When we first began planning this amazing year-long honeymoon, we planned to spend 7 months backpacking through South America: starting in Colombia, working our way down through Ecuador and Peru, popping into Bolivia, and spending a month bouncing between Chile and Argentina. We dreamed of completing the Lost City trek in the jungles of Colombia, swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador, frolicking with llamas on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, mountain biking on Death Road in Bolivia, backpacking through Patagonia in Chile, and exploring vineyards in Argentina. Things didn’t go quite as planned. After 4 months of backpacking through South America, we’ve decided to cut our trip short. We’re leaving tomorrow.
Why we decided to change our travel plans
What happened to make us end things early? Well, there were a few reason. For starters, a lot of the things we thought we’d be capable of doing, we weren’t. On our very first week in South America, we realized that the jungles we’d be hiking through to find the Lost City were oppressively hot and humid, and we weren’t acclimated to the heat at all. Despite hiking monthly in the Bay Area (take a look at some of our favorite hikes, here) for the year leading up to our trip and power-lifting 3x per week, we could barely move in the Caribbean heat of Cartagena, much less hike (thanks a lot, constantly cool sea-level San Francisco). Our 2-hour attempt to reach the isolated beaches of Parque Tayrona was so miserable, we opted to save the $600 and skip the Lost City trek altogether.
Hiking, one of our favorite activities (and the “sport” for which all of my training is focused), was so much more difficult than we were used to in South America, and we were totally under-prepared. Altitude also threw us a loop – even with copious altitude sickness pills, we still struggled with basic things like stairs. Most of the rest of our hikes met with disastrous fates (like this one and this one), so that by the time we reached the Inca Trail in Machu Picchu, we weren’t in frolicking shape. We were in gasping, panicking, and turning around shape. (Yes, we actually ended up in worse shape on this trip than when we started! RIP, biceps.) It was all downhill from that first failed trek (in like a painful, injured kind of way): by the time we hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which should have been a highlight of our trip, it actually ended up being the lowest point and our biggest disappointment. (Read more about our failure here.)
Some parts of the trip did go as planned – but we wish we could have changed our plans. Spending 2 months in Peru was set in stone thanks to our expensive Machu Picchu reservation. But 2 months was simply too long to spend in one country. During our time in Peru, we found ourselves thoroughly exhausted with constantly packing up our backpacks and moving, taking miserably long bus rides, eating unhealthy food (too much rice & fries and not enough protein and fresh produce), and not having any personal time or space. We found ourselves being uncharacteristically irritable and snippy with each other, skipping out on fun experiences just to sit around and do nothing, and dreading each new place we went. Not exactly our vision for our jam-packed superfun travel honeymoon. Peru did not agree with us (mentally or physically) and we found ourselves homesick and wishing we could leave early.
Our destination after Peru was supposed to be Bolivia, but we hadn’t booked anything yet. The visa to enter is expensive for US citizens, and as we did more research, we learned that the buses are in even worse condition and the roads even more dangerous than Peru’s. Some of the highlights of visiting Bolivia raised “exploitative tourism” red flags with us (like touring silver mines where impoverished workers still toil under the same inhumane conditions as they did 100 years ago). The promise of cheap and readily available cocaine – a major tourist attraction – made us want to steer clear altogether (cheap cocaine = irritating hostel-mates and frequent crime. Where there are drugs, there is misery for people who don’t do drugs). Despite the promise of otherworldly landscapes, the tantalizing Uyuni Salt Flats, and the cheapest way to see the Amazon Jungle (“cheap” is a relative term – it’s only really cheap if you’re willing to take 2 miserable 17-hour long bus rides, and even then it would cost us about $1,000), Bolivia was starting to sound less and less appealing. Finally, we decided to skip it altogether and spend more time in Chile and Argentina instead.
We were halfway into planning our extra time in Chile and Argentina when we realized how forced it all felt. We were planning our bus routes through Patagonia – 8 hours here, 12 hours there – and instead of being enthralled by the scenery we’d be passing through, like we were at the beginning of our trip, we just felt nauseous thinking about it. The promise of adorable penguins, monstrous glaciers, and sparkling marble caves in southern Chile didn’t have the same appeal as it once did. Nor did vibrant Buenos Aires or even jaw-dropping Iguazu Falls. Instead of being excited by the rest of our trip, we just felt tired. We realized we were just going through the motions and trying to cross “must-visit” destinations off an arbitrary list. It was time for a new plan.
Making a new travel itinerary
We thought spending some time relaxing with our families at home might help our travel blahs, so we accepted a generous family gift of a flight home for Thanksgiving. As we booked our trip, suddenly there it was: our excitement was back! We were SO stoked to be going home to the States to relax with family, even for just 2 weeks. Although we booked a return flight to Chile thinking that we’d finish the rest of our trip, we started feeling like we weren’t so sure we wanted to go back.
On a whim, I checked the prices of flights to Europe from the New York area. And wow, were they cheap. We’re talking under $200 for a flight to Copenhagen in December. Within Europe, it was even cheaper: like $30 to fly from European country to European country! (That’s like, a cup of coffee in San Francisco. Amazing!) The Euro and the Pound are currently down to reasonable levels compared to the dollar, and everything was so much cheaper than I’d thought. Before I knew it, I was in a Pinterest spiral: I was researching Christmas Markets, fairytale castles, wine regions, the Whisky Trail in Scotland, the wine regions in France. And within a day of sharing my excitement with Jeremy, it was decided: we were going to Europe!
With only a few weeks remaining in South America, we had to squeeze our visit to Chile and Argentina into only 2 weeks. And they were an amazing 2 weeks! We explored vineyards in Mendoza and Valparaiso, were inspired by Pablo Neruda’s house in Valparaiso, stuffed ourselves with incredible food and wine in Mendoza, and ate the best churro of our lives in Santiago. We know we want to return to Chile and Argentina – at a later time in our lives – and give them the full attention and excitement they deserve: we’re still dying to see Patagonia, the marble caves, Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, and more. We ended our 4 months in South America on a high note, and our travel excitement is back in full force.
We’re still working on our travel itinerary for Europe, but here’s what we’ve got so far:
Our Europe Itinerary
We’re starting with the most Christmassy month we can possibly imagine! Our December will be filled with snow, festive Christmas Markets, ice skating and mulled wine. We’ll be exploring famous cities in Europe that we’ve always dreamed of seeing.
- Copenhagen, Denmark
- Hamburg & Bremen, Germany
- Amsterdam, the Netherlands
- Brussels, Antwerp, & Brugges, Belgium
After a chilly December, January should be a bit warmer. We’re doing as much of France as we possibly can – except for Paris, actually. (Lia’s not a fan.) We’re planning to rent a car and drive the (hopefully empty) French Riviera and pop up into wine country to indulge our newfound love of wine in the world capital of delicious wine. Then we’ll fly to Spain and do another 2-week long road trip through the Northern half of the country.
- France road trip: 2 weeks driving through Bordeaux, wine country, & the Côte d’Azur
- Spain road trip: 2 weeks driving through Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, castles, Basque country, & both the northern and Mediterranean coasts
We’ll be flying back to the states in mid-February, so we don’t have much time to visit Scotland or the rest of the UK. We’re making the most of it by checking out Scotland’s famous Cairngorms national park (hello, reindeer, snowboarding, and the Northern Lights!) and doing even more booze tourism on the Malt Whisky Trail (helloooo, scotch distilleries!). Then we’ll head back to London very briefly before flying back to the states … and promptly hitting up Disney World. (We thought a Disney trip would take the edge off of leaving Europe.)
- Scotland Road Trip: Edinburgh to Aberdeenshire to see castles, the Whisky trail, and snowboard in Cairngorms national park
- London, England
- Disney World!
Once we’re stateside, we’ll be embarking on a road trip through the US, hitting as many national parks as we can, crashing on as many friend’s couches as will allow us, taking a detour through Canada and then looping back through the states again. More details on that later, as we flesh things out.
We’ve had an amazing 4 months in South America, despite our decision to end things early. We had an incredible time in Colombia and did get to realize our dream of swimming with sea lions in the Galapagos! (The Galapagos were by far the highlight of our time here – read more about our week in the Galapagos here.) And although Peru wasn’t our favorite country, we still enjoyed amazing experiences and found places that we loved, such as Huanchacho, Huacachina, and Lima. Our short time in Chile and Argentina was incredible, and we’ll definitely be planning to return at some point and finish the rest of our bucket list items here. We look back on our time in South America as wonderful and life-changing: it had its highs and lows, as do all trips, but ultimately we learned a lot about ourselves and our preferred travel style.
We’ve also gotten a lot better at long-term travelling in general. We’re less nervous about everything and find ourselves willing to relax and let “travel magic” work things out. We’ve realized the importance of carving out alone time for ourselves, even while traveling. Our Spanish is the best it’s ever been (can’t wait for Spain to put it to use again)! We feel prepared and ready for the next leg of our journey. Well, except for the cold. We’re gonna need a lot more warm clothing….
We’re so excited for the next leg of our adventure and we hope you’ll enjoy continuing to read about our travels (and our ridiculous travel fails). What do you think of our new plans? Tell us in the comments below!