6 months, 21 countries, 1 huge ass suitcase and a time I’ll never forget.

Yes, it’s real, my round the world trip has come full circle and I’m finally back at home. I’m finally going back to the realities of life to my family and friends that love me and I’m finally going back to work after 17 months of bum-hood. As much as I love my travels, I must say I am excited to get back to the routine of working and finally being able to see familiar faces for more than just a week or 2. Being on the road takes a toll as you can never let your guard down. Yes, travel fatigue is real so don’t roll your eyes on me or judge me. But the reward? Everyday is a guaranteed interesting new experience because the 21 countries that I’ve done, I’ve never done before and they’re all beautiful in their own way.

Before I set off on this trip, some of my friends said I was brave and some even thought I was crazy to want to go to South or Central America on my own, after all, it’s rumored to be dangerous. After being in that region, I must say that it’s not as dangerous as every one thinks it is and, so many people I met in the hostels I’m at are doing the same thing – quitting their jobs to travel alone, that is. And I’m going to give you some tips now on how to do this as a single woman or man. The tips are more authentic now that I’ve done it 😂😂 but before I do that, I’ll share how these 6 months have changed me.

I watched ‘Finding Dory’ on my flight back. I love Pixar animation and these sentences that Dory tells Hank the octopus I remember so fondly.

Dory: What is so great about plans? I never had a plan! I don’t think we did. And that’s because the best things happen by chance. Because that’s life. And that’s you being with me out in the ocean not safe in some stupid glass box(the fish tank).

Dory is right! My most memorable adventures happened by chance. I met so many inspirational people by chance and I’ve learnt so much from them and it helped me grow so so much!

A few of my favorite people I’ve met I’ll mention below but I’ll change their names to protect them. They can out themselves if they wish 😂😂 because it’s their story to tell and I’m telling it from my perspective.

1) Alice – a British celebrity whom I didn’t know she was till after our meeting. She was so real, so brave and we had so much fun hanging out because she is the most interesting personality I know, plus, she loves diving and nature, and she’s also dying, of lymphoma. But before she dies, she blogs about it and she wants to see and experience everything before she kicks the bucket. And my is she living the active life! She climbed volcanos, free dives, scuba dives and just does everything insanely possible. I told her that if lymphoma doesn’t get her, her activities may. But I was only joking because I know if fate were to get you, it would, and you could be safely in your box and a truck hits you or something falls on you or something, or a tsunami in a perfect island getaway 😂. Meeting her reaffirms my belief that there is so much more to just working and making a living. It means living on the edge. It means living life to your fullest and it means always be thankful that you get to wake up today to face another day so you have to make it the best one possible. Because tomorrow may not come. And it also means that after my 2 years in Hk, I’m gonna travel to Africa and be there for 3 months at least.

2) Clara – a girl who is so beautiful but doesn’t know she is. I met her hiking and because we were both not the fittest hikers, we talked a lot about love and life during our frequent breaks. Clara has left her boyfriend and her cushy job of 12 years to follow her dreams of dancing. Her boyfriend didn’t dance and she felt that the passion between them was gone. So she took the leap to leave her boyfriend and her job and move to learn Salsa and Bachata which is what she truly is passionate about, and of course, she fell madly in love with a South American who didn’t treat her right and she traveled to help her with her heartache, of both relationships. She kept blaming herself and second guessing herself and she was so insecure that she couldn’t see the strength and beauty that she has. The strength to be able to walk away completely and to heal, and to believe that she is beautiful and deserving of love and someone who would treat her right. I liked her a lot because I felt that I met her for a reason. To share my experience too and to make her feel that she’s not the only one who made bad decisions about past lovers and we can always start over again and open our fragile hearts to people who are deserving, and to love ourselves first. LOVE OURSELVES FIRST. It was something so hard for me too to learn and understand but somehow, the solo travel made me find myself and love myself more, so I hope she continues to travel and find herself and love herself and see how beautiful she really is. To substantiate my point, we were hiking and a lady literally told her as she passed us that ‘you are so beautiful’ and she brushed it off and didn’t believe it. I then said, ‘See? I’m not the only person who thinks you’re beautiful. But you have to believe it for yourself darling!’ We cried together, laughed together and I think we made ourselves a life long friend.

3) John – He was a chubby, old guy and I had the fortune to hike together with him as we checked in at the same time to the lodge in Patagonia. As I was a slow hiker, I decided to ask if he would like to be my buddy for tomorrow’s sunrise hike, thinking that he would be as slow as me. Boy was I wrong. Throughout the hike, he was much faster than me and he helped me up the difficult slippery rocks on some parts of the trail. I later learnt that he hikes a mountain every year in November for his birthday. He turns 66 2 days after I met him. He told me that last year, he did the Himalayas and when he reached the top, he was so sad and happy at the same time. Happy he did it and sad because he knows he admits he’s old now and that would probably be the last time he will be that high an altitude. He was 66! I told him when I grow old, I wanna be like him! And I really want to! He’s an inspiration because being at 66, he never given up his passion of hiking and he trains daily on his bicycle for it. I shall aim to be that way too, to be as healthy as my body can take so that I can go on many adventures that are more important than any material thing I can buy. Also, I shall never again judge a person’s strength by their appearance.

he took this photo for me

4) Emma – I chatted with Emma only for an hour while I was waiting for my bus to head back from Torres Del Paine. Emma had hiked down with her partner and sat on the table beside me. We chatted for a while and I found out that they both had quit their jobs and they just started their travels. She was a social worker and her partner a chef. We were chatting about the places we have been and places we liked. In the middle of the chat, Emma took off her hiking shoes and limped her way to the washroom. I asked her partner did she injure herself coming down? He said no, she injured herself a year ago in Italy when the ledge she was on broke and she fell 4 stories feet first and broke both her feet. She soon came back from the washroom and heard what we were saying. So I said ‘you’re such a brave girl. Does it hurt?’ She said of course it hurts, but what hurt more was when she first was told by the doctors that she could not run or hike anymore after the accident as they put metal plates in her feet. She said at that moment, the physical pain was unbearable but the fact that she could not do what she loved killed her inside. She refused to give up though because she knew she can’t live without running or hiking as she loved nature. Once she was out of hospital, she refused to heed the doctors advice. She started training by brisk walking and then eventually running and finished a marathon just 8 months after the accident. 12 months later, here she is, hiking the Torres Del Paine. Mind you, the hike is one of the most difficult of all the hikes I’ve done. The steps down were steep and my knees hurt a little. I cannot imagine the pain she must feel as she puts so much pressure on her feet, but she did it. Her partner then looked at her affectionately and said ‘that’s why she’s Emma, she doesn’t give up!’ And we all laughed.

hiking up here was no joke. Emma did it 1 year after both her feet broke! What an amazing feat

Through my hikes, I’ve learnt that everything is just mind over body. I remembered I almost wanted to give up coming down the scared valley because I’ve injured my toes and it hurt me with every step I take, I cried a little and asked my guide if there was a helicopter to bring me down the remaining journey because I was giving up. He laughed and said no, I’ll have to keep going. He did an Incan blessing on me as he thinks I’ve left my soul in the mountains and told me to hold his hand as we made our way down. It was the most excruciating pain I had to endure on my 1.5 hour hike down. I contemplated just rolling or sliding down several times but I persevered with my encouraging guide, who kept saying ‘come on, just a bit more!’ and ‘You’re doing very well my friend, almost there!’

the old lady was talking to my guide while I walked with her sheep. It’s flat ground at the end so I was so much happier. And I made it just in time for the train to Machu Picchu.

On my way down almost at the end, I saw an old lady with her sheep and my guide said she walks up and down with the sheep everyday! I learnt a few things that day.

1) That if I keep telling myself that I can do it, physical pain will be gone for that moment and, it’s just mind over matter and 1 step over another. And then I met Emma a month later and she was the epitome of this mind over matter thing! You can conquer mountains if you set your mind to it! Even if you have broken feet!

2) We always need someone to cheer us on and guide us in our deepest darkest times. In the mountains it was my guide or my hiking buddies. In real life, it was my amazing friends. Thank you!

3) never wear sneakers for hiking, I need to buy real hiking shoes! 😂

By the way, medical treatment in Peru is pretty good. I went to the clinic and was advised by the GP that I had to do minor surgery to surgically remove the toenails. I couldn’t as I didn’t want an open wound while being on my travels and I was going to do Patangonia in a weeks time. So I asked for another option and she said I could take a jab, painkillers and antibiotics in the hope that the swelling on my toes will go down, and it did, but I had to wear sandals and not wear shoes to hike until my toenails grow out enough and fall off. Luckily I had my hiking sandals (I bought them for hiking waterfalls)

The toenails eventually did fall off when I was diving in Ecuador 1 1/2 months later. I believe the sacred Incan mountains has injured my toenails to make me physically release something that is deeply embedded in me. When both my toenails fell off, I felt like my heart was lighter and I don’t know how, but I felt like the burden I had in my heart seems to be lifted. It’s weird I know but I don’t know how else to describe it to you. It was like destiny made me do that hike, fall down, hurt the toenails so they can fall off and symbolically, It’s like throwing away something that is dead and doesn’t serve you.

my toe nails have fallen off and I felt free. Like the birds.

I feel very blessed through my journey these 6 months. Whenever I felt lonely or homesick, I somehow will always meet someone who would cheer me up and made me feel better. The locals were also very helpful and I only felt threatened once in Santiago when I was followed by a man on a bicycle and I had to run and hide in a corner till he was gone (to be fair, it was 11pm. That was the first and last time I went out so late by public transport!) the friends that I met in hostels and in my excursions are friends that I would want to keep and we promised to host each other if we’re ever in each other’s countries. The experiences that I’ve had can never be replaced by anything or anyone, they will always be in my memory. I’m addicted to the high of exploring a different place and will keep doing this in my lifetime, solo or with friends.

With this, I leave you with some tips for safety of traveling alone below.

First tip is to consider staying in hostels. They are usually central and in safe locations and you will get to meet like minded people who you can then go on tours or hike with. Most of the hostels I stayed at have tour desks and they are affordable and are the safest way to get to and back from an attraction. They also provide transfers to other destinations so it’s really convenient. There are private rooms in some of the hostels so if shared toilets and snorers are not for you, do stay in those rooms. If you want to hotel, no problem too, you can always book tours and transfers at the tour agencies. Usually, there are many around all the places that I’ve been to. Or, you can always walk to a hostel and book your tours and transfers too. Remember to research the neighborhood of the cities you’re in to ensure that your hotel is in a good location.

Common sense safety tips are always ask your hostel, hotel, taxi drivers and local if the place is safe. They will always tell you the truth. Taxi drivers told me not to take the trains after 10pm in Santiago as it’s not safe. My bnb owner in Rio told me do not walk the beaches after the sun sets. The hostel in La Paz, Bolivia told me not to head to town to dinner but if I do, don’t talk to anyone. She was right! A guy that came back late at 10pm was mugged just 500m away from the hostel after his dinner. I know because he told me. So always ask for tips and stick to them.

once this happens, head home 😂

As a rule of thumb, I never stayed out past 10pm in most of the places I was at, preferring to sleep early and head out early in the morning when it’s bright. I also avoid the unsafe neighborhoods after dark. I also almost always tell the hostel where I will be going, in case they tell me news that I wouldn’t know, like road closures or protests that I should avoid. Or they could tell

me good things too like go to the weekend market nearby! I also love talking to my hostel mates and sometimes we head out to excursions together and it’s always safety in numbers right?

I took this shot by chance. I took a wrong turn and saw her sitting there and snapped very quickly.

And please don’t flash your money in public. I realized in South and Central America that it’s so much easier to withdraw money from an ATM than exchange money because the rates are actually quite good from ATMs. This also mean I carry less cash with me. I kept my money in the lockers of my hostel instead of bringing everything out. I lock the locker and lock the bag that holds the money and passport. On transit days, which means I have all my luggage with me, my money is in different bags and I wear a money belt under the waist that’s hidden in my pants. I know I’m very specific but I’ve seen so many people along the money bag on their necks and waist and I know thieves can just grab it and run with it. Make a copy of your passport too and always carry that with you. I brought 2 non TSA padlocks with me for the lockers of the hostel and my bag and the combination code for them are different, because I may lose keys 😂

Don’t let fear discourage you from having the greatest adventure of your life. Live a little and even if you do get mugged, it’s a great story to tell right? Trust me, you will grow so much from it. I didn’t get mugged but I had a tsunami warning from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Honduras when I was in Belize so being faced with the possibility of death makes you really count your blessings and reevaluate everything you thought you knew.

And you know what? Don’t take my word for it, you have to GO SEE IT FOR YOURSELF! Because my pictures are nothing compared to the real thing.

Till my next adventure!

XOXO

Stella

Ps: I will continue blogging about my new life in HK and my shorter travels next so don’t switch off!

4 responses to “6 months, 21 countries, 1 huge ass suitcase and a time I’ll never forget.

  1. Hi Stella,

    I have been blessed to read your updates….
    Amazing, Adventurous Journey once in a life time. Reminded me of Belize in my last trip.
    You should publish a book. Happy to connect you to a close friend & publisher to write your story.

    Well done, keep going…

    Regards
    Dan

    Like

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