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The Patagonia trip that may have changed my life

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Almost everybody can name a life-changing trip they once took. Whether it was the catalyst for a travel-filled future or the discovery of an entirely new passion, sometimes you leave somewhere a different person to who you arrived as.

I’m not too sure what I expected from my recent trip to Patagonia, but I have a feeling my time “at the end of the Earth” taught me more than I realised.

It was a strange trip, to say the least. For the entirety of my time in Patagonia, I had that weird sensation of not quite being present, like I was watching myself travel rather than actually travelling. I’m not sure what caused it, but it meant the whole thing feels like a long, beautiful dream.


Road to Mount Fitz Roy Patagonia


A sickly start to a new continent

It was my first time in South America and my first trip to a new continent in more than eight years. Naturally,  I was pretty excited for this one.

But the excitement I felt at being in a brand new continent – and a part of the world that seems to be having a moment right now – was soon interrupted.

At first, it was the exhaustion of a 14-hour flight turned 20-hour flight after foggy weather forced our plane to divert and refuel before landing in our intended destination. Even though I still made my connection, the anticipation of not knowing if I would made for a pretty anxious start to the trip.

Then, as soon as 3 days of sleep and catching up on work had me feeling refreshed again, illness struck. I felt it coming on as we arrived at Santiago airport, ready to catch the flight down to Punta Arenas, and by the time we arrived I felt weak and useless. Queue two days stuck in bed, with only enough energy to check emails for 10 minutes at a time.

By the time our Patagonia tour began, the flu-like symptoms had begun to ease. By day 3, I was feeling like myself. Nobody wants to be stuck in bed all day, but I was grateful that I’d fallen ill at the best time possible. 

And then, on day 6 of the tour, the 19km round-trip Laguna Torre hike caused an arthritis flare-up in my left foot. It left me in excruciating pain, unable to walk for 2 days, and hobbling until the end of the trip.

The hike was so beautiful that it was (almost) worth it. But it also meant I had to sacrifice any kind of adventure for the rest of the trip.

And so I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms.

I spent hours searching for ways to ease the pain and distract myself.

I also spent more time than I’d like to admit feeling sorry for myself (that pain, though!).


Time to reflect


Time to reflect

Being stuck in (some admittedly very nice) hotel rooms meant I had a lot of time to myself. I had a lot of time to reflect.

I came to Patagonia to escape my day-to-day work and put all of my energy into travel for a couple of weeks. My main goal, I suppose, was to enjoy something that might resemble a holiday.

What I ended up with, however, was a lot of down time and a lot of time to think.

In those moments, I came close to regret. Should I have stayed in Europe? Gone straight to Peru? Checked into an all inclusive and chilled out for a week?

It’s easy to feel low when you’re stuck in a room. But this wasn’t a sad feeling that I had – it was more of a very zen state of acceptance and reflection. And by that I mean I wasn’t entirely gutted to be stuck in that room. 

All I can think is that I felt that way because it was exactly what I needed: some time alone to think.

Just as I was hitting the tipping point and starting to feel sorry for myself, the regret quickly disappeared and was replaced by a realisation. Somehow, this misadventure had reignited my desire to travel.


Patagonia Torres del Paine National Park

A view I spent too much time with.


Go hard or go home

Although it might not sound like a huge revelation to anyone else, it was a very unexpected change of heart for me. 

For the last few months, I’ve been sure that my near future would involve finding a base and taking things slower. I’ve been craving it. It’s not that I want to travel less, just that I quite like the idea of having a base to go back to. Somewhere to call my own and do as I please with. Somewhere to display the souvenirs I currently can’t buy.

For the first time in my life, I’ve wanted to own a house and feel a little grounded.

While I was in Patagonia, however, I went from planning to semi-settle to planning a trip that would cover an entire continent. I had a sudden desire to visit much more of Latin America: Guatemala, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Costa Rica, Nicaragua. 

And, just like that, I remembered how much I love travel.

I don’t know where it came from, but in that moment I knew my plans needed to put on hold. That I need to keep travelling just a little longer. To really go hard before I find “home”.

And so, I think my next year could be my most travel-packed yet. There’s so much I want to see and I know I’ll always have those “what ifs” if I (semi-)settle too soon. For a start, I still haven’t made it to Australia and my Africa bucket list is always on my mind. They’re the kind of places that I don’t want to rush on a one or two week trip, so it only makes sense to make the time for them while I can.


Patagonia views


Unexpected inspiration

And so, just when I thought Patagonia had been a bit of a bust and had failed to inspire me, I realised it had had more of an effect on me than I could have imagined. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes, isn’t it?

There’s nothing quite like the excitement and inspiration that comes from being somewhere new, and in Patagonia I remembered that. Even though I couldn’t do everything I wanted, I felt that rush of excitement you get when you think about planning a trip. I felt inspired to see the world. And I felt the awe of realising how much of it I haven’t yet discovered.

I guess that inspiration is why many of us travel. It’s certainly one of the main contributors to my wanderlust – and I’m glad I rediscovered it in Patagonia.


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TRIP TO PATAGONIA

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