The 6 Month Mark

Today marks 6 months of travel in South America! I thought I’d do another high-level check-in of where I’m at in my trip.


I’ve been thinking about money a lot lately, since it’s coming down to the wire of how long I can last before I’m forced to get a job due to depleted savings. Here’s the continued trend of my savings as of today. I’ve done my best to appease my many vocal y-axis critics.


I had a mini-panic looking over the numbers to put this post together. To explain, I should mention that 0% isn’t the point where I’m out on the streets eating out of garbage cans. The zero-point on the graph is when I have enough money for a plane ticket home and enough to cover living expenses for up to 3 months as I look for a job. As you can see from the graph, I’m at 35% remaining, which should put me under-budget when I return home in ~2 months.

The mini-panic came from my confusion after my recent change of return plans. Initially, I planned to live at home until I found a job, so I budgeted my “looking for a job” money that way. When I decided to come home earlier, I thought, “Well, I’ll be living in NYC, which costs more than living at home, but I’ll be coming home earlier and will have travel money left over.” I did a bunch of ballpark mental additions and subtractions and divisions by cost per month and somehow came away thinking my money would cover me for roughly 15 years in the city before I’d have to find a job. It turns out that this is not the case. After more rigorous calculations, it looks like I’ll probably have to find a job much sooner, like within 3-4 months of returning, which means starting to look for a job within about 1 month of my return. Shudder.

The Apartment Era

The big change since my last checkpoint is that I’ve been mostly in short-term furnished apartments rather than hostels. There are definitely tradeoffs to either choice. The main advantage to apartments for me is that I can get a lot of work done. I have long, uninterrupted stretches where I can focus in a way that I couldn’t in hostels. This is also a drawback because it becomes very easy to not go out and explore. For things like food, it’s certainly faster and cheaper to cook my own than to go find a restaurant, so I almost never eat out. On the other hand, it was fun going around and trying a bunch of different restaurants and ordering randomly off menus to see what food would arrive.

The other benefit to hostels is that socializing happens more or less automatically. On a weekend night in a hostel, I’d either go out with people I’d met in the hostel or go out to meet people on my own because I don’t want to be the lame-o in the dorm room who’s going to bed at 11pm on a Friday night. In apartments, it’s really easy to fall into a mode of just hanging out at home and studying or programming because it’s the comfortable thing to do. I have to actually be disciplined about forcing myself to go out and meet new people.

Speaking Spanish

One of my goals of this trip was to learn to speak Spanish proficiently (though probably not fluently). It’s tough to accurately gauge my progress but I think at this point I’m at proficient or near proficient. I can comfortably have conversations in Spanish, but there’s definitely still a conscious effort of translating my thoughts into Spanish and I make a lot of grammatical mistakes.

Lately, I’ve realized one thing I really miss about the US is being able to speak English with native speakers. While I can say almost everything I want and understand what is said to me, it still feels like my conversational wings are clipped. Obviously, the language barrier is a large part of this, though I feel like it’s not all of it. Even when I talk to South Americans who are fluent in English, it’s like we can’t quite connect all the way, except in cases where they’ve spent a lot of time with Westerners.

I have a hard time explaining why, but the best example I can think of is with regard to making jokes. I’ll sometimes make a joke that the person I’m talking to doesn’t understand and I’ll realize that it assumes a specific knowledge of American culture, like a saying or a celebrity that a South American wouldn’t know. But I also realized that I’ll often make jokes that don’t reference anything at all and they still won’t make sense to the other person. It’s like we just don’t have the same system of reference to each think certain jokes are funny. If I’m making a joke by turning a normal idea on its head, it’s only funny if we both share an idea of what “normal” is.

I realize that’s not a very clear explanation, but it’s tough to explain since I don’t understand it completely myself. Given how incoherent that last paragraph was, it’ll be funny if I return home and find out that my communication skills have actually drifted to the mean between my Spanish proficiency and my pre-trip English proficiency and I’m trapped in language limbo where I can’t understand anyone completely.

The Home Stretch

I’m returning to NY on August 7th, which gives me about 50 more days in Colombia. My focus until then is going to be on publishing a beta version of a program I’ve been working on, improving my Spanish, and continuing to meet new Colombians.

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