Life is like the weather in Patagonia.

If you’ve ever been to Patagonia, you know what I’m talking about. Even if you haven’t, you’ve gone through life, and I’m sure it’s felt like this at some point.

This time is such a time. Stay safe!

You’ve checked the weather forecast and are expecting a fine day.

You open your eyes, being greeted by warm, balmy sunlight. You optimistically start into your day hike. The path is easy, some rocks are scattered, but you are feeling full of energy, ready to tackle any obstacles. Suddenly – a strong breeze hits you by surprise. You’ve heard other people talk about these tempestuous winds that seem to occur from nowhere. They’re infamous in Patagonia and can knock you off your feet. You stumble around a little, but keep going. The wind is strong, but you are stronger.

After all you listened and brought a windbreaker. And a down jacket. The cold is hitting your face, but you keep walking. It’s getting warmer again. Time to let go of some of your protective layers. 

You eventually turn into a valley that looks very hazy. This is the path to your destination. The good weather starts to fade and is slowly being replaced by fog and rain. You brace yourself for the weather. One layer after the other. Knowing that it’s never enough. As you’re walking further and further with the weather getting worse and worse you find yourself torn. Should you continue in this miserable weather? Will it be worth the struggle? Or should you simply turn back into the luring safety of the sunlight? You decide to continue because you want to reach your destination, the end of the trail. After all this is what you came here for. 

The rain stops for a bit. Then comes back. Time seems to stretch endlessly. An hour’s walk feels like a never-ending period of time. You really wonder why you’re here, but you simply keep going. The bad weather conditions are at their peak. You suddenly find yourself in a snowstorm just as you hit the end of the trail. And the final view is blurry and hazy. No trace of what you wanted to see. The walk seems pointless now. 

Except suddenly you remember that it is not only about the goal but also your way towards it.

So you put on a smile, walk back through the ice and snow that eventually turns into rain. You can see a bit of sunshine trying its best to break through the clouds. It succeeds for a minute, sending you a feeling of ease and warmth even though the rain continues lightly. It never really goes away, it’s always there, even when you thought it had just left. 

And then you head back, and suddenly you are overlooking a beautiful view. A view you had not appreciated before when you were fixated on your goal and only your goal. But now you’re taking it in fully. It looks mesmerizing.

Your heart lifts as did the clouds. You already forgot about the bad weather. Gratitude and joy are overwhelming you. Only your soaked shoes trace back to where you came from. You’re peeling off your protective layers, ready to enjoy and face the sunlight. Only to realize that rain & wind might come again. That’s what the weather in Patagonia is famous for after all. But you feel stronger now. You are not that scared of the weather anymore. Maybe next time there will be sunshine at the end of the trail. In Patagonia, anything is possible.

Life is like the weather in Patagonia.

Finding freedom in limitation

The pandemic has opposed a lot of limits to our everyday life. Many people have been feeling limited by the consequences. The word limit usually implies something negative. That there is a point after which we cannot progress. And progress is what gives people meaning in life. Progress means that there is always something new waiting for us. That no matter which situation we’re in, we will go on to a further stage with new challenges and delightful moments.

Our world has gotten fewer and fewer limits. You have unlimited choices of places to visit, people to meet, entertainment to consume, subjects to study. We are bombarded with information that wants our attention through every webinar, YouTube channel, podcast, self-published book, blog (like this one ;)), magazine, Netflix show…

The pandemic has shifted this situation a little. We became limited in where we could go, what we could purchase and who we could spend time with.

We started feeling a limit in our personal freedom.

Freedom has turned into my most significant value over the years. I’ve wanted to be free of anything and anyone ever since I set out into the world, ready to become an endless explorer. Traveling limitless across the globe, I felt like the world was my home, and there would be no limit to where I could be and what I could explore.
This sounded like a perfectly sound idea when I started. However, it didn’t make me as happy as I had anticipated. On the contrary, I became restless, feeling FOMO in ‘countries I haven’t visited yet’ and ‘languages I don’t speak yet.’ Chasing country after country, language after language, I never found rest. There was never an ‘I have made it’ moment – because there were no limits as to how much as I could explore
(sure there are limits to the language and countries, but that’d be far-fetched to say that I would get to that).

This realization left me depressed. It felt like running after a goal that moved further and further away, the more you chased after it. The more you see, the more you realize you haven’t seen. And the more languages you learn and speak and dive into the world of polyglots, the more you notice that you’re only scratching the tip of the iceberg.

The pandemic has been a blessing to me in this regard. Knowing that moving around the globe is not encouraged and partly impossible has given me a feeling of inner peace. I am not necessarily in the country I was hoping to be, but that is not what makes this any less satisfying. I am feeling a limit in my vagabond lifestyle, and I sincerely appreciate the experience of it. I have spent more time inside reading and writing the last months than ever. Knowing that there was nowhere to go, no coffee shop to hang out it, no meetup to socialize with people at, no ‘store’ to check out, no ‘off-the-beaten-path destination’ to check out has been liberating. I found real freedom in that limitation. This limitation freed me from thinking I ‘should’ be at other places and wasn’t OK where I was. Instead, I looked at what was right in front of me and made the most of it. Sure, I felt lonely and bored at times. But somehow, overall, I was glad that I finally had something that put boundaries to my moving around.

I have noticed things that had been right close to me that I would have never noticed if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. My family and how similar we are. My friends whom I know from before I set out into the world and who still keep in touch. Living in an area that I used to call ‘my second home’ when I was a child. A job that gives me something valuable to occupy my time with. Less social obligations that make me turn back to connecting with my friends all over the world.

What has this limitation taught you? Have you been limited in a way that felt very frustrating, but that led you to discover something unexpected?

Progress is inevitable, and as we have seen, the scope of the pandemic’s limitation has been moving back and forth. I am trying to see the current restrictions as a sort of intervention to make me reflect on my current path and to see a more limited version of it, something I had always wholly been against.

As with every concept, there is always an opposite side to it. Maybe this is a suitable time to see what we can make out of the limits that have been ‘imposed’ onto us.

If you have ever done a guided meditation against anxiety, you will most likely have run across this sentence: You are OK, right where you are. This statement had always seemed quite vain to me. This year and the more the pandemic stays part of our life, the more I am finding some truth in this sentence. It isn’t speaking about an absolute limit but about the moment in time that we’re finding ourselves in. There might be a limit right now, but it is OK to be in it.

The dangers of long-term travel

The pandemic being at the center of our lives this year has been a harsh blow for the travel industry. I know many people who meant to set out into the world for the trip of their lifetime.

Having just returned to Germany from my ten years abroad, I’d have to lie if I were to say I had a problem with the lack of travel options this year. I’ve been feeling pretty exhausted from the constant moving and am happy to have a temporary home. With a lot of time on hand, I’ve been thinking about the travel lifestyle a lot. It had been my desired way of life for so many years, yet I have started to feel a little shift in my thinking.

Traveling and living abroad is always portrayed as a life in paradise. Digital nomad, working from a little beach hut? Van life, your home always with you? A backpack, a tent, you. Working at many international locations. Doesn’t that sound like a dream?

I would’ve highly agreed to all of that, and a part of me still does. However, I think there are some aspects that most people don’t talk about. 

I’m mainly referring to the perpetual expats here who continuously change locations.

Having been one myself, I have noticed some of the darker sides of traveling long-term.

  1. You lose a sense of belonging.

Where is my home? Where do I belong to? These are such fundamental questions in life, and most people will ponder this question at one or more points in life. Perpetual travelers will top the list for sure. Bumping from country to country every few months of years, going through the whole motions of adapting to a new culture through the highs and lows, you eventually wonder which place is the one that you really are ‘a part of’. 

2. ‘I am traveling to find myself’ (or not?)

The number one statement I’ve heard (and said myself). Without a doubt, through this constant moving, you will grow in many ways. But let me suggest that your growth will also stunt in others. Every new place you move to, you will start from scratch again. You will hustle to find a place to live, a job to make a living, friends to make life worth living, and simply make sense of life in the country as it is. This process always starts from zero. No matter how often you’ve moved, you’ll still have to run through the same motions all over again. And there comes the time when you decide that this is not the country you want to spend the rest of your life at and you move on to start this process all over again.. Having the chance for a new start can be rejuvenating, but you never cross a certain threshold of depth and commitment in your life.

3. Your career might suffer

Depending on what career path you’re in, being abroad for too long might backfire on your resume. International experience can really set you apart from other candidates, both in a positive and a negative way. Your language skills might be through the roof, but your employment history might look quite jumbled up. You most likely lack depth in any work field, which can play a greater importance the older you get. Employers might doubt your commitment to a position, knowing that, on average, you stayed at a job for just a year or two.

4. Your perception of achievement and experiencing new things might be skewed

I remember how ‘accomplished’ I felt in traveling. Checking off endless places, thousands of kilometers on your back, all the new people you met, cultures you’ve experienced… life felt moving fast. Being in the same place, with life not moving quite at that pace can feel dull and uninspiring. Learning to focus on the small things and appreciating the steadiness in which life can move can feel like a massive challenge upon returning to the ‘normal word’.

This also applies to going on short trips or vacations after long-term traveling.

Having seen some of the world’s top sights, you’re subconsciously raising the bar for what is worth seeing and can’t help but be underwhelmed by many places that might be worth seeing to people in the local area. You might feel underwhelmed by the options that present yourself back home. The one way to get around this is to focus on the people you’re with or on the relaxation/exercise factor that this trip gives you rather than the destination itself.

5. You’ll find it difficult to have long conversations that do not involve your life abroad and traveling

My sister had to tell me to shut up starting every sentence with ‘In Japan’ or ‘At Rupanco’ (a volunteering placement). You will feel so into this topic that you won’t notice that after a certain time, you’re annoying people by this. There are for sure moments where you can shine (tip: become a teacher and go off-topic sometimes – your students will love you for it), but after having heard what life is like in XYZ country for the 50th time, you will reach a limit in most people. 

On the opposite end, you might have completely missed what’s been going on ‘at home,’ regarding the news, politics, cultural changes etc and find it hard to hold conversations about current issues. I’ve found that as a visitor to a foreign country, people don’t expect you to know what’s happening right now, but in your home country, this ‘rule’ does not apply. Most people will expect you to be somewhat up-to-date (and really, you can completely miss out on this information if you’re not actively keeping up with it from a distance). The way I currently perceive Germany is the way I remember it from 11 years ago when I left. Whatever has changed in society in those years has completely passed by me.

6. You are missing out on years in the lives of those close to you

I was always aware of this one, but once you’re back for a while, it still hits you. It starts with seeing your friends at a different stage in life than when you had left them. Many will be married with kids by the time you finish yet another round-the-world-trip. Your parents will age. Other people will move on in life, not having space for you anymore. People might not even be alive anymore by the time you return. I would book this under the category ‘compromise you know you’re taking,’ yet it is one not to overlook

Do I regret the years I’ve spent abroad? Absolutely not! All I’m hoping was to add to the rosy image of long-term traveling and show a side that’s not talked about very much. I’m not sure how this world will be affected by the pandemic’s long-term effects, but I’m hoping that people can see that every lifestyle has its pros and cons and is also not for everyone forever. I, for once, am grateful not to be traveling in these times, and I am trying to make the most of being in my home country.

Yoga and it’s relation to meditation and the power of home-made food / Travel Insights Series #3

This is part 3 of my reflection series on the travel insights I had during my 14 month trip through South-America and how I am applying them being back in ‘normal life’. You can find part 1 here and part 2 here.

The second place I went on to volunteer at was another farm in Brazil close to Sao Paulo. This farm, however, was focusing on using their vast space to host events rather than focus on agriculture (they had some staff for it, but kept it on a minuscule scale). The dwellings belonging to the farm were beautifully restored. Scattered all around the property, they included a swimming pool, a bar, and a chapel that hosted weddings. Our task as volunteers was to help with housekeeping and running the events – catering, ticketing, setting spaces

Due to the variety of our assignments, we had no fixed schedule, which made it difficult to be ‘off’ work, never knowing when you’d be expected to help again. We were in a rather remote area as well with nowhere to go. A fantastic plus was having a restaurant-sized kitchen at our disposal to e.g., make yogurt, etc. (see more below). I spent a good two weeks at this farm, leaving all together with some new friends I had made and others who I am still in touch with to this day.

Again, I will show you a part of my post and then write my reflection and how I am taking this into my current life.

Left farm no. 2. It’s been a place full of new experiences and challenges of adapting to an ever-changing schedule and environment. Yet I’ve shared it with great people in our small green volunteer house, which quickly became home 🙂 and which I will miss ❤️

I learnt how to make yogurt and cheese (and vegan ice cream out of bananas ❤️), indulged in popcorn over movie nights, shared many fun conversations and connected with people. It’s awesome what each of us can contribute to a community of travelers: recipes and homemade food, haircuts, embroidery, handmade bracelets, songs, guitar play, life stories,…

So many ‘product’ can be made from scratch, for example yogurt, bread, cheese…! I wish we would still learn more about this. However, being in a country such as Germany where a lot more products are available at a low price, I understand why people wouldn’t spend their time making things from scratch all the time. I remember making natural yogurt in Brazil and Peru because unsweetened yogurt was hard to come by and expensive. Here in Germany, you can buy organic yogurt for a little over one dollar for 500 grams, so no, I do not have to make it myself anymore….

It isn’t only about the price either. There is a lot of satisfaction in creating a meal or food in general. You can see the result immediately, instead of having to wait for a while, which is the case in most scenarios in life. I have met people who loved kneading bread dough, or who could spend hours on some peculiar task such as decorating a cake. Call it meditative creation 😉

I had the chance to practice my Portuguese at the farm’s festival, selling coupons as the cashier and making drinks at the bar – finally putting into practice what I’ve been working on over the past months! Shows again that the best way to learn a language is by simply speaking with whatever you have!

I experienced beautiful and experimental concerts – small artists who are given space to express themselves in beautiful surroundings.

It shows that a remote place doesn’t have to be lonely or boring – get a few people together, and the whole place will change its atmosphere.

This place also taught me that it isn’t necessarily about being in a ‘vibrant area,’ but that people can enrich your life – you don’t need a buzzing concert to create a great atmosphere. Everywhere in the world, you will be able to find people that you will connect to, as long as you stay open for new experiences. Everyone you meet can teach you something, and has a story to share as long as you create a space that is conducive to do so! I am feeling grateful to have read this old post of mine, as I started thinking in a very narrow mindset once back in Germany, thinking I would have a hard time meeting people who I would be able to connect with (and of course and thank God I was wrong in that).

I learned how yoga is not only exercise but how it can deeply connect you with yourself and be a way of meditation in itself.

Over the last months, I haven’t been practicing yoga as much as I thought I would. I have focused on some higher intensity home workouts as I felt that was more beneficial to me during the winter with me not being active outside much. However, I have found my meditation practice to increase whenever my yoga practice decreases, as if one is trying to make up for the lack of the other. I definitely see the connection that the two have. Yoga is much more than exercise and has so many more facets to it than is known to most people. I feel as if I’ve only dipped my toe into the beginning of this vast ocean an hope that I will continue to explore it!

I learned how feeling into an uncomfortable feeling instead of trying to suppress it through food/drinks/distraction will help make it ease away.

Feeling into uncomfortable feelings instead of suppressing them with food – well, this one is one that I am totally aware of and still majorly struggle with!

Food seems like a lazy way to ease a bad feeling. It’s like knowing you should make a salad or a wholesome meal, but you reach for some processed snack instead, just for the ease of it…. I have found moments in these past weeks where I found myself reaching for food because I was upset/bored etc. first questioned myself in WHY I really wanted to make that feeling go away. Sitting with it for a while, noticing it, feeling into it, is not exactly bliss but it eventually eases and that’s when you start feeling more whole again (and proud of yourself for going through the struggle). Most people I know struggle with meditation and I thoroughly think that the struggle is the moment that we can learn from as long as we’re willing to go through it.

I learned how challenging yet necessary it is for me to set boundaries (in this case, about my own time and work vs. being available all the time).

This place for me was one that taught me that disorganization could cost you so much time, even when you have quite some at hand.

I often think about how to maximize what I get out of my time. Sometimes you waste time by being disorganized, misplacing things, starting one task without finishing it, jumping over to the next. I also get reminded that when you have a job that is not 9-5 but in which you are expected to be available outside of that timeframe in case necessary, you need to make sure to set your own boundaries: replying to emails at times that you don’t think are interfering with your own private time, i.e., not during weekends or late at night. By setting your own boundaries, you are protecting yourself from being ‘always on call.’

And my stay reminded me again and again how age is just a number and how it differs from the age we actually radiate! You can learn so much from people younger and older than you, and it is great to see that the older you get, the younger your soul can seem. ☀️

Again, I knew this, and I encourage other people to try it! I have fantastic friends that are twice my age and friends that are over a decade younger than me. I have learned from both sides and seen a maturity in certain aspects well beyond the years in my younger friends and a sort of ‘playfulness’ in people you’d think of as much more serious!

One of my friends once gave me the quote’ strangers are simply friends you haven’t met yet,’ and from my own good experience, I often think back of this quote fondly!

On a practical note….
I experienced that electricity is not a given and how to adapt to a day or night without it. Internet at home can be such a luxury (every time it rained, our internet at home went off – so quite often :P).

I’m constantly on the verge of hating how connected we are thanks to the internet and at the same time deeply grateful for it. Another point I’m trying to figure out how to handle it within life. These days I think the benefits of a good internet connection are again even more highlighted than at other times.

However, I am feeling the danger of always updating the news, which is seemingly changing every couple of hours. There is, even more, a need now to use the internet responsibly.

I also experienced how nature can turn a tiny creek at the back of our house into a raging stream after just a couple of hours of rain 😛
Arriving in a city after three weeks on the farm was surprisingly disappointing. Nothing I had missed, not even the coffee shops. All I wanted to see was some green nature…
Quickly found the next remote place ….update soon. Hint: I’m finally at the beach 😉

And this is what the post will be about – volunteering in a different setting.

The last point again is one that made me most happy to have experienced. I’m even less materialistic than before my trip and am finding less and less value in the convenience and consumerism of larger cities.

Which place would you recommend? Not such an easy question

Oh, you’ve been to South-America? Which was your favorite country? Where would you recommend visiting?

Those were questions I’ve been hearing constantly. And true, there’s nothing wrong about asking this question. What I want to highlight is rather how you take and evaluate the answer you receive.

I’m talking about giving and receiving travel advice. Many people have asked me about my advice, and though I am sharing it (as you’re reading this blog), I would like to look at the topic of taking advice too seriously word by word.

The issue is that we don’t all think and act the same way. Neither in daily life nor whilst traveling. One might like coffee for breakfast, another person couldn’t live without their tea. The person who loves coffee will always rave about how coffee is the one thing that makes their morning, how it gives them the energy to get out of being groggy. And the person who loves tea, will not understand. Of course, if you share your favorite coffee brand with a coffee lover, they might like it as well (or not, because coffee isn’t just coffee 😉)

Let’s look at this regarding traveling. Someone just tells you how they loved their trip to Cuba. Cuba! You exclaim! That sounds like a great place. Strolling through old cafes in Havana, practicing Spanish with the locals…. You ask your friend about what they actually did and you get a ‘oh we had a really nice hotel. All inclusive! I love Cuba.’

In a way, you’re talking cross purposes. The person who went to Cuba might have had an amazing holiday. However, your idea of a holiday might look differently so this would not be of any help in your decision making.

Let’s make it less drastic and talk to someone who has backpacked and you were going to go backpacking as well. You’d asked them the questions I started this blog with. And the answers could be – Colombia is amazing! It’s the best country of South-America ❤ (and I know many backpackers who’d say that). Once you did deeper though you hear about all the super nice people that they met on their way. And how much they danced salsa. That does sound fun. To most people. What if salsa is not your thing. What if you really don’t enjoy being chatted up by strangers all the time anywhere? Maybe you’d prefer countries, where people are less upfront in talking to you, where salsa isn’t such a big thing but hiking is. This might be why your friend who loves Colombia wouldn’t recommend the country you’re thinking of.

What I’m trying to say is that everyone will have slightly different preferences in what they like to see, how they like to spend their day and also by how much budget they have. Some countries can be much more fun when you have a big budget (let’s take the Galapagos islands for example). Some countries can be more fun, if you like the adventure of the tourism infrastructure not all being laid out for you yet (Bolivia, Paraguay…). Maybe what’s expensive to you is cheap to the other person? Maybe what’s ‘authentic’ means something completely different to you than to your friend.

I still think you should ask people. That’s pretty much how I organized my whole trip. Every country I went to I asked people for recommendations. But afterwards I’d ask myself whether

a) they’d fall into the category of things I wanted to do/places I wanted to visit
b) whether the time and effort would be worth traveling there,
c) whether it was within my budget and
d) whether I actually felt like visiting a place like that at that very moment.

I am including d) because I have experienced it many times that I had wanted to go to a place for ages and when the change eventually came up the urge had died down and didn’t come back.

B is all about how long it would take you to get to a place. If you have a small budget and wouldn’t be able to fly to a place that was a 20-h bus ride away, would you still go? I had cases where I answered this question with yes, and others where I told myself ‘no’. It really depends on whether you have the energy and think you will love the place that much that the journey to get there won’t bother you or whether you tell yourself that you might be able to see ‘old Inca ruins’ or a ‘jungle’ at another point of your journey.

No, you don’t have to see them all. That would make you very tired and travel-fatigued. Every waterfall, every cultural city would start looking the same. You’d forget the names of all the places you’ve been to. Yes, you would be able to tick off all the boxes but that wouldn’t give you any more to satisfaction.

Do what you really want to do.

Take the advice, check online for yourself whether it’s for you personally. Go out and explore, head to places you just found on the map, follow the trail that opens up spontaneously in front of you. Maybe next time someone asks you about advice those will be the pointers you’ll give them.

Paraguay?! Some facts about this little-known country

During my trip through South-America, I spent 10 days in Paraguay.

As most people and you probably included, I had prior hardly heard of anyone who had visited the country. Finding information online also proved to be a challenge.

This, however somehow intrigued me. I was convinced that I would be able to discover something there and as I was right across the border, at the Iguazu waterfalls and my tourist visa in Brazil had expired, I decided to cross the border.

That was the first interesting introduction. Compared to other borders, there was no-one who would stop you to check your documents, rather, it was your own responsibility to get a leaving stamp on the Brazilian immigration office and to get the entering stamp for Paraguay (and yes, you do need it, because any other border out of the country will forcefully stop you and check it!).

Below I noted down some of the interesting insights I had in this ‘mysterious’ country that might give you a better picture as well.

Language: Paraguay has two official languages: Spanish and Guarani. Guarani is an ancient language and spoken by 90% of the population! You will rather hear Spanish spoken in the big cities and Guarani in the countryside.

Prices: It’s a very cheap country to travel to. This is a place where a couple of dollars can still get you very far (except for accommodation, that’s already meeting other countries’ price levels, unfortunately). Some examples: lunch typically costs you 3 USD, ice cream 1 USD or less, a coffee 1.20 USD, a piece of fruit 20 Cents, a pastry from a bakery 80 Cents. I could finally treat myself a little after Brazil, which is definitely more expensive.

Transportation options are sparse. There are buses to even the tiniest villages but they don’t run very often. Leaving a big city in the morning was usually not a problem but getting back always turned into an adventure. I waited for a good hour at times to get a bus or ended up having to hitchhike (which apparently isn’t practiced much and I had to wait comparatively long until I got a ride). Once I even had to stay at a random person’s home as there wasn’t a way for me to get back easily anymore. This was a major challenge during my trip as it prevented me from seeing more places at times.

bus terminal in Villarica

People ride horse carriages! It was really amusing seeing them in small towns, such as Villarica and it somehow made me feel like being transported into a different century.

Street vendors on the bus: Vendors jump on at any time the bus stops or before it leaves and try to sell you anything they can carry: the usual fruit, vegetables, bread, sandwiches, snacks, and drinks, but also goods such as flash drives, power banks, earphones as well as necklaces, belts and even blankets! They are very personal when they are selling, they address each passenger individually which can be quite direct but they also let go quickly enough when they notice that you don’t show interest.

Colonies: There are LOADS of GERMANS who live in so called colonies in this country. I wasn’t fully aware of this but due to that people always immediately assumed correctly that I was German (oh you’re not Paraguayan – are you German? – Uhm yeah…) That meant that I found nice bakeries with good baked goods and I felt that the quality of bread here was much better than in other countries I’ve been to! Not this super-soft spongy bread that tastes like cardboard to me but crusty and fluffy (though mainly white) bread rolls.

Tourists and the English language: There are hardly any tourists in the country and people in general who speak English. That meant having to use Spanish 99% of the time (I met one traveler who was a native English speaker in those 10 days, everyone else spoke Spanish). I was personally amazed at how my Spanish improved or at least came back after not having used it for years. When you have no other options, you get better really fast.

Sights: If you’re hungry for sights, this might not be the country for you. It has some beautiful spots, old colonial cities, and small mountainous and waterfalls but it definitely doesn’t stand a chance compared to other countries. That being said I think it’s a great country to travel to, especially because of the people and because tourists are so rare and you can really explore the country without following the beaten traveler’s trail.

The Scenery: It’s a flat country with loads of pastures, cows, horses, small towns and dirt roads. I never saw really tall mountain ranges, mainly rolling hills. Large cities are raw, with Ciudad del Este being the main exception as well as Asunción and Encarnación which are medium-sized cities.

Climate: It’s hot! I encountered over 30 degrees daily, which was probably the hardest thing about traveling there. I was often out in the plain sun and am really grateful that the locals literally made me buy a cap to have at least some sort of protection. I also appreciated how the locals would always give me ice or Tereré (see the next point) when I asked for water as that was definitely necessary.

Tereré: This is the local drink in the country and I loved it! It is an herbal tea, called mate, which is known in Argentina and Uruguay in its hot form. However, in Paraguay, this mate is drunk with ice (mostly added in huge chunks) which really helps to battle the heat and sometimes some extra spices are added (I once saw people add saffron and other herbs I wasn’t able to identify). Paraguayans love this drink and will take their huge thermos container with them wherever they go (even hiking up mountains!!) Locals are sitting around outside everywhere enjoying time together drinking tereré. It brings people together here and I’d recommend accepting an offer for tereré as locals will bond over this drink with you.

Trash: Finally, one thing I noticed and which is the case in many South-American countries is the high usage of plastic and especially Styrofoam (for takeaway coffee and ice cream. This really broke my heart. Plastic bags are the essence of transporting any good, plastic straws given out automatically when buying bottled drinks and all the trash ends up on the road. It really opened my eyes to how far some countries have come (and how far behind others are in this process).

Is Paraguay worth visiting some people ask? I generally don’t think there is a black or white answer to this question, however, I’ll put up a post soon, giving you my stance on that! Until then! (Edit: you can read this post now here 🙂)

Questions you should ask before doing a cultural work-exchange

I love ‘volunteering’ or rather work exchange, meaning you work for free food and accomodation in a foreign country. I think it’s an amazing experience and it has taken me all around the globe. It’s a great way to learn more about the local culture and stay in an area that no tourist would usually set foot in as well as saving some (or a lot) of money, making it easier on your travel budget.

So far, I have used wwoofing and workaway, the latter being my preferred volunteer/work exchange website.

In case you want to know how these organizations work more specifically check out my post – workaway – more than just working for free food and accommodation.

Speaking from experience I wanted to list some questions, that I am trying to get answers to before agreeing to stay as a volunteer. These are questions that apply to most workaways and people. Some might be obvious but others might sound like a given to you but not necessarily be the case.
Many of the following should be answered on the profile but if not, you might want to double-check.

These are questions I would ask in case they were not answered on the profile of the host.

  1. How many hours do you work per day?

  2. Do you work on weekends? /When are days off?
    VERY IMPORTANT! You’re not automatically guaranteed to have Saturday and Sunday off and if you might not get food –> see Q4

  3. What kind of work do you do?
    This should definitely be on the profile, but sometimes this might be vague. There are many places with a lot of everyday tasks, e.g. cleaning and gardening but you could check beforehand. Often the host will see with you what you’re good at doing and what needs to be done at this certain time of the year

  4. Are all meals provided? Is food provided on days off?
    optional: Do you get meals cooked or do you need to cook yourself? (This is something that might not be the most important thing to know right away but it gives you an idea about the level of interaction with the host, i.e. dinners with the family or by yourself/with other workawayers

  5. What kind of diet do you eat?
    in case that is important to you – it’s really important to let your host know beforehand if you follow a specific diet. Some places have a rather limited variety of foods and you might not be able to eat according to your needs

  6. Is there the possibility to purchase things within walking distance?
    Ask whether e there things that are hard to come by in the area and need to be bought beforehand (I’m thinking of rural places that might just have minimarkets with very basic ingredients, so if you have specific products you use/eat you should think of that beforehand

  7. Are there ways to leave the place by yourself or do you need to rely on your host to take you around?
    i.e. you might be staying on a farm without any public transportation

  8. Are there other volunteers ?
    That will give you an idea about how many people you might share a room with and how ‘social/communal it will be.

  9. What kind of weather can you expect, i.e. what kind of clothes should you bring?
    I’m talking rain jackets, boots, gloves, etc. that you wouldn’t automatically pack for a trip. Do you need specific work clothes? Are there clothes left by previous volunteers? (often there are and you can use them for work)

  10. Is there a washing machine that you can use or do you have to wash by hand (a common practice in many places I’ve come across in South-America)? note: sometimes you might have to pay to use the washing machine or bring your own laundry powder, this should usually be stated on the profile of the host though

  11. Is there hot water (NOT a given)?

  12. What about the internet?
    Is the internet reliable? Is it good enough for a Skype call? Are you allowed to use it for that? (VERY IMPORTANT if you work online). extra question: is there a workspace (I’ve unfortunately been at places where this was not the case. There was no proper table and chair where we had an internet connection)

  13. In case you’re allergic to certain animals or afraid of them: What kind of animals do you have?

One final remark: Some host charge a fee to cover the costs of food. This absolutely has to be stated, but I wanted to point this out so that you are checking profiles carefully enough so that you can budget accordingly.

One final piece of advice: Sometimes things can sound as if they’re different from how you had imagined your workaway to be. I would always allow some room for flexibility as the reality is mostly still different from what you imagined it to be, no matter how many questions you asked. After arriving you might find some things that you don’t automatically like. Give it a day or two to see whether you can live with it. There might be other things that totally make up for it, especially the atmosphere or the other workawayers. Those are factors that are hard to describe beforehand and are often a crucial point whether one enjoys the volunteering or not.

Volunteering can show you sides of yourself that you didn’t know before. You will grow in character and learn useful hands-on skills you might never have thought of (such as how to cook rice properly at altitude ;))

The more open you are, the more positive aspects you can draw of such an experience. In the end, you are choosing to be at this place and it stays your choice to be there as long as you do. With this kind of volunteering, even if you agreed to a certain time to stay, no one can ultimately force you to stay. So feel that freedom and make the most of your experience!

My buy-nothing-principle – minimalism when traveling

After having written about my ‘money hacks when traveling‘ I wanted to elaborate on something that helped me a lot in saving myself money. As I wrote in my previous post, I find it useful not to buy too many souvenirs. I actually made that a principle over the last year, thus this post.

I’ve been a pretty non-materialistic person most of my life. I’ve never cared much for brands or the latest trends, but things still accumulated when I had the space to store them and went shopping for ‘fun’.

This changed once I started moving from country to country (living, studying, working) and I was sort of forced into minimalism. Packing bags and moving apartments every few months reminded me of the fact that I had so many things that I didn’t really need, i.e. trinkets I bought because they ‘looked nice’, clothes I got because they ‘were on sale’. And then I had to say goodbye to about 2/3 of my things every time I moved (side note: Shipping boxes around the world is very expensive and will make you think twice about what to keep).

I had backpacked in Australia, my first long-term destination and remember ending up with a good 5 kilograms more in my bag when I came back (and a huge box that made its way back to Germany by boat over the course of three months – the cheapest option but also the slowest). 

When I backpacked in Asia for 2 months in 2014 I proudly started with 7 kg in my backpack and came back with 12. 

And now? I’ve been on the road for over 13 months and implemented a new principle. The buy-nothing (or to be exact: buy-absolutely-nothing-unless-you-really-need-it-) principle. That means I’m not spending a lot of time at markets anymore. I usually hardly glance at things (because then you’re immediately urged into buying them by sellers). I don’t go into any clothing stores ‘just for fun to have a look’. I don’t shop when I’m bored.

And I bought exactly 2 pairs of earrings that I didn’t really need in this time (but I guess every rule has an exception).

So I guess some people would say ‘How could you pass on that awesome alpaca sweater or scarf and all those handmade unique souvenirs?’ First of all, most things you can find are usually mass-produced and not as unique as you’d think. Second of all, I don’t want to carry around mountains of souvenirs for an indefinite amount of time. And third, give this a try: When you see something that looks nice to you and you want to buy it in the spur of a moment, give yourself a day. If you don’t remember it anymore then did you really want or need it?

Also, you can avoid the temptation by passing by all those souvenir-shops and simply keeping your eye on life on the street and in the city instead of the artisan goods 😉

I had a nice chat with a Venezuelan jewelry seller who talked to me while I was sitting in a park in Cusco. When he approached me, I told him straight-away I wasn’t going to buy anything as a matter of principle and also avoided looking at what he sold. This actually turned into a conversation as he was interested in hearing me say how physical objects are not adding much to my life and that not spending money on them was helping me with my own budget whilst traveling. Wondering, whether I should have bought something just to support him, he actually mentioned that there were enough tourists in Cusco who still loved to buy jewelry and I was happy he respected my principle.

I think it’s smartest to buy souvenirs right before you’re ready to go home. Like this, you have a ‘shopping date’ where you can go crazy if you feel like it, use all your left-over cash and fill your backpack until you can’t put anything else in 🙂

Also, I am aware that this idea works best when you’re traveling as you’re almost forced to do this. However I hope to be able to continue with this mindset once I have a ‘temporary or permanent’ home again. I am expecting this to be harder to follow through with but I’m going to be mindful about the possible purchasing urge.

It feels really liberating to not own that much. Fewer things, less trouble!

How I travel to experience local culture

So you’re ready to go and travel a new country. You rock up there, check into a popular hostel and…. figure out that you are surrounded by other travelers like you. You book a tour to see a beautiful natural sight only to be called ‘turista’ and dragged from one souvenir shop to the next. Though meant charmingly, that bothers you and all the other ‘turistas’ on the tour bus. Back at your hostel, you’re suggested to join a pub crawl to see some of the local nightlife – only to be stuck in a group of other travelers again. You hardly see locals hanging out where you are hanging out. They seem to be in different circles than you. Different worlds. Granted, locals most likely have a lot of things to do (and more substantial than hitting another famous church, I’m talking work, family, etc.) but still there should be places where you can feel more of the culture and where you can mingle more with locals than at the point you’re at. 

Having done the tours (on my first trip to Australia, a travel agency successfully sold me a bus tour through half of the country – I had no idea how to do this on my own at this point and wanted it the easy way!), I later realized that I wanted to do it differently and not feel so distanced and in a little tourist bubble with little local interaction.

Let me say one thing. I’m not saying at all that traveling like a tourist and using tours doesn’t have its perks. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed sitting in a tour bus, kicking back, earphones in, relaxing, knowing that I didn’t have to worry about a thing regarding when and where to get off and what to do. Also, when traveling by yourself, it is a great and easy way to make friends. When traveling in a group, you might enjoy this option because you want to spend time with your friends and see the highlights and aren’t necessarily out to meet the locals. Or you might have limited time on your trip and are trying to get the most out of it sight-wise. What I’m saying is, that everything has its time and place and if you are happy to spend your time traveling this way then that’s exactly what you should do 🙂

In case you’re still wondering how to do it otherwise (and save some $$$), please read on.

The following are ways to meet locals or experience the local culture that I have experienced. This list is by now ways exhaustive and should simply serve to give you some inspiration. As always it also depends on the country you’re in, so keep that in mind.

  1. workaway: I don’t even know how to express my gratitude for this website and the work-exchange programs such as wwoofing and others in general. What they offer are a place to sleep and food as well as the chance to live with a local family in exchange of a few hours of work from your side. I’ve lived with local people in their homes, eaten home-cooked food, participated in local activities, festivals and everyday life. It is my absolute favorite way to dive into a country and its culture. You will end up in places you had never heard of and see the many lifestyles different people can have. What’s more, you’ll learn how despite differences, all human beings have the same needs and similar desires, no matter which country they’re from and which culture they belong to.

2. Couchsurfing: A great way to meet locals is through couchsurfing. The website shows local hosts that offer to let a stranger stay for free. This can be a great chance to hang out with people of your kind/your interests who can introduce you to their favorite places. Even if the thought of staying with a stranger isn’t up your alley, there are many other ways to use couchsurfing to connect with locals: through events or catching up just for a coffee with a person. I’ve formed amazing, often lifelong friendships through this website, and connected friends with couchsurfers continuously.

3. hitchhiking: This might not be everyone’s cup of tea. I certainly advise seeing what the situation per country is like as it’s not a 100% safe way to travel. What I can say though is that through hitchhiking I’ve had the most extensive chats to locals about their country. After all, you have lots of time at hand, you are getting to know each other and both sides are usually eager to hear from the other. Locals can give you advice on what to see, where to stay etc. It just depends where you steer the conversation towards and how long the ride is 🙂
Of course you can also chat to your taxi or Uber driver!!! I’ve gotten travel tips, stories about indigenous cultures, life in the country in general and more in conversations.

Hitchhiking a very popular route from El Calafate to El Chalten in Patagonia, Argentina

4. In public places, such as parks/squares, often when you’re hanging around by yourself: Now, this is, of course, something that can happen in your own country and there might be times when you don’t want to be talked to by a stranger but I have had some amazing conversations with people who were simply curious about where I was from and what I thought of their country. I am always very stern in where my boundaries are in regards to where the conversation is going and it’s never wrong to walk away if you feel uncomfortable. Keep in mind that people in some countries are much ‘chattier’ than in others, i.e. this would hardly happen in my small hometown in German, yet in many South-American countries, people talk to others all the time.

whilst sitting on San Blas square in Cusco, a little girl sat on the bench next to me and was simply curious in what I was doing in her country

5. local markets: Local markets are where you can learn all about food, dishes but also about the price levels of a country, food preferences and how people interact with each other. I’ve had a lovely chat with a fruit vendor at a market in Quito who, when I explained my confusion about a lot of the fruit sold, took me aside to patiently explain every single fruit and its usage to me.

The juice section of a market in Sucre, Bolivia

6. small food stalls: I love food stalls on the street. They often serve something typical of the country, which is mostly basic food but I love the intimate atmosphere between the vendor and its buyers. Sometimes a few people end up hanging around a stall, starting conversations. I’ve had a nice short chat while sipping on hot tea, or eating my snack, such as in Peru, where a businessman in his fine clothing was sitting on a plastic chair eating fried donuts talking to me about life in Peru. In many places, people don’t walk off with their street food, but they hang around the stall and interact. It’s always a bargain to eat at as well and people give you a fair price from my experience and don’t overcharge you.

street food stall in Cusco – at night the streets come alive

7. supermarkets: I love going to supermarkets as they show you all the array of products that are sold. You might realize that Argentinians are not into your beloved peanut butter (as in – not to be found on the shelf) but love dulce de leche (a milky caramel cream/spread) that you can find in dozens of variations. It can be fun to buy some new ingredients and try them or try cooking with them. Don’t limit yourself to snacks you don’t know, buy some new grain, fruit and veg and let the good old Internet tell you what to do with it (or local people if you have the chance to ask, I always ask locals about products I don’t know)

8. public transportation: Cheap and often widely available (sometimes not so much). Ride a minibus, minivan, a tuc-tuc, a local train and simply pick up the vibe of this way of traveling. It might take you a lot longer than a tourist bus but you get to have an experience on its own and save a lot of $$$

One word of advice: you’re probably going to show as a non-local. Be aware that in many countries, people might try and take advantage of that and charge you more than what they would charge the locals. You can haggle and see where that takes you or accept the higher price if you are not bothered by it. It can also work out in your favor though and I’ve encountered many lovely people, who’d give me free samples of food to try or an extra something at no extra cost.

And last but not least. Get a little lost! Go to places, walk streets that you’ve not heard of, turn corners, look around your surroundings and take in what you see, no matter how small and insignificant it might seem. Everyday life can be full of surprises, no matter in which country you are (including your own).

Hello there!

Welcome to my new blog. You might not believe it’s taken me 10 years to finally write about my experiences abroad.

I always thought there are more than enough blogs out there, who’d want to hear my opinion among the millions of opinions out there?

But then I noticed how people have started asking me the same questions over and over again and how I had some information that others maybe didn’t.

So voilà here comes my blog 🙂

I remember starting to travel, thinking I’d become a changed person just like that.

And then I nocticed that I had changed but not as much as I thought I would and not intentionally towards who I wanted to become. And eventually I realized that I actually have to work on myself and not just let time shape me (I know I wanted it the lazy way ;)). So you will find posts on mindfulness (thus my blog’s name), personal development, yoga, meditation and whatever else I can think of! Be curious and open 🙂

So as you can see this won’t just be a travel blog. I am really passionate about all the aspects of being abroad. I will share those through travel stories, travel advice posts and more.

Furthermore, as I am a super passionate language learner (you might call me a polyglot) and an English teacher I’ll also share my language learning strategies, keeping a study habit and motivation 🙂

In case you’re curious: I know English, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese and (Brazilian) Portuguese. All languages are at different levels but I would be able to hold conversations in all of them.

Hope you enjoy reading my blog!