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I woke up this morning lying in bed thinking about the day, and what I had to do. Suddenly it popped into my mind; hitting me as if I had run into a brick wall. The reason he doesn’t introduce me to his friends or let me in any further is because he doesn’t see a future with me. Yet for months I kept making excuses; it’s because I travel too much and am never here, he’s busy, I can be overpowering.

A friend recently told me that whatever you think about first thing in the morning is what you truly feel about something. It’s like your brain hasn’t had the time to spin yet.

I think my brain had been spinning for a long time. It kept spinning these fantasies that it would work out, I would get what I needed, he would learn how to open up, trust, and let me in to his inner circle. But it was spinning because everything I needed to know was right in front of me in plain sight this morning as I lay in bed. No spin, no fantasies, just facts.

I had become one of those women…the kind that stay too long, that try too hard – and they can’t see what is so clear. He’s not asking you to join him with his friends in the mountains this weekend because he doesn’t want me there.

Wait – I thought this was a travel blog?!

Yes I normally write about travel, but I’m just a regular person going through stuff like everyone else – some things I go through that at 30,000 ft in a plane. I like to write about other aspects of my life at times. Plus – my life of travel has some drawbacks at times, and this relationship stuff is one of them.
But it you want to get back to travel – then check these favorites out:
Best Hikes Around the World I’ve Completed
99 Best Travel and Life Tips
Traveling Along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
Walking the Camino de Santiago
My Story of How I Ended Up With Blood Clots From Flying

Addiction

Just the other day I talked to him about how much I hate smoking…and how I could never date a smoker. It’s not because of the smell or even the health aspects, it’s because I don’t understand the addiction. I don’t understand why people can’t just stop something that isn’t good for them. Hello hypocrite.

I may not be smoking, but I’m just as bad. I can’t seem to pull myself out of this. I’m addicted to this relationship that can make me unhappy and insecure. It’s so weird that someone you have so much fun with and can make you so happy, the happiest I’ve ever been, can also be so hurtful.

Why am I ok with being happy some of the time?

Picking Up the Pieces

One of my girlfriends was visiting me when he broke it all off. All I can say is thank God for girlfriends. She continued to check in on me the weeks after she left. She’d give me pep talks, commiserate with me and be the voice in my ear.

I looked at her text, “Someone told me once that the best defense is to be as happy as possible (at least on the outside). Easier said than done of course.  Don’t retreat! Chin up, smile, hug yourself, hug others. You are truly a BADASS, even on the days you don’t believe it. Watch that pouncing kitty video and laugh. Drink lightly, exercise daily. Meditate, sleep 8 hours a day. Call me anytime. Seriously. Been there. And you won’t be there forever. It’s temporary. Sending you so much love, sister!!!!”

As I read over her advice, “the best defense is to be as happy as possible (at least on the outside)” I had a revelation. Why should I have to ‘act happy’? I have the best job in the world – I work for myself and travel all over the world. And in my non-travel time I foster kittens; cute, adorable, kittens. Travel and kittens; I shouldn’t have to act happy – this is the best life ever.

Grief and Menopause

As my friend noted, breaking up isn’t easy. I always think the hardest part is to accept the fact that the power just went off. That person, who you talked to every day, is suddenly silent and missing from your life – it’s sort of like someone died. And with every death there comes grief. And that’s where I am, wading in a pool of sorrow and grief.

Most of the time I’m ok, yet there are these moments when I’m lying in bed trying to go to sleep or slowly wake up that sorrow suddenly flows through me so powerfully that it immediately moves me to tears. It feels like another being or entity just went through my entire body. I chalk most of that up to perimenopause. The waves of emotions come and you just can’t stop them.

Even my doctor said to me the other day that menopause is like reverse puberty – all of the emotions and insecurities you remember from being 12 or 13 come back to haunt you. And the strange thing is that just when you think you know who you are and have built up this incredible independence and strength through your 30’s and 40’s, boom…it seems to disappear and you are reduced to the awkward, self conscience teenager mind again. That’s what I think about as that wave of sorrow passes through me.

Attachment Theory and Relationship Struggles

While dealing with the grief and desperately looking for explanations, I stumbled across the book Attached. It talks about the science of adult attachment. It was eye opening for me as I read about the modes of attachment and stories about other relationships that had the same issues I was having. Suddenly I didn’t feel as alone or crazy. My anxious style wasn’t getting what it needed and it would spiral out of control. It also became clear to me that my other half of the relationship was likely acting the way he was because he was scared of the commitment.

On The Road to Relationship Recovery

I’ve really only loved 2 men in my limited dating life. One left me for another woman who he eventually married and they have kids now. That was pretty hard, and took years to get past. But this one has a different twist and demise. After 5 years we just realized that it doesn’t work. I need reassurance, and he fears commitment. Neither one of us were getting what we needed. And in some ways it’s a deeper hurt because I still love him and sadly just realize that it can’t work.

Then there are times when something comes over me and I realize it will all be ok. A calm, a sense of normalcy and confidence comes back. These moments still seem to be fleeting, but I know this process – I’ve been here before sadly. They will eventually overtake the horrible sadness, and insecurity. I’ll be back on my mental feet again…at least I hope so.

And if not, I’ve always got kittens.

How You Can Foster Kittens!

Contact your local animal shelter. Almost all shelters provide fostering opportunities for members of the community and would really appreciate your help. Before you can foster, however, you need to get approved by the shelter and fill out all the necessary paperwork.
More info on how to foster kittens

In Denver I works with Dumb Friends League to foster and they are WONDERFUL! How you can foster with Denver DFL

The post He’s Just Not That Into Me appeared first on Ottsworld Unique Travel Experiences.

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I bobbed in the ocean, sitting on my board, breathing heavy from the paddle out past the break. I already felt like giving up, but my eyes were zeroed in on the horizon, squinting away the sunrise. My brain was on overdrive. This one? Too big. This one? No, wait…maybe…no. This one? No, I can’t do this! This one? Yes, …wait…shit…yes. I quickly did my sitting turn I had learned and lay down on my board. I scoot into position with my toes on the back of the board tense and ready.

I take a deep breath mentally running through all of the things in my head I was supposed to remember; breath, look at the horizon, keep my hands by my chest when I push up, pop up with my left leg in front, put my back foot down, breath. I look behind my shoulder and see it building. Without thinking, I start to paddle. I hear Kate yelling at me, “paddle, paddle, harder!” The board suddenly lifts beneath me as if a monster has risen out of the sea and is moving me. I paddle as hard as I can. I think about giving up. I keep paddling. Suddenly I panic and am elated at the same time; I caught the wave.

Why Do a Surf and Yoga Retreat?

The answer is simple, it was the best vacation I’ve had in a very long time. I know after reading those first few paragraphs, it might not seem like it, but it was. For me overcoming fears, pushing myself, and trying new things is essential to my well-being. I feel most happy when I’m on that edge – the edge of fear and exhilaration. That’s exactly what this experience was for me. And I’m not just talking about the surfing, the yoga also had me on an edge where I wobbled between uncomfortable and mental peace.

Me trying to be a surfer girl!

This was my chance to focus on something I was interested in learning. I have tried surfing all over the world for an hour at a time; Sri Lanka, Australia, Hawaii, and Maine. I’ve always liked it and had a few successes while taking short, individual lessons; however, it always left me wanting more. And since the lessons were so far apart in time (and geography!) I always felt like I was starting over again. Plus, the beginner classes mainly focused on getting you to stand on the board. But I wanted more than that; I wanted to become comfortable with the ocean and know which waves were good surfing waves. Because of that, I always had my eye on a surfing retreat where I would finally have the time to work on my skills more and understand the sport better.

 “As an adult, a surfing camp gives me an excuse to go in and play in the water. “ –Cynthia a participant in my surf camp

In addition to this great reason by fellow surfer Cynthia, I also think doing a retreat like this was necessary because I was in a rut mentally and needed a jolt.

Finisterra Travel

I worked with Finisterra Travel to organize this adventure. Finisterra is a female owned small business designing custom travel experiences to the further-flung corners of the globe. I met Keri and Nicola, the owners, when traveling in Salta Argentina last year and we have become fast friends. These are two women that have traveled just as much as I have around the globe and their fun-loving attitude was evident in everything they did.

Me, Keri, and Juliana in Salta

It was in Salta when I learned that Finisterra offered a surf and yoga retreat. Keri’s sister is a surf instructor in Tofino Canada and she runs winter camps in Panama and El Salvador. In addition, it was an all women’s retreat; something else I had never done before!

Women’s Only Adventures

Women are joiners. We like to do things together, we feel power in numbers, and we bond quickly. Basically – we are a sisterhood.

I learned this fact when I started Meet Plan Go Travel events in 2010. Our attendance was 80% women. They loved the idea of a class that gave them the confidence and knowledge of how to travel and take a career break.

Even though I have spoken at plenty of women’s travel groups and write about female travel, I had never done an all female retreat or trip before. The idea of them always seemed to self-helpie or woo woo woomen for me. And if you know me, I’m the type of person who feels yoga is about as woo woo as I can be.

After day one of suring

However, when I learned about the surf and yoga retreat, I knew I could do that kind of female trip because it was something active. I’m not good at sitting around and talking about feelings, but I am good at sweating. I felt that it would be a nice chance to take this intimidating sport and learn it with women because we approach learning differently than men. I felt like it would be the perfect camaraderie and community feeling for me.

I’m not the only one who feels that way, there has been a steady increased popularity of women only travel –  and it was about time I tried it out.

Who Were These Surfing and Yogi Women?

All of the women in the group happened to be from Canada, but other than that, they were all very, very different in age and backgrounds. If you think that a surf and yoga retreat is just for the young, then you are wrong – we had a diversity of ages – primarily 30’s, some 40’s, and 2 of the women were 65 and 66! And let me tell you Cynthia and Anne did way better than me when it came to standing up on that board!

It didn’t take long for us to bond and get along; maybe it was the 5 hour van ride to start off! I loved how diverse all of our backgrounds were:

Anne – retired biology teacher
Jenny – Corrections Officer
Sam – Remote Search and Rescue Paramedic
Cynthia – fish and wildlife administrator in Canada
Nicola – entrepreneur
Tara – Ski Lift Mechanic/Millwright
Lydia – surf instructor
Kate – surf instructor
Melissa – Small Business Owner
And me…the travel writer!

I felt like we had an uber capable group. I’m pretty sure if we were stranded on an island in Panama for a few months to a year that we’d be ok as a group. I’m not really sure what skill I would’ve added, except that I could document the whole ordeal!

We all came individually, but we bonded together well. In fact my roommate, Mel, told me this was only the 2nd time she had traveled alone without her husband in 23 years! The first time is when she went to surf and yoga camp last year! She had so much fun on her own and meeting other women, she wanted to come back again.

What Was a Typical Day Like?

We’d get up for coffee and head to the beach by 7AM for our first lessons. Even though I’m not a morning person at all, I loved these mornings because the beach was completely deserted. The sun had just come up, and the waves were good; it didn’t get much better than this!

We’d have little lessons on form, etiquette, paddling, turtle rolling, etc. Then we’d be let loose to hit the waves. We had 3 instructors – 2 from Surf Sister and a local instructor. We’d spend at least 90 minutes out in the waves. Then completely famished we’d come back to breakfast at 9:15. After breakfast we normally had yoga and free time.

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If you want to go hiking in Maine, you’ll probably end up being bombarded by options in Acadia National Park. It is the most popular hiking area in the state. However, if you are looking to get away from the crowds, but have an incredible hiking experience in Maine, then you’ll want to go west away from the coast and into the Maine high peaks region where you’ll find 10 4,000 foot peaks.

There you will also find the Maine Huts and Trails Organization. It is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “create and operate a world-class system of back-country trails and eco-lodges for people-powered recreation to enhance the economy, communities and environment of Maine’s Western Mountain region, for the benefit of current and future generations.”

It’s a wonderful organization that serves up some of the best hut-to-hut trails in the US. I was lucky enough to go hike their system to see the fall colors in Maine in late September. The trail and hut system won me over and was one of the best hiking experiences I’ve had in the US! There are other hut experiences out there, like in my home state of Colorado, however none really to the caliber and service of the Maine hut to hut system. And the best part is that it is in its infancy. With the first hut being built in 2008, it’s not all that well known outside of Maine! So here’s a little hidden US hiking gem – just for you!

Hiking hut to hut

Maine Huts and Trails History – It Takes Someone With Vision

In the 70’s, local Larry Warren had a vision: a series of back-country huts that would allow multi-day Nordic ski trips from Moosehead Lake to the Mahoosuc Mountain Range. He was inspired by the hut-to-hut treks throughout the European Alps he had experienced and wanted to bring it to Maine.

The ultimate vision was to have 8 huts/lodges all connected by trails; currently there are 4 with the plan to build more. The system is connected by 80 miles of trails. It has evolved from the original idea of Nordic skiing to a complete year around hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing, and skiing wonderland. And the best part is that the organization has brought a bounty of benefits to the local community; education, protecting natural habitats, supporting local farmers and brewers, as well as ensuring low-impact access to nature for generations to come.

Sort of like the National Parks, this community has come together to make their own protected land. I hope we see more of this all over the US!

Dining in a hut

This is a great area to plan a family outdoor vacation, a friend getaway, or do a solo adventure like I did. Here’s everything you need to know about Maine Huts and Trails if you are thinking about going beyond the Maine coastal road trips and want to enjoy the interior.

What Can You do at Maine Huts and Trails

Even though you can slice and dice a Maine huts and Trails trip many different way, I’m mainly focusing on the aspect of going hut-to-hut since that’s what I did this fall.

The hut system was originally built with winter skiing in mind however in the winter you can also fat bike and snowshoe from hut to hut. The distances between huts are pretty long for snowshoe hikes (some are around 11 ½ miles) but certainly do-able.

In addition if you want to traverse hut to hut in the summer you can also do this on mountain bikes (there are separate trails for this) or you can hike like I did.

Mountain biking to huts

Distances Between Huts

Trailhead to Stratton Brook Hut – 3 miles
Stratton Brook Hut to Poplar Hut – 8 miles
Poplar Hut to Flagstaff Hut – 11.5 miles
Flagstaff Hut to Grand Falls Hut – 11.6 miles
Grand Falls Hut to the Trailhead – 14 miles

 If you don’t feel like going from hut to hut, you can also stay multiple nights in one hut and do activities from there. All of the huts offer extra trails, hiking, and bird watching. Flagstaff Hut also offers swimming, and canoeing/kayaking on the lake while Grand Falls offers fly-fishing. You are also able to kayak or canoe between Flagstaff and Grand Falls if you wish. This was one of my favorite parts of my experience; taking off the hiking boots, canoeing for 6 miles, and giving my legs a break was a great new perspective.

Canoeing from hut to hut

Trails, Markings, and Maine Huts Map

The trails are well marked with the Maine Huts and Trails signs. Even when I hiked on my own I had no problem finding my way. The trails were maintained wonderfully; I was impressed with the whole system.

For a detailed description of each of the trails and difficulty – check out Huts and Trails website here.

Download a pdf of the entire trail

Why Is It Called a Hut – It Doesn’t Look Like a Hut!

The whole time I was hiking hut to hut, I kept thinking…these aren’t huts – they are so much more! The visionary of Maine Huts, Larry Warren, told me they chose to call these beautiful lodges huts because “The term ‘huts’ has become synonymous with AMC, 10th Mountains, New Zealand, and European networks, and we adopted the term as it more clearly defined the experience as opposed to the hospitality facility.”

I don’t care what you call them, they were simply amazing works of architecture and responsible tourism. Each hut was off the grid; run by solar power, composting toilets, and heated by 13 chords of wood each winter. But more than that, they were an oasis of hospitality in the middle of the remote Maine Woods!

Each lodge has a spacious great room with long tables for communal dining. You’ll also find a reading area with fireplaces/stoves and comfortable couches and chairs. Every lodge also has a screened in porch to keep the pesky bugs away. The main lodge building also houses the bathrooms/showers and kitchen for the staff. The bunk/sleeping areas are always separate from the lodge. The bunkrooms have various configurations, but normally each room sleeps from 3 to 6 people in simple bunk beds. A pillow and mattress are supplied, but you must bring your own sleeping bag or quilt and a pillowcase. Note that the bunkrooms are heated, but they are not HOT. A sleeping bag is definitely necessary.

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I looked down at my boots and smiled at the colorful leaf-covered trail. I enjoyed hearing the crunch of leaves under my boots and the sound of water trickling in the river next to me. The last few days on the trail were like a long, deep inhale of fresh air; my yoga teacher would have been proud. I couldn’t believe my time off the grid was already over. For the last 3 days I had been lacing up my boots and hitting the relatively empty trails, while all of the other tourists were starting their cars to go see the iconic fall colors in Maine.

I heard about the Maine Hut and Trail System while riding a ski lift in Steamboat Colorado in the dead of winter. My life can be full of crazy connections, but when I met a random man and his family in the gondola lift, and found out we knew a mutual person in Maine, I figured this was some sort of divine intervention. He told me I should visit Maine Huts and Trails as our mutual friend worked there now. I loved hut to hut hiking, plus it was a great reason to get back to Maine in autumn.

Fall Colors In Maine Without the Crowds

When you think about autumn leaf peeping, Maine normally comes to mind. It’s a state with an inordinate amount of trees and it also is home to the Sugar Maple Tree, which is known for it’s bright red leaf in September/October.

I decided to go hiking in the Maine Hut and Trail system in peak leaf peeping season, for obvious reasons…photography! I thought it might be crowded, but to my surprise, I had the trails and huts to myself. While everyone was fighting for B&B’s on the coast, I had a whole hut to myself in the middle of the woods. That’s one of the many reasons I loved this trip; I felt like I had found a hidden Maine gem.

I didn’t have to deal with any traffic, high fuel prices, expensive hotels, or crowds. The leaves were turning, and I was in the thick of it hiking in the Maine High Peaks Region. Plus, I got to go off the grid; a luxury I don’t get that often.

Hut to Hut Hiking with Support

I love multi-day hikes where you don’t have to carry food or camping gear. I’ve done many of these types of hikes in Europe; the Camino de Santiago, Camino Ronda, and Saint Olav Ways. These kinds of routes have been slow to arrive in the US. Maine Huts and Trails is really the first system I’ve found in the US that reminds me of Europe with lodging and food available. While staying at Grand Falls Hut, I met a group of women from the San Francisco Bay Area who flew all the way out to Maine to experience the Maine Huts for 4 days. They heard about it on a Facebook hiking community page.

“Food was provided and we didn’t have to carry it in on our backs,” explained Shiva Wilson on why they chose Maine Huts. “Being able to stop somewhere to sleep and be fed is great. It’s so cozy and everything you need is provided.”

The huts supply all the food you need!

Maine Hut Map and Plan

I met my friend Carolann at the Maine Huts and Trails office in Kingfield. She was familiar with the trails and system and planned to hike with me for the first 2 days. It was great to meet the people in the office since they had helped me plan the trip and route. There was a map there and we could get a good look at our whole route at once.

There are 80 miles of primary and secondary trails in the Hut system. However if you were to truly walk from hut to hut and out to the trailhead/parking it’s a total of 48.5 miles. I planned on covering a portion of that, staying at 3 huts and covering about 25 miles. And a small portion of that was going to be off my feet and canoeing between huts!

My plan was to hike in with Carolann to the Stratton Brook Hut, the highest and newest hut and stay overnight. Then we’d leave the next morning and stop at the Poplar Hut to check it out and then drive a small portion and I’d go the rest of the way to Flagstaff Hut on my own for overnight. Finally on the last day, I’d meet a Maine guide and we’d hike and canoe together to overnight in the Grand Falls Hut.

Hike to Stratton Brook Hut

We started on a relatively flat section along the river, and I was a bit snap happy with the pretty fall scenes, but soon we started the climb uphill towards the newest hut in the system, Stratton Brook Hut. It was a pretty steady and easy hike up with a well-groomed trail. Carolann explained how they built and maintained the trail system, which is always amazing to me. I think so often we take trails for granted, but when you are building them from scratch, it’s a very scientific, laborious process. Plus, these trails have to be wide enough to handle hikers in the summer and cross country skiers and grooming machines in the winter. It wasn’t surprising when I learned Maine Huts and Trails has a full time trail builder/maintainer on staff.

We ran into a few mountain bikers occasionally, but other than that we didn’t see another person on the trail! We stopped for some lunch at the Crommett Overlook and arrived at the hut in the late afternoon. It’s always such a great sight (and relief) to see your destination for the night. We checked in with the two full time staff there at the hut and settled in.

The hut design was beautiful, a big open area and fireplaces for gathering, playing games, and relaxing. Plus a small dining room, and the showers/bathroom available for guests in the main lodge. In a separate building you found the bunk houses, most with 4 bunks in them. I had reserved one bunk, but since there was only Carolann and I, plus one other person staying at the hut that night, they gave us each our own rooms!

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This is it – the end. When I started on this project I wondered if I had the ability to stick to such a long-term project and now… poof…it’s over.

Growing up…

I never wanted kids of my own, I’m not sure why. It just never really hit me. I waited and waited, but I never heard a clock. I’d look at babies and smile and try to understand that deep desire to have one. But after my initial smile, I was uninterested. Maybe I would have had them if I had met the right guy – but the right guy never really hit me either. And so here I am, alone.

I don’t mind being alone, I just don’t want to be insignificant.

Making a Dream a Reality

Maybe that’s why I dreamt up the Niece Project, I wanted to do something significant. I wanted to give my nieces an experience. I wanted to build a relationship with them. I wanted to have them see the world and travel as early on as they could so that they may take worldly view into adulthood. I didn’t want to be a mother, I wanted to be that crazy (yet cool) aunt.

With passports in hand, I went off with each one of them to a different far flung location of their choice when they reached the age of 16.

Where Did The Nieces Go?

One of the biggest surprises in this project is that each tried to outdo the other it seemed. I was thrilled to see the variety of places they chose and how brave they all were to go into new cultures!

Bethany went to Rome, Naples, and the Amalfi Coast in Italy
Evie went to Vietnam
Megan went to Peru
Allie went to Belize
Lindsey went to New Zealand
Erin went to India

I immediately wanted to cling to each of them when we stepped off the plane to make sure they didn’t make a wrong move. But I also knew that I had to just let them go and figure it all out like everyone else. Even though I believe my biological clock to be broken, when I travel with my nieces there is an overwhelming mothering gene that does kick in and I can’t stop it. I normally can talk myself out of making the ‘mother statements’ – but it’s really hard, it’s like my mom came in and took over my body at times.

Did I achieve What I Wanted with the Niece Project?

My niece project goals were pretty simple, I wanted to be a travel mentor to them, give them experiences over stuff, and begin to build an adult relationship with them that could hopefully last into my old age. However, the niece project is not something that gets immediate results, I always knew it would take time to see if actually achieved what I wanted it to. Since I finished my last trip with Erin in August, I thought it was a good time to check in on some of these goals.

Be A Travel Mentor

I not only wanted to simply teach them to travel on their own, I wanted to get them excited to see the world and learn more about it. I hoped that our trip would spark an interest in doing more trips on their own, and possibly even get them interested in study abroad, or even living abroad at some point in their life.

For my brother’s daughters, the first step was to get them a passport and start their frequent flyer account. This was their first jet lag, passport stamp, and immigration. It was also their first introduction into military time, the metric system, and writing the date DD/MM/YY; those moments when you realize that the world doesn’t revolve around the US! For my sister’s daughters it was about going to new continents and experiencing new cultures for the first time.

The older ones have started traveling themselves now. My oldest niece Bethany went back to Europe with a girlfriend this fall – her first big trip on her own. My niece Evie surprised me when she decided to go back to Vietnam for her college spring break and took friends with her! She also studied abroad for a month in Oman and managed to fit in a trip to Thailand in too! And she’s heading to Ireland in March – she obviously caught the travel bug. The other 4 are still in school and it remains to be seen on when they will be able to have time and money to travel on their own. I have heard a few of them talk about study abroad, so I have high hopes!

One of my favorite post niece trip moments was when Allie texted me to call her. Getting a text from her was a rare occurrence and I thought maybe something was wrong. When I got a hold of her she simply had questions for me about changing planes in O’Hare airport! I love that they contact me about travel questions! I know that it would have never happened without the Niece Project.

Experiences Over Stuff

I may not have given Lindsey a graduation, Christmas, or birthday gift, but I did give her the thrill of her life when we bungee jumped together in New Zealand! The 6 trips were full of incredible experiences from cultural – learning how to eat pizza like an Italian, to adventures – like climbing mountains, riding camels, caving, snorkeling, swimming with dolphins, and eating hot vit lon. We also covered some pretty incredible sights – sights that most people wait a lifetime to see. Our trips took us to Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and the Coliseum! Megan even included volunteering in her trip raising money to build houses in Lima Peru for her trip. For me that was more memorable than seeing Machu Picchu!

But I think my favorite experiences were when one of them experienced a ‘first’. Allie seeing the ocean and playing in the waves for the first time in Belize, Bethany ordering her first alcoholic drink in Italy legally, Lindsey’s first Christmas away from her family, Erin seeing (and screaming about) her first gecko, Evie’s first time singing with a band at a bar, and Megan’s first time doing sink laundry.

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This article by my niece was first published in The Journal, the Intrepid Travel Blog. I have their permission to repost it. I am so proud of Erin for doing a write up for the Intrepid blog that I of course had to share it here! In addition, I didn’t help her at all with this, she worked directly with the editor; in fact I didn’t even see it until it was published! I’m so happy she enjoyed her trip and that she shared her thoughts on the Niece Project!

As a 17-year-old girl living in Nebraska, I had lots of choices to make in my last year of high school. Decisions included college choices, career choices, and the one that only my sisters, my cousins and I have to make: where in the world do we want to travel to?

My Aunt Sherry has been asking us this question for as long as I can remember. For some reason, my answer was always India. And when would I ever get the chance to go there with a highly educated traveler? The decision was made, and time went by without me even thinking about the trip across the world or the possible dangers I could be facing.

At the retirement home where I work, there’d be the occasional “Oh Indiana is great” and I’d restate “No, INDIA” to the residents. Their shocked and frightened faces made me slowly doubt my decision about where I chose to travel to.

By the time it was time to go, a whirl of panic surrounded me. I thought to myself why would I go this crazy of a place when I have barely even been out of the country? Waking up the day before the trip brought anxiety about what was to come. I was uneasy the whole way there, which didn’t show because of my great skill of sleeping pretty much everywhere.

Erin asleep on an India train

And then there was no turning back. I woke up the next morning in Delhi, ate some naan and cooked vegetables for breakfast, and started my two-week adventure. I had the time of my life.
I never thought that a place so out of my comfort zone would be so fantastic. But there are a lot of things on Intrepid’s Classic Rajasthan trip that made me learn about travel, Indian culture and even myself.

Want to see my perspective on this same trip?  Check out this post!

8 Things I Learned on My First Big Trip Abroad 1. Jet lag sucks

I found this one out fast when I fell asleep at dinner the first day with our tour group. Being 12 hours off really messes your body up. All I wanted to do was sleep the first two days but slowly my body adjusted.

2. It’s nice to have someone who knows the language and culture

On the trip we had a local leader, Mohsin, who was from India. It made me feel a lot safer knowing someone who knew the language and culture. He was so approachable and made sure you felt comfortable and were having fun. A plus is that he had a great personality and humor.

Mohsin teaching us about the architecture

3. The horn is a useful part of the car that is used very differently than in America

Indian driving was probably the most frightening part of the trip for me. It felt like constant honking at people cutting you off, while cows walked right through it all. You greet the chaos with a little honk, which I found out means something like “Hey I’m here – move” and no one seems to mind. I was shocked the first time I saw this, thinking the exchange of horns was going to end in a yelling road rage fight. It never did, and it seemed to work.

4. You bond with people experiencing the same shock as you are

I am so glad I got to travel with a group of 12 people from all around the world in India. It was so interesting forming relationships and also learning about their culture from their countries.  You always had people to step back and say “Wow” with, and to ponder the things that were new to all of us.

5. I’ll never win a staring contest against anyone in India who sees a foreigner

I never knew seeing a foreigner was so interesting for so many people in India. I would get long, unbroken stares from the locals who saw me; especially in small villages where I really stuck out as a bleach-blonde teenager.

6. There’s more cool architecture than just the Taj Mahal

India is known for the Taj Mahal which was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but people don’t know about all the other magnificent architecture there. We saw amazing forts, stayed in 500-year-old castles and saw huge stepwells. Those made me realize I made the right decision on picking India.

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If you are the type of person who would travel to Louisville just to experience the Kentucky bourbon industry there, then you’ve probably already done your fair share of distillery tours. I was that person. I had been through the ‘this is how you distill liquor’ tour a million times, and was looking for something more than simply tastings. I wanted to really dig in and learn about the complete Kentucky bourbon process.

Bourbon Boom

If you haven’t heard, bourbon is experiencing a boom and so are cocktails. This can be attributed to many things – one of which is that more women are drinking bourbon these days…let’s hear it for the girls!

“Fermentation may have been a greater discovery than fire.”–David Rains Wallace

Of course the first thing you need to know is, what is bourbon?
When in Louisville, you all too frequently hear “All bourbon is whiskey, but all whiskey isn’t bourbon”
This is what that means – there are the following rules that allow a whiskey to be called bourbon:

Must be made of a grain mixture of at least 51% corn
Must be distilled to 160 proof
Must be aged in new charred oak barrels
Must be entered into the barrel at no more than 125 proof.
Must be made in USA

To meet this bourbon boom, Louisville Kentucky, the epicenter of bourbon, has an incredible list of ways you can experience Kentucky bourbon as a tourist. However, when I looked at the offering of bourbon experiences, not one tour took you through the entire process. I went to Louisville with 4 other bourbon-drinking friends and we put together our own complete barrel to bar experience utilizing a number of different companies and distilleries.

If you want to have more than a typical ‘visit a distillery and do a tasting on the Bourbon Trail’, then here’s how you can do a complete Barrel to Bar experience in a short 2 day stay in Louisville Kentucky!

My Barrel to Bar Kentucky Bourbon Experience It Starts With Barrels

The first thing to know when you go to a cooperage is that barrels are raised, they aren’t built. Zoe, our guide hands us safety glasses, ear plugs, a reflective vest, and checks to make sure we all have on close toed shoes. These things are all required since we are walking around a live factory floor; something few people get to experience up close. Brown Foreman is the longest operating cooperage in the US and makes their own barrels for their lineup of brands.

As we walk into the factory, it hits you; the smell of oak. This could be one of the best smells on the planet, and certainly the best smelling factory that I’ve ever been in! Today they are raising barrels for Jack Daniels.

I’ve seen my share of barrels at distilleries, wineries, breweries, bars, and as part of landscaping; but I’ve never really considered how these products that seem to have 9 lives are made. It was a fascinating walk through the factory floor that takes you through each step of the process on how the wood is cut, shaped, toasted, fitted, and charred. Fitting the staves (pieces of wood) and raising the barrel is a process still done by hand – and one that takes a lot of talent. It’s like putting together a complex puzzle. And of course you also have the testing process that needs to take place. We don’t want any of that beautiful liquid to leak out!

For any bourbon lover, a cooperage tour is the place to start. It’s said that the most important ingredient in bourbon is the barrel. The flavor and color comes from the barrel’s toasting and charring process. And if you really want to geek out, there is a whole science to the char levels that is fascinating.

Watching the barrels light up with flames in the Brown Foreman factory was my favorite part of the tour. After charring the barrels, they came by us on the line still smoking and smelling delicious!

Brown Foreman Cooperage By the Numbers:

There are 33 staves to the barrel
Within 72 hours whiskey has to be in the new barrel else they dry out.
200 bottles of Bourbon fit in a barrel
A person can raise 250 barrels in a day
The factory puts out 2500 barrels a day
300,000 barrels are raised annually at Brown Foreman factory.

Take a Cooperage Tour

Your only way into the Brown-Forman Cooperage is with Mint Julep Experiences.
Cost is $75 and includes a full tour and gift.
Book here with Mint Julep

Distilling Along the Bourbon Trail

Now that you have a barrel to mature in, you better make that bourbon! The next step would be to go along the Bourbon Trail and visit a few of your favorite distilleries to see what sets each apart. The Bourbon Trail is simply a group of distilleries around Kentucky that have banded together to market distillery visits to visitors. It can sort of be thought of as going to Napa to taste wine, here you go along the Bourbon Trail to taste bourbon.

Or course the hardest part about tasting bourbon is that it tends to mean you cannot drive afterwards. So we decided to utilize Mint Julep tours to drive us along the Bourbon Trail so we could drink to our heart’s content…or maybe that should be our liver’s content. We opted for the Eastern route including Stitzel-Weller (maker of Bulleit Bourbon among others), Buffalo Trace, and Town Branch distilleries.

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I’m not a person who cruises. However, I am a person who uncruises.

I know what you are thinking – “she’s lost her mind – there is not such thing as uncruising – she’s resorted to making up words!”

un·cruis·ing /ˈənˈkro͞oziNG/
noun: uncruising – the action of engaging, connecting, and exploring unique places, oneself, and with others on a small ship/boat while on a most uncommon adventure.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. I just finished my 2nd Uncruise in Panama and Costa Rica and have been reminded once again why I’m an uncruiser and not a cruiser!

I’m no stranger to small ships, I cruised to Antarctica twice, sailed to Rio, hiked and boated my way around Turkey, cruised the Sea of Cortez, took sailing lessons in Italy, explored the eastern seaboard and cruised to Wrangel Island in the high Arctic. Not to mention I’ve had a few kayak adventures too! Surprisingly though I’ve never actually been on a regular cruise. I’ve passed many opportunities up, because big ship cruising just isn’t my style.

What Defines a Small Ship Cruise

There is no one definition of ‘small’ , it’s relative. And after doing an extensive Google search I was surprised to find that other people’s definition of small ships was very different than mine. For me, a small ship cruise is one in which I can meet every guest on the ship and know their name. It’s normally around 20 to 50 guests, and always less than 100. However there are many companies out there calling ships that hold 200 to 800 guests small ships!

Instead of focusing on numbers and definitions, I’ll just focus on the differences between cruising and uncruising. I know what you are thinking though…”she hasn’t even been on a big cruise before – how does she know!” You are right – I don’t know first hand, but I talked to a lot of people who have done big ship cruising to understand how they work and what makes uncruising different. In addition, I’m a 70’s baby, so I have extensive knowledge of Love Boat – which has to count for something!

What Happens On An Uncruise That You Don’t Get Cruising You Don’t Stop in Cities and Ports

Every time you got off the ship (which is multiple times a day!) you wear a life vest. On an Uncruise you focus on anchoring at inlets and bays that are remote and offer exposure to wildlife and off-the-beaten-path experiences. The only time you dock at a city is to start and end your trip; everything in between is about nature, wildlife, and landscapes. You wear a life vest because the small ship anchors off the coast and you take skiffs (small boats) into shore to hike or explore. Sometimes you take a skiff to simply do a tour around a remote island filled with birds and rock formations; places you cannot land. Unlike Love Boat, there is not a ramp that simply leads you off the ship while people wave at you from the balconys and confetti streams down.

Drinks Are Included

Uncruise has done the unthinkable – they have included all alcohol in the cost of the passage! There is one bar on the ship and it’s completely open. You can get a drink any time, but often there are special cocktails during happy hour each day at 5:30PM. My dad decided he would take up drinking cognac after his evening meal – something he never normally does, but an open bar allows him to! You might think this open drink policy could become a problem, however in talking to the crew, they said they have very few issues with it. Most of the time people just have more fun and are more social, making the experience better overall on the ship.

You Can Swim Off The Back Of The Ship

“Anyone who is interested in an open swim off the back of the boat can meet on the back deck,” Megan our expedition leader announced over the loudspeaker. Now that is definitely something you won’t hear on a big cruise ship! There’s something really freeing and exciting about jumping off the back of a ship into the ocean! Uncruise small ships don’t have swimming pools on them, but who needs a swimming pool when you have the whole ocean at your disposal! The open swim was of course done with safety in mind. You could float around with pool noodles and there was a skiff driver in the water watching over everyone bobbing in the waves!

All Excursions Are Included

You want to go kayaking? No problem. You want to go stand up paddle boarding…here’s your paddle – have fun. You want snorkeling with a guide – meet at 3PM! All of these things on an Uncurise are included, however many times large ship cruising see these as extra activities that you have to pay for. On an Uncruise, this is a great no-cost way to try different things. On my recent cruise in Panama and Costa Rica we had a number of people try stand up paddle board (SUP) for the first time as well as snorkeling. Uncruise supplies everything you need and instruction! I hadn’t SUP’ed in a while, but once I got on I remembered how much I loved it. I ended up doing some really long SUP distances and even SUPed from the beach to the ship one morning!

There’s One Kitchen/ Dining On Uncruise, No Reservation Required

The ship is small and there is only one kitchen and dining area on the entire ship, as opposed to big cruising where there are multiple restaurants to choose from and reservations to be made. Just the word reservations made me cringe when I was talking to big ship cruisers. It’s vacation, I don’t want to think about reservations or lines; and you don’t have to when you do small ship cruising! In addition, it’s totally casual (if it wasn’t, I never would have gotten my dad to come with me!). I wore shorts, tank tops, and flip-flops to dinner and pretty much everywhere on the ship!

Everyone Gets a Free Massage

Yes, you read that right – a free massage. There are two masseuses on the ship and every passenger can opt for a 45-minute massage if they’d like. One of Uncruise’s values is wellness. They not only employ 2 masseuses, but they are also yoga teachers; every morning you can do sunrise yoga. As I watched the sun rise on the top deck while doing sun salutations I thought about what a great idea this yoga class was. It was a super way to get all of these middle-aged adventurers to stretch out and limber for the day. It’s a preventative action so that everyone stayed safe and happy – a great idea. The sunrises were spectacular and it might have ruined me for any yoga class in a regular classroom again!

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As we drove down the switchbacks of Berthoud Pass I pointed out Winter Park ski hill to my friend Lynn. We both looked at the little ant-like people coming down the runs and kept driving. Even though Colorado has had one of their best early snow seasons that had everyone flocking to the slopes in December, I still wasn’t interested. I am one of the few people who live in Colorado that doesn’t like downhill skiing.

However, I too was excited by all of the early Colorado snow as we passed through Winter Park on our way to Snow Mountain Ranch for our girl’s weekend. For those who don’t like lift lines, the YMCA’s 5,000 acres outside of Winter Park is the perfect place for a winter playground. All of this early snow meant that the Colorado dog sledding season was also in full swing at the Ranch!

Winter at Snow Mountain Ranch

Even though I’m not a downhill skier, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to get out and play in the snow! I love winter adventure activities! In fact I got hooked on the sport of dog sledding when I was in Fairbanks Alaska last winter. Any chance I have to get on a sled and mush the dogs I do it! Since skiing dominates in the mountains, not many people are aware of the great Colorado dog sledding that we have just a short 2-hour drive from Denver!

Colorado Dog Sledding At Snow Mountain Ranch

“When I first started mushing I didn’t know anything about it or anyone else who did it,” explained Steve Petersen the YMCA Chaplan and head dog musher at Snow Mountain Ranch. Before our dog sled ride, Steve did an inspiring and comical talk about his journey from novice to competitor in dog sledding. He told some unbelievable stories as well as educated us on the sled, harnesses and lines, and care and training of the dogs, while discussing the ins/outs of racing. It was a great primer for anyone new to dog sledding.

Too Mush Fun

Nothing makes me happier than when I can introduce a new adventure to people, and it’s even more of a bonus when I can help them check something off their bucket list! Even though I had been dog sledding before, my girlfriends Lynn and Rachel hadn’t. I was excited their first mushing experience!

At first I was a little worried that the ride would be just a simple sit-in-sled ride. I was happy to learn that the Ranch had special sleds where the rider could stand and hold on, getting a real feel for what it’s like to be a musher. There is a balance and athleticism to mushing; it’s not simply a ride. Once I got the chance to mush my own team in Alaska, I knew I could never go back to simply sitting in a sled and riding! So I was excited that Lynn and Rachel would get to experience the ‘real feel’ of mushing.

Each of us did a short ride with Steve, which consisted of a 2-mile route (15 minutes) through the evergreens and freshly fallen snow. Steve still had ultimate control of the sled, but I was able to learn the commands, stand and get a feel for the turns and bumps, as well as get a better vantage point of the team and how they work together.

And it wasn’t simply about the ride, Snow Mountain Ranch provided a complete well organized, fun experience. They had a fire pit where you could stay warm while you waited your turn, hot drinks, and a place to take pictures of your loved ones sledding. But I really perked up when I heard the word “puppies”! Yes…there were dog sled puppies. They had 4 puppies and a retired dog out to simply socialize while we waited our turn to dogsled.

Seldom are you given this much one-on-one time with the dogs so this was an incredible treat. And the puppies were pretty darn excited to meet everyone too! After the initial excitement of hanging out with humans, they calmed down enough to simple get in some puppy snuggle time. I must admit, I was plotting how I could take one home with me to Denver!

“It was amazing!” Rachel exclaimed when I asked her how her dog sledding ride went. “A bucket list item achieved on a beautiful morning. I’m loving life!” she continued full of adrenaline. I get a lot of joy from experiencing things through others – it’s like my first time all over again!

Dog Sledding Options and Rates

Limited availability for this activity and advance reservations are required. They recommend reserving your ride online or by phone (970-887-2152 x4135) as soon as possible.
Short Rides (2 miles) Monday and Saturdays – $30 for members $50 for guests
Longer Ride (50 minutes) Fridays for guests – $150 per sled

Other Snow Mountain Ranch Winter Adventures

Snow Mountain Ranch has 5000 acres of snow-covered property, and dog sledding is just one of many things you can do there in the winter! The entire property was a winter wonderland of fun for the non-downhill skier! I was pretty much in heaven trying all of the Ranch activities.

Snow Shoeing

I looked at the two signs pointing in different directions; one with a perfectly groomed trail, and the other with one set of snowshoe prints. Choices, choices. I took a big breath of cold mountain air, and turned left into the deep snow trying to follow the one set of tracks. My other favorite adventure activity in the winter is snowshoeing. Snowshoeing is basically like winter hiking, yet a bit slower and can be more exhausting if you are cutting your own trail in deep snow (ie post-holing). My snowshoes sunk in and the snow was up to my knees; I clearly chose the road less traveled.

I was heading up to Columbine point, which had a slight elevation gain, but breaking through new snow and climbing proved to be quite a workout. Yet when I did make it to the top (breathing quite heavily at 8500 feet), I got up to the ridge to an snowy view of the valley and ranch below. An immense sense of satisfaction swept over me having pushed myself to the top. It’s amazing how much you can sweat when it’s freezing outside; snowshoeing in the mountains is a great workout and I was happy to explore my first snowshoe trails in Colorado finally!

Snow Mountain Ranch has miles and miles of snow shoeing trails to try – from beginner to more advanced. They keep them separate from the Nordic skiers, so you don’t have to share the trail. Most of them are groomed pretty regularly and there is a phone app that includes the maps of the area you can use with your GPS. You can rent all the equipment you need from the Nordic center for a full or half day.

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In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from blogger Jackie Sills-Dellegrazie. I met Jackie recently at a Blog conference and she so nicely said to me, “you inspired me to travel solo!” I was so touched as I heard her story of her hearing me speak at the New York Times Travel Show and her first solo trip! I asked her to share that experience on my blog since I think so many women out there can relate to overcoming the fears to travelling solo! I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry

I’d been feeling that relentless urge to travel more for a while. It was a restlessness I couldn’t shake. An idea doing laps in my mind searching for a nonexistent finish line.

As a teacher, I had more time off than my husband, family, and friends and I was frustrated letting my 2-week long breaks and summer vacations come and go because no one else had the same amount of time to travel.

I’d browse traditional travel publications like National Geographic Traveler or search for a random episode of Samantha Brown’s PBS series to transport myself to a medieval European village or to a far-flung place like Malaysia’s Borneo hoping to spot a pygmy elephant.

But despite feeling beyond inspired to see the world, the thought of traveling alone really hadn’t crossed my mind. To be honest, I had no awareness at all about the world of solo female travel or that plenty of women were out there seeing the world on their own.

Solo Travel Inspiration

So imagine my surprise and intrigue upon going to the New York Times Travel Show (a no-brainer since I live in NYC) and seeing a seminar on the schedule that included a panel of women who had traveled solo all sharing their experiences.

It was early January and my next school break would be in late March. I circled the panel discussion on my schedule with the urgency of someone who knew all too well how quickly that next bit of time off would arrive. Call it a gut feeling, an aha moment, or whatever you’d like. I knew at that moment whatever these solo women travelers were about to share was my ticket to something big.

I gripped the edge of my seat trying to memorize every word as a woman named Sherry Ott told how she’d quit her corporate IT job to travel the world on her own. I was awed by the writer from Fodor’s who told about her solo hiking adventures and by another woman who had spent months backpacking Southeast Asia by herself.

At the end of the discussion, interested and curious women in the audience stood up to ask the panel all kinds of questions. I just sat listening, letting everything I’d heard process in my mind. When the seminar ended, I squeezed my husband’s hand in excitement and gave him a look I know he understood. My bags were already packed and I was about to furiously plan and set off on my first solo trip.

Go Big or Go Home

While I may not be an early adopter of most things, I have always been a go big or go home type of girl. In the case of traveling solo, I was probably one of the last people on the planet who realized it was something I could do. But once it was on my radar, I was all in.

Forget London. Forget Paris. Patagonia sounded like the best choice for my first solo adventure. Yes, as in the end of the world, the southernmost tip of South America, that Patagonia. Had I been to anywhere in South America before? Nope. Did I speak Spanish? Nada.
But, I’d seen some epic photographs of Patagonia’s mountains and glaciers and I just had to see them with my own eyes. I’d chosen destinations before based on a few incredible photos and a hunch while planning non-solo trips and hadn’t gone wrong yet.

Not only that but I was so convinced traveling solo was the answer I’d been searching for that while booking my flights to Patagonia, I figured why not also book a flight to Thailand for a future solo trip!? When I say all in, I don’t kid around!

First Solo Trip Jitters

Fast forward to my 2-week spring break and airplane wheels touching down in Santiago, Chile. The sun was rising and the red Andes Mountains around the airport looked ablaze. I’d planned a day in Santiago before flying down to El Calafate in Argentina to begin my Patagonia adventure.

But as I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel, I wasn’t feeling so confident. The butterflies in my stomach had morphed from swarming nerves into a full-fledged, kaleidoscope of OMG fears.

I checked into my room and tried to compose myself. I’m a master of finding all of these things to do when I’m trying to avoid something. Suddenly, I had to rearrange my bag. My sneakers needed to be re-laced. Did I brush my teeth? Can’t remember, so let’s brush them again.

In reality, I’d planned to do a late morning free walking tour to see Santiago and learn more about the city but I was having trouble just convincing myself to walk out of the hotel room!

Free Walking Tours are a great way to start a solo trip!

See this and other Tips for Traveling Alone for the First Time here

The fear I felt took me completely by surprise. I’d traveled out of the country before, just not alone. For Heaven’s sake, I moved to New York City on my own at 18. Where was that courage and bravado now?

I realized I was going to have to take it slow, at least initially, or else my fear could consume the entire trip. Small victories to build on each other was my strategy. I settled myself down a bit with some deep breaths, but also told myself in no uncertain terms, this is happening. You can do this.

I put together my daypack, going through a safety checklist in my mind. Passport and emergency funds locked in the safe. Money and credit cards for the day stored in a hidden pocket as well as inside my daypack. I studied the map for a couple more minutes to confirm I knew where the walking tour meeting spot was in relation to my hotel.

And then, I did it. I walked out of my room, through the lobby, and out into the sunny Santiago morning.

Looking back, and now having read many other accounts of women who’ve traveled solo for the first time, I know my fears were completely normal. In fact, it’s become a pet peeve of mine when I see bloggers and writers who glamourize solo travel without telling of their fears and nerves.

Don’t let Solo Travel Fears Win

Everyone gets them. I’ve taken plenty more solo trips since this first solo trip and still feel some jitters in the beginning. These fears have the power to sabotage your solo travels but you mustn’t let them. There’s far too much to gain by pushing through them.

I made it to the walking tour meeting spot and had a great several hours exploring Santiago. Introverted little me even ended up having an early dinner at an outdoor cafe with an Irish couple I met on the tour! Compared to how the day had started, I was feeling steadier and more confident by sunset.

Read how to overcome travel fears

Solo Travelers Can Rely on Others

The next day was an entirely new day, though. I was heading back to the airport to fly to El Calafate to begin my Patagonia adventure and I still had a lot to learn.

Two of the most common things solo travelers will tell they’ve figured out from their experiences are how to solve problems by thinking on their feet and how most people are genuinely kind and willing to help when you need a hand.

Standing at the Aerolineas Argentinas check-in counter for my morning flight without my printed visa paperwork (no longer needed by the way) to enter Argentina, I was told I couldn’t check in or board my flight. My trip could have started off with a missed flight and a messed up itinerary. Except I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Travel hiccups can really throw you off your game. If you travel enough, you just come to accept them as part of what happens. But on this trip, I was hardly a travel pro. Luckily, the previous day had ended well and I summoned enough wherewithal and determination to calm myself down and keep my trip goals in sight.

Connecting my phone in the airport to go through the necessary steps on the Argentinian website to get my paperwork was nerve wracking, to say the least. The signal wasn’t great and pages were loading slooowly. Not to mention, all around me other travelers continued to check-in for the flight.

I knew I would need to print the visa document and hadn’t quite worked out how that would happen yet. Kicking myself for not taking care of this before I left NYC wasn’t going to help now.

With the online portion complete, I returned to the airline counter. This time, I spoke with an older gentleman who was much more helpful than the first agent. Without having to ask and completely understanding my issue, he ushered me to a back office within the airport where he let me use his computer to log in and print my paperwork. To this day, I’m forever grateful to this man. He saw my problem and went above and beyond to help.

Solo Travel in Patagonia

It was also reassuring. I was traveling solo, yes, but I wasn’t really alone. This reaffirmed itself again and again throughout my 2 weeks in Patagonia. Whether it was my new Argentinian aunties who befriended me on a long bus ride to the Chilean side of Patagonia and saw it as their duty to make sure I got through the border control checkpoint without issue and back on the bus in time. Or the bus driver who knew (from no fault of my own) I’d miss my connecting bus to get down to Ushuaia and radioed the other driver to work out a random meeting spot literally in the middle of nowhere so I could switch buses. And even the local family who ran the hostel where I stayed in Puerto Natales who insisted I message them on WhatsApp to let them know I’d reached my next stop safely.

Throughout the trip, I found the right balance between looking out for myself and placing some trust in the people I met along the way.

You might be thinking, is this all really worth it? Traveling is supposed to be fun and a way to de-stress.

Well, it was all thrills while I was trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier and all smiles eating my lunch to the thunderous sound of ice chunks calving off the front of the glacier.

Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park in El Chalten, Argentina on the Laguna de los Tres trail brought me past some of the most beautiful natural landscapes radiating with the reds, yellows, and oranges of Fall and to one of the best viewpoints to see the spectacular spires of Mount Fitz Roy.

Horseback riding in the mountains above Puerto Natales for sweeping birds-eye views over the Chilean fjords is only outdone by my time spent in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park. Imagine soaring mountain peaks, lakes full of turquoise water and floating crystal blue icebergs, and vast grasslands where guanacos graze…and sometimes pose for photos.

And the pride I felt having navigated all of those South American buses to make it to the southern tip of Argentina to the Tierra del Fuego and Ushuaia! I was so excited I made a last minute hotel switch to stay somewhere just a tad bit nicer.

It worked out, too, because it was just a quick walk down to the seaport to take a boat out into the Beagle Channel to look for wildlife like seals and penguins and explore some of the tiny, uninhabited islands off the South American coast.

Solo Travel Takes You To a New Level

You hear all the time how empowering solo travel is. Before taking this first solo trip to Patagonia, I considered myself a confident person. But, this experience not only brought me to a new level of self-reliance and strength, it showed me how to harness these assets to make my goals, travel or otherwise, happen.

If you want to travel and have no one able to join or simply want to experience the world on your own, there’s no reason not to and so much to gain by pushing past your nerves and fears. The world is the perfect canvas for making the unfamiliar familiar whether you travel to an epic destination like Patagonia or choose somewhere that feels more right for you.

As I flew back home, I realized that restlessness I’d felt about wanting to travel more had been transformed into a feeling of contentedness. No, I didn’t discover a magical cure for the travel bug. It was even better. I figured out how to include my wanderlust and urge to explore into my life in a way that honored who I was and what I wanted.

Meet the Author

Jackie is the founder of The Globetrotting Teacher travel blog. She’s an avid traveler who’s been to 30+ countries, the 48 continental states, and 6 Canadian provinces. Using her travel hacking expertise, she experiences the world (for less) with the help of miles and points. Whether she’s solo or traveling with her family or friends, Jackie always has her bag packed and a plane ticket booked for her next travel adventure. In between her travels, she lives in New York City with her husband and Italian Greyhounds.

You can follow Jackie’s solo adventures here:
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