I decided, after a semester’s talking about the international Chile-to-California trip that I was going to do, that I will instead be going home. After months of planning and researching and dreaming and scheming, I’m currently sitting in LAX to catch Part 4 of my four-part trip home, about to rejoin the “real” world significantly ahead of schedule.
And, in between wondering if I’m making the biggest mistake of my life (so far), I couldn’t be more thrilled. The last several months have been something of an emotional roller coaster for me, and I suppose that I’ve explained it more than a few times to people already, so here goes the narrative as best as I can describe.
When I first came down to Chile I scheduled my flight home for December 15, or two days after the listed end of the program. I had not even considered staying and traveling while there, though my flight was adjustable just in case plans decided to change.
Down in Chile I got to know some of the fantastic people in the program who had huge, ambitious plans for what they would be doing after the program ended. Some of the plans were amazing, traveling through a series of countries and getting to know more of South America while they could. The only catch was that they all had to end, and end soon, considering that they would have to go back and start their new semester early in January. I had no such constraint, considering that I was done with school, so my mind began to wander with the possibilities.
I began to ponder: the obvious choices seemed to be Peru and Argentina, but why stop there? Every country had something worth seeing: especially considering that I’m more partial to people and culture than museums and historical monuments.
What did I want from my trip? I wanted to take the time for self-improvement, whatever that means. I wanted to read, and write, and practice language, and gain a greater understanding of the world and my place in it. Long bus rides, which are the standard, low(ish)-cost way to get around, would give me more time than I got possibly imagine for all of that.
The downsides for the trip were obvious: money, and time away from my friends and family. While the first was never clearly resolved, I told myself that the second would not be a problem. I loved my friends and family greatly; I have a good life in California with great friends and a better relationship with my parents than most people my age. I was not dreading going home, rather I simply decided that I could go a bit longer without seeing them, and that they would understand my need to travel when such a great opportunity presented itself.
This planning continued for some time, though I used the term “planning” loosely, as a big part of the idea included playing it by ear, following rumors and leads and other travelers, deciding as I go where I would like to go next, not knowing where I would sleep each night when I woke up each day. It sounded amazing.
But I also found myself questioning whether I wanted to travel on my own, or do the trip with a buddy. I was naturally inclined to go with someone else; as much for emotional reasons as for logistics and security. Still, a nagging part of me kept saying that traveling alone was one of “those things” that every person should do, that being by yourself for that long is liberating and will teach you about yourself.
Though this sounded like something I’d like to experience, I kept imagining two different scenarios. In the first, I go for a long hike through the glaciers in southern Chile and, summiting a small hill, I come upon a gorgeous panorama of untouched natural beauty. In the second, I do the same thing, but afterward I turn to my side, catch my friend’s eye and grin, wordlessly saying “we did it” while the frosty air shows on our breath as we pant from the climb.
For me, the second choice wins hands-down.
Luckily I was able to find a friend who was eager to go traveling, who had the perfect mix of fiestyness, ambition, Spanish skills, caffeine addiction, and appreciation for a nice bottle of wine. It seemed like a perfect traveling match and, armed with a dream and a companion, I started to get even more excited for the trip.
But that was when one of my key assertions began to break down. I set off on a trip in southern Chile for the weeks just after my semester ended, arriving back in Santiago just as my parents arrived for their six-day visit. Despite the length of time it had been since I’d seen them, it was just like it had been, and we had a fantastic time. We walked all around Santiago, ate well, went to several different Starbucks locations, etc. It was great.
And then they left, and I was alone.
After my parents left I had to face the fact that almost everyone I had known in Chile had left; my study abroad program was 68 kids from the University of California system, but almost all of them had gone back. My travel plans were still dubious, and I really had no choice but to tread water in Santiago waiting for a plan to form.
I continued living with my homestay family for a bit, but I was tired of that situation and eager to change it, as well as starved for human contact. I moved into a hostel in Santiago which, under the circumstances, was perfect for the situation as a number of travelers came there to stay for a week or two at a time while doing Spanish classes or similar programs. I made friends and regularly could find drinkin’ buddies, but hostel life wore me down even more quickly than homestay life, and I was desperate for a change. Problem was, I had to stay in Santiago to make the plans. I had nothing to do in Santiago that interested me, and I found myself going to Starbucks to drink coffee and surf the web most days and wandering the city until the sun went down. I found myself wanting to go home more than wanting my plans to concrete themselves and I started secretly looking up prices for plane flights home.
At that point I spoke to my friend, who, for various reasons, was having trouble with the concreting of her own plans to fly down. It could still happen, but more than one hitch had occurred and it was becoming a big, stressful mess for everyone involved.
Part of me wanted to fight for it, to give a rousing speech about the wonders of travel and “proving your mettle,” with phrases like “mind over matter” and “fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke” thrown in, but that part of me did not win.
“Screw it,” I said. “I’m coming home.”
And so, that became the plan, with the caveat that we could only cancel this trip if we agree to actually do the trip in the near future, and fill the time between now and then with other fun trips, getting to know the country that I was seemingly so eager to escape from. I started pricing plane flights home, seriously this time, but a wise friend of mine from the hostel suggested that I wait a couple of weeks and see a bit of Argentina, and fly out of Buenos Aires instead of Santiago.
This would achieve the double goal of letting me see a bit more before I left while saving me the costs of buying a last-minute international plane flight.
Flight purchased, I headed to Argentina on a last-minute decision to go with a friend of mine when I traveled, and I left Chile for good with barely a glance back.
But, as our dear governator says, I’ll be back, and Brazil won’t know what hit it. For now I’m going to enjoy being home.
I missed you, California.