Travel isn’t about throwing in the towel. It’s about leaving with the sole hope of returning better.

We are just at the beginning of a one-year journey through Latin America. And up to now it’s been 18 days, 16 rides and 6 different cities – from São Paulo, Brazil, to Punta del Diablo, in Uruguay. “We” in this case is my boyfriend, Tiago, and myself, Julia. But exactly how did we get here, to this ambitious plan of spending the next 12 months skipping from one country to another and from city to city? The answer is much less romantic and impressive than most people expect. My decision to travel was not fueled by personal and/or professional dissatisfaction. I wasn’t unhappy in São Paulo; nor was I sick of my job – truth be told, my job was one of the biggest sources of my happiness back home and I worked until the very last second. This is not me throwing in the towel.

Tiago and Me at Playa Grand, in Punta del Diablo

What few people realize is that the long-term travelling does not necessarily imply rejecting a former life style. Actually, travelling is a movement of expansion, in which you are introduced to new concepts and references. We break free from our daily lives to discover new social and cultural paradigms. We expand our repertoire, and therefore, gain new tools and skills with which to better deal with life itself and the world around us. In my case, my decision to travel is less about what changed in me and more about what can change. And I do truly believe that travel changes people.

But months of anticipation and planning separated our desire to leave from the grand initiatory act of stepping out the front door. The thing that most delayed our departure was our financial situation. I sought out to research just how much this little adventure would cost us. And I’m not going to lie, it’s expensive. Each day of planning reveals an unexpected cost. From travel insurance to clothing, including travel equipment, bank rates and financial transaction taxes, we soon learned that we would have to spend quite a few before even leaving town. To cover these “pre-travel” costs, I sold some possessions, took on extra gigs, cut down on some personal expenses and humbly accepted a small – but extremely precious – donation from my mother.

Nevertheless, preparing for a trip like this is an amazing feeling. Fitting everything into the backpack is itself quite a challenge. Deciding what stays and what goes is an exercise of letting go – especially when the things that make the cut will be the weight on your shoulders, literally. I’m taking with me 3 pairs of pants, 2 shorts, 8 shirts, 2 dresses, 2 jackets, 2 shoes, 1 flip-flop, 10 panties, 7 bras, 2 bikinis and 10 pairs of socks. Of electronic gear, there’s 1 laptop, 1 semi-pro camera, 1  tripod and batteries. Not to mention the travel documents, tent, sleeping bag, yoga mat, books, cosmetics and a long list of medications that my mother insisted I take with me. All of this is strategically stacked in a Tetris-like manner in my precious 70l backpack. With so much stored away down deep in your backpack, I can guarantee you one thing while on the road: a fanny pack will change your life.

Travelling in the hopper of the car of the councilman of Cambará do Sul, RS, Brazil

Finally, with a budget of about R$10.000 (US$2.800) each, we decided to leave. Now the magic of it all is making this money last 365 days. It wasn’t long before we learned a few tricks from the backpacker’s handbook. One of them is working for accommodation. We soon tumbled onto collaborative platforms such as Worldpackers that would not only reduce drastically our costs with accommodation – one of the biggest burdens of travelling – but would also add a new twist to our trip. Contributing with a hostel, a school or even an ecovillage while meeting local people, developing new skills and discovering a new culture? Yep, I’m up for that!

Our first experience with Worldpackers started on the 10th day of our trip, as soon as we arrived in Uruguay, our first international country, after crossing the border at Chuí. We decided to stay at Punta del Diablo, which quickly proved to be the perfect spot for us at this moment of our journey. After 10 days practically camping and hitchhiking, the bunk bed of Pueblo Arriba Hostel was a dream come true. We had already spent a night at a gas station, faced long hikes through the beautiful beaches and canyons of Southern Brazil and walked for hours under the burning sun of Porto Alegre. It was about time we stopped somewhere to take a break and settle down – even if briefly.

But I mustn’t take for granted the wonderful experiences these first days on the road gave us. Behind each lift, there’s a human being with amazing stories to share – be him the ice-cream supplier of Garopaba, the councilman of Cambará do Sul or the couple of mountain bikers from Santa Catarina. We discovered Argentinean rap with a young man from Buenos Aires and the music of Baitaca with a couple of middle-aged gaúchos. We traveled during the day, during the night, on the backseat of the car and even on a wagon.

Sometimes we would arrive at our final destination; at other times, we were left at an unfamiliar town down the road. We slept at camping sites, parks, friends’ homes, gas stations and even at a firefighters’ headquarters. We drove the car of a complete stranger from Eldorado do Sul up to Rio Grande trusting nothing but our intuition. We got a lift from a Japanese-Brazilian woman who longed for her hitchhiking days and ended up at a Buddhist temple, where we ate the best lunch we had had so far. As I said: amazing experiences.

With staff and friends of Pueblo Arriba Hostel, in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay

For now, we are here at Pueblo Arriba Hostel helping out, exploring the beautiful landscapes of Punta del Diablo and Cabo Polônio and enjoying the company of some fellow Argentinean and Uruguayan hermanos. And while I’m typing, tonight’s band already starts to play on the humble stage at the heart of Pueblo Arriba. Come and join us! 🙂



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