My Journey to Santiago

By Kendall Thiele / Special to the Santiago Times

As I sit in my boyfriend’s apartment on the fifteenth floor in downtown Santiago, the room illuminated solely by the glow of the city, I ask myself: “How the hell did I get here?”

It all happened so quickly and spontaneously the exact details have become somewhat foggy. Only ten months ago, I walked across the auditorium stage of my university and received my bachelor’s degree. Less than two months after that, I was saying goodbye to my parents at SeaTac Airport in Seattle with a one-way ticket and a backpack that weighs as much as I do.

For the past eight months, I have been nomadic, traveling mostly in Latin America and doing it alone. Now I find myself in a new relationship, living in a new city, with a new job. How much life can one person squeeze into a year?

If this pattern is to continue, I cannot imagine what the next three months have in store for me. This trip has led me through cobblestone alleys, ways in ancient cities, seemingly endless coastlines, ridiculously long bus rides, remote farming communities, hustling business centers, crowded markets, quiet villages, and mountain top panoramas.

The one thing I did not expect my travels to lead to was the opportunity to do something I love and a new partner to share my life with.

Back before my trip started, I was researching opportunities to volunteer on farms in Argentina. I found one that seemed like a good fit, so I confirmed the dates with them. For one month, I lived completely removed from civilization and learned about organic gardening in the tranquil mountain side of Northern Argentina. A popular stop for backpackers, I met many people from all over the world there. One person, in particular, from Santiago.

After leaving the farm, traveling around Argentina and working at a party hostel in Buenos Aires, I decided to contact him and come to Chile. I had plans to go on a backpacking trip in Patagonia with a friend from back home and needed to get things ready in the city before meeting her.

I stayed with my new friend from the farm and his lovely family who showed me the warmest hospitality and boundless generosity. Back when I had originally messaged him, we had agreed I would stay only a week since he needed to prepare for his upcoming exams so I had plans to find a hostel in the city.

One night, the two of us went downtown to meet up with one of his friends from university to have wine and once (a Chilean tradition which involves eating a small meal with friends or family). I mentioned that evening that the following day I was going to look for a hostel to stay in while waiting for my friend to arrive to Chile.

Without hesitation, the ‘university friend’ offered to host both of us for as long as we needed. Blown away by the charitable spirit of the Chilean people, I accepted and made plans to return to the apartment to the following evening. As you may have anticipated, this mystery man would eventually become my boyfriend and open his home to me a second time indefinitely.

I continued my travels, meeting my pololo (a Chilean word for boyfriend) in several places and eventually decided to return to Santiago and give this new relationship a shot. Then came the realization that I needed to start taking steps to begin a career. If I had stayed home after graduating from college I know I would have accepted any job I could get, and it probably would have been okay.

But traveling alone changes you. It teaches you how to believe in yourself and chase after your dreams. Of course, the solo traveler will gain profound independence, but will also simultaneously learn the value of depending on a community and using weak ties within a large network of support.

I decided to pursue a career in journalism despite absolutely zero experience and virtually no connections. Sounds crazy, right? I began by perusing freelance sites and applying for odd jobs and writing assignments. I understand that this industry is a tough one to break into, but I am determined to make it happen. I still have to make any money doing this, but I feel good doing meaningful work and hopefully one day I can earn a living solely from writing.

My take away from this experience is to say yes to life. For many people this means making time for adventure and new experiences. For me, this meant the opposite.

It was not easy to make the decision to leave my vagabond life for something more stable: but I’m so glad I did. Being stuck in a routine doesn’t always include a dead-end job, boring days, and an unfulfilling relationship.

In order to break away from my norm, I needed to say yes to something scary: staying in one location. Trading a stuffed backpack for two shelves in a closet and site seeing for job interviews, I am becoming reacquainted with the conventional. However, as I am in a new country with so much to learn and explore I have not abandoned my wanderlust nature (and of course I have planned weekend trips!)

I think the trick to finding happiness in what you do is to be open to changes and opportunities that arise, but always stay true to who you are.

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