Why I'm Spending a Year Travelling Across Central & South America


Here's why I hope to learn on my deep dive into Latin American culture. 

As a child, I remember pouring over maps and history books, in awe of all the incredible places that seemed so far, yet just around the corner at the same time. I promised myself that one day, I I’d be an explorer (to the horror of my parents who surely preferred I find a somewhat more stable occupation).

As an adult, I have been blessed with the opportunity to make my dream a reality. While an undergraduate in university, I travelled through Afghanistan for two weeks, highlighting the realities—including the kindness of people—in a country labelled as war torn. I have been tear-gassed in a protest in Lima while taking pictures to showcase how a country known for postcard-perfect Machu Picchu is currently in a state of political turmoil. I have trekked around mountainous areas in Tunisia notorious for Islamic State activity, in order to show the amazing historical sites that can be found there as well. I have visited mass graves in Southern Peru and Cambodia, walked the streets of Latin American slums, and had tea with locals in war-torn countries.

In my travels, I want to dig beneath the surface of a place to see its true colours. The truth can often be uncomfortable, but it also makes it more meaningful. That’s why part of why travelling and writing are my two passions in life: They allow me to share stories from some of the world’s most misunderstood places.

Travel is often presented as a glorified escape from reality.

Unfortunately, in our modern culture, travel is often presented as a glorified escape from reality. Booze cruises in the Mediterranean, beach parties in Mexico, and pub crawls through Amsterdam seem to dominate social media. However, I don’t believe that such experiences capture what it truly means to travel. Travelling to a different country is like meeting a new person for the first time. Each country is a living, breathing thing that has absorbed the experiences, cultures, sorrows, and hopes of its population. Getting to know each country in its entirety—good and bad—is what makes travel impactful and lends it meaning.

Currently, I’m in the process of getting to know Latin America on a year-long trip around South and Central America, where I’m volunteering as part of my travel experience. Whether it be helping out in hostels for a free room or working on an apiary in Ecuador, volunteering allows me to connect with a country and its people on a deeper level. As an American, this trip is especially important to me, since many stereotypes about Latin America persist.

My mission is to dig beneath the postcard and Instagram pictures to show my audiences what lies at the core of each destination. There is no black and white. Beautiful landscapes can coexist with political turmoil. Friendly people and conflict can call the same country home. I hope to use my work to inspire others to truly immerse themselves in both the good and bad of each place they travel.

Step off the beaten tourist path and you may get lost—but what you find in the end will be infinitely more rewarding. 

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Published in Volunteer Abroad Blogs
Max Olson

Max is a 25-year-old investigative journalist and travel writer from Arizona. Max is currently working his way through Latin America, immersing himself in each location. He is focusing primarily on covering political unrest, economic conditions, and what life is like for each country’s most vulnerable people.

Website: https://www.instagram.com/maxthepilgrim97/

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