A Smile Saves a Solo Traveler

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Day 336: Cabanaconde, Peru

Yesterday was not great. I had not only decided that I should switch hostels but that maybe I should leave town to shed the negativity I had self imposed.

I knew my next step would be Colca Canyon and while Arequipa is littered with tour agencies promising the best tour, I was overwhelmed with the choices.

Instead of shuffling among tour agencies lining the streets I hopped in a cab for the bus station and took the next bus to Cabanaconde, the entrance town for the Canyon and the home of condors.


Cabanaconde countryside

During the 6 hour ride I was amazed by the countryside.

I had never really seen a canyon landscape and the grumpiness that has engulfed me suddenly felt like a distant memory.


Its beauty and vastness overshadowed any crankiness and once again I felt so privileged to experience this.

I found a great hostel in Cabanaconde but there was one small problem.

Everyone in my hostel was part of a couple. The kind of couply couples who are polite enough but don’t really want to hang out with you.

So instead I sidled up to the hostel staff who were quite nice and told me I could easily hike the canyon on my own for free, it was well marked and pleasant enough.


Chivay Peru Main Plaza

The next day I contemplated taking on the great feat and hiking it alone as a way to experience solitude and blah blah blah – really I was just trying to convince myself that being alone didn’t suck.


But then fortune shone my way.


Realizing that I’d be spending this segment traveling alone, I first spent the day in Chivay, a neighbouring town with a pretty square and small food market.

On the way back I got in line for the bus and a girl in front of me turned around and smiled.

Within a matter of minutes I met Mirijam, Lisa, Iwan from Holland and Jeremy a fellow Canadian who were also heading to Cabanaconde.

By the end of the bus ride they had invited me to hike with them and also to have dinner with them that night.


I was saved from hiking alone, getting lost and being eaten by mountain goats.

Besides the joy of being rescued from my own ineptness with nature, one thing struck me.

Something as simple as a smile made such a difference to me. It wasn’t a grand gesture, it didn’t necessitate a lot of effort, just a kind spirit.

I haven’t taken this lightly. I’ve learned that the smallest act can mean so much to other people. I will take this as a lesson and pay it forward to someone else who looks like they could use a smile.

But first I must climb this canyon.


Join the Conversation

  1. Exciting!

    Unfortunately, I arrived in Cabanaconde after dark, and left the next morning before sunrise and never really saw the place.

    We sat on the rim of the canyon and watched the condors sweep effortlessly back and forth in giant arcs, barely flapping their wings on the warming morning air.

    But the biggest surprise and source of joy was the contrast of tiny hummingbirds buzzing with wings beating impossibly fast beside flowering shrubs nearby.

    Keep an eye (and an ear) out for them.


    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I love hummingbirds. I´ll definitely take a look!

  2. I never travel alone, but that’s another story altogether, too long for a blog comment. 🙂

    That said, I’m well aware how difficult it can be, and try to make an effort to engage solo travelers even though I am usually in one of those dreaded “couply couples.” I do this not out of the goodness of my heart, but for a more selfish reason; because it can lead to some of the most interesting converstions and often a lasting friendship.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Kristina, it´s never too late to try it. Once I was in a relationship and had two weeks before a new job. No one could travel with me so I went to Italy alone in offseason. It was so much better than hanging out at home for two weeks – although I did gain 10 lbs from eating but totally worth it.

  3. Loved the small towns around the canyon. The hike is tough, but beautiful and definitely worth it! We ended up renting mules to carry us back up into town and I was still super sore the next day heading back to Arequipa! 😉 Glad to hear you found some hiking partners, have fun!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Laura, it should be an adventure for sure!

  4. Shannon O'Donnell says:

    Wonderful sentiment here Aygelina; I remember one day I was standing in line at the store and just vibrating out of anxiety. The guy in front of me turned around, without any malice, and said, hey, it looks like you’re having a rough day, go ahead in front of me.

    That was the moment for me, when you realize that the simplest gesture, like a smile, can really lift someone else’s entire day, because who knows how they’re feeling – plus it’s free! 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wow what a great story Shannon. It´s so funny how something so little can really open the door to a much better day.

  5. The Dropout says:

    Sometimes a smile can make all the difference, can’t it?
    That countryside looks amazing.
    I’m glad you escaped your negativity, too. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Well I´m not one to stay grumpy for a long time, and the smile was so nice to see.

      1. Wandering Trader's Travels says:

        A smile from a stranger really feels good I agree 🙂 Ahh. The world would be so beautiful if everyone just smiled. lol.

  6. A smile does go a long way! Thanks for constantly reminding us of the little things that makes such a difference in the travel experience.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It´s weird how we take the small things for granted, as simple as a smile.

  7. I’m a big believer in a smile going a long way. Also, am not a fan of these couples who don’t really want to make friends with other travellers or single people. Surely, that’s part of the whole experience they’ve signed up for? If they wanted to just spend quality time together couldn’t they have done that on a beach in the Caribbean?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I traveled as a couple and we were never like that. In fact we were more of the type of couple who needed to hang around other people to get a break from each other!

      Maybe that´s why I´m now single 🙂

  8. Yay! It’s so true, sometimes my mood gets to dark and it only takes something so simple to completely turn it around. Then I feel stupid for having been so sour!

    I hope you have a fantastic time hiking with your new friends, can’t wait to see the pictures from that!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It was so nice to meet people that I liked right away. I´ll take lots of photos!

  9. Yes, “smile and world smiles with you; frown and you frown alone.”

    So so true, Ayngelina. Thank you for putting a smile on this face (too).


    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah I was the only one frowning in Arequipa, the rest were giggling from beer pong.

  10. Glad you’re feeling better, Ayngelina (though I must admit that I’ve always been drawn to your bitterness!) Have a terrific climb. And say hi to the mountain goats for me.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      my natural bitterness is part of my charm, lol

      1. Grace Lewis says:

        I find bitterness, in moderate doses of course, to be wildly amusing 🙂

  11. Ayngelina, a smile is a gift to us from the angels. It makes all the difference, costs nothing, needs no training and makes the world a better place.

  12. Yay! Glad you decided to stay overnight in Cabanaconde instead of doing the Canyon as a day trip! Hope you have a great time hiking with your new friends!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Once you told me it was too much I knew it was better to just head there and figure it out, thanks for the tip!

  13. Lindsay aka @_thetraveller_ says:

    I never made it to the canyon, I was really upset about it. But I got really, really sick and had to cut my losses and keep moving onto the next town. I was in awe of the landscape heading into Arequipa on the bus, but I just got a bad vibe from the city. Never happened to me before. I just didn’t like it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I can´t say I´m a big fan of Arequipa either, but I think the hostel ruined the city for me.

  14. Loving the shot of the countryside. What a beautiful hike!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yeah it was the first time I´ve seen scenery like this, so beautiful.

  15. Chris @CAroundTheWorld says:

    Maybe we’re unusual on the travel circuit, but we’re always meeting and hanging out with people when we’re on the road. It’s one of the best parts of traveling! Glad you were able to have a good time with new friends!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Usually I meet lots of people traveling and so I left for Cabanaconde without any worries, I was so surprised to arrive at a hostel with only couples but I guess it does happen in off season.

  16. A smile is infectious and has a wonderful way of changing your mood for the better. I’m glad that she offered you a smile, sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to the person who receives it.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You’re right, a smile definitely made all the difference that day.

  17. Wandering Trader's Travels says:

    Meeting great people is one of the best experiences! Glad you were able to shed your negativity this day 🙂 Smile!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Marcello, sometimes it just takes a change of scenery.

  18. Andi of My Beautiful Adventures says:

    A smile is all it takes. That’s how I met my soon-to-be hubby! Awesome that you made a friend and hiking partner from it. Great pics!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You met your husband with a smile? I need to start smiling more starting today!

  19. This is a really simple but beautiful post. A smile really does do wonders and you know what? I’m going to make a better effort to smile at more people! Who knows? It might just make someone else’s day!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Totally agree with you, from now on I’m a smiling fool.

  20. Sometimes it’s best just to skip town. At least for me, nothing cures my negativity like a long ride (train, bus or car) through the countryside to someone where new.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Sometimes I can turn things around but like you a few hours looking out a window always cheers me up.

  21. Loving these photos, Ayngelina!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks, it’s easy to take great photos when the subject is so beautiful.

  22. Great post! Something as simple as a smile really can go a long way. I definitely found that through out my travels. Especially when not speaking the same language as someone, a smile can make all the difference in the world. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I spent the first few weeks in Mexico smiling all day because I couldn’t speak a word of Spanish!

  23. What beautiful views! And I agree, a simple smile or thank you can go a long way to changing the day for someone.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Yes it’s hard not to be in a good mood with scenery like this!

  24. Katherina says:

    Lovely story, and so true. A smile from a stranger gives comfort and a strange feeling of suddenly not having the same issues you had before.
    I’m glad you avoided being eaten by mountain goats! I would have probably ended up the same way, urgh!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I really contemplated going alone, I thought it could be a character building experience, but this is must better.

  25. You have no idea how many times smiling to someone or responding to a smile has saved me from being solo. I just which it was easier to get some smiles around… not everyone is willing or as inviting.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Agreed there’s nothing worse than flashing someone a smile and getting a scowl in return.

  26. I love that so much, Ayngelina! I remember a day like that in Paris once. I was sad, lonely, feeling wretched, and suddenly a lady sat down beside me, grinned and started chatting. We ended up exploring Paris together and had the best time. 🙂 So glad you received a smile AND friends. 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      That’s a great story. No one should be sad in Paris.

  27. joshywashington says:

    Pay it forward and send elevated vibes of friendship through a smile. Rescued by a smile, many times I have been. Just when loneliness closes its grip comes the welcome eyes of a stranger soon turned friend.

    Glad the mountain goats didn’t eat you!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s nice how when you’re at the point where you think you’re destined to be alone, the universe shows you otherwise.

  28. Cathy Sweeney says:

    I’ve had that kind of smile experience, too — just when it was most needed. It’s very powerful in changing your perspective. Your photos are stunning, Ayngelina.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Thanks Cathy! It’s amazing that something as simple as a smile can turn things around for someone.

  29. Never underestimate the travel experiences and memories we enjoy by meeting new people! I’ve had experience like this as well. I am sure you will remember this more for the people you met than the hike itself! 🙂

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It definitely makes me look forward to the hike a lot more.

  30. Caz Makepeace says:

    Glad to see you changed hostels. A change is always a positive moves.
    Smiles are the best way to improve your day.
    I always say to Kalyra when she frowns.
    A frown is just a smile upside down. Can you turn it the right way up now please?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Hehe, I will remember that the next time I’m frowning.

  31. Smiling is such an easy thing to do – and yet, also easy not to do. Wonder why that is…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      You know one of my favourite photos of myself is while I was climbing Tongariro in NZ and it was hailing and I was crying because it was so awful. A friend took out her camera as I was hiding behind a rock and asked me to smile. After that my mood changed.

  32. How could you not smile looking at that beautiful canyon landscape. I would probably have a permanent smile of excitement plastered on my face looking at that. I’ve been stuck home to long watching dorito bags blow across dirty snowy parking lots with gray backdrops. Great post and it’s very refreshing to read someone thought process developing as you go along in your travels. love it!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      In my mind I can see that Dorito bag and now feel so guilty about being negative about anything – Canadian winters are terrible.

  33. Being eaten by mountain goats wouldn’t be that bad really would it….? hahahaha

    When I was in Fiji I was at a hostel before a tour started and there was a solo guy in my room and I saw a solo girl at dinner but we never caught each others eyes to give that initial smilie. The next day I was on the same tour as them and became friends with them. Since that trip I have even gone to visit the girl at her home in Sweden!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Wow great story Cailin, it’s always nice when people invite you along to places. I was lucky and Jeremy asked me in the first 5 minutes, but then again before he met the 3 others he had been alone too.

  34. Alex Lilly says:

    Wow, what amazing pictures!!! Peru just topped my list of places I want to see in the near future. And you’re right, a gesture as small as a smile can make such a difference in someone’s day. Awareness of little things like this get magnified when we’re on our own. Can’t wait to read/see more!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Peru is beautiful and I’m always amazed at the diverseness of the landscape.

      Apparently March is ideal for Colca Canyon because it’s the end of rainy season but everything is still green.

  35. Bocas Chick says:

    The best part of traveling is meeting people and learning their culture. Strangers can become very good friends if you just smile 🙂

  36. Ooh, this ties in so well with the post I wrote on Monday about “just smiling” to get to know people when on the road. 🙂 Classic! I’m happy for you!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh I missed that, will go check it out now!

  37. Hope you climb your own canyon. Travelling can be challenging sometimes. I’d make the effort to chat to someone you love and care about via Skype, too. because happiness doesn’t always come from strangers…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Very true, although Skype will have to wait as there is no high speed Internet in Cabanaconde – yet.

  38. A good lesson for anybody who is traveling solo to at least always carry a smile, for a start of something great. You’re lucky to meet such great people.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I have been really lucky on the road, in some ways I think being alone attracts really kind people.

  39. pinoy boy says:

    i hope there are more friendly backpackers out there willing to tag along solo trippers. the world will be much nicer when you are nice too. As a backpacker, i live to befriend anyone, so far so good. i had the best of luck whenever i’m on the road.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      More often than not I find people are really wonderful about inviting people along.

      Usually it’s in a hostel but today I was lucky enough that it was in a line.

  40. I love your posts because I feel like you are talking to me! can’t wait to see what happens tomorrow!!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh Jade you are in for a doozy!

  41. There’s nothing worse when everyone else is in a couple and you’re not, except when they give you looks of self pity. Glad that such a simple gesture brightened your day!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Sometimes couples can be really great. They seemed like nice people but had no need to talk to anyone else.

  42. Nicole @ WomanSeeksWorld.com says:

    Lovely post. It’s funny how serendipity can show it’s face at certain times.

    It just goes to show how the world could be such a better place if we all just smiled more!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      It’s such a simple lesson but I heard it loud and clear.

  43. Grace Lewis says:

    Yesterday I was walking around Saigon with a friend who is visiting and I commented that foreigners rarely smile when you meet on the sidewalk (the Vietnamese almost always do.) Everyone is so busy looking like a cool traveler. Thanks for the kick in the pants to make sure at least I am smiling. Maybe THEY need a friend?

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I think we can all get too wrapped up in ourselves that we just don’t take the time to acknowledge others.

      How many people do you see shutting out the world entirely with ear phones?

  44. “To Travel is To Live” is one of H. C. Andersen’s most famous quote and it sounds like you agree on that one. You are really getting a lot of great experiences traveling around.

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Definitely agree, I could have learned this at home, but maybe I needed to be isolated to finally see it.

  45. Skott and Shawna says:

    Such a very true post….a smile does indeed go an incredibly long way! Ayngelina – despite the fact that Shawna and I are “coupled”, we would be more than happy to go hiking with you anytime!!! HAppy Weekend!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      I usually find couples, especially those who have traveled for a while, really welcome people.

      I may just have to take you up on that hiking offer!

  46. It’s so nice when a smile is returned, and in this instance taken a lot further! =) So many of our smiles have been met with blank looks this year…

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Oh I’ve been there Andrea, sometimes you smile and people wonder what’s wrong with you.

  47. I’ll smile your way if I see you around! 🙂

    You’re right, one of the smallest things – a smile – can make a huge difference. Especially on those tough days.

    I’ll go hiking with you any day!!! Because I’m not exclusive 😉

    Sending a beso y una sonrisa your way, guapa!

  48. Mikeachim says:

    Your photos remain gorgeous, I see.

    And glad you got your smile back. It’s a nice one. 🙂

    Oh, and I’ve just heard of 25 busloads of angry Irish people driving towards South America, armed to the teeth. (Not to worry you or anything).

  49. I’m glad you found fellow friendly travelers. I’d hate for the Bacon to get eaten by goats.

  50. What great luck!

  51. A smile really can change everything, it’s so true. I worked in retail for seven years and learned so quickly that giving someone a smile can change them so very quickly. No-one can turn away a smile.

    I’m so glad you found company for your hike and it changed everything for you. 🙂 You deserve it.

  52. KatieAnna says:

    Have you considered making a book out of all your beautiful pictures? I really love them.

  53. KatieAnna says:

    Oh and I really loved this post. It made my heart warm. Sometimes its the littlest things that make all the difference, like a smile.

  54. Trans-Americas Journey says:

    Well said, Ayngelina. And we hope your canyon adventure is great. Though we travel as a couple on our Trans-Americas Journey road trip through North, Central and South America (four years and counting) you’re welcome to the backseat anytime!

  55. So true! A simple smile can create so many friendships. I haven’t tried traveling alone, but even when you’ve got a friend with you, it’s great to team up with other groups and meet new people! Makes the trip so much better! 🙂

  56. Justin Hamlin says:

    Watch out for those feisty mountain goats!!

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  58. DTravelsRound says:

    I love this post. It’s so funny — the power of a smile can be an amazing thing. There have been a few times when I was grumpy and headed out on my own (still grumpy), only to have my entire day turned around by a smile, or a hello. Glad you had the experience!

  59. Ian [EagerExistence] says:

    Yay! A win for the solo traveler. So glad you didn’t have to make the trek on your own. It’s nice to have company sometimes..

  60. Leslie (Downtown Traveler) says:

    Cool you met a fun group of travelers! I enjoyed Cabanaconde and traveled there on the bus from Arequipa. I enjoyed doing the Colca Canyon hike without a guide. You really don’t need a package tour to go there, as you discovered!

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