Lessons Learned in Bogotá, Colombia

“Colombia? Like, the country?”

This was a question I received countless times in the months leading up to my trip to Bogotá, Colombia. While there were friends who were incredibly supportive of my trip, many people seemed absolutely baffled by my admission that my first experience abroad would be to a country few people associated with tourism. These offerings were disheartening, but regardless, I packed my bags and began the trip to the country that was such a mystery to me.

The trip was full of surprises with missed flights, unintended layovers in Miami, and late night landings, but I arrived in Bogotá ready for the adventure to begin. Once there, I was greeted by John and Ella, my dear friends who live in Bogotá and were gracious enough to offer me a place to stay during my visit.

I would have to write a short book if I wanted to detail everything that happened during my trip, so I will instead share three lessons learned during my visit to Colombia.

If you’d like to view daily happenings, check out my “Colombia” Instagram Story Highlight!

Lesson #1: Trust Your Taxi Driver | I am a naturally cautious person, so imagine my horror when I learned that taxi drivers in Colombia are anything but that. This lesson was realized minutes after my arrival when I took a taxi from the airport to my friends’ apartment. It was 2 a.m., and the driver sped through the city streets running literally every red light between the airport and the apartment. I did my best to mentally prepare for death by car accident, so I was somewhat surprised when I somehow managed to arrive safely.

At first, I wondered if my taxi driver had been a unique daredevil, but I soon came to realize that this was not an isolated incident and that Colombian taxi drivers really do drive that quickly. Surprisingly, after my fourth or fifth hair-raising taxi ride through the city, I noticed that I was no longer clutching the seat and praying for my life to be spared. The lesson is that the drivers in Colombia do this every day, so I just needed to get over my fear and enjoy the moments spent flying through the beautiful city.

Lesson #2: I am NOT in Control | Anyone who knows me well probably read that statement and cringed knowing just how much of a control freak I am. Turns out, you can’t always be in control when you are in a country where you barely know basic phrases and don’t understand the customs.

This lesson was pounded into my head every time I had to order something in broken Spanish, which was always punctuated by incredibly awkward silences and tight smiles exchanged with the person taking my order. But the biggest indicator of my lack of control came when I decided to go into the city on my own one afternoon.

I walked around downtown and spent some time touring a museum before taking a cab to a mall about thirty minutes away. All was going well until I wanted to leave the mall to head back to the apartment. I first tried to use Uber (yes, they have that in Colombia), but my international SIM card wasn’t working which meant I couldn’t load the app. After failing to locate WIFI, I headed to the curb to try hailing a cab the old-fashioned way. It was rush hour at this point, so it was impossible to get a ride. And it was in this moment that I felt truly out of control.

I began walking home in the dark and felt anxiety bubbling within me as I did so. Even the neighborhoods I had begun growing accustomed to looked different and somewhat menacing at night, and I was truly rattled by the experience. In the end, I learned the valuable lesson that while it doesn’t take much to feel like I’m not in control, I can choose to respond in either a panicked way or by being level-headed. My hope, if something similar happens in the future, is to jump straight to the calm response because the moment of panic was pretty exhausting.

Lesson #3: It Doesn’t Take Much to Marvel | One of my most quoted phrases is one from, prepare yourself, the stunning work of literature Eat Pray Love. The quote is, “I want to go someplace where I can marvel at something. Language, gelato, spaghetti, something…” Ok, so the quote kind of loses steam along the way, but you get the point.

For so long, I have wanted to experience a place where I could immerse myself in color and culture, and I finally got that opportunity in Colombia. It isn’t an overly tourist-heavy place, so it felt like I was seeing wonders that few people knew about. There were colorful markets, delicious foods, and unforgettable views from the tops of mountains.

The amazing thing is that I didn’t have to spend an exorbitant amount of money to achieve this feeling of wonder. Instead, I contacted fantastic friends who let me crash in their apartment while showing me the city they now call home. That goes to show that extraordinary travel doesn’t need to involve a resort and guided tours. Honestly, it’s probably better without them.

So there you have an incredibly condensed version of my trip to Bogotá. It’s hard to believe that I was in a completely foreign culture a little over a week ago, but it feels good to be back home with all of the knowledge and experiences collected in Colombia.

Rest assured that many more anecdotes will trickle out regarding my first time in a foreign country. And in the meantime, do yourself a favor and strongly consider booking a trip to a new place. I promise it’ll be unforgettable.

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