rica, Mexico, and of course, Colombia. We walked home in the pouring rain (it is often ruthless here!) and had a late night snack of rice, veggies, and plantains before heading to bed.
Today I volunteered 4 hours in a garden and did 90 minutes of yoga and meditation because I am staying at a Hare Krishna community. Totally different!
Do I wear makeup? Rarely! I care so much less about what I look like now, and this has been freeing. It’s so easy to roll out of bed and throw on some clothes without looking in a full length mirror. You should try it sometime! ; ) I’ve worn makeup for a few nights out and on my birthday, and it felt like I was playing dress-up! I don’t have any heels here though…I borrowed some in Cali, Colombia when I went to a fancy salsa show with some local friends.
What do I wear? I rotate the same outfits every week or so, sometimes wearing the same thing 2-3 days in a row. My socks have holes in them, and things are taking a toll, but this is the new normal for me right now and most other backpackers are in the same boat. While I definitely packed outfits that I think are “cute” and “fashionable” for this trip, I don’t worry about the latest trends or having the perfect bikini body. (Do I even need to worry about these things at home? Probably not.)
How often do I wash my hair? Once a week! I try to schedule it around hot water and good shower pressure. At home I generally washed it 2x/week so this isn’t a huge departure from my normal routine. I didn’t bring any hair products with me either. #hippielife until I’m home again.
How much longer will I travel for? I don’t know and that’s the exciting part! My money is stretching much farther than originally anticipated, and I don’t feel like stopping now…but I’m trying to take it one day at a time. I don’t know how I will feel tomorrow, next week, or in the new year. All I know is that right now I am happy and I will continue to stay abroad, trying to learn something new about myself and other cultures every day.
Are there any other questions you’d like to ask me for my next “real talk” backpacker post? Please let me know by commenting below! xx