This past 16-months, known to me as my Gap Year, has been an incredible opportunity to extensively travel five different countries and immerse myself in all the places of my dreams. I’ve become extremely skilled and confident in moving about, meeting other travelers, and solving problems as they arise. I’ve honed my instincts, I’m in-tune to my needs, and I am, more often than not, very intentional and immersed in each moment I’m living. That’s an amazing gift. I can see how people can live for years as a nomad, moving along to their own rhythm always reaching for the next destination. When you know what you’re doing, and with the ease of planning it all on the internet, traveling – and traveling solo- is actually very easy. 

But it can be hard. Every moment my brain is working three steps ahead. Where will I lay my head tonight? Do I need to buy my bus ticket ahead of time? Do I have contingency plans if my internet isn’t working or if the bus is delayed and I arrive after dark? Do I have enough food for travel, or plans for eating when I arrive? (Food is very important to me!) How much money can I afford to spend? Do I have my money, my computer, my ID’s and my passport/ credit cards separated into different places in my pack so I can access if I need to, or hand over a “dummy wallet” if I get robbed along the way? (By the way, this has never happened to me, but I try to be prepared!). How should I get oriented to this new place? What are the activities I want to do? What are the questions I should ask other travelers along the way? Where can I safely get a reserve of cash? When should I do my hand washing so it will dry before my next move?…. the list goes on and on. 

It’s a lot. But once you get into the rhythm, it gets much easier. Then, you just keep going.

Until you get tired. All of us travelers talk about weariness. Long-term travelers have to be intentional about slowing down or we burn out. It takes a lot of energy to pack up, move to a new place, learn to get around, adapt to the new vibe, then get friendly and live amicably with all your new dormitory mates. It is true, I choose to stay in dorms because it is an opportunity to travel more cheaply and meet so many inspirational people backpacking around the world. Unfortunately a few other travelers -usually young- stay up all night, sleep in the dorm all day, leave the bathroom floor sopping wet, or strew their stuff all over the room. It’s not always easy being amicable in close sleeping quarters and I have learned that my patience for their behaviors is directly correlated to my level of exhaustion. 

Then, my injury took the wind out of my sails. I think the violent fall I had in Torres del Paine National Park, and the combined weight of my 40+ pound pack and a mountain of steps hauling it around Patagonia strained my hip-flexers, adductors and my hamstring muscles on my right side. I couldn’t lift my leg to step forward or step to the side, and if I managed to move my leg at all, I couldn’t pull it back towards my body. It was as if all the muscles were on strike. The pain was immense. For the better part of three months, I carried on when I had to and rested when I could. In three different towns along the way, I found physical therapists who helped me with deep massages and allowed me use of their foam rollers to keep working out the kinks. 

Eventually, my muscles relaxed enough so that I could walk and then eventually carry my pack again. After that, I went on to have some amazing experiences along the Carretera Austral and up through the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and Argentina, but admittedly, my spirit didn’t seem as light or as excited about jumping into the next unknown. Truth be told, another emotion had saddled itself on my journey too – loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong, traveling solo is glorious. Every day and every decision is mine to make and that’s incredibly empowering and freeing. I like my own company (we have all the same interests!), and all my favorite days on this journey involved just me, myself and I enjoying new discoveries and living each moment on a whim.

But I admit, making every decision all by myself is also a bit exhausting. Sometimes it would be nice to nosh over a problem with someone else, or share the responsibility and the laughter when a plan goes haywire. At other times, I’d just like to have a laugh with someone who will be in my life for more than a few days. When I slow down and really listen to my heart, I realize what I’m craving most right now is community. I want to be part of something, giving back as much as I’m getting. And I want to make some friends in the process.

While living in Ecuador, I was so happy being a member of a community and a family. I thought that while I traveled, I would find that again along the way. Turns out, I was wrong. You can’t just become part of a community while you’re passing through. One needs to be intentional about developing and nurturing community, finding your people, and building trust while staying around.

So, that’s what I’m going to do.

Out of all the places I’ve been, the mountains, lakes and people of Bariloche, Argentina (bar-ee-low-chay) have stolen my heart. It’s located in northern Patagonia and it is where I worked in the hostel gardens and in the bakery. It’s where I celebrated the World Cup. It’s where I spent last November hiking so many mountains, and where I returned in February to heal my hip. And now, in July, during the winter, I’ve returned to this wonderland to see if I can stop and stay, to be part of this place for awhile.

Bariloche, known as the Switzerland of Argentina, is a mountain town surrounded on three sides by mountains, lakes and a huge National Park protecting it all. It is also a town with deep roots in Europe’s Bavarian and Mediterranean communities, as many of their ancestors migrated here. European foods, chocolate and cultural festivals abound!

Bariloche is also known far and wide as having the largest ski resort in South America… just 20 minutes down the road! I’m having so much fun playing in the snow again!

The first obstacle to my plan however, is finding long-term accommodations. Bariloche is an extremely popular and touristy city for hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter, so reasonably priced apartments are difficult to come by; they’ve all been turned into high-priced Airbnb’s. So, I took a different route and offered up some free English lessons for a family who would rent me a room. This is how I came to know Lorena, Geraldina, Lucrecia, and Bruno. It’s so nice to be part of the camaraderie of a family again- eating, laughing and playing cards together. That said, starting in September, I arranged to sublet an apartment from another English Teacher who is going to be traveling for awhile. I’m really looking forward to having my own space again.

My room and my first Argentine family: Lorena, Geraldina, Lucrecia, Bruno with Tabitha the dog, and Mummy the cat.

I don’t know where this is going to take me. This is only my Plan A. I have to be patient to see how life takes shape. If this doesn’t work out, maybe another community is waiting for me in my future. And although I do want to settle in and be part of something again, I also know that longer-term travel is addicting and fun. I definitely won’t be hanging up my backpack forever. I’m already dreaming about which continent will be next!