9 In Archaeology + History/ Hiking + The Outdoors/ Peru/ Travel/ Travel Talk

26 Things I Learned on the 26 Miles of the Inca Trail

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Hiking the Inca Trail was such an incredible experience. Even though it was only 4 days of hiking, I learned a lot about the Inca Trail & the sites on it, about myself, the way I travel and the way I look at things. Check out the 26 lessons I learned- one for each mile.

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1- I’m more nurturing than I thought:

It’s no secret that I don’t see myself as an especially nurturing person – and honestly, others don’t see me that way either. However, when Stacey had altitude sickness I surprised myself (and she said I surprised her too) as I fixed tea for her, brought her bags down, weighed them, got her water and more. It was actually a good feeling that came shockingly natural to me.

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2- Slow it down:

I typically do things at a very fast pace. When I travel I like to get the most out of each experience as I can (i.e. squeeze as much into it as possible). So, when we were hiking and I wasn’t going at my normal break-neck speed I learned that I got even more out of my travel experience from doing just that- slowing down. Taking breaks allowed us to look back at the views more often, see hummingbirds and a vicuña, and take the time to get to know people. If I had gone faster, I would’ve spent more time reading in my tent… So, slow was much better.

3- Altitude sickness is a real thing:

My roommate had warned me about altitude sickness and blogs warned about altitude sickness, but I thought I was invincible and that we would have no issues… Let me tell you, it’s the real deal guys. Even if you don’t get sick-sick it’s still harder to breathe or go at paces you would normally be hiking or walking at, so be aware.

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4- You will befriend people you would’ve never thought you would befriend:

Travel is such an amazing lens to look at life and people through. It allows you to step outside your normal realm and meet new people that you would never ever meet in the “real world” or if you did you could make some sort of snap judgement based on one comment or something else small in passing. Traveling with this group was fantastic, though. We all got along and I made some really great friends.

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5- I’m a CONTROL FREAK:

I like to be in control of what I’m doing. I had all these weird little issues, but I think by the end I was able to let go a little bit… I think. You’ll have to ask Stacey. Ha

6- My travel-style as changed again:

I’m a believer in letting your travel-style change and evolve. I have become a really independent traveler. Part of that goes back to my control freak issues, but I think it’s really a cool experience when you watch how you grow and change as a traveler, and you should embrace those changes!

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7- Porters saved my trip:

Being a more independent traveler, I wanted to do this whole trip on our own, and I’m really glad that Stacey didn’t want to because it wouldn’t have been the experience it was. We were so pampered and well taken care of by the porters. Plus, watching the one person we encountered who was doing it without porters made my stomach twist in knots because I couldn’t imagine how much pain she was in. This was so much more enjoyable only packing what we needed for the day.

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8- Sometimes I need a minute… Or 30:

It’s normal when you spend every waking moment with someone for days on end, and by day three of the hike and day six of the trip I needed a minute. I was all of a sudden extremely cranky & impatient, and Stacey was feeling the same, so in a moment of a little spat we decided to hike separate for a bit. I walked on ahead for about 30 minutes, and it was a much-needed break of me-time for the both of us. Guess what? It did the trick. We met back up at an overlook and hiked together again. Sometimes you just need a moment of alone time and it makes all the difference.

9- How to use a squat toilet:

This was my first experience with squat toilets. I had had plenty of experience going outside, but this was a different, dirty game. It was basically the last thing I wanted to see when I had hiked 10 miles up and down crazy Inca steps. I eventually mastered them- even with my knees shaking from the hike- but don’t you think that all us ladies weren’t talking about how great it was to sit on a toilet for at least five minutes at Machu Picchu.

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10- Sometimes being a travel-elitest creeps up on you:

I have read several things about travel-elitests, and didn’t really get it. However, Stacey and I both found ourselves being travel-elitists at Machu Picchu. We would watch women pass us in wedges and all dolled up, or someone would warn us about taking it slow from the altitude and we would wait for them to pass and then look at each other and say “I hiked 26 miles to get here, I know.” or “Those people took the train.” When in all actuality one experience isn’t better than the other, they’re just different and based on different people’s travel-styles.

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11- The Selfie Situation:

Let’s talk about selfies… We all do them – whether the world sees them or not. But there were several people at Machu Picchu not even looking at Machu Picchu. There was one girl in particular who managed to always be in front of us while we were exploring and as Stacey and I took pictures of the sites (and of course and occasional photo of ourselves) she was using one of those selfie-stick things for your phone, flipping her hair and posing with a pouty look. Then after taking about 15 of these, she walked to the next place looking at her phone only looking up to take the next selfie. Now, like I said, we all take selfies, but this led to a really interesting conversation with a couple from Ireland on the train back. We have changed from taking photos of places to taking photos of ourselves at these places saying Look where I am! Instead of Look WHERE I am! It was a really interesting discussion and it has made me a bit more present where I am instead of thinking about how I’m going to share this on social media when visiting places.

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13- Unplugging is something I need to do more often:

I, like most Americans, have a mild addiction to my iPhone. I actually told people before I got an iPhone that I didn’t want one because I didn’t want to be addicted to my phone. I held out until last January when I finally got an iPhone, but I’m now addicted, of course. Completely unplugging for four days was like a cleanse. It felt so good to not be constantly looking at my Instagram, working on my blog or texting three or four people. Now, I just need to do this more often, even if it’s just a few hours each day.

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14- I realized just how much I really can physically handle:

I expected a lot more physical pain. I thought my legs and feet would throb everyday. Nothing really hurt though. My knees shook when I had to squat to use the toilet, but that’s about it. Thank you, body, for holding up!

12- Au naturale is A-Okay:

I may be wrong, but I don’t think I’m too high maintenance when it comes to my appearance. However, I like to be clean and to look clean. When I was in Sweden, the day I went to Gothenburg we left earlier than I thought we were going to, so I didn’t shower, and therefore I didn’t want any photos of me taken because I felt gross. After that I was a little embarrassed by my actions. I found myself getting that way a bit on day two, and then I remembered that I’m hiking the Inca Trail- it’s probably the only time I’m ever going to do this, and it is 100% okay to be au naturale, and I’ve embraced it more in my everyday life.

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15- I’m totally living the life I want to live:

As I was hiking I had several moments where I thought, This is my life. This is what I want to do. I am so happy! I am not made for a 9-5 office job – at least not at this point in my life. I’m made to work to make a big enough sum to travel for a while and love my life, then come back and do it all over again! It’s all worth these moments of joy on the Inca Trail.

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16- I’m usually somewhat open-minded about food when I travel, but I impressed myself on this trip:

I have these really weird meat aversions like not eating meat off of bones, or seeing meat shaped like the animal, and a whole slew of other things. However, on this trip I broke a lot of those rules. The biggest one was eating cuy (guinea pig) that was shaped liked a guinea pig still (I mean, the head was still on it!) and I pulled it off a bone to eat it, and guess what? It was so delicious! 

17- Sometimes you just have to suck it up and pay:

I am a budget traveler whenever I can be, but I was letting having to pay for certain things bother me, especially when a price of something was almost quadruple, like buying water on the Inca Trail. Stacey was really good to remind me that you just have to pay, and I definitely learned to let that go.

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18- I could use a little more zen in my life:

I noticed a lot of the things I learned were things that I needed to improve on, and one of those things is needing to introduce a little more zen into my life! (Which, just as a fun little update, I have been. I started taking a yoga class and I’ve been sure to take me time to read and relax everyday!)

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19- Looking at a mountain view beats a TV screen any day:

I never got sick of looking out of my tent or around me on the trail and seeing the mountains. There was nothing like looking in every direction and seeing beauty in every direction! I would rather sit and stare at nature than a TV screen. 

20- Coca tea/leaves aren’t all they’re cracked up to be:

We tried. We had coca tea almost every morning or evening and we even tried to “do as the locals do” and chewed them, but we didn’t feel this amazing burst of energy like everyone swears it does. Maybe we’re both wrong, but it wasn’t the organic savior for altitude sickness that we read about – take the altitude pills too.

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21- I can be critical:

I don’t like to be critical, but I found myself being super-critical of our guides and other parts of the tour. However, this is where traveling with your best friend comes in handy again! Stacey totally called me on this and in the end I was more critical of myself for making Stacey feel like I didn’t enjoy this trip because it really was amazing!

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22- How to travel with your best friend:

This is not the first time Stacey and I have traveled together. I visited her when she was living in Italy where we explored Florence and Bologna together, we did New Orleans together and have taken numerous day/weekend trips together, so we know that we travel well together. On this trip, we realized that it’s because we both know our strengths (which most are completely different) and we trust each other enough to let the other person handle those things. It’s a great system, and I think that we get closer each time we travel together!

23- Extreme minimalism:

There is something about carrying everything you need for 10 days on your back. This was my first trip to another country that I’ve ever done with just my pack and it felt great! I realized truly how little I need. It has made me want to be even more minimalistic in my everyday life- something I’ve tried to do, but haven’t been successful at.

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24- Don’t let first impressions discourage you, actually take the time to explore or experience something first:

Let me tell ya, that first view of Machu Picchu was one of the most demoralizing things ever. I truly was disappointed when I passed through the Sun Gate and saw it from this awkward angle and such a distance. It seemed smaller than site we had already explored and I told Stacey that I was more impressed by a different site on the trail- she agreed. But after we actually turned the corner and saw the picture-perfect view and then explored I was IN LOVE with Machu Picchu. So it goes back to that old saying don’t judge a book by its cover!

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25- Be sure to laugh at weird, awkward situations:

Stacey and I had a couple of really awkward and weird conversations (I think that’s the best way to describe them), and our solution was to crack up laughing! We could have continued to be awkward, but we didn’t we realized how funny and ridiculous these conversations and just cracked up! Breaking down boundaries is just another level to bond on! 

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26- Just be open to anything & everything. Life is full of so many great things to experience:

Even  though this isn’t something I learned for the first time on this trip, hiking the Inca Trail definitely was a FANTASTIC reminder of this.

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To read more about the Inca Trail check out the 4-part series here: (Day1, Day2, Day3 & Day4)

To keep up with my travels in real-time and read more posts and travel articles I find interesting ‘like’ the For the Love of Wanderlust page on Facebook. Simply click HERE.

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9 Comments

  • Reply
    equinoxio21
    October 30, 2014 at 12:19 pm

    Learn a new thing every day! Way to go Paige! 🙂
    About yourself and the others. I had a similar experience while climbing MOnt-Blanc (Read the White mountain in my blog) There are learnings one never forgets! 🙂
    Take care
    Brian

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      November 15, 2014 at 10:51 pm

      Thanks, Brian! I have been trying to find that post, but when I just tried, it said you deleted your site! I would love if you could send a link! I’ve been dying to hear what you learned on that trip!

  • Reply
    Elizabeth Reynolds McGuire
    October 31, 2014 at 8:00 am

    Love this post! Love you! I am so proud! xoxo

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      November 15, 2014 at 10:54 pm

      Thanks, Liz! I owe so many things to your constant encouragement, and this is one of them! LOVE YOU!

  • Reply
    Holly
    November 2, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Wow, I totally loved this post, and want to reread again when I have a little more thought too!
    We didn’t do the 26 mile trek to MP, but we were on trails, and trekked for about 3/4 days. AND IT WAS TOUGH…
    The porters were amazing, you’ve reminded me of such memories.
    And the guinea pig- I have a picture EXACTLY like that!!!
    I so agree on minimalist for this kind of trip. I did a two month stint in east africa one summer in uni, with 11-12kg, total, with a lot of that being first aid. Minimal so much better when you lug it everywhere!
    Sorry the comments a little rambled, but fab post!

    • Reply
      PaigeBrown
      November 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm

      Awe, thanks Holly! I was so glad that you had warned me what it was like! It was such an incredible experience, and it’s so great to hear from someone who truly understands it!
      I’m sp impressed that you did two months with only 11-12kg! I’m going to need some tips on what to bring and what to leave behind! I’m doing a little over three months in SE Asia next spring!
      I LOVED your comment- not rambled at all! Thank you so much, again, for the kind words! I hope all is well with you! 🙂

  • Reply
    7 Experiences Every Traveler Should Have | eyehearttravel
    May 23, 2015 at 3:48 am

    […] there are things you just have to do. Last year, I followed the Inca Trail and learned a whole lot about the area. If you get a chance, it is always worth exploring new areas […]

  • Reply
    Upper Amazon Rainforest, Peru - For the Love of Wanderlust
    May 23, 2015 at 11:43 am

    […] Stacey and I hiked the Inca Trail last year, I learned so much about myself, about the Incan culture and about this beautiful world we share. I had studied up on the Inca […]

  • Reply
    Claire Summers
    December 28, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I’m planning on doing the Inca trail in 2018 as part of my 2 year traveling Central and South America plans. This is full of some great things to thank about when I’m planning my trip. Sometimes you just need a reminder to put down the phone and camera and really experience something. Thank you 🙂

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