Throughout this journey, and any other journey I’ve had, it’s often the people that seem to turn any day into the extraordinary. I think a lot about the people I meet, where they’re from, the lives they’ve lived to this point and what I can give or take away from my chance encounter with them. Some are locals taking a vacation and others have been at this a long time. As travelers, we instantly form a common bond, after all, we are in this together. A knowing smile, advice for our next destination, an introduction to another friend… these come in quick moments throughout the day as I meet fellow travelers on the bus, in hostels and at tourist destinations. 

Some encounters last for several days and often result in a friendship. I make these more bonding friendships in my volunteer sites, or while staying in a hostel for several days. Sometimes, by planning or happenchance, we meet again and again on the bus or in different towns along the way. As I’ve said before, traveling solo means that I’m hardly every alone.

This is to say, there are thousands of travelers the same as I. We stand out in a crowd because of the weight we carry on our backs, our well-worn hiking boots and our weathered smiles. We mostly hail from countries all over Europe, Australia and North America. Some come for a few weeks, but many are traveling (and possibly working remotely) for 2-6 months around different countries in South America. There are solo travelers, couples and families. Most are in their 20’s and 30’s, taking a break after a few years of work, but some are single women in their 40’s and 50’s doing the same as I. Interestingly enough however, in all my encounters, I haven’t yet met a single long-term backpacker from the US. The consensus is that US citizens work too hard, and that they are too self-important to really take time to travel, which is different than taking a resort vacation. That’s the reputation US citizens have around the world. People are generally surprised when I tell them I am from the US and that I know how to speak Spanish as well!

Well, here I am, just breaking the mold!  

Out of all the travelers I have met, there are a few true standouts which I have enjoyed immensely. Today, I would like to introduce you to four of the most positive and energizing people I have met along my journey.

Amandine Belarbi and Nicolas Rodts, France

Amandine and Nicholas are two of the most beautiful souls I have ever met. They are long-term travelers from France, working and living around the world. Nicolas, at 33, has spent almost nine years on the road working throughout Australia, and New Zealand. These countries offer one-year work visas to travelers under the age of 30. After a while, he joined up with Amandine and they spent several years working throughout the western United States. Since then, they have made their way through South America. I met them at my first volunteer position in Lago Meliquina. I’m so glad I did.

Amandine and Nico, always having fun

Amandine and Nicolas are also some of the hardest workers and happiest people I’ve known. Every day, they were always up before seven to offer their strong backs and their positive energy to whatever project was needed. In their hours of free time, Nicolas would catch fish in the lake, Amandine would cook amazing meals for the rest of the volunteers and once, they scrubbed clean the entire volunteer cabin for the benefit of us all. They dream of someday going back to France, settling down and having a farm together. Their true gift, however, is really to spread joy in the world. I loved their laughter, their playful spirit and their profoundly deep souls meant only to make the world a better place.

After three weeks together, we went our separate ways, but then met up on two different occasions in the following weeks to watch the semi-final games of the World Cup. As I journeyed further south, they stayed around the Lakes District hoping to find a paying job for the summer tourist season. I hope our paths cross again; I would love to hear more of their laughter.

Yoku Furuichi, Japan

Yoku is amazing. There she was sitting quietly on a bench outside the bus terminal in rural Los Antiguos, Argentina. I joined her on the bench and struck up the usual conversation… “Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you going?” Within minutes we were great friends. 

Yuko is 52 years old and her smile radiates energy and sunshine that I can only dream of emulating. She has been traveling solo off and on for 10 years. She started after her divorce, when her two kids were grown and on their own. She spoke of being scared at first, so she just chose to go to mainstream touristy countries. But then she discovered apps like and volunteer programs like and All of this opened up her ability to travel more widely, more deeply, more purposefully. Like me, she likes to pursue crazy adventures just for the fun of it. In Japan, she volunteered on a pig farm. In Australia, she learned about horses and charcoal drawing from an artist. She went to a massage school in Thailand and when I met her, she was on her way to volunteer at a winery in Argentina. Her future dream is to volunteer for the French or Italian Circus, or maybe a traditional fencing school in India. Time will tell which she chooses first. 

She admitted to me that she can’t really stay still for very long. In Japan, she has worked as a hair stylist, a massage therapist, a seamstress, in a photo studio and now she works at a horse farm while she owns her own vegetable hobby farm. All of this keeps her busy during three seasons of the year, but it allows her to travel during Japan’s colder winter months. 

With her backpack, she has traveled all over Southeast Asia, India, and Europe. She’s been to the United States many times before. Coming to Argentina was her first adventure by bicycle. 

I had to ask, “Did you know that Patagonia is famous for its winds?” She belly laughed and told me how it took her 8 days to travel only 300 km across the Pampas between Rio Gallegos and Calafate. She stood up and gave me a hilarious rendition of her trying to pedal into the wind while completely staying upright in one place. I can’t even imagine! But then she told me that she has also taken her bike on the bus between some of the longest and windiest sections, and she took the Navimag Ferry along the fjords of Chile just as I did, too. 

“Why travel?”, I asked. 

“For the food!” and “I love to learn about other cultures!”

“Do your sons and your father worry about you from home?”

Yes, she agreed, but only because she is so horrible with directions. Her father always tells stories about her getting lost as a child. But they know she uses her phone to help her navigate and so they encourage her wanderlust to see the world. 

“Life is so beautiful,” she beamed.

Before our bus came, I remembered to take a quick picture of her with her bike. But when the bus did arrive (over 2 hours late), the driver told her (through my translations) that there was no room for her bicycle. She had to leave it behind and hope they would put it on the bus the following day. Since I was only going a short distance, and would be on the longer bus ride the next day, I told her I’d look out for her bike. Which I did. It arrived on the bus with me in Bariloche at midnight the following day. She was there to greet it. After a quick hug in the dark, I wondered if I would ever see Yoku again. I hope so. She was amazing! 

Virginia Carlino, Argentina

I met Virginia during the early morning of a big hike. We were part of a foursome from the same hostel who haphazardly put ourselves together to share a taxi up to the trailhead of a nearby peak. I hadn’t planned on doing this hike on account that it was going to be very steep, but in the evening before, another traveler from the hostel invited me to share the costs of the taxi and do the hike with a group of women. I agreed. As we gathered in the common area of our hostel, Virginia warned me that the weather was changing and that my outfit of shorts and t-shirt may not be enough. At the last minute, I grabbed some thermal leggings and a fleece but after six weeks of traveling in the sweltering sun, I just couldn’t believe that I would need my raincoat. I should have known better. 

Cerro Piltriquitron was a 2,290 foot climb in loose rock for a long 1.8 miles. We weren’t even on the trail for an hour when it started to rain. I was getting very wet and cold as we climbed into the fog. We could barely see our feet, much less the next painted rock cairn marking the trail. Virginia, who had brought a second raincoat, offered me hers and I was never so thankful for its warmth and wind protection. 

We began to chat and as we climbed she laughed at the wind, relished in the flowers bordering the snow fields and shouted thanks to the mountain for this opportunity in life. I am not exaggerating when I say that her positive energy absolutely pulled me through the dark cloud and up that mountain. When we reached the summit leaning into the wind and fog, I immediately turned back dreaming of warmth again. But she wanted me to take pictures of her, and enjoy the moment of reaching our goal. And so I paused, stomping from side to side, one minute, two, three. And then suddenly, a big gust of wind hit us from the side and all the clouds and fog dissipated instantly. The deep blue of the sky enveloped us, revealing steep snow-capped mountains, sheer cliffs, and the wide expanse of the valley below. 

“Gracias, Gracias, Gracias,” she shouted as we ran to the edge to take in the scene of heaven and earth below. It was marvelous. As we snapped photos of all the beauty around us, I turned to snap a picture of her. She was absorbing the moment and radiating her glory and beautiful energy to all that could see her light. 

“Gracias por Virginia,” I whispered.

Virginia’s story is not an easy one. She grew up in a northern region of Argentina in the province of Santa Fe. She remembers a dirt-floored house with four other siblings, a father that died young and a difficult step-father; a very humble existence indeed. Her sister tried to protect her, and she admits that she had a little happiness, but still missed a lot of school due to many responsibilities and complications at home. As she grew older, she was determined to finish her studies and make a life for herself. She married young, and ended up having two children right away. She continued her studies when she could, but an accident happened and her husband died young. So then she was on her own to take care of her kids. She talked about the difficulty of this time, working so many hours, and knowing that her children were suffering from the absence of both their father and mother. Little by little, she finished her studies and became a Kindergarten Teacher. But as she was making progress, something else was holding her back: fear. She talked about how she was scared of losing everything again. Fear was limiting her life and her children complained about her constrictions of them as well. As they grew and left the house and she had more time on her own, she made a conscious decision to work on herself. She started to recite daily mantras to strengthen her confidence and push herself to believe that she could do anything. She’s 47 now, and she practices living with purpose and gratefulness through every minute of her day. This intentional action has in turn brought her a million rewards. Positive energy invites positive energy. And the world is a better place because of her. I am a better person because of her. 

Later, after the hike, she admitted to me that she never would have done that trip solo. She thanked me for accompanying her to the top of the mountain, and I thanked her for getting me to the top. Our encounter was meant to be.

Virginia and I spent the next day together again, hiking along a river. This was when she revealed her backstory. Before we parted ways, I remembered to get her phone number so that I could share my pictures with her. But that night, when I was traveling by bus to the next town, I thought about her story and decided that I needed to write it down. My story of recent hardship is familiar to me and perhaps to you as well. I have been dreaming that someday I could write it down to inspire other women to climb up and out and live a freer life such as I. But in the process of writing down Virginia’s story, I realized that maybe I have a different purpose. While my difficult experiences definitely served to inform me, and give me more empathy and compassion for others, perhaps my true purpose is to shed light on the lives of other women. I meet so many who are simply fountains of strength and inspiration. 

Two days later, I was standing in the bus station of a completely different city and suddenly Virginia was standing in front of me. We laughed and embraced again. She was still on her vacation from work and was now traveling to visit her nephew. She only had a moment to talk. I told her that I spent the previous evening writing down her story and that someday I’d like to publish it onto my blog. She started to cry. She thanked God and Universe for me and my beautiful soul. She whispered that she too has hoped to be an inspiration for other women and I am offering her a platform to do this publicly. Obviously, for her, this was the reason for our meeting. 

I hope we can find a reason to meet up again.