Welcome to our newest feature here on the Fringe: our Inspiring Traveler Series! I’ll be profiling an Inspiring Traveler each month. We’ve all met an Inspiring Traveler, and my goal with this feature is to highlight the fascinating things these people are doing abroad. Most narratives will take place in Latin America, but I’m open to other Inspiring Traveler stories, too! So, without any further ado…
Hi, meet Larissa!
When I first met Larissa, we were sitting near each other on a plane headed from Panama City to Medellín. This was the beginning of what, for me, would become a whirlwind trip through Colombia. For Larissa, it was the final leg of a 4.5 month-long solo travel experience through Latin America. (We started chatting because a Puerto Rican guy sitting next to me on the plane was helping her fill out her customs form.)
Larissa knows how to hustle, and that’s one of the reasons I think she is such an inspirational individual. She’s a Canadian entrepreneur who started a business, Rhythm FX, when she was in her early 20s, and now that she’s preparing for her next solo trip to Southeast Asia, she’s working remotely as a social media manager, too.
Where did she go?
During her trip, she traveled through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia (with a bunch of island-hopping scattered throughout!)
Why Central America?
Larissa’s always had a thing for Central America. From friends and ex-boyfriends who had traveled to the region and came back loving it, she said, “Honestly, my first boyfriend was Dominican, emigrated to Canada, always spoke Spanish to me and danced salsa with me. And I’ve had three or four flings over the last four to five years with guys who have gone through Central America and raved about how amazing it was. I had a friend of a friend move to Nicaragua, and my old chiropractor had moved to Costa Rica. It was one of those places that just kept coming up in my life.”
She’s also a dancer by training. And traveling throughout Central America allowed her to fulfill a lifelong passion of salsa dancing abroad. “I’ve danced my whole life, and I’ve always had a closet dream where I’d like to professionally compete in a salsa or bachata competition someday,” she said. Instead of competing (this time around!), Larissa worked on developing her dancing skills in-house. She took salsa lessons in Antigua, danced until 4:00 in the morning in Leόn and salsa’d consistently with a local Colombian during her week in Cartagena.
And she did this all without speaking Spanish?
Larissa studied Spanish in school, and she had a long-term partner whose parents moved to Mexico. She practiced during their trips down to visit them, but Larissa says she’d forgotten most of the language by the time she took her trip. According to her, though, the region is perfectly manageable for non-Spanish-speakers.
“[It was] way easier than I thought it would be,” she said. “I definitely feel like I missed out on connecting with local people because I couldn’t speak the language, and that was probably my biggest regret. If I were to do it again, I would have started my trip with four weeks in a Spanish school so I could connect with the locals more. But in terms of logistics, it’s not rocket science.” So how did she get by? “Hand gestures mixed with Google translate and a little Spanish,” she said.
Did she feel safe?
Tons of ugly stereotypes persist about Latin America, and Central America especially seems to bear the brunt of it. But despite all kinds of travel warnings, Larissa didn’t have any problems. She said that throughout her trip, she always felt as if there was a good Samaritan around who would have her back if anything were to happen.
“A long as you’re in a well-lit, public area, they’re not going to let something happen to you,” she said. “I feel like people are innately good, and that’s one thing I learned in Central America. I never felt like people were out to get me.”
What did she learn?
“Don’t get dead set on checking sites off a list,” she said. “Sometimes it’s more about who you’re experiencing something with than seeing something you saw a picture of on Instagram.”
Larissa kept her schedule flexible and focused on activities and trips that spoke to her. Notable choices were thrift shopping in Guatemala and literally throwing out a bus ticket to Belize because she didn’t feel like visiting anymore. She spent her spare time focusing on yoga and meditation, two activities that are important to her. She believes travel is an excellent way to experience the universe. For fellow travelers, she suggests you go with the flow because “the people you meet and the opportunities that present themselves to you come your way for a reason.”
Ruta de Las Flores (El Salvador)
Why she loved it:
- “I felt like tourism is not that big there yet, and backpackers aren’t as common. So, society hasn’t been changed or altered for tourism’s benefit. So what you’re seeing is really how people live their lives day in and day out.”
Real City Tours (Medellín, Colombia)
Why she loved it:
- “I went on a walking tour with the world’s best guide. This woman, the amount of history and culture and education she gave us on a city and how it functions and people’s general perspectives and beliefs — it was amazing.”
Why she loved it:
- “That’s one of those cities I could get sucked into and stay in a lot of time.”
Want to stay up-to-date on Larissa’s latest adventures? Be sure to check out her Instagram.
Do you know someone who would make a great addition to the Inspiring Traveler Series? Send me a tip at firstname.lastname@example.org!
(Header Image: Cerro Verde in Santa Ana, El Salvador | Photo Courtesy of Larissa Kovalenko)