Solo travel: where the mundane is exciting

I’ve written a lot about my research and the special sites of the trip, but of course there’s more to travel than the picturesque moments. Overall I probably spend a third of my waking hours doing research and a third experiencing local sites and culture. So what happens during the last third of the time? Here, in honor of completing half of my countries I describe the daily life of a circumnavigator:

Surviving: When abroad, the everyday things are about twice as complicated as normal. The first ATM rarely works, so I have to go to two or three more. Finding the bus stop without Google navigation means having to ask directions from a lot of strangers who don’t speak English. Solving travel issues means seeking WiFi in order to make affordable international calls. The good part about all of the effort is that the smallest feats seem notable. Figure out how to send a postcard when I accidently bought the wrong stamp in Argentina? Success. Take a bus in Brazil that involves a transfer? Basically on top of the world.

Eating: In case you can’t tell from my research topic, food is important to me. Every week I have a few special meals, a few airplane meals, a few skipped meals, and when all else fails, a spoonful of peanut butter and a Clif bar. All of the others I cook in the hostel or pick up off the street or in a random cafe. In South Africa everything was in English so I didn’t have much of a problem ordering food. I spoke enough Spanish to get by in Argentina, but once ate cake for lunch when I confused the words torta and tarta. In Brazil I usually recognized half of the Portuguese words on menus, so I would order and then be surprised by some of the ingredients. Luckily I’m an adventurous eater and don’t have any dietary restrictions. The food highlights of the trip so far by country –

Argentina: a delicious fatty river fish in Rosario, and some awesome pizza in Buenos Aires

Brazil: Escondidinho – a casserole of mashed cassava and pulled beef, and sagu – a sort of pudding typical of Parana state which consists of tapioca balls cooked in red wine, grape juice, and spices

South Africa: An ostrich burger, which tastes like beef but is less greasy, and a Zimbabwean style peanut curry

Sleeping: I stayed with friends for part of my time in Argentina and Brazil, but otherwise I stay in hostel bunk rooms. Of course there’s the occasional snorer or person coming back late drunk, but overall the hostels are amazing for meeting cool people from all over the world. It can be strange though – you’ll meet someone, spend 12 hours getting to know them and touring the city, and then you say goodbye forever. It’s really mystifying how the lives of two random people in the world can come together and apart so rapidly.

Being alone: The biggest myths of solo travel are that you’re always alone and that you’re never alone. Most days I have a busy interview schedule or find people to hang out with, but sometimes everyone has something else going on. Before I began the trip I feared that these solo days would be depressing. In reality they’ve been quite the opposite. I’ve learned see these days as an opportunity to wander through cities without structure, incorporate a run into my sightseeing, and have time for a coffee and self reflection. I’m really thankful that this trip has forced me to see the world solo, because I don’t think I would have had the courage to do it without the push. Now I would take another solo trip in an instant.

Well, that’s my description of how exciting the mundane can be. Coming up will be a wrap-up of South Africa and updates from Ghana. In case you’re wondering, I’ve arrived and am staying with a family in an AirBnB that already feels like home.
Lastly, a special shoutout to my thesis advisor Dr. Amanda Logan, whose research was recognized by NPR last week. She studies the history of food security in Ghana to show that instability from slavery and colonialism – not just drought – is the reason for hunger today. You can check out the article here: