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Life Before Travel

What should happen to make just an ordinary girl set up for not-so-ordinary backpacking trip in South America. Solo.
It is still widely believed that to travel around the world for years one should have a thick pack of dollars under a pillow, maintain a remote job with a very high stable income or have an incredible amount of guts to wonder around without those two. However, when i set up on my trip in Latin America in February 2015, i didn't belong to any of these categories. This is the story of just an ordinary girl who swapped her secure being and well-paid job for life on the road in search for freedom, love and happiness.

Evgenia Berestneva
Author of the Text

An Ordinary Girl

There can't be more ordinary girl than i am. I have being born and raised in an ordinary working class family in provincial town (watch video), somewhere in the middle of Russia. Dad left when i was 3, and mum with grandparents made their best to save me from bad company, parties, alcohol and drugs, and graft good morals and responsibility for my future. I had it clear - dream life is the one with husband, kids, an apartment, a car, a successful career, well-paid job and luxury summer vacations once a year. Wherein, education was first in this chain of successful events planned for my future, so most of the first 18 years of my life i studied to ensure my free entree in a good university.
I had it clear - dream life is the one with husband, kids, an apartment, a car, a successful career, well-paid job and luxury summer vacations once a year.
Above: Grandparents in their apartment in Yelets, Russia.
Below: Streets of Yelets, my home town.
Thankfully, good universities in Russia are located in big cities, which brought me to Saint-Petersburg, 1200km far from home, where i started to leave alone. Provincial reality made me choose financial management as a future career, thinking that well-paid jobs are concentrated in banks and other financial institutions. Passion, skills, talents, dreams, you might ask? No, i've been well domesticated and following the plan of a "dream life."

Same logic brought me to AIESEC, student volunteer organization, that was doing social projects and exchange program in over 100 countries. I assigned myself to sales team, because that was the fastest way to get useful contacts for future job, even though my palms were sweating during cold calls and i was stupefied at meetings.
Passion, skills, talents, dreams, you might ask?
No, i've been well domesticated and following the plan of a "dream life."
Saint-Petersburg, where i went to study in university, Russia.

From Best Student to a Dropped-out

Pretty soon i went on an AIESEC conference, where the chain of events in my plan for a "dream life" has broken for the first time, and i figured that ordinary 20-year-old guys around me were going to fight genocide in Rwanda or teach english kids in rural India, trying to make a world a better place. It was real, possible and seemed so much more interesting than a diploma in financial management, that from the best student on my first university year i turned into a "dropped-out" before the last session of exams because of the lack of attendance.

In the end i still got that diploma, but when i was missing classes, i've been busy discovering that my passion and talent laid in graphic design, because the only thing i enjoyed doing in sales team was designing proposals. Design, communications, public relations since then turned to be the only area of work for the next 5 years after i finished my financial degree. After my university AIESEC brought me to Italy for a year job, and then for a year internship in Qatar, where i got stuck for other four.
Different moments from AIESEC conferences around the world. Photo credits: AIESEC International

Life in a Desert

I liked my job in Qatar. I've been managing communications in a social start-up for youth development and we always were doing something crazy, something we had no idea about. Sports festival for thousands of people (watch video), leadership conferences with top speakers, volunteering events, sustainable development projects - we had a very young team of interns from different countries, trying to learn, experiment and make everything work together. I enjoyed it so much, that i was kind of ignoring the fact that i didn't like to live in a desert, and that the interests and lifestyle of many people around were way too superficial and materialistic.
Don't misunderstand me. There are plenty of interesting things to do in Qatar, and i'm very grateful for everything i've learned in these years, especially the stereotypes i've broken about muslim culture.

But i always knew, that one day i will leave.
Different moments from work experience in Qatar. Photo credits: The Youth Company

The Beginning of the End

For the first time i quit a job in Qatar in 2013, when i realized that i got totally bored to do graphic design, that i wasn't learning anymore. That time i went to Thailand for 3 months to spend time with myself and understand what to do next. I didn't understand anything at all, but at least, enjoyed time in Asia and learned how to play piano, my childhood dream.

When i got back to Qatar, i decided to stay for couple of months with my boyfriend, celebrate our birthdays, New Year and then go to Latin America. But, meanwhile, i got another offer at my old job, which i couldn't refuse. I started to manage a co-working space, which i was helping to set-up from zero together with my boss, and it took me another year. I always wanted to try how it is to manage a physical space, curate projects and events, look for resources, sponsors and sell services. I had to be a queen of multitasking, so i totally dived into it. It was a sort of test-drive of entrepreneurship, but without risk, because i had a pay-check.
Young management team and partners of start-up co-working space in Doha, Qatar
In the process i realized that i needed more freedom. In making decisions, in a way of working. And i fall in love working with start-ups, help them grow, look for mentors and investors and facilitate their collaboration. So, it seemed to me that i was ready to do it on my own, to open my co-working space, which could be 100% mine. Where i could work with my soul-mates, according to my values, and not in Qatar.
I was craving for another way of thinking, i wanted to do everything with my own hands, and wanted to have this space in a place, where it was a real necessity for young entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, my year contract was getting over, and it was a good moment to transfer my knowledge and leave.
On the road with Felice Marano, one of the best friends, Qatar, 2014.

Italian Vacations

In Russia we say that the way you celebrate New Year
is the way you will spend it
Perhaps, all my job reflections wouldn't lead to anything, if not for a New Year story i can't skip. The Eve of 2015 we were celebrating in Budapest, Hungary, where we went with an Italian family of my ex-boyfriend - 20+1 Russian. That wasn't an easy vacation, so, when the chimes were beating midnight and all people on the main square were kissing each other under fireworks, we with my boyfriend were separating, after 5 years of living together.

And though i was crying, in reality i was feeling that everything that was happening was so unexpected and absurd, that i actually enjoyed it. The rest of the night i spent dancing in a countryside pab for national hungarian music with friends of my boyfriend's younger brother, and when we came back to Qatar, i quit my job and bought tickets to Brazil.
I was 27 and i was too much afraid, that one day i could wake up with family, kids, stuck in my job and tones of responsibilities, that would never allow me to roam around the world wild and free. I strongly felt that it's time to go before it's too late. And it was really "Now or Never" moment for me as one of my friends told me.


This phrase became a name for a blog, which i started to write in the beginning of the trip, then turned into a personal motto in the moments of hesitation or fear, and ended up on my back as the first tattoo i did later on in Bolivia. But, when it all started, i had no idea that after a couple of years i would still live on the road without any desire to stop.
Camping in the mountains during cycling trip, Argentina 2015
Reaching Tafi del Valle during cycling trip, Argentina, 2015.
From Colombia to Panama on a sailing boat, 2016.
Initially, I had a return ticket in 6 months in order to renew my resident documents in Qatar, and in this time i was planning to quickly make a round through South America, look for potential places to live and open my co-working space. While first 3 months i was still sticking to a plan, going to co-working places and events in the south of Brazil, doing market research, everything has changed when i met Rodrigo in Uruguay with whom we started a bicycle trip (read story "Bikepacking: A Girl, A Bicycle and 6000km from Argentina to Colombia").

A Friend in Court is Better than a Penny in Purse

As you can see, before i took on a plane to San Paulo in February 2015, there was neither a "millionaire" stage in my life, nor had i a stable remote job. It was rather a long chain of interconnected events, special people and funny circumstances, that slowly made me go. The only thing i was doing is trying to let it flow and let life happen to me.

What about money then? If not a million, how much do you, actually, need to set up on a long-term traveling?

Unfortunately, i haven't been that courageous as many other people i met on the way, who left their houses with a backpack, one-way ticket and 50$ in their pocket. Or, to be more precise, at that moment i just didn't know how easy it is. I managed to save a thousand bucks for every out of the 6 months abroad as a safety pillow and was doing some occasional freelance job as well. Reality check showed that i could get along with one third of these money.

But, fortunately, i was ready for a minimum level of comfort in exchange for a good company and an adventure, i was open enough to try alternative ways to cut on costs during the trip (Read story "PRICE TAG: How to Cut on Costs during Long Backpacking Trips in South America) and i have been crazy enough to change initial plans and embrace uncertainty, when i cancelled my return ticket, left my suit-case behind and started a bicycle trip. Since then it was a wonderful journey around many countries in South and Central America, backpacking, cycling, hitchhiking, volunteering, and i don't have plans to stop any time soon.
By bicycle to Machu Picchu, 4.316m cross point, Peru, 2015
Leaving Tafi del Valle during cycling trip in Argentina, 2015.
Camping in Salar de Uyuni during bicycle trip in Bolivia, 2015.
Maybe, it's a good time to mention that long-term traveling is not at all the most desired and best thing to do with your life, as it is sometimes marketed in nowadays media. Many people are doing perfectly fine establishing in one place, and are totally happy devoting themselves to development in one field. It took me a while to understand, that i belong to a very different group, for which constant urge for new learnings and experiences is as normal and necessary for happiness as breathing is to be alive. So, if you are gipsy by nature, like me, and the idea of settling up make you shiver, remember, that to have a nomad lifestyle is neither hard nor expensive.

They also say that it takes a lot of courage to cross the ocean and travel around Latin America, being a girl alone. They talk about drug cartels, gerilla, thieves, kidnappers, violators. I say, that, as many others, i have been raised with a paranoid mind, traumatized by the nature of news in public media, the only purpose of which is to feed fear and make an easy controllable nation. I wasn't courageous at all, and in the beginning of my trip any strangers who were way too nice, seemed too suspicious. It's just that my desire to explore the world was way higher than the fear of danger. And i'm happy, that overcoming that fear (which at times didn't make me sleep well at nights) i discovered totally different world - full of kind people, caring strangers, who will share their food, home and time with you without expecting anything in return.
Meet indigenous woman in the mountains when cycling through Peru, 2015
when my friends tell me about dangers of latin america, i show them how in the middle of peruvian mountains total strangers invite me for a beer and gift bread for the way...
Finally, looking back on what made an ordinary girl like me to make a different twist to my life, i realize the importance of having the "right" people around. Those who do what you would like to be doing, who inspire you, give opportunities and make you see that everything is pretty easy and possible.

My special team, perhaps, consist of:

Click on the photo to get to know my team of "special" people
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