I like traveling alone. I always have. I like the fact that I’m only accountable for my own expectations, disappointments, and achievements. I like knowing that the success or failure of a plan, a day, or excursion rests solely on my shoulders. Perhaps that’s the reason I’m so interested in other solo travelers who’ve met up with each other along the way and decided to travel together. It’s a common occurrence, actually. Most of the people who I’ve met traveling together, who aren’t dating, met each other somewhere along the way and decided to become travel buddies, for lack of a better term.
For example, Jamel and Jauina. I had seen the two around the hostel we were all staying at in Quito. Although we really didn’t interact until the morning of my departure, to see Jamel and Jauina together, they way they interacted with one another . . . I assumed they had been friends for years, maybe longer.
I might never have asked Jamel if he’d be willing to share his story with me had he not asked me how my morning was going. Apparently my convoluted answer must included my whole biography and what I’d hoped to achieve by talking to other travelers and recording their experiences because a few minutes later we all headed out to a set of benches in front of the hostel where I placed my i-phone on the ground and hit the record button. The one thing I was anxious to know is what would happen to their friendship once they both returned home, put their passports away and got back to the daily grind.
Here’s our conversation:
Name: Jamel Arnold & Jauina Mûller
From: Austin, TX/Zürich, Switzerland
Languages: English/English, Spanish, German
Duration of trip: Open-ended/7 months
Why did you decide to take this trip?
Jamel: Why did I decide to take this trip? Well, just because I needed to get out of Austin. Just needed to get away and to travel and see other countries and experience new things.
Jauina: I’m in my gap year and I wanted to learn a new language and know new cultures. And I’m traveling from August to March.
Why South America?
Jamel: A good friend of mine was living in South America and that was part of the influence I guess. He’s living in Nicaguara now. It was just random . . . cheaper than Europe. And it was closer.
Juania: Because my best friend speaks Spanish and he had a little time so we came to South America. I wanted to learn and new language and when he went back home, I went to study Spanish to learn more. At first, I wanted to travel for just three months, but it’s not that bad traveling alone, you met other people.
Can you tell me a little bit about your trip?
Jamel: I started in August and flew to Panama City and that same day I flew to Boca del Torro, a small island on the Caribbean. I stayed there for about six . . . six and half weeks and from there I traveled north to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. From Guatemala, right after Christmas I flew down to Ecuador and stayed one night in Ecuador and then went down to Peru . . . all the way down to Machu Picchu and then I flew back north to Ecuador, where I am now. And in six days I fly to Germany, and once I get there, I have no idea what the plan is . . .I’m just going because my girlfriend is there.
You are traveling by yourselves?
What has traveling alone been like for you, Jamel? It’s been great. There’s been some ups and downs, but for the most part it’s been absolutely wonderful. Just . . . figuring things out on your own . . . being in uncomfortable situations and learning a lot about yourself.
What’s it been like traveling alone as a young woman? I am not really traveling alone. I’m always with friends. So, I don’t know . . . you’re free to choose which friend you want to travel with, so you are never really alone. I don’t feel alone.
What will you do when he goes to Germany? I will go to Galapagos to do a tour and after that, I will go back to Peru to see my boyfriend. Yeah.
What have you learned about yourself?
Jamel: I’ve learned things that I like and don’t like. I’ve learned people who to accept, you know . . . even though you don’t know them. Everything is a chance and its such a learning curve as well . . . giving people chances and taking chances by going to different places that you don’t know about. And you learn along the way doing that.
Can you tell me about some of the other travelers that you’ve met?
Jamel: Yeah, so I met my girlfriend in Panama . . . Vera, German . . . wonderful girl and we traveled . . . I’ve spent the most time with her from Panama all the way to Guatemala which is about four months, I guess. You know fell in love with the girl. I don’t really know what else to say, but she is absolutely wonderful. And Jaunia, who I’m here with now and the friendship and the relationship with her is really great. There are certain people who have been there along the way, maybe lasted a couple of weeks . . . like we’d go to one town together in a country and its been great, but I haven’t really like any backstabbing travelers, you know?
When did you meet each other?
Jaunia: In Panama.
Oh in Panama?
Jamel: Yeah, so we met in Panama at a language school, we were studying Spanish there. This was back in August?
Jaunia: In September.
Jamel: In September, but we hadn’t been traveling together. We’ve only been traveling together for about a month now. I met here down in Peru. With Facebook . . . we’ve been keeping in touch and we eventually met up.
Is this trip meeting your expectations?
Jamel: I didn’t know what to expect when I left the States. I didn’t really have a plan. I didn’t think things through when I left Austin. I just knew that I was going to Central America and I didn’t know what to expect . . . so, I guess it’s exceeded my expectations in a way.
Juania: Of course.
With all the countries that you’ve been too, what are the highlights or the experiences that stand out?
Jamel: Yeah . . . there are two: Antigua, Guatemala was by far my favorite city. Its sort of like Cusco in Peru, but not as cold. And the people there are friendly, more friendly. Just the whole vibe. And it was around Christmas time, too. Other than that, Machu Picchu was incredible and breathtaking.
Jaunia: I don’t know . . . every country has something good so I can’t say if there is a best one, but . . . I had the opportunity to do a sailing trip in Peru and that was Awesome. We didn’t have to pay anything, and I couldn’t have afford it if I had to pay. We saw beaches and islands that we never would have seen. And the worst one for me was when we were robbed in the hostel. I was traveling with my best friend from Switzerland and he got robbed with a gun and everything, and yeah that was hard. We didn’t want to leave the hostel anymore.
Was this in Lima?
Jaunia: No, in Puno by Lake Titicaca.
How are your parents with you traveling?
Jamel: Do your parents know you got robbed at gunpoint?
Juania: yeah, I told her a bit after it happened.
What did they take from you?
Juania: From me, not much. From my friend, everything he had. His mobile phone, all the money he had, but his camera was in his jacket and they didn’t find it, so we were pretty lucky because my camera had been stolen in a hostel so we still had our pictures and everything.
Are your parents concerned about you traveling?
Jamel: Of course! My mother is. My dad . . . I had talked to my mom and she’s never left the states and you could see how conceded she could be, but with Skype and Whatsapp its easier for her. But yeah, she is always keeping tabs.
How was it being away from home for Christmas?
Jamel: First time, but you know what . . . it didn’t really hit me as hard as some of the other people I’ve talked too. You know, I’m 29 and I’ve spent every single Christmas with my family and it was . . . I was a bit depressed, but I didn’t bring me down as much. I talked with the family. Skyped with the family . . . saw them and that was enough. I missed the food, of course, but I got to say I love you, Merry Christmas . . . I was with my girlfriend at the time so I didn’t really miss a beat.
Back home, I encountered a lot of misconceptions about Latin America where people think you’re going to be robbed and then killed. What has your experience been like here?
Jamel: Yeah, and you know that was the whole scare for my mom. She was like just go to Europe, you know, it’s safer. I was like, its more expensive, mom . . . my money won’t last as long, but yeah I did have an experience in Panama. Jaunia was there. I had an apartment there for six or seven weeks and I guess i was too friendly with my neighbors and locals . . . but that’s just how I am. People would come over and we’d drink, we’d party, we’d cook . . . so it had to have been someone I met. So one day, I went out to dinner with some friends from the Spanish school and it was early and my next door neighbor found me at the restaurant and she was like “hey, someones broken into your place. You need to get back ASAP. I’ve already called the cops, people are already inside. We need to handle this.” So, I left dinner ran home and everything was gone. I had a camera with lenses, a Macbook Pro, Clothes, you know pretty much everything but my passport. And that night, I was like so scared. I went and slept with Jaunia at the hostel she was staying at. I was just like freaked. I didn’t know who it was . . . it had to have been someone who I had known, but that’s just the way of life in Latin America.
Any advice for other travelers?
Jamel: If you aspire to travel long-term and you don’t really have huge responsibilities back home, then do it. The experience you gain from traveling and how it opens you up in so many different ways, yeah its priceless. Yeah, take that chance and go explore, go have new adventures. We need to see different aspects of life, so yeah, I’d encourage people to come to Latin America, things can happen anywhere . . . like in the States. You don’t want to live a life of just being scared . . . I guess.
Juania: Don’t take too much . . . like computes and expensive things. Yeah, I lost everything and you feel free because you don’t have anything more to lose. So don’t take too much with you.
You mentioned being “opened-up,” how has this trip opened you up?
Jamel: I left the States one other time prior to go to Europe, but I’ve never traveled long-term like this before. I was a little bit closed-minded about . . . everything in sense – the Latin culture . . . I’m open now to the culture, the language. Its small things, like how you approach people, I don’t know . . . but I see the change in me and I wouldn’t have seen it back home at all.
How did you put together a budget for your trip?
Juania: I’m from Europe and in Switzerland you earn a lot and my parents gave me some money. And here, you don’t need too much. For food, you don’t need much. I don’t have to count.
What about you, Jamel, has that been difficult? No, it hasn’t been difficult. When I figured out that I was going to go Europe a while back, and i know how much more expensive it is than here, I started budgeting a lot more because I want to have a good cushion when I go there. I saved up a good amount of money for myself and I knew that the cost of living was sufficiently less down here . . . but the 1st few months was like, I’m in Central America and its party, party, party and you blow money. And its like, why did I do that . . . but you learn.
Is there anything about yourself that you’ve learned on this trip?
Jamel: For sure. I learned how to really appreciate just how good we have it in the States. Even though, in my opinion its a messed up system – just the way think and interact – it doesn’t seem as true. We just exist, we don’t really live. I mean people down here really don’t have much. I’ve been in places where I’ve met people who’ve taught me how to appreciate . . . like even the coffee . . . you know this was a $2 coffee, but some people here can’t drink it. It’s the small things and being able to travel and see it . . . it’s really humbling. and it teaches you . . . that if I go back to the States . . .
If you go back? You mean there is a possibility that you might not go back? I’m open-ended. I bought a one-way ticket and if Europe works out and all goes well with me and my girlfriend, I’m so open to try to make things work. I don’t have any obligations other than family. Which is important and I would go visit, but as far as saying that I live in the States . . . I don’t have any children, I am getting older, but that’s just where I’m at. Over the last six months, I’ve just been really humbled and I’m appreciating every moment . . . really its an adventure.
What about you, anything that you’ve learned on this trip about yourself that maybe you didn’t know?
Jaunia: Yeah, I guess I learned a lot about myself. It’s my first trip that I taken by myself for such a long time. ANd I guess, I can handle situations better now, because before I had never been in such situations. Also with people, I’m more opened minded. I now know what I have in Switzerland . . . there I never knew really what it means when you don’t have money and you have to see if you have enough for food, for example. That’s really hard . . . and now I know what I have in Switzerland.
Why do you like to travel?
Juania: My father all told me that it was good to travel and know new cultures. I’ve traveled with my family when I was younger and because of that . . . yeah . . . I’m not scared to leave my home. Because you can always go back home.
Did you do a lot of research for your trip?
Jaunia: A little bit, but it was a bit scary because on the internet you find a lot if places that say it’s very dangerous. But, the way we are traveling doesn’t make too much sense. . . we went to Quito and then another place . . . and if we researched before we would have had more time.
What do you mean it doesn’t really make sense?
Jaunia: We went to this place and then this place . . .
Jamel: Geographically, we were going north, south, north, south. Back and forth. And you tell people and they’re like, why are you doing it that way? And we don’t know, were just winging it.
So you make up a plan . . .
Jamel: Today. The day of we’ll be like, do you want to go to coast? Sure, let’s go. We just went to Conoa, found out that we hated it and came back.
Why did you hate it?
Jamel: It was super small. There was an earthquake. There just wasn’t much going on. The beach wasn’t all that.
Juania: I’ve been in beach towns for a long time now and I didn’t want to be at the beach anymore.
Jamel: Yeah, I didn’t even get in the water. I read, that’s about it.
So can you tell me what is it about each other that made you want to travel together?
Jamel: I guess from meeting in Panama, initially, I had no idea who you were. You were just a cute girl who seemed nice and you got along with me and Vera. And so, I guess that . . . we clicked in that sense because we were friendly. We were nice. As time went on, we were both in Peru and it just made sense to travel with someone you had established a friendship with because you could see yourself just keeping company with each other. We don’t ask a lot of each other at all. It’s just easy. were just traveling. I think that’s why we’ve been able to travel for so long, were in the same boat.
Jaunia: The same, I think.
Jamel: The fact that we don’t have plans makes it really easy.
In the future, what do you think will happen with your friendship?
Jamel: So I’ll be in Europe in a week and you fly back, March 15th?
Juania: The 17th.
Jamel: She invited us to go snow boarding in the Alps, so we will meet up for that. . . we should be okay for the future. I can see a friendship . . . especially if all goes well in Europe, so yeah I can see us being friends for sure.
Do you agree?
Jaunia: Yeah, for sure.