I exhausted myself in Argentina. It was entirely my own fault. Somewhere along the way I forgot I was a well-seasoned traveler with over 16 years’ experience, and morphed instead into a tourist with a backpack. No wonder I didn’t enjoy myself; this goes against everything I know.
I had a mission, a goal for this trip. I wanted to move at my own pace, experiencing local cultures and soaking up the vibe of each town. I had done the “drive by” backpacker routine before, spending only a night or two in each location, and knew I needed something different this time around.
Starting out, I was well on track. I wandered throughout the Sacred Valley of Peru with little to no plan or agenda. For the *most part* I avoided tourist traps and found my own little adventures. I’d hang out in coffee shops and wander the streets and consider it a day well spent.
Chile continued at a similar pace. I chose to explore the Lakes Region and took my time in several smaller towns, content with the local nature trails rather than joining in on huge arranged treks. And not once did I feel like I was missing out on anything.
But when I arrived in Buenos Aires, my memory was apparently wiped clean. Maybe it was the overwhelming energy of the city, or my major sleep deficit that increased with each passing night, or my fellow travelers who already had their entire trip outlined. But I felt this overwhelming pressure to plan everything. I felt the need to do something every day. I became a tourist.
I quickly learned that Argentina is huge. Massive. To see anything outside of Buenos Aires, I was limited to 20-hour bus rides or extremely expensive flights. And the buses weren’t necessarily cheap either. The cost of an overnight bus was more than I had paid on total airfare in any other country. I felt cornered, and slightly panicked.
And so, with only two days left in the big city, I booked it all. The cities, the hostels, the buses and flights. Everything. And although it took the spontaneity out of my travel, I thought it might be a little easier not having to constantly worry about where I’d sleep the following evening.
I was already worn out from Buenos Aires itself, but I didn’t let that stop me. I moved from city to city, checking off the sights as I went and counting down the days until my next destination. I was determined to see and do everything.
And I was miserable. Cranky. Unbelievably tired. I had a bad attitude and negative thoughts constantly sprang to mind: Get off your cellphone! Why are you taking so many selfies? Ugh. Tourists. My nightly journal entries became carbon copies: I am so exhausted/I have no energy/I just wish I felt better. I hardly enjoyed a minute of Argentina. Yes. It was that bad.
The tipping point was my final destination on this pre-arranged route: The wondrous Iguazú Falls. It’s a spectacular sight, and I was able to enjoy myself for most of the morning, before the waves of tourists arrived. But by the time I got back to the hostel, I was exhausted nearly to tears.
My roommate, Laure from Italy, had visited the falls that day as well, and asked me about my visit.
“Good. I’m just so tired.” I was ready to brush her off. This statement had become second nature by now. I was always tired. To be polite, I asked her the same question.
And she recounted to me, with a half-smile on her face, how magical her day had been. She relayed various animal sightings, and expressed awe at how in tune with nature she felt. She looked so peaceful. And happy. I remembered that I had felt the same just a short time ago. But now I was road-weary, and didn’t know if I could ever get it back.
She must’ve sensed my pitiful reaction, because she started asking me about the reasons for my travels.
“I just got bored with my life…” I began, recounting my daily routine prior to this trip.
“And why did you decide to travel? What was your purpose?” she asked directly.
“I wanted to experience other cultures…” I trailed off lamely. I had forgotten my purpose, and was just now realizing how far I’d detracted from it in the prior weeks.
“And are you doing that?” she asked, her gaze unwavering.
“No, now I’m just a tourist with a backpack!” I wailed, throwing myself on the bed. A little dramatic, but I felt like a complete fraud.
I began to share my experiences from the past few cities I’d visited. “I’ve been traveling so much, and all I do is walk around all day, and see a ton of museums and churches, and I’m just so tired!”
“Ah…so you’re stuck in a different routine.”
Holy sh*t. Laure, my guru, my mentor, my amazing shaman sent from the travel goddess herself just to send me a message. That’s what it felt like at the time. I stared at her. Holy flippin’ sh*t. I’d gotten myself stuck in another rut, on a completely different continent.
I thought back to the past few cities I’d visited…Mendoza, Córdoba, Salta…they all ran together. Unpack, walk around, see church, grab food, see museum, walk some more, get ice cream, sleep, repeat. I thought I was becoming a more efficient traveler, but I was turning into a machine. I had explored cities with eyes that didn’t see, and with a mind that wasn’t engaged. I hadn’t been present for a single day in the past three weeks. What a huge eye-opener.
We continued to speak, and she began to tell me things I already knew and had heard before…but now I was finally ready to listen:
“You need to take care of you. Love you. Be kind to you. And leave the rest behind. Relax. Enjoy your days. Don’t do anything. Get a massage, lay on a beach…have someone take care of you for once.”
And so that’s my focus, reaffirmed. Relax a bit more. Rest a bit more. Enjoy myself and the journey a bit more. Colombia has been all about doing nothing. And so far, I am loving every minute.
Thank you, Laure. I know you’ll never see this, but I hope that somehow your kindness and open-hearted advice come back to you somewhere along your path when you need it most. I am so grateful to have met you, my friend. Grazie mille.