Come home from a vacation, study abroad, or two years later smelling like earth, wearing clothes inherited from what’s likely a lengthy list of travelers, and everyone and your cheek-pinching Aunt Mary want to know the same things:

“What was your favorite place?” they ask with a voice too high and frozen, expectant expression while waiting for the appropriate time to choose their impressed response from the response box. Options include but are not limited to, “amazing”, “wow”, and “how amazing”.

“What was the scariest thing that happened?” By the time they finish asking this question, their tone will have dropped to almost a whisper of anticipation. The look in their eyes saying, “You can tell me, child”, that leaves you fighting the instinct to drop a bullshit story about that one time you had to live off grubs like Timon and Pumba while hiding from the Colombian FARC for three days.

Taken in Guatapé, Colombia.
Taken in Guatapé, Colombia.

Or, one of my all time favorites, “How was it? Amazing?” Yep. Yes. Yes, it was. But there you’ve gone and answered it yourself so what do you need me for? Somebody pass me a beer. It’s goon-o’clock somewhere in Australia.

If I curb my attitude for a few minutes here and be honest – whatever the question is – I’ll almost always answer back by directing the conversation towards convincing my interrogators that they should take a trip themselves.

It does take a lot of work if you’re straight out of college and saving nickels and dimes like I was. And it does take a lot of courage to get yourself on the plane, quickly followed by a whole lot of deep breathing to calm your racing heart. But if you want it and know that now is as good a time as any, you can do it, too.

Why? Because it turns out I could.

Let me be clear about something first: When I set off to backpack around South America alone for months, I had no clue what I was doing. Also, I was scared.

When my plane touched down in Medellín, Colombia, I found my backpack on the baggage track, fumbled and struggled to get it on my back (should I have practiced that?) and went directly into a bathroom stall with the backpack still on my back. As I held the bag straps narrowly out of toilet water reach, I repeated over and over to myself, “You’re ok…you’re ok…”

Flying over Medellín, Colombia.
Flying over Medellín, Colombia.

I was sweating and freaked out and alone and had read too many State Department reports to think I was going to make it out of that airport alive. When I booked my flight, I told a friend coincidentally finishing his Spanish class essay on Pablo Escobar that I would be flying into his protagonist’s home city. His response was that of any loving friend’s:


Mmmm…not really. And yes, poor Mom. This was the beginning of what would turn out to be a very long nine months for her. But it was a cheaper flight. Now, should I probably do a quick Escobar google?

These are the true stories of my most ridiculous, terrible and wonderful misadventures that make my loving parents cringe and best friends face palm.

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