35 Things I learned from traveling in Latin America

me peru
Toronto, Canada

This week I turned 35 and I’d love to say that I had wisdom to pass on simply from being on the earth for three and a half decades but the truth is that I learned all of the significant things in the last 2-3 years while traveling in Latin America.

I have met some amazing people, some very kind and others not at all but I learned from each of them.

When I wrote the 25 things I learned from traveling in Central America, most of them were observations about the world but here I realize most of the observations are about me. Which is why this quote from Anais Nin is so true:

 

We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.

 

1. I have seen many people argue they weren’t running away from life but toward something else. I was running away… from the stress of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and the inability to figure it out in the confines of my life. I still have no clue but I don’t feel the stress to define I’m more comfortable not knowing.

2. Corporate life is not for me. I don’t mind being a visitor with contract work but I don’t have the ambition to rise the corporate ladder just because I can.

3. Maybe I’m not as unfriendly as I thought or maybe I learned to shed it on the road as excess baggage.

4. If you can’t decide if someone is awesome or obnoxious. Chances are they are a douche bag.

5. Mean people are unhappy. Happy people won’t try to make you feel bad about yourself. The next time someone is mean to you feel sorry for them because something is so wrong with them they need to make you feel bad about yourself.

6. Some skills are important but you won’t learn them in school – like how to pee without touching the toilet seat while wearing a 45L backpack.

7. I thought I’d be happier on the road but while I was there I longed for my old relationship and job. Changing your location doesn’t change the issues. Just as you can be happy anywhere you can also be unhappy in paradise.

8. Art is important.

9. We eat far too much meat and the Earth is suffering because of our gluttony.

10. I need to talk less listen more.

 

ecuador

11. Sometimes love lasts a lifetime, sometimes only a night. Cherish whatever you have at that moment.

12. We take clean water for granted. Being able to drink from the tap is a privilege.

13. Do not drink the water in Mexico. You will get sick.

14. iPhones are great. iPhones at the dinner table are not. Just because there is a lull in conversation doesn’t mean you need to check your emails – everyone you need is in front of you.

15. Being heartbroken is okay and you shouldn’t have to hide it. It’s better to hurt than never taking a chance.

16. Crying is okay. Crying in public is okay. Crying on a bus is also okay even if you do it all the time.

17. Age really doesn’t matter. It’s better to have friends with a common interest than a common age.

18. You can’t have everything. There is always a sacrifice and not everyone will understand you had to give up something to get what you wanted.

19. I can live with less.

20. I need to work harder at not interrupting people, especially when I’m so excited about what they are saying that I need to add to it.

21. If I don’t step outside my comfort zone in some manner I get bored.

 

girl eating hamburger

22. We are poisoning the world with cheap, processed food.

23. Taking risks always pays off but not always in ways that you expect.

24. Even people who are mean to you leave you better off because you will be kinder to others.

25. A genuine smile can change someone’s day.

26. We think science will help us cure everything but if we listened more to the indigenous people we would find some things don’t need to be invented, they are already there.

27. Mindset is everything! Being on a crowded chicken bus in Guatemala is amusing as a memory but a crowded bus in Toronto is annoying.

28. I am addicted to the internet.

29. If you want to make a good impression on someone stop talking about what makes you so great and listen to the person like they are the most fascinating you have met. That person will only have good things to say about you.

30. My way may be right, but it isn’t the only right way.

 

lunch on beach

31. The best meal you’ve ever eaten will always pale in comparison to mediocre food with people you care about.

32. Friendships change; instead of being resentful or wishing for the old days try to embrace the new ones.

33. It’s better to be alone than feel lonely while with someone.

34. You cannot change to make someone love you.

35. Everyone feels lonely and unhappy and wonder why no one else feels the way. If everyone were more honest about their insecurities everyone would feel less lonely.

 

I’m still learning, tell me your best piece of advice.

Comments

  1. says

    Never arrive at an opportunity and think, “I’ll do it tomorrow”…Today is tomorrow – don’t wish away your time, it’s a lot more precious than you think

  2. says

    I really like number 29. I’m finding that the more cool stuff I do, the more inclined I am to waffle on about myself, and I need to take a breather and ask more questions. That’s what happens when you travel though. You’re desperate to share all your incredible experiences with everyone you meet!
    Arianwen recently posted..London south bank: a farewell to remember

    • Ayngelina says

      Oh this one will be important when you are in South America as everyone wants to tell you how great they are. Spend time with the locals and just listen to how wonderful they are because they have the stories that are worth listening to.

    • Ayngelina says

      I agree with you, everything really does happen for a reason even if you don’t understand it at the time.

  3. TBay says

    You’re so right. Mean people ARE unhappy and should be pitied. Crying is totally acceptable. Walking down the street, on a bus, wherever. iPhones at the table are disrespectful. I am the queen of interupting people and also need to work on that.

    I had a fortune cookie once that read: “It takes the sun and the rain to make a rainbow.” So accept the good and the bad because its all part of the journey…

    • Ayngelina says

      It’s also nice to have friends that realize when you interrupt them it’s not because you don’t care about what they are saying but you really just want to share something special with them.

  4. says

    the number one thing i learned from travelling in Latin America was that you truly do not need “things” to be happy. Great company is enough

  5. says

    I was just thinking the other day how Venezuelans have taught me to live – in the sense that my life is much more balanced. I used to let the simplest inconvenience upset me – even though I knew it was trivial, but now I just can’t do it. Not even if I tried. I hope you’re able to continue using these lessons because my biggest fear is that I’ll get sucked back into the useless stress once I move back to the US.

    • Ayngelina says

      I should have listed that too! I learned that the little inconveniences really aren’t worth getting upset over.

    • Ayngelina says

      Understanding #35 has changed my life and how I approach the site. It’s tough to write personal things about my own insecurities but I want people to know they are not alone.

  6. says

    Great round up. I agreed with most of the things you wrote! I liked your birthday tribute post as well. I can relate a lot of those.
    Congratulations on your special birthday! Cherish the moment, and embrace the consequences is the important thing we have to remember. And everyone deserves to be happy, in every different form. :)
    Juno recently posted..From a Cubicle to a Laptop – One Year Ago Today

  7. Ann Wellwood says

    #24..I know someone that is always mean to other people and is very hard to be around,but I never thought that it would make me kinder.I think you are right!!!I must keep this in mind the next time I have to be around him!!!Thanks Ayngelina for all your insights!!You are always interesting!!!

    • Ayngelina says

      It’s the only way you can deal with mean people – treat them with pity…well after a few choice words under your breath.

  8. says

    Great post. It’s great that you’re feeling ok with the unknown. Makes life a lot easy to live. BTW I think you’re super friendly! Maybe because I met you post-travel;)
    My tip? Spend more time in nature, especially when you live in a big city.

  9. says

    Love this post! It’s intensely personal but has truths we all recognize. You’ve picked up some amazing lessons and experiences on your journey;thanks for sharing them. Here’s to the next 35 years and beyond!

    • Ayngelina says

      So true but seriously I just learned that one. I always like to give people a chance, and I should not.

  10. says

    Oooh, splendid; I need to do such a list -unfortunately I’m full of good advice but can only painfully slowly integrate it in my actual life (while I can change, and actually feel very good about that fact, there’s always a strong resistance to the actual changing, and I tend to not be persistent enough), but I dig your learned lessons, and I’m happy that you thought it was important to mention food (less meat, less processed, etc.) and that science is sometimes used to create very complicated solutions for problems that could be solved quite simply by ‘simple’ people. Less is more, it really is!!
    Vera recently posted..Free music at France’s Fête de la Musique

    • Ayngelina says

      Thanks Leigh, it was really so wonderful meeting you. I hope to get back down soon and spend more than an afternoon with your family – well if you’ll have me!

  11. says

    Love this! Your honesty is always so refreshing and inspiring. I agree with all of these points, especially #35 – we should all be more honest with our feelings – I know I make a point of being 100% open on my blog, and it has enriched my life beyond measure. Thanks for always putting your truth out there :)
    Hannah recently posted..Down but not out

    • Ayngelina says

      The blog really helped me come out of my shell, in a lot of ways I feel like I owe it to people to be as honest as I can.

    • Ayngelina says

      I feel the same way, the TTC seems awful but go ride on a chicken bus for 8 hours and it’s somehow amuses us!

  12. says

    Great lessons! #19 is something I remember every time I travel, and forget the longer I stay in one place. And #20 is a problem for me, too.

    • Ayngelina says

      I have a ridiculously tiny apartment now so it prohibits me from accumulating too much stuff but it’s difficult to say no.

  13. says

    So many truths here, and you’re so right about people being honest–if people could just be honest about feeling lonely, break-ups, etc., we would all be happier. I would add that every time we think we know a certain culture or group of people, we find out we are wrong. And TV is useless 99.5% of the time.

    • Ayngelina says

      Of course, let’s face it we’re not all history channel fanatics, when I have access to it I watch the trashiest shows – which is why I do not allow myself to have cable.

  14. says

    “12. We take clean water for granted. Being able to drink from the tap is a privilege.

    13. Do not drink the water in Mexico. You will get sick.” – Ain’t it the truth!

    “34. You cannot change to make someone love you.” – I only discovered this recently. :)

    This is such a wonderful list. Really reflective and so inspiring.
    Ceri recently posted..Letter to My Father

  15. says

    Sometimes being too on guard is your worst enemy. The world is full of wonderful people and very few bad guys. Be safe but be open to opportunity.

    I also liked you comment about age not mattering. Before I started traveling full time I kind of ran in homogeneous group of friends. Now that I am out there I find common interests bind me to others far more than age or even economic situation.
    Jonathan Look, Jr. recently posted..Street Food | Cervecita Dulce or Sweet Beer

    • Ayngelina says

      I’ve met some incredibly perceptive people in their early 20s and young spirits in their 60s – age really just is a tree ring.

  16. says

    I like No. 6, because at the end of the day, all travel is education, and not just for those random but really useful skills you pick up! I’ve long thought of travel as my substitute for grad school–and I’m happy with my decision to see the world rather than study something I wasn’t all that passionate or sure about.

    • Ayngelina says

      I think everyone should travel before they go to university, it would help people realize what they want to do.

    • Ayngelina says

      It always feels like such a risk but once you make the decision everything starts to fall into place.

  17. says

    You’ve taken so many of these directly out of my head, especially number 5 about mean people. When I encounter mean people I have to remind myself that they’re probably unhappy. I know I’ve been mean when I’m not happy. Often I cut them some slack. Other times I just dub them an asshole and move on about my business. This comes along with a broken give-a-damn. :-)

    Great post!
    Leah Travels recently posted..Melodies and Travel Memories

  18. says

    Such beautiful advice. I think there are a lot of things in here for most people.
    My favourite is number 11: “Sometimes love lasts a lifetime, sometimes only a night. Cherish whatever you have at that moment.”
    Regardless of the kind of love you’re talking about, once you accept this, the world becomes a much happier place.

    • Ayngelina says

      Hogga you are always so nice when it comes to these things. And if you ever need another face slap you knew who to call.

  19. says

    Fabulous advice! Going off number 18, I think my tip would have to be that it’s worth making friends all over the world even though it’s sometimes sad that you can’t be with them as often as you’d like. Missing out on get togethers and big moments sucks, but the reunions are always well worth it.
    Emily in Chile recently posted..An aerial Andes mountain sunrise

  20. says

    4. iPhones are great. iPhones at the dinner table are not. Just because there is a lull in conversation doesn’t mean you need to check your emails – everyone you need is in front of you.
    ::cough:: CAILIN ONEIL! hahaha
    17. Age really doesn’t matter. It’s better to have friends with a common interest than a common age.
    I only think about our age gap when someone actually mentions it. We are a decade apart and I adore you. Hanging out with you is always fantastic, whether we are being ridiculous or having a heart to heart.
    Rease recently posted..Working while Traveling – The Anti Quarter Life Crisis

    • Ayngelina says

      Yeah I know I always forget there’s a decade but I think you meet me half way – you are mature and well…we both know I’m not.

    • Ayngelina says

      People think crying is a sign of weakness but it’s just a way to deal with pain so we shouldn’t judge people for it.

  21. says

    #19 is the mantra that keeps me going each and every day.

    Soon, I’ll be able to pack my entire life into the back of a small pickup truck and move on…

  22. says

    Wow. Quite the list. Number 1 sums up my life perfectly. I used to joke that I’d give myself until 30 to figure things out. I’m knocking on its door and still don’t have an honest answer!

    As for number 13, I’ll admit that I’ve made a similar mistake. If you travel long enough, you’ll always assume that your stomach can handle something it cant!
    Jeff Bartlett recently posted..A ground-level perspective.

    • Ayngelina says

      I have a bad habit about being too cocky about food and drink, and then locals give me a strange look when I tell them I drank the water because they don’t!

    • Ayngelina says

      It’s a really special place, each country is so different and has it’s own reason to love it. People ask me my favourite country but I could never choose.

  23. says

    #19 “I can live with less.” I have also learnt this and think many budget kind of travelers do too. And it is a very important and valuable lesson actually! Now all I own is inside my backpack and feel that I have “more than ever”! Less stuff means more freedom!

    • Ayngelina says

      It can get addictive, I keep trying to get a smaller and smaller bag. Today I’m heading to Portland and decided not to take my DSLR or laptop so I could do a very small bag. Although I won’t be tech-less I still have my iPhone.

  24. Michelle says

    This is beautiful and perfect. Thanks for giving me comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one out there with a list like this. #26 really touched me. Here’s to listening more and talking less.

  25. says

    This is the BEST 140 characters ever written.. for me at least.

    “You can’t have everything. There is always a sacrifice and not everyone will understand you had to give up something to get what you wanted.”

    I stumbled here, and this is exactly what I needed to hear today! I just moved (last night) almost 6 hours away from all my friend, my son, my girlfriend, and the ONLY city I have ever lived in for an opportunity to provide a better life for myself and the people I love most. I was really starting to wonder if I made the right decision, and this has made me feel 1000% better about my decision.

    Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us all. I can’t even express how you have made me feel using words. I wish I could meet you and give you a huge hug! You are awesome!

    God bless you and I wish you good luck in everything you do!

    • Ayngelina says

      Wow that gives me chills, I am so happy you found that message when you needed it. I hope it stays with you.

  26. Stockton_Smile says

    I fell in love with you just now. Maybe its the pictures, or what I just read but probably both. Marry me?

  27. Chris Chiang says

    Awesome list not only for travling in Latin America but also traveling in other places.
    #6 makes me smile when I am reading.

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