I forget her name- that German girl I met at the Blue Youth Hostel in Quito, Ecuador. She spoke excellent Spanish and English. She held herself well with this confident, alluring presence. She told me she found herself in Cali: the salsa capital of Colombia.

I’ll have you know some of the most interesting conversations happen in hostels with people who’s names you never acquire either because you never asked, which is a shame, or due to the high volume of travelers you come across while hostel hopping. In my case, it was the latter mixed with alcohol and a few hours of sleep.

Luckily for me, her name isn’t important for what I want to share with you today. Whats important is the conversation we shared and how It made me rethink my perspective on traveling.

This German girl stayed months in Cali, Colombia learning to Salsa. The only reason she was in Ecuador was to get more time on her visa so she could return to Cali and continue dancing. She spoke about this city as if it were imbued with magic. To her it was the best place in the world.

I could feel how passionate she was about salsa by the way she searched for adequate words to describe her emotions. She said it was the first time in her 20 something years that she felt like she belonged. It was her genuine calling.

The energy she felt dancing was cathartic. When she salsa’d she never felt more beautiful or free. That was the most important thing to her, was to feel free to be herself.

So there we were at three o’clock in the morning outside of a nightclub in centro Quito ears buzzing, eyes drooping, stomach growling for something other than cerveza. She told me something I’ll never forget. It’s something I look back on from time to time because It made me question myself and my reason for traveling.

I want to share this with you because not only did it help me become more self aware but It’s important to anyone who seeks a life of travel.

She said,

“Everyone is either looking for something or trying to run away from something.

What are you searching for?

What are you attempting to escape?

Why are you here, Ryan?”

I took a few seconds to think. A few seconds went by.  I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer and so I deflected the question back to her.

She answered with confidence. She was in search for passion and meaning outside of her normal, everyday routine. She found Salsa and for her that was what she needed, it was that thing missing from her life.

People travel in search for something or to escape from something. Sometimes it’s both but it’s important to find out what those things are so you can come to terms with them.

It’s been well over five months since Ecuador and still that conversation stays with me. I’ve had alot of time to think about what I should’ve said to her that night.

To start I should’ve said I was there to meet her. I was there to partake in that exact conversation with her in order to start questioning my reasons for traveling in the first place.

I mean, Initially I went to South America on a mutually shared whim to see a new and exciting part of the world. I had goals like learning the language, the history, the art, the customs of the people. I wanted to be fully immersed to get a good idea of the culture.

I wanted to accomplish these tasks, but why?

Replaying in my mind: You have to ask yourself, what are you searching for and what is it in your life that youre trying to avoid or don’t want to deal with?

These are personal questions. They’re difficult to answer because they require deep digging.

I reflected on my first trip to Pico after I graduated from Highschool back in 2015. That trip revolved around the essential question, “who am I?”

Back then I was seeking self. That was my main purpose. I spent six months surrounded by the ocean soul searching.

By the end I didn’t come up with a definition to who I am, but rather a personal narrative that gave meaning to my experiences.

Traveling for me has always been about expressing my curiosity for the world and about confronting myself.

I seek to express myself and meet people who change the way I look at the world and therefore myself as well. I desire change and that’s what travel does for me. It alters my state of consciousness in a way that I’m more observant and aware of not only the external environment, but the internal landscape in which everything is perceived and interpreted.

If I could go back and tell that German girl- I really wish I could remember her name right now- I would say I’m seeking expression, to expand who I am.

I learned a lot about myself on this trip to South America. I know it’s cliche to say it was life changing but it’s true, It really was in ways I’m probably not even aware of yet. Every time I’ve ventured outside of my known surroundings, my comfort zone, my home, I learn an incredible amount about myself and the world around me.

The morning after our conversation, I left Quito to go to Latacunga, Ecuador. I wished her farewell and good luck on her travels. I hope she found her way back to Cali, back to where she felt wholesome.

I won’t forget what she told me. I can’t.

When I plan for my next trip I know her words will appear before me guiding my reason and intent. With that said I extend her words to you, dear reader.

Everyone is either looking for something or trying to escape something.

What are you searching for?

What are you attempting to escape?

Why are you here?

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