Solo traveling is a serious challenge, but if you have spoken to any traveler, most often it comes highly recommended.
Earlier this year Sarah Angela Nacario from Toronto Canada adventured through 8 countries in 8 months experiencing some of the most jaw dropping landscapes in South America. All this while digital nomading through each country!
In today's Venque Traveler we caught up with Sarah as she settles back into Canadian territory, here's what she had to say.
Could you give us a brief intro about yourself and why you decided to solo travel for 8 months?
I’m Sarah Angela, a digital marketer based in Toronto. The summer of 2017, I temporarily started my own business which gave me the ability to work remotely. I traveled in Asia (Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Taiwan, and Myanmar) for only a couple of weeks. It was only when I traveled to Colombia in December 2017 and met digital nomads with similar background as mine that I realized I can make work and long-term travel sustainable. Why not? I had ongoing projects under my own business where I worked within my own terms. Within a week of being back in Toronto, I booked a one-way ticket to Lima, Peru to start my journey. At this time, I was planning to stay for only 3 months. But little did I know. I ended up solo traveling for 8 months in South America; visiting Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Ecuador while finding WiFi at the most remote places for work.
Could you describe how it was like traveling alone in South America?
You go in expecting spontaneity but you learn very quickly that South America will keep offering something you would never have expected. The great thing about traveling solo is that you are in control of your pace and the companionship you bring with you. You can choose to be alone when you need your own time or you can choose to meet the amazing community (either locals or backpackers) who you connect with and exchange travel insights.
“I find thrill in exploring cities and small towns on my own. I march to the beat of my own drum.There are no compromises with anyone but myself.”
There is no one to delay my plans. I am responsible for my own actions and troubles. I am comfortable being alone but there are challenges outside of my own control when traveling solo. I injured myself while carrying around my luggage, hopping on and off overnight buses, walking on unpaved roads. Bad luck can interfere and rob you, at knife or gun point becomes common, always during when you least expect it. A military intervention at the favela you’re staying at becomes more dangerous walking alone. Then there are little things, like not having anyone to guard your belongings while you really need to go to the toilet which is a cramped space with no room for anything else. But you learn to manage. You learn to drop your guard and connect with others and ask for help, when needed.
What's a valuable lesson you've learned along the way either about yourself or in general about travelling in South America?
I’m surprised of how much strength I have within once I'm in a fight-or-flight situation. Whether it was overcoming hiking mountains in altitude of 5,000+ meters or being robbed in Palermo, Buenos Aires and with no calculation running after the thief only for him to be picked up by his accomplice on a motorcycle.
All the fears or doubts you may have had before the trip go away. Your inner capabilities take over and your confidence rises. In a setting where uncontrollable forces take over (nature or bad luck), my consequent actions are under my own control. I can choose to give up and sulk or I can embrace that it’s part of it all. Material things are replaceable, situations are fixable, whether it’s as “important” as a passport or credit cards.
Welcome to the club. We all got robbed, but it never stopped most backpackers from embracing what's ahead. And so long that I am respectful with people and aware of my surroundings, I will be protected. Either by a bigger force or by the warm-hearted people I open myself up with. You may be traveling solo, but you are never really traveling alone. The group of backpackers motivated each other as we grasped for breath hiking and we conquered the peak together. The local police went out of their way to ease my frustrations by touring me around Buenos Aires at night while I was sitting in the back of the police car. It’s all about finding rewards at the end of every misfortune.
What has been one of the most memorable aspects of your voyage in South America?
South America is full of changing landscapes, the most diverse spectrum of colors to be awed. But the most memorable for me is the people. As my first time doing long-term travel I had to get comfortable sleeping in dormitories and sometimes finding peace in being stranded in a grim hostel. Overnight buses with a group of non-travelers, conversing for hours with the passenger beside me with my dreadful broken Spanish. Allowing yourself to be immersed, you get to know fellow backpackers all in different phases of their lives. You get to listen to the locals’ stories sharing what they are proud of, some will tell you their dreams of migrating somewhere else. I learned about the world and its politics through people’s first-hand experience. I learned to travel without following a travel book but from locals and backpackers’ tips. I have loved traveling on my own but I got to realize that long-term travel has its ups and downs; the loneliest times I have ever felt. In my third month, I find myself truly alone in Bariloche, Argentina (north tip of Patagonia) looking at this never-ending body of ocean sitting at the end of the world but wishing I had someone, anyone to share the moment with. No (wo)man is an island, it’s a cliché for a reason.
The exhilaration of freedom and being alone wear off after a while, the time depends on the traveler, but you feel it eventually. Looking back, my memorable moments were landscapes shared with certain people. Heartfelt memories were from the support I acquired from travelers and local friends right after a misfortune. The landscapes become a background. After the third month, the people became my primary destinations, every time.
Do you have any advice and tips for travelers looking to do a solo backpacking adventure?
My personal advice is not listen to any advice…until you land. The only insights I welcomed were from fellow backpackers and locals in the city that have been in the area around the time I am. This gives me the most logical perception when figuring out where to go and what to do. I don’t like giving unsolicited advice and most times, even when asked, I dislike offering my opinion of where or how long to go. My mantra has always been: “see it for yourself”. See how the city makes you feel. Every traveler’s experience and perspective is different. One of the best experiences I have had is a town in Chile called Puerto Varas but my reasons are not due to the activities or landscapes. It was being in the hostel where I met the best group of solo backpackers where we ended up extending to a 2-week stay. It was the right time, the right place, with the right collective of people. Have I listened to others about staying there overnight, I would have deprived myself of deep connections and personal growth. Explore however you want to explore. There is no right or wrong way. There is only your way. Once you take the dive, you open yourself up to a whole new world: beyond landscapes and passport stamps. You get to meet yourself, the best and the worst version. South America will break you down, it will beat you, then celebrate your highs, and end up throwing you back down. But you come out stronger, more assured of yourself, and unearth connections with others who are executing their dreams, similar dreams as yours. I can’t write about it all. See it for yourself!
To connect with Sarah visit her channels below!