Relearning to Travel

I know this sounds spoiled. Indulge me. Forgive me. But re-learning to travel like an American (aka on limited time) is hard. Yes, I hear you all crying for me from here. It’s a real sob story.

Our trip to Colombia is quickly approaching, and we’re trying to prepare for it. We’re going to be gone for 16 days. In American terms, that’s forever. After a one year trip, that’s not much time at all. There’s a little voice inside my head yelling at me that there’s absolutely no way we can see everything we want (or anything at all) in that amount of time. I keep yelling back and telling it to shut up, reminding it that there’s never enough time. Though we spent six weeks in Argentina, we didn’t make it to Mendoza. We missed Colca Canyon and Lake Titicaca in Peru. In Thailand, the only island we made it to was Ko Phi Phi. Must see places went unseen. Sometimes entire countries–Bolivia, Rwanda–got chopped form the itinerary. Sixteen days, one year, a lifetime–it’s never enough.

So what to do? Well, first step. Make a big long list of everything we want to do. Our included scuba diving in the Caribbean, shoring up on Vitamin D on the beaches of Tayrona National Park, wandering the walled city of Cartagena, diving in the Pacific, hopping to the island of Providencia, getting to the source of the world’s best coffee, checking out the once notorious now revitalized Medellin, scaling the mountains of El Cocuy National Park, getting high on adventure in San Gil, and popping in on the capital Bogota. Mourn for a moment that there is absolutely no way on God’s green earth that you’ll get to do half of that in sixteen days, that you probably couldn’t even do it in a month. Then dry your eyes and move on.

Step two. Decide on top priorities. For us, scuba diving was a primary goal. I miss the amazing feeling of being under the sea, surrounded by crazy plants and animals. And the intense sunshine withdrawal we’re experiencing (after a year of summer, this winter has been particularly rough) made us favor Colombia’s warm, sunny destinations over its colder, snowier ones. Jeff said Tayrona was a must. I couldn’t imagine missing Cartagena. That’s three Carribbean coast destinations. Looking at the map, it made sense to dedicate at least a week of our time to that area. But where from there? In the end, we decided on Medellin, the coffee region, and Bogota (where we fly out of). Getting to the Pacific coast or one of the islands would have eaten up a lot of our time. Throwing out San Gil and El Cucoy were harder, but the fact that they were in the same region though made the choice easier: It will be that much easier to hit both of them on a return trip.

In the end, we based our decision on 1) desire and 2) logistics. If we had more time, if this were last year, we could have opted for the destinations that require 14 hour bus trips. We could have planned to cover much more territory. But bleeding entire days to travel on a trip this short just doesn’t make sense. Making the most out of what you’ve got is what life’s about.

And so, we have a plan. I managed to adjust my mindset, to re-learn to travel on borrowed time. But at the same time, I resisted many urges of the American traveler. We have a hotel booked for our first night, but that’s it. We have a flight in to the country and a flight out, but no other transportation arranged. I read blogs and message boards and websites, jotting down recommended hotels and things to do, but we’re not packing a guidebook. We sketched out a rough itinerary, but it’s in pencil and on paper, ready to be thrown out the window the moment we decide we want to spend another day on the beach at Tayrona, have had enough of the city, need to eat at that ceviche place once more time, want to rent bikes and tour the coffee region on two wheels. Though we might now have to abide by the rules of American vacation time, we don’t have to live by the rules of American vacations. Our time might be shorter on this trip than it was on the last, but we’re still the travelers we’ve always been. Ready for adventure. Open to opportunity. Excited to touch, taste, feel, hear, and see a place.

We have sixteen days. Aren’t we lucky?

4 Replies to “Relearning to Travel”

  1. Totally related to this post. Even if I have months on end to travel, I’m always tempted to do “power-traveling”—shoving as much in as possible. It’s a great way to see a lot and experience none of it. Which is probably even more uber American of me than not traveling at all.

    You’ll have a rad time in Colombia!

  2. I just got back from Colombia (literally, my plane landed an hour ago) and I feel your pain regarding trying to fit so much in. I’ve never been able to travel long-term so I’m always trying to squeeze in as much as possible while still trying to actually enjoy a place. We were in Colombia for 6 days (well, actually 7 because Mexicana canceled our flights out and didn’t tell us) and know we only saw a tiny fraction of the country. We always just have to tell ourselves, “one day, we’ll be back.”

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