I was flipping through the pages of my travel notebook, when I stopped on the first page I wrote about Rio de Janeiro. Memories of the few days I spent in that city quickly came flooding in and I was brought back to my first feelings of true independence and wanderlust. I remember it like it was yesterday. For me, Rio planted the seed for my last few years of solo travel, and the many more to come. Rio is where it all began.
At the time back in 2011, the concept of solo travel had never really occurred to me until I was frustrated because I wanted to use my vacation days to travel internationally and I had no one to accompany me. I finally decided that just because I didn’t have anyone to go with did not mean that I should just throw away the idea of going somewhere altogether. To make my parents more comfortable with the idea, I agreed to go on a two-week tour through Brazil, Argentina, and Chile instead of backpack on my own. At the time I didn’t know much about backpack travel and was too busy at work to plan anything, so a tour was the easy way out.
I was on a tour, but I was on my own for the first time in a long time in a city with no one I knew. Traveling alone was liberating, I could be whoever I wanted to be. Of course I chose to be myself, but it was nice to meet people in a different country whom I had no prior connections to. It didn’t take long in Rio for me to learn that saying “hi” can lead to great conversation with Cariocas (Rio locals) on the beach and salsa night in with some expats. Saying “hi” has since led me to meet lovely people, such as locals in places like Kerala.
Reading through my notebook, I feel as though I’m right back on Copacabana Beach. No two people looked alike; there were Cariocas of all colors, shapes and sizes mingling. I couldn’t tell the difference between a Brazilian and a tourist, and I loved that. (Side note: when I went to Buenos Aires, the locals thought I was Brazilian, I really loved that). It was the beginning of the summer and everyone just wanted to have a good time. The beachside streets were vibrant from morning until night. Many locals were very focused on their fitness, jogging and exercising on the beach. And the women in Brazilian bikinis had a level of confidence that I didn’t even know existed!
I just happened to be walking along Ipanema Beach as the sun was setting when I heard the sound of clapping. Everyone on the beach clapped until the sun disappeared into the ocean. I later realized this is a normal occurrence in Rio, but just thinking about that scene makes my heart pitter-patter. That feeling happens to me whenever I travel now; I fall in love with places. I wrote about that feeling in Goa, and I remember the same feelings in many of the places I’ve been, like Darjeeling and Kathmandu.
I took a leap of faith in Rio. Literally. I went hang gliding; I jumped off of a cliff in the Tijuca Forest and landed on the beach. I’m an “go big or go home” type of person; as soon as I heard that hang gliding was popular in Rio, I signed up without thinking twice. It was one of my most memorable experiences to date. For about seven minutes, it was just me and my trusted instructor flying in the Rio air. I think I let go of all of my inhibitions when I jumped off of that ramp. The girl who jumped off of the cliff was not the same girl who landed on the beach.
Here’s a fast-forwarded version of my hang gliding video (be sure to increase the quality so it looks better!):
The day I left Rio, I felt like I had a lump in my throat and I thought I might cry. It was as if I was saying goodbye to a good friend. In a way, I was. I was saying goodbye to the place that set me free and opened my heart and mind to the wildest of possibilities. Rio set the stage for my wanderlust.
In my notebook I write how I hated that the nomadic life is frowned upon in the US and wished I could give up my NYC life to travel the world. I am so happy that I am finally making my wish come true. It was only a few days, but it lit a fire of wanderlust inside me that has yet to be extinguished.
What place or experience triggered your wanderlust?