I can say without a doubt that these past seven months have been a phenomenal, eye opening and astounding experience – one which I will treasure for the rest of my life. I am not entirely sure how to begin summarising what I have learnt, seen or felt on this journey but I shall try.
Seven months ago I said bye to my nearest and dearest, I had mixed feelings as I sat on the crowded plane to Montana. Apart from a Facebook message, a few emails and a Skype interview, I did not know my new host family, my soon to be colleagues or indeed any one in the tiny, remote town of Dillon, Montana. As I waited in Bozeman airport for a friend of my host to pick me up I had no idea what to expect. Nor did I know what this friend looked like or what the plan was for the evening, next few days or indeed the following months. Before I knew it I was collected and welcomed to America. From here, everything fell into place, I met my fantastic new family and traveled a couple of hours with them by pick up truck to my new home – an eco friendly, sustainable yurt. While, plans or schedules were never really abided to, it did not matter. I learnt to live day by day rather than planning ahead. Each day at work was different. From being thrown in the deep end on my first week – camping, hiking and electrocuting fish with a bunch of rowdy fisheries guys; to relaxing in stunning hot springs with new best friends. The whole three months was unforgettable. I formed strong bonds with the hospitable, caring and amazing family I stayed with and was lucky enough to live as a local becoming a temporary cowgirl. The rural ranch living was different to anything I had ever seen or experienced before. While parts of it were fun, thrilling and exciting (riding horses, social parties and such) other parts unique to anything I was used to (butchering, castrating and branding cattle).
Working outdoors with nature, was such a fantastic way to live. Everyone was relaxed, happy and appreciated wild landscapes. My experience would not have been the same without all the amazing people I met. I want to say a big thank you to everyone. All those I encountered in Dillon helped me to realise the important things in life, the value of being outside and different ways of thinking and living. Not only did I lean about different American values but also Indian ethics from my best friend Sukhin. We exchanged cultures and formed a a fantastic support network for each other – one which I know will continue where ever we may be in the world. I cannot wait to see first hand a the wonders in India and hope to show her around England one day.
Following this phenomenal three months I found it hard to leave and venture off on my own. I had got used to having family and friends around me. To jet off for some solo travel seemed daunting. I had never flown somewhere before with no set in stone plans of what I would be doing week by week. All I knew was that I had one month left in my visa in the US and then I wanted to go to Mexico and maybe further south too. I began in San Francisco, California and found that without a car it would be hard to get to San Diego. Several people in my San Francisco hostel proposed a road trip. I was baffled – who should I go with, to where and when? Luckily, just as I was weighing up the options I met a great gal from Scotland and we decided to road trip together to Vegas and the Grand Canyon. It was my first long distance American Road trip taking two full days – we had a blast. Time flew by, before we knew it we were in the slightly horrifying Vegas. Followed by the utterly stunning Grand Canyon (one of the highlights of my trip). From there, parting with my friend was hard but straight after I met a fabulous group of individuals and road tripped through the magical Sedona and peculiar but incredible Joshuah Tree park arriving in San Diego a few days later. From there I flew to Mexico city. It just goes to show that having no plan however daunting it may be is indeed the best way to solo travel. I met all these wonderful people, saw some life changing landscapes and learned to let life take its course without constantly stressing about the next step.
On arriving in Mexico city, I was kindly hosted by my aunties lovely friend. We had such a fun weekend together and I was well and truly welcomed and introduced to Mexico. Leaving her flat to my first Central American hostel was a bit scary. I was alone again but this time in a supposedly dangerous area. The hostel was pretty horrible with a uncomfortable, basic, bunk bed, minus a ladder, no plugs to charge my phone and a bunch of not so friendly people. Thankfully I had seen a lot of Mexico city already, so was ready to move on. I walked with my rucksack to a bus station, tried out my limited Spanish and ended up in the delightful Oaxaca. Here I was super happy, made a bunch of amazing friends and saw some incredible sights. I had my first experience with couch surfing and met a fabulous friend I still keep in touch with today – three months later. In Oaxaca I also met a two week travel buddy and we sight saw all around Mexico moving from place to place together. Of course, there came a time when we had to part ways. I ventured south and she North.
I traveled alone from here to a couple more places in Mexico before entering Guatemala. The further south I went the more people told me to be careful. The solo travel took its literal meaning in Guatemala. Instead of traveling with new friends I went from place to place on public buses alone. Previously a daunting concept, suddenly became a novelty. I got to watch locals go about their everyday life while going on fantastic hikes, seeing extensive markets and visiting local families. Being by myself, I was the only white person and got more of a sense of Central American culture. What also helped was getting involved with couch surfing. Staying with local families, friends and households enabled me to get an inside knowledge into the fun, local and novel places rather than the tourist, gringo, money grabbing tours and sights. Getting off the beaten track, really was fantastic and in some ways safer – locals told me where not to go and they looked after me. I can not thank the amazing families enough for hosting me. I hope one day I can return the favour and show you all London.
After staying in Guatemala for some time, I survived the murder capital of the world, namely Honduras. I even dared to couch surf there. Honduras is a beautiful country with lush rainforests, stunning beaches and cute colonial towns. While, yes it does have an exceedingly high murder rate and drug cartel business, the areas which are safe happen to be outstandingly great to visit. Following this danger zone, Nicaragua was on the cards. After a few more weeks of solo travel I bumped into someone I met a while back in Mexico and we traveled together for a couple of weeks. We had a great time together. I enjoyed having the company of a best friend while traveling too. It was getting tiring doing things alone – Just simple things like having someone to watch your bag while you grab a drink or having the same friend to converse with rather than new acquaintances on a boat or hike, that come and go.
Costa Rica was my last stop in central America. It was considerably more expensive than the other countries but just as beautiful. Here I got the chance to do the touristy things, which although I moan about, are great fun. For example, I went canopying for the first time down a waterfall and tried out zip lining through a cloud forest. I also got time to relax on the Pacific and Caribbean beaches. After three character building months in central America I got the most out of all the rice and beans and was ready to go to New York to get my flexible return flight back to London via Iceland. The flight did it go as expected – I ended up sleeping in San Jose for night – which turned out to be a nazi hilarious experience in itself (again thanks to the funny folk I met). On finally arriving in New York I was fortunate enough to meet some wonderful family I had not met before and explore the busy city too. Meeting my family members was wonderful, I heard stories about my grandfather I had not heard before and enjoyed connecting with these fantastic people. My last stop was Iceland. Two days there was a great taster of the country and one day I would love to go back to explore it more.
All in all, I have had a wonderful 7 month experience, I have seen things I had only ever dreamt of, explored the great outdoors and learnt how to travel and live independently with all my belongings fitting into my rucksack (which I had to repair along the way). It’s amazing what few things you need in life to get by. Skills I have gained I will take wherever I go in life.
What’s next, you may ask? Well if there is anything I have learnt from my travels it’s to take one step at a time. Not to get ahead of myself and enjoy the moment. I am beyond excited to go back to London (my flight departs shortly), be reconnected with everyone and get some home comforts. I cannot wait for a comfy bed, a hot shower and a real cupboard to use. It will be a luxury not to share a room with 16 others. Hence that’s what’s next for now. To find out more you’ll have to keep following my blog.