My little sister Andriah created her own “study-abroad” experience by traveling in Central America using Workaway. She traveled alone, at twenty years old, and had some amazing experiences. For the first interview I am so proud and honored to introduce her to you. After three months backpacking through Central America, she is now back in Nashville studying sustainability at Lipscomb University. Here are some of her stories.
San Jose, Costa Rica 2012
After going to University for two years, you decided to take a semester off to travel. What made you decide to go solo?
“I needed a major change in my life. I wasn’t happy with the program I had chosen with school and felt ready to try something different. My school’s study abroad program to Europe was expensive and had a long waiting list so I decided to search out other options. Most of my time in classes I spent time looking at different websites like Workaway or WWOOF and daydreaming. I didn’t really see not going as an option.”
Originally you were going to go to Costa Rica, but you ended up traveling to El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as well. How did you choose your destinations?
“For a long time it was hard for me to pick a place to start. I did a lot of research online and Costa Rica had reasonably priced plane tickets and had a lot of places where I would be able to stay and do some farming, so I picked that as my starting point. I had another farm in line next in Nicaragua and so I headed there. After the first month and a half of traveling I just kind of gave up on planning and went with what I felt like I wanted to do. It made it easier that all the countries are close together and that the bus systems are set up well.”
Cahuita, Costa Rica 2012
You used Workaway to find local farms to volunteer with and ended up staying on a chocolate farm in Costa Rica. What are some of your favorite experiences from the farm?
“I loved being able to learn about the whole process of making chocolate from start to finish. I was able to be a part of the entire process, from harvesting the cacao pods to making chocolate as well. I was able to work in the garden and learned a lot about composting and perma-culture as well.”
Mastatal, Costa Rica 2012
You didn’t speak very much Spanish before you went on this trip. How did the language barrier impact your travels? Was it as big of a deal as you thought?
“The first week was really difficult, especially the first two or three days, with culture shock and not understanding anything. I made a lot of mistakes. For instance, in Spanish the words for notebook and bedroom are really similar and so when I first arrived at the farm I meant to ask where my room was but instead asked where my notebook was. Thankfully the guy understood me anyway.
The biggest struggle was that I wanted to be able to build relationships while I was there but this was really hard when I didn’t speak the language. The family did their best to be welcoming, in spite of my faux pas and constant language blunders. One of my first nights there the uncle sat down with me and went through this book of jungle animals, pointing at all of the pictures and telling me their names in Spanish.
Instances like this happened regularly and I was constantly impressed by the kindness of strangers in helping me get on the right bus or in walking with me to the store I needed to go to or sharing snacks and conversation on bus rides. Whenever I felt alone or really discouraged something like this would happen and I would remember that you’re never really alone.”
Your age came up a lot when meeting other travelers and they realized how young you are. Do you feel like being 20 held you back in any way? Are you glad you decided to go before finishing school?
“I’m glad I went while I did. If I had waited until after college I would’ve had student loans to worry about and other responsibilities. The only bothersome thing was others preconceptions of me because of my age but I had to learn to not let that get in the way of anything I wanted to do.
I made a lot of mistakes where I would just smack myself in the head and say “That was really dumb. That was realllllly, really dumb. You seriously just made a stupid 20 year old decision or forgot to think that through all the way.” I tried not to beat myself up about situations like that but sometimes I did feel like I made certain mistakes because of my youth and because I hadn’t had as many travel experience as someone who was older or had traveled more. You figure it out though and it ended up working out all right.”
Cahuita, Costa Rica 2012
What did you learn about Central America that surprised you? Were there any preconceptions you had that changed along the way?
“A major preconception that I had before going was the safety of some of the countries. A lot of times I would be talking to people and they would warn me against certain places or countries specifically. I think the week before I went I met a girl that had lived in Costa Rica before and she told me this story about how one of her friends had been killed there. I heard a couple of different stories like this and had a kind of freak out moment right before I left.
While danger is a factor in traveling, for the most part I found that this was mostly people being afraid of unfamiliarity or things they don’t know or understand. I especially heard that Nicaragua was unsafe but it ended up being my favorite place that I went to and I had the most fun there. If I had listened to what people said and had never gone I would’ve missed out.”
Some girls worry about how traveling will affect their relationships. You were dating someone before you left and are still together. How did you maintain your relationship long-distance?
“I had planned my trip before I ended up being in a relationship and didn’t think that I should have to change my plans because of it. I think that if you are confident in your relationship then distance and time shouldn’t be an issue. As long as you trust the person you are with and are both willing to make it work it will.
That being said, I lucked out with finding someone that was completely supportive of my trip throughout the duration of it. For a lot of the time I didn’t have access to wifi and chose to leave my phone behind so I wasn’t able to be in contact with my family or with my boyfriend. There would be some weeks where I wouldn’t be able to be in touch with them and just had to check in when I could. We kept in contact whenever I was able to get to an internet café or find a hostel with wifi. It was really hard at times to be by myself without being able to be in touch with loved ones but I think it just makes you stronger and strengthens those relationships if you choose to let it.”
A lot of people feel nervous to travel alone, especially as a young female. What advice would you give them to ease some of their fears? How did you make friends along the way?
“DON’T DO IT! Ha, just kidding. I’ve always struggled with trying to keep my gender from holding me back in any way. I think that just because you are young or a female that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be able to do what you want to do. Again, I made a lot of mistakes and at times just had to cut myself some slack after doing something stupid and thank God that it had worked out all right. Honestly, just keep a good head on your shoulders, be aware, be hypersensitive to your surroundings, listen to advice from locals, and trust your gut instinct.
I met a lot of travelers along the way who were always really inviting and welcoming. I was able to travel for a couple of days with a surfer and he showed me a little fishing village with the most beautiful sunset I’ve ever experienced. I went with a couple of girls from New Zealand all around Guatemala, traveled with a guy from Scotland through Nicaragua, and did some on my own. It was definitely easier traveling with someone else and was a lot more fun as well. You kind of have an instant connection, especially if you’re both traveling alone. It was definitely an interesting dynamic between fellow travelers and locals.”
Cahuita, Costa Rica 2012
We travel a lot in our family. How do you think our parents raised us in a way that influenced our desire to explore the world?
“I think if you’ve got the travel bug you’ve just got it. Our parents were always really encouraging and told us to go after what we wanted and to constantly try new things. We weren’t raised sitting down in front of a TV but rather reading books, exploring outside, going on camping trips or long family vacations. I feel like we were always on the move a lot and since our childhood we’ve just expanded our horizons more and more.”
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