Lessons Learned After My First 100 Days Abroad

Last week I passed the century mark.

I have now been abroad in Colombia for just over 100 days, and I have enjoyed every minute of it. In fact, I actually planned to stay less than 100 days, but here I am!

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned in my first 100 days abroad:

1) Have At Least One Connection On The Ground

When I first arrived to Colombia, I was greeted by some folks that I had been emailing and talking with for several months prior. Since it was my first trip to a Spanish-speaking country, I really felt relieved to have someone I could talk to and ask questions to, in English. This was one thing I did right. Their advice and hospitality were welcome as the first few days in a totally foreign environment really sent my head buzzing.

It really helps to have at least one connection in the city you are going to. It can help you immensely, especially if you don’t speak the language, and the city is absolutely gigantic like Bogotá.

2) Allow Yourself A Flexible Schedule

I was volunteering for the first two months of my time here in Bogotá, and had a really good time. However, looking back, I wish I had been able to go on more short trips around the country, and perhaps volunteer only 1 month instead of 2. Now that I am traveling around the country, I feel free enough to make side trips here and there and to go to the places I feel attracted to.

So, it helps not to get yourself into a long commitment you don’t know much about, or even a demanding schedule of catching buses and arriving to destinations late at night. Take time to enjoy your travel, and allow yourself the time to travel slowly.

3) Your Blog Is A Location Independent Asset

I have met people in Colombia that I would not have met if it weren’t for my blog. Having a blog and connecting with people on Twitter are some awesome tools to improve your social life abroad, and they are really some of your bigger assets for international travel. Blogging is also a way to record memories, describe experiences, and recount the things you did on your trip.

I didn’t quite understand all of this until I started traveling. If you are trying to become location independent, keep in mind that having a good blog will open doors for you. If you haven’t got one yet, today’s a great day to start one! 🙂

4) Hanging With Gringos Will NOT Help Your Spanish.

The downside of hanging out with cool people that speak English is that you speak ENGLISH with them, and not Spanish. Whether it is a traveler/blogger meetup, or just staying in a hostel, the fact is that you don’t get enough practice with your foreign language by hanging with gringos. To this end, I have noticed a slowing of my spanish acquisition in recent weeks due to decreased exposure to the language.

If you want to learn a new language abroad, make sure you hangout with the locals, and live with them if possible. Hang with gringos, you will keep talking like a gringo.

5) Some Things Will Not Go As Planned

Let’s see… My laptop’s mousepad broke. The zipper on my luggage broke. I didn’t bring sufficient anti-diarrhea medicine for when I got sick. The bus ride to Medellín was basically a meat freezer. I didn’t bring the right camera. I broke my iphone.

All of these things have been hiccups in my travel experience… but you know what? I survived. Each of these instances were very inconvenient to say the least, but in the last analysis, they are just going to happen. The important thing is to remain as resilient as possible and put one foot in front of the other in dealing with these difficulties.

How This Is Relevant To You

I don’t expect any long-term travel abroad to be perfect, but I am glad I have come across these lessons now. They have been helpful for me, and I hope they are helpful for you.

Can you relate to these lessons? Tell me about it in the comments!

  • Having spent 48 hours to get from LA to Cartagena due to unforeseen circumstances, completely agree with you on #5. But we survived. Phew.

  • Having spent 48 hours to get from LA to Cartagena due to unforeseen circumstances, completely agree with you on #5. But we survived. Phew.

    • 48 hours?? That must be a story! 🙂 Do tell…

  • Mike, it was a very big benefit for me, especially considering it was my first trip solo into a land that speaks an entirely different language. If you don’t know Spanish, couchsurfing might be a really good choice. Buen viaje!

  • Good tips, Ryan, I am hoping to get some long term travel under my belt again, seems like have had a lot of success in Colombia!

    • Thanks Liz… Maybe see you on the road! 🙂

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