Hiking the W in Torres del Paine, Patagonia, as a Solo Female Trekker

Note: This is a day-by-day technical guide to trekking the W in Torres del Paine, Patagonia. For a related read, check out my previous post on what I learned about myself doing the W as a solo hike.

YES, you can hike the five-day “W” in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile, with no problems as a solo female trekker.

I start there, because I searched for that clear answer before deciding to head there anyway. On the trail, I felt completely safe, physically challenged by the hike, and in awe of every spectacular curve of the path. I never had the slightest concern of getting lost.

So go do it. Go now.

CONAF’s map of the W trek, which you can get in full here: http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/es/mapa-oficial-1

This was my experience, with the huge caveats that a) everyone (of course) has a unique experience, so mine doesn’t guarantee anything; b) I went during high season in mid-January;  and c) I had sunny, nearly no-wind weather the entire five days.


Reading and Planning: I spent maybe an hour over the course of a few months reading about the W trek vs. day-hike options. But by far the most helpful pre-trek information was from a free orientation session at Erratic Rock Pub in Puerto Natales, which I attended the day before my trek. This session served as my Gospel of the Trail, and henceforth will be thus referenced.

Direction of Hike: The main decision you’ll need to make before you arrive to the park is which direction you want to go. I went east to west and loved every minute. This meant I did the hike to the base of the Torres the first day—by far the most challenging and crowded day—and everything felt easier from there. Some people say west to east is prettier, but when every curve of the trail reveals a view that makes you say “WOOOOWWWW,” I think you’re in good shape.

Training: I aimed for 30-60 minutes of cardio and strength training three to four times a week for about three months ahead of my trek. Totally worth it.

Alone vs. Group: As a solo female traveler/trekker, I initially thought I would need to do this trek with a tour group, but I found enough blogs before booking to understand that in high season, you’re not isolated on the trail at any point. This was definitely true. I was alone for maybe one wonderful hour at a time one of the days, but otherwise, I passed at least one or two people every 15-30 minutes. The campgrounds felt safe at night, and there is no way you can get lost—there is only the one, extremely well-marked trail. There were plenty of trekkers who also arrived alone if you do want to pair up with someone for a day or few. I passed a few tour groups on my last day, and by then, it felt absolutely silly to have even considered a tour group might have been necessary.

Reservations: I rented a site, tent and mat at four separate campsites along the trail, which was great in keeping my backpack light. Every ounce less helps if you don’t do this kind of thing often, which seemed to be the case for a lot of people on the trail (including me!).

Trekking Poles: Not having trekking poles was my one and only regret of the entire experience. They definitely would have helped on the steep, slippery descents.


DAY 1: Hard. Arrive to park plus Torres Central Camp to Torres Base and Return.

  • KM: 18, HOURS: 7.5, Elevation variance: ~750M / 2460ft
  • Reservation: Torres Central Camp
  • Hiked with Backpack: No

I hopped onto one of the many early buses from Puerto Natales to Torres and arrived at my campsite around 11 a.m. with the plan of relaxing in a gorgeous place, taking photos near the campsite for the afternoon, and then hitting the trial early in the morning. After a quick chat with one of the campsite workers—he said the weather was predicted to be bad the next day—I quickly packed a daypack and set out for the Base of the Torres.

Torres del Paine Chile hiking the W as a solo female hiker
The clear-skies day meant great views and intense sun. Re-apply sunblock liberally.

Following the Gospel, albeit with skepticism at first, I filled my water bottle with water from the glacial-fed streams. But I had no problems the five days in the park, so I count this a miracle of nature that a park with 115,000 visitors a year still has clean, drinkable water.

I kept nuts in my pocket and snacked frequently as I walked (per the Gospel again), speeding past all the folks who were sweating under massive backpacks. There are two campsites up the trail toward Torres, which is where you would stay if you want to make the red-rocks sunrise.

The last slog up to the Base was HARD—36% of the full day’s elevation gain of 2296ft was in just the final 45 minutes of ascent. I gave myself a kick in the behind when I passed a 70-something-year-old woman descending.

Torres del Paine Chile hiking the W alone
A tiny ledge, steep slope and slippery dirt is ripe for slipping—of which I saw enough to go very slowly. And yes, your path is in this photo.
Base of the Torres, Torres del Paine Mirador
I sat at the Base for a while, writing, eating, and convincing myself I could totally do the return hike. Also, I had to.

Going down was harder than the climb up, given the slippery slope plus gravity—I can’t imagine doing this in the rain and driving wind that usually batter the mountain. An hour out from my campsite, I had just three thoughts, playing on loop: Bathroom, Beer, Shoes (off).

I more or less crawled back into my site, drank the most amazing warm beer in the history of beers, cooked my first-ever cookstove meal with no burns and only a small eek!, and slept like the dead for 10 hours.

DAY 2: Anything seems easy after that Day 1. Torres Central Camp to Cuernos Camp.

  • KM: 12, HOURS: 5, Elevation variance: 150M / 492 ft
  • Reservation: Chileano, changed to Cuernos easily
  • Hiked with Backpack: Yes

I had passed the riverside campsite of Chileano on my hike up to Torres the day before, so I had nothing to gain from going back up—this time with my pack. The company that owns the campsites, FantasticoSur, very kindly checked for space, confirmed its availability, and so my plan changed—onto Cuernos for the day.

Despite the poor weather predictions, only a few clouds hung in the sky, and the wind was nonexistent enough to see reflections in the lakes.

Torres del Paine hiking the W solo glacial lake reflections
The wind picked up just minutes after I arrived and started snapping photos of the reflections in the glacial lake. You can see the wind just starting to disturb the calm lake here.

Even with my 25ish-pound pack, I loved this day’s hike. I had nice 15-30 minute stretches alone, and every turn revealed new surprises.

I wasn’t in love with the crowded Cuernos campsite, but the location was hard to beat—just under the looming Cuernos peaks. Here, I re-met a trail buddy, Zackary, a hiker from the Bay Area who was also doing the W alone. We had first met speaking Spanish (badly) in a hostel the day before in Puerto Natales, before we realized we were both native U.S.-ians. We made plans to hike together for a bit the next day.

DAY 3: Easy, then kind of hard. Cuernos Camp to Frances Glacier Mirador to Frances Camp.

  • KM: 11, HOURS: 6/7, Elevation variance: ~400M / 1312ft
  • Reservation: Cuernos, changed to Frances with a little of a hard time
  • Hiked with Backpack: 2 hours only

Over ramen instant soup for breakfast, I met trekkers hiking the 10-day “O” circuit at the shared cookstoves table. A solo female trekker from Germany, Julia, and I started chatting, and by the end of breakfast, Zackary and I had a third co-hiker for the day.

“But I’m veeery slow,” Julia warned. I assured her it would not be a problem.

We met up with Zackary, and my two hiking companions immediately launched into a slow-off, each determined to convince the other they would be the slower hiker.

As we were leaving camp, the campsite worker nowhere to be found, I decided at the last minute to collect my gear in the hopes of finding a space for the night at Frances Camp, two hours west on the trail, to save me having to backtrack to Cuernos for a  second night.

The hike from Cuernos to Frances was (again) stunning, hugging the glacial lake with distant rumbling of glaciers calving.

Hiking the W in Torres del Paine as a solo female trekker
Yet another gorgeous view on the W.

At Frances Camp, I arranged to change my reservation with just a little bit of a hard time from the camp worker (no, I did not bring a printed email of my reservation with me, and no, no one else had asked for this), and dropped my big bag in exchange for the daypack.

Just 30 minutes more, and we reached Campo Italiano, where everyone leaves their bags for the hike up into Frances Valley.

My hiking crew started up the trail and within 15 minutes, we arrived at a plaque that said Frances Mirador—thus spurring a debate between Zackary (a lawyer) and Julia (a journalist) if we had indeed arrived already at the point that should have been an hour hike in. I half-heartedly weighed in, but was itching to keep going, so Zackary and I moved on, bidding farewell to Julia.

Within seconds, descending hikers confirmed that we were not insanely fast, but in fact did still have at least one hour until of hard up-valley hiking to the Frances Mirador.

At 3,050M (10,007 ft), the Paine Grande mountain is an impressive sight face-to-face at the Frances Mirador. We avidly watched avalanches off the Frances Glacier, sounding for all the world like thunder.

Frances Mirador in Frances Valley Torres del Paine
Fun fact: Paine Grande mountain is very, very tall. 10,007 feet is like 8 Empire State Buildings or 66 Statue of Liberties stacked on top of each other. (Zackary, I win that round, but you win the Mirador debate.)

When you can tear your eyes from the falling ice, you have a spectacular 360-view.

Frances Mirador view in Frances Valley Torres del Paine
I kept forgetting this view was directly behind me. Watching for glacier avalanches is that mesmerizing.

Zackary and I decided this Mirador was beyond amazing enough, especially given the three-hour-roundtrip the next lookout would require, and headed back down. Frances Camp is a newer facility, and a lovely place to spend the night.

DAY 4: Long, and I saw icebergs! Frances Camp to Glacier Grey Mirador to Paine Grande Camp.

  • KM: 19.5, HOURS: 7.5, Elevation variance: ~200M
  • Reservation: Paine Grande
  • Hiked with Backpack: 2 hours

I decided that for Day 5 I should follow the Trail Gospel’s advice for the earlier boat to the bus, so Day 4 was going to be a big one. At 8 a.m., I hit the trail, blessedly all to myself for nearly a full hour.

I wasn’t sure if I was that much stronger or the hike was that much easier, but I sailed along the trail, halting only when the trial crossed a stark line from green full trees into stripped-bare trees.

In December 2011, a fire started by a 23-year-old trekker in a non-approved campsite raged for over a month in Torres National Park, consuming 40 percent of the park. Four years later, the return of life is reassuring, but it’s hard not to feel bone-deep anger at the carelessness that led to such a disaster.

Torres 2011 Fire Boundary
You can see the clear line on the mountain where they were able to stop the fire that ravaged 40% of the park starting in Dec. 2011.

I arrived to Paine Grande Camp energized. A backpack lighter and a lunch fuller, I set off on my last leg of the W toward Glacier Grey.

The trail felt solitary and fierce today, with the wind whipping off my hat when I wasn’t careful. Hiking along a ridge, I could see across the iceberg-dotted lake that sharp peaks were covered in towers of snow and ice—so deep that even at a distance I was intimidated by the raw menace of the place and its power to make me feel like a tiny speck on the planet.

At the Glacier Grey Mirador, I sat and wrote until my fingers froze in the icy wind. Given my worsening blisters and the extra 3-4 hours the next destination would require, I headed back to camp, nearly dragging myself in by the end of it.

Glacier Grey torres del paine national park
Glacier Grey is spectacular, and one of the edges of the Southern Patagonia Ice field, the second largest nonpolar ice field on earth.

I bought a cold beer from the camp store and promptly passed out for a few hours in my tent.

Drained but happy, I watched the sun set and moon rise over the peaks I had finished “W”-ing.

Paine Grande Campground in Torres del Paine National Park. I did all this!

DAY 5: Sad to leave. Boat from Paine Grande to Pudeto, Bus to Puerto Natales.

I had some time before the 10 a.m. boat to the bus stop, so I hiked up a path and wrote for a while. The 30-minute catamaran ride provided yet another satisfying view of the park that allowed a deep sense of accomplishment. I hiked to the waterfall near the Pudeto bus stop and sat in awe of these amazing last days.

Waterfall_View Salto Grande Torres del Paine National Park
View from Salto Grande, a short walk from the Pudeto stop off the catamaran and bus. So happy to have been able to do the W!

Just go. In fact, go now.

I wish I was back already.

Getting to Re-know Me on a Solo Hike in Patagonia

To walk alone is to know your whole self — without titles, without a gaggle of friends to text, without all the usual services of daily life. What makes your heart thump in fear, your jaw drop in wonder, and where your limits really aren’t the end.

In January, I went on my first-ever solo overnight trek — and because I don’t do anything halfway, I made it a big one:

Five days, four nights. 40 miles. 2,296 feet elevation gain in one day alone.

In the heart of Chile’s Patagonia, in Torres del Paine National Park, where four seasons in one day is routine and the wind is so fierce it knocks a person to her back.

Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine National Park is in Patagonia, Chile, past the end of a road that calls itself “The Highway of the End of the World.” And yes, that’s Antarctica not so far away.

I needed this, desperately.

Between major life changes and an intense job, I had lost little pieces of me the last few years — locked away or beaten down in the routine of daily life. I needed to recover myself, re-ground, and know again those parts of me that went missing.

So I promised my friends and family this trek was totally, absolutely safe to do alone (I was decently sure it was) and booked the trip.

Now, as I write with this pen on paper* on the edge of a slate cliff, overlooking the mountains I “W”-ed over the last days, I am so happy to say hello to my whole self once again — and I even found a few jewels I had no idea existed within me.

Torres del Paine National Park
*This was my view when I wrote this post on paper, while looking over my shoulder once in a while for lurking pumas.

You are so much stronger than you think.

As I came to the Base of the Torres, I passed a 70s-ish woman hiking alone, and she was my hero. This was a 9km (5.6mi) mountain climb with an elevation gain of 2,296 feet — 36 percent of which is in the last 45 minutes of hiking.

Nearly everyone took pauses to get up that mountain. But the reward we all knew was there, just another step, and another, and another — worth it. So, pause and climb.

And then do it again tomorrow, with a 25-pound bag on your back.

Torres del Paine Mirador, Base del Torres
Once arriving to the Base of the Torres destination, you collapse on a rock for a while, and then take the obligatory arms-wide “I made it!” photo.

You can surprise yourself.

It is an incredible gift to realize something wonderful is in you that you didn’t know existed.

I had a plan. I was going to warm up to this trek, do it in smaller pieces. But every day I went farther than I thought I possibly could, loving the strength I found in my muscles and the willpower waiting in my mind.

A trail buddy said to me, “You keep surprising me.”

I replied, without prior thought or hesitation, “I’m surprising myself.”

Torres del Paine
I hiked the sides and the middle around this, making a “W” shape. W as in WOW, me! I am a super gosh-darn bad-ass!

You can walk into the unknown.

I am a planner by love and genetic shaping. So there was no way I wasn’t going to plan the heck out of this trek.

When I booked my campsites in the national park, I made what I thought were good choices.

They were not.

In fact, I would have had to redo the hardest route one day, and compress two days into one on another. But I am nothing if not stubborn, and I’d already made that decision, so I was sticking to it.

Until I got to the first campsite on my first day, and the park workers recommended I hike NOW, today, to Torres, because tomorrow the weather was supposed to be bad.

So I went, best-laid plans constantly changing over the next days, based on weather, company and my amazing ability to sleep and recover, with no guarantee of finding space at the next campsite. And yet, I always did.

Torres del Paine Cuernos
When I changed my plans, I unexpectedly ran into an American from Oakland who I had met the day before at the night’s campsite. So the unknown brought trail buddies and spectacular sunsets.

You can be that kind stranger.

Each day, at about an hour from my destination, I reached the “am I there yet?” stage of exhaustion, and started obsessively asking hikers coming in the opposite direction how far the next campsite was.

Without exception, these hikers from everyone around the world were kind, often stopping to chat and lending encouragement.

I happily offered the same.

At the end of every day’s gorgeous hike, hikers at the campsite would relate trail stories and count blisters at a shared cookstove table. One morning, I met a friendly German over my ramen soup breakfast, and we agreed to hike together for the day along with an American from Oakland.

Torres del Paine National Park
This woman from Princeton asked me if she was on the right trail. I assured her she was — the one thing you cannot do in this park is get lost. The trail is exceptionally well-marked.

You need to be in just one place at a time.

I saw a handful of hikers with headphones, which mystified me. The sounds of this park were a symphony in itself — the rush of the wind through the tall grasses, the roar of the giant waterfalls, the birds’ songs and the rumble of avalanches.

I saw a wild rabbit one day, only because I heard its thump-thumping away from my approach.

I know, to really be present and hear and see what’s around you is not easy.

At one point on the trail, my mind was circling obsessively about a past relationship so loudly that I had nearly blocked out where I was. Luckily, a splash of bright purple broke my circling, and I turned to see a whole field of these beautiful bell-shaped flowers.

To disconnect and not multitask, and just BE, that is the harder path — but so rewarding.

Field of bell flowers
Sometimes you just need a field of beautiful purple flowers to pull you back to the place you actually are in.

You should stop and stand in awe.

One afternoon, I sat and watched avalanches calve from glaciers, each tumble of ice causing a thunder-like roll through the Frances Valley.

“Look, look!” I called to my trail buddy for the day, yelling like a child and feeling the heart-hammering flush of amazement.

To feel awe like this is to feel alive.

I want to stand in awe more often.

Torres del Paine Frances Glacier
I sat and avalanche-watched the glaciers on this mountain.

Now my challenge, as always when amazing experiences wrap up, is to thread these pieces of me into every vein and keep them near the surface, so they are not lost again in routine and rush.

Or I guess I could always go back again — and this time for the 10-day trek!



Reflection without absorption and letting go with love and tenderness

Somehow, I made it. It’s Week Zero. I step on that plane tomorrow.

I might cry with relief.

December crawled by at a turtle’s pace. I went through my what-should-I-do loop about 20 times a day. I stressed about what I was doing, about what I wasn’t doing, about what I was sure I was forgetting to do.

stress ball
i was basically a living stress ball in december.

So I desperately need Chile. I need to feel the sun on my skin and breathe sweet, clean non-big-city air, and see bright stars that make me go “wow.”

I’m hoping by Day 3 that the stress loops finally loosen, unravel, and just drop off the back of my bicycle on some mountain trail.

In my one earnest attempt at de-stressing this week, I headed to a year-end Yoga Nidra class last night (yes, I know it’s very Portland-y, and no, I don’t care! It’s heavenly and please try it!).

At the start of the candlelit practice, the instructor gave us all a few moments to reflect on 2015.

Reflect: /rəˈflekt/:

1) (Of a surface or body) throw back (heat, light, or sound) without absorbing it.

2) Think deeply or carefully about.

The lovely thing about definition No. 1 is the space it provides. It’s an examination at a distance, not a re-engagement with either best or worst moments. Just watching and noticing — without letting any of those moments bowl you over like they did the first time around, hence making it onto your year’s best and worst list.

Next, the yoga instructor encouraged us to imagine what we would leave behind in 2015, and this thought bloomed within me.

It’s not the usual “what’s your new year’s resolution” with all the baggage and expectation, but a soft, kind question to yourself:

What few things would you like to place on a little wooden sailboat on the edge of a lake, and gently push off into the sunset?

Put these items on the boat, and say goodbye with all the tenderness the moments deserve.

Now you can move on to 2016, a little bit lighter, with space for something new.

create space
imagine freeing up all this space inside of you. minus the ostrich.

My boat has three hefty pieces, each comprised of many moments from 2015 to which I’m ready to leave behind:

Unhealthy living. I started this year with no life other than work. I didn’t eat healthily. I didn’t exercise. I felt fragile – and I can’t honestly think of a thing I hate feeling more than that.

So, I’m leaving Unhealthy Living forever in 2015. I’m not saying I won’t have slip-ups and live not-so-great once in a while, but not consistently, not as a way of life again.

unhealthy jabba
i was basically as unhealthy as jabba but with none of the sidekicks to keep my company in the first half of 2015.

Silence. I can count too many times from earlier this year when I wanted to say something, but didn’t in a sticky situation. I thought I wasn’t the expert, or I was younger than everyone, or I was the only woman in the room, or I would be judged. All fear-based, mostly gender-taught.

But when I decided that I was willing and ready to leave my job for something different, a wonderful thing happened — I was suddenly free! I could say whatever I felt, whenever it felt right (in a respectful way, of course)! And I did!

All those fears didn’t matter anymore – I wouldn’t be working with these colleagues in a few months, I had nothing to lose. So why not call out a colleague who is saying inappropriate things?

it was kinda like the monty pyton god said to me: i’m giving you a task to keep you busy. your purpose is to go forth and say stuff.

This opening within myself kept getting better and better. I realized no one judged me, and in fact, they wanted me to say what I wanted to say (well, sometimes). By the end of the year, colleagues even said this is what they admired about me – that I spoke up and challenged people when needed, respectfully and with persistence.

So I am leaving Silence in Sticky Situations forever in 2015. You do not serve me, you serve only Fear, and that is not who I am.

Perfection. Mostly, I just can’t strive for this anymore. My nearly life-long obsession with perfection – I was a newspaper copy editor, for goodness sakes, which is just about a perfectionist’s dream job to look for tiny errors and get paid for it – has just become too exhausting. Like a box I created for myself, but I’ve grown and the box hasn’t.

I’m done.

Perfect IS the enemy of the done. And sometimes, I just want to be done.

So, I’m leaving Perfection forever in 2015. You served me well many times. I bid you a fond farewell, and best of luck in finding a new copy editor in 2016.

perfection in book form
i literally slept with this under my pillow in college. seriously.

Now with all of this beautiful space, this empty shore and wide-open lake, I am welcoming a few things with open arms. In fact, it’s more like I’m running at them in a crazy happy tackle:

Saying YES. Research shows we regret what we DON’T do much more than anything we do try. So I’m saying YES every chance I get.

Finding balance. I’m changing my life to put work on equal footing with relationships and the other things that nourish me. One of which is…

Creating things. Starting to write again, here on this site, has been one of my many great joys of 2015. Elizabeth Gilbert writes in Big Magic that there are little jewels of creativity in all of us, just waiting to be found. It doesn’t matter if absolutely no one likes or reads what you create. You create something because you can’t not create – and that’s what writing is for me. It’s who I am. I love the electricity it lights inside my skin, the warmth it sends from my toes to my fingertips.

what lights a brilliant explosion of creation in you?

What are you gently leaving in 2015 and welcoming at a run in 2016?


Prepare Yourself for the Highs and Lows of Something New

Something big and new is starting and I am excited, and nervous, and all butterfly-stomach and obsessive. This endorphin rush is the BEST and I want it to last forever and ever.

I’ve felt this thrill every time I’ve moved to a new place or started a new job. Every new person is the smartest, most amazing individual, and every new street is exciting and full of wonder – and look! Over there is a sparkly unicorn shitting a rainbow that ends in a pot of gold-shaped hearts!

[I will happily draw that image if anyone requests it.]

But then, usually around the one-month mark, all the rosy wonderful new things dim a bit, and I miss my old room/friends/routine/job, and I can’t find the unicorn anymore.

I just really want a grilled cheese with a pickle on it, and my own super comfy pillow, and this new place doesn’t have pickles or my pillow. Or I want my old officemates back, who had their issues, sure, but at least it wasn’t this issue, which I really can’t stand.

if you’ve never tried a grilled cheese with pickles, stop reading and go eat one right now…. welcome back. and, you’re welcome.

In living abroad, this phenomenon of a high honeymoon stage followed by a steep crash to a crisis point is called the U Curve of Cultural Adjustment (according to some old men named Lysgaard and Oberg, among others).

U curve of adjustment
the U Curve of Adjustment with my highly accurate depiction of complex emotion via emoticon.

I’m pretty convinced this experience is applicable to more than just moving abroad. Think about it – everything from a new house (beautiful bungalow –> the roof needs repair) to a new city (every street is amazing –> every street is dirty) to a new career (best job ever –> nothing here is functional) requires a similar emotional adjustment process.

As much as I’d like going after my new goal to be rosy and wonderful for the full year I’m pursuing it, I don’t think I can make that honeymoon phase last longer.

But I do think some preparation can make that crisis trough a lot shallower and the recovery a lot speedier.

So here is my recipe for pre-new-thing preparedness:

Know that you WILL hit bottom.

That’s right, just acknowledge that rock bottom is going to happen. You can’t avoid it.

Recognize that this whole experience is helping you grow into a more authentic you. It will hurt at times, it will definitely be hard, and it will put you through the wringer.

When you hit bottom, greet that low point with the wisdom of expecting its arrival, and a Warrior 2 stance.

bring it, crisis. i can warrior 2 all day. or for 5 minutes while sobbing.

Get enough sleep.

Studies routinely show we need somewhere around 7-8 hours of sleep as adults. When we get less than that, we start making poor decisions and our focus is compromised.

Meeting your goal is a marathon. You need to be in top shape and not make a sleep-deprived decision to give up when you hit bottom.

Make sure you are making decisions with a clear mind. If you’re having trouble sleeping, ask your friends or family for advice. Or try one of my tried-and-true remedies in the picture below.

things to help you fall asleep
things that help you fall asleep.

Go look at something beautiful.

When you hit bottom, you will need something comforting and completely separate from what you are pursuing. Keep your eye out for this beautiful thing while you are in the honeymoon phase – maybe it’s a sun-filled spot outside your new house, or the tall pine in the town’s park where you feel at peace.

Then when the bottom arrives, head to your beautiful thing as often as you need it. Spend 15 minutes just looking at this beautiful thing, leaving your goal aside.

When you’re ready, head back in, feeling a little bit stronger.

happy spot
i find a hundred beautiful things in this spot.

Make an adjustment.

Do you need to move closer into the city, so after you work on your goal all day, you can visit friends instead of commute for an hour? Admit to yourself what’s not working, and fix it.

In looking at my plans, I know where I can be flexible in my budget and timeline, so if I need to adjust, I’ll be ready to do so.

halfway between home and gym adjustment
probably you just need to be nearer the ice cream shop.

Immerse yourself in at least one fun, social thing twice per week.

I believe satisfaction in life is directly correlated to the friends you have, so nurturing friendships and creating a support group while you pursue your goal should be a top priority. Call your friends to do something you love – biking, hiking, a glass of wine.

Especially when you hit bottom, don’t hide yourself away. Go out with your new or old friends. Call family. You are not alone in your crisis, so lean on your support group.

Be extra conscious of your negative traits.

When you hit the bottom of your adjustment curve, you’ll be in a bad mood, and your negative traits may be amplified.

Being conscious of your negative traits can help you separate out what’s a momentary reaction to hitting the bottom vs. something you actually need to address.

For example, maybe you are an impatient person. So when you hit bottom and you’re in a bad mood, you obsess about how you’re entirely behind on your goal and you’re all snappy and unpleasant to be around.

Fortify yourself against this known upcoming reaction by:

1) finding a gym to work out and pump in positive endorphins;

2) keeping a big calendar of by-the-week plans so you can see you are on track and not behind; and

3) taking an overnight trip somewhere to clear head space.

4) buying your friends drinks to remind them that they still love you, even when you’re snappy.

somehow this quote is supposed to help me be a more patient person.

Write postcards to friends and family.

Especially if you have moved to pursue your goal, writing postcards when you hit bottom is an easy way to reconnect, and give yourself a short boost in mood.

Each part of this will leave you feeling better: Choosing a postcard you know a particular friend will like, spending a moment to write a message just for them, and the satisfaction of dropping it in the mailbox.

Then there’s the extra happy boomerang effect of hearing from that person when they receive your postcard.

i love writing postcards. and receiving them.

While there’s no amount of preparation that can completely erase the low that follows the initial thrill of starting something new, I just need to remember:

As much as it sucks in the moment, rock bottom is the start of a new upward curve.

Six weeks!

8 Things You Need to Feel Relatively Okay Enough to Quit Your Job

If your job isn’t horrible, and you want to quit for hard-to-explain reasons, it’s pretty difficult to get to a level of 100 percent confidence. At its core, quitting means you believe there is something else out there for you – unknown, and as of yet, unseen.

It’s a leap of faith, a need for freedom, a little burning point in your chest that you can’t ignore any longer.

Getting to this point can take years. Or at least a really aggressive six months filled with a painful amount of introspection.

In my experience, you need a few minimum things to be comfortable enough to finally have the “I’m quitting” conversation with the boss.

this is a very accurate depiction of how I quit.
this is a very accurate depiction of how I quit.

1. Find a goal that you feel in your gut.

I’m not quitting just to sit around or go on cruises. That, I believe, is called retirement. Figure out what you want, and give yourself time to get it right. I went through about 15 different iterations of what I wanted over the course of two years before I finally figured out my goal at the bone-deep level.

Once you have the goal, focus on it, like a cat goes after a laser point. Be willing to run up and flip off walls for this thing. Some days will feel like it’s not possible. Stick with it.

start with a clear destination, then use Ways to route your path. unless you are independently wealthy, then you can wander and waste all the gas you want. but please don’t do that because it’s bad for the environment.
start with a clear destination, then use Ways to route your path. unless you are independently wealthy, then you can wander and waste all the gas you want. but please don’t do that because it’s bad for the environment.

2. You definitely need a timeline.

Assuming you don’t have unlimited funds, you need to set a time limit for trying to reach your goal, if you’re quitting your job fully.

I’m deadline-driven, so I’m setting a deadline of one year for seeing if and how I can meet my goal, rather than procrastinate and just travel around and visit 108 temples all over Asia.

Actually, that sounds heavenly.

BUT that will not get me to the point I want at the end of one year, and would just put me back in the position of needing to find a full-time job that treats me mildly okay.

3. You’ll want a budget.

I know, blerg.

BUT! What if we call it a SEXY budget (Halloween just passed, so I’m feeling inspired) and put Ryan Gosling on our budget spreadsheet?! Now this is motivation.

Cut out all the fat in the budget – be super honest about wants vs. needs, figure out the range of housing, food, transport. Be realistic and stay cat-laser-focused on that goal. Total up what you need against your timeline, and add a cushion for just in case this all falls apart.

Then start saving like crazy.

it’s okay, Ryan, I know numbers are hard. let’s do them together, that will make it better.
it’s okay, Ryan, I know numbers are hard. let’s do them together, that will make it better.

4. You’ll probably want a worst-case scenario.

This can function as both a comfort (you won’t live under a bridge, even a nice one) and an incentive to spur you on (you probably don’t really want to live in your friend’s unfinished basement).

So go through this exercise – if at the end of your timeline it doesn’t work out, and you can’t reach your goal, then what happens? You should have that cushion in your budget, so you’ll have a little money. Who can you live with, if you need to, while you apply to jobs in your previous or new field? Can you wait tables or work at a shop?

I’m not saying it’s ideal, but probably your worst-case scenario isn’t so bad. And you’d completely regret not taking this chance. And you’re awesome, so you’re not going to end up in that worst-case scenario anyway.

no way will your worst-case scenario be as bad as this day was for Alexander.
no way will your worst-case scenario be as bad as this day was for Alexander.

5. You’ll definitely need a support group.

As in, your friends, family, and other like-minded people. Whoever is supportive of your goal. Push those nay-sayers to the side for a while — they will not help you with your focus.

Talk to your supporters regularly. Buy them drinks and be liberal with hugs in exchange for support.

6. Lists!

With the amount of planning you’ll need to do to pull this off – if you can do this without a list, please let me know how.

Breaking big, scary things down into steps on a list makes quitting a job manageable. And then you can cross it off when you’re done with it, and doesn’t that feel amazing?! Put your end goal at the top of every list.

Admittedly, I love lists. I usually have a minimum of 4 sticky notes plus random other papers filled with lists on any given day, both at work and home. When I was around 10, I had a list of “places to go and things to do” on my wall. Something in staring at that list every day must have clicked in my brain, because 2+ decades later, I’ve visited and done almost everything on that list.

this is a list of things i love to make lists of.
this is a list of things i like to make lists of.

7. You’ll probably want to know at least one person toward your goal.

Before you quit, make sure you know at least one person in the field you are going into or in company you really want to work for. Probably you spoke to some such people when you were figuring out your goal. If not, now’s the time to find at least one.

I have a friend who really wanted to work in environmental resources for the state of Minnesota, and he went after that job with everything he had. He quit his just-okay job and just worked day and night being connected into the organization and applying to jobs and getting advice on applying to the jobs, until he got the position he wanted.

8. You’ll want a few intangibles too.

Stubbornness and flexibility. Stick to your goal and timeline, even when you’re inevitably told it’s not going to work. Recognize when you’ve got to shift and bend, and when you need to stay firm. Remember there are likely multiple routes to your goal.

A happy place. For the days when things go wrong, have a happy place to go to for a few minutes. This is mine. Or this. Both repeatedly if it’s a really bad day.

And maybe most important of all: Courage. The first step is the hardest. Nothing will stop your stomach from rolling over when you go to your boss and say “I’m quitting.”

But nothing will feel as free as the moment you’re out of the office after that conversation.

Seven weeks!

Breaking up with your job is like breaking up with your mildly okay boyfriend

Your job treats you decently. It only makes you cry once a month or so. It provides you shelter and food. That’s all you should want, right?

In the layer upon layer of conversations I need to have at the giant bureaucracy where I work, I’ve come to understand that quitting is very unusual. The generation before me has had these jobs for 20-30+ years. So the idea that I would NOT want this life is entirely hard to swallow.

I’ll admit, these coworkers and bosses make persuasive arguments – until I talked to my friend, and she said:

“It sounds like you are trying to break up with a bad boyfriend.”

Amy Poeler wrote in her book Yes Please that you should treat your job like a bad boyfriend. Your job won’t be there to comfort you when you need it. It will just suck everything it can from you if you let it.

I am weak here – I keep getting sucked back into the conversation with my mildly-okay-boyfriend-of-a-job and have spent days going in circles.

imagine listening to this nearly every day. it’s a miracle my friends haven’t broken up with me.
imagine listening to this nearly every day. it’s a miracle my friends haven’t broken up with me.

I am on to the game. I’ve broken up with mildly-okay-but-clearly-not-right-for-me boyfriends before. It’s just really hard because once you start that breakup, mildly-okay-boyfriend sometimes switches to clingy, bad boyfriend to get what he wants.

Bad Boyfriend/Job Argument #1: I’m as good as it gets, baby.

You’re here, I’m here. I treat you decently. Yes, I demand most of your energy and don’t leave you time for doing things other than what I want, but that’s what a job is, sugar cakes.

This job does treat me well for the most part. Maybe this IS as good as it gets – aside from the occasional flash of misogyny. Am I kidding myself by thinking there is a different way? That I too can live like a Swede and work only 30 hours per week and have a better-balanced, full life?


Bad Boyfriend/Job Argument #2: No one else is going to want you like I do.

Pumpkin muffin, you can be a little difficult at times, but I put up with you. We’ve been together so long, I know your quirks and I accept them. But do you really think you’ll find someone else who will put up with all your stuff?

This is the ultimate fear: If I quit, no one will ever hire me for a job ever again. How can I possibly explain this gap on my resume in the 25 seconds a recruiter will spend looking at it?

bad bad boyfriend.
ok you’re not THAT great, bad boyfriend.

Bad Boyfriend/Job Argument #3: Others want me real bad.

Honey bun, I already have five others in line who want your spot. If others want me so bad, it clearly means you should want me to. What’s wrong with you for not wanting me?

Don’t you need me in the long run anyway? You know you’ll just want me back.

And they are right, it is possible! Maybe I will want this job back again! How can everyone who wants this job be wrong vs. just little ole me who isn’t sure if I’m right?

The Washington Post wrote in today’s paper that maybe a recession is coming. What if I quit and there’s a recession and I can’t make this work and I never have a job again and I have to go back and live with my parents!?! Maybe I SHOULD stay.

can change

Bad Boyfriend/Job Argument #4: I can change, I swear.

Baby, what if I change just this one little thing about me? What if I promise I’ll let you go home at 5 every day, or even let you work from home some days? Just tell me what you want that’s different and I’ll do it. Mostly. Kind of.

Hold up! Deep breath.

I’ve done this before. I can do this again.

I know the only way through a breakup is to gather close as many supportive friends as you can find. You buy them drinks in exchange for having the same conversation over and over again.

So when I talk to my friends about my daily doubts, they say:

“Stick to your guns. Affix said guns to your hands with glue.”

“You deserve better. Just because others want it, doesn’t mean it’s right for you. When you do find the right fit, it’s easy and wonderful.”

“You don’t want to disappoint your whole 48 readers on pentraveler by going back on your awesome plan.”

Re-read your Post No. 1.”

“You’ve planned for this. You know you can do it. No decision is forever if it does turn out to be a mistake.”

“I’m so proud of you. I support you.”

And lo and behold, I can breathe again.

Nine weeks!

5 Reasons to Leap – and 10 weeks until I’m quitting my job

In 10 weeks, I am quitting my job, leaping out of the career race that is Washington, D.C., and boarding a plane to Chile.


Look, this has NOT been an easy decision. I’m in my mid-30s and have been on a fantastic upward trajectory in my career. I believe in Lean In. I spent the last year of my life working 70+ hours per week on a massive priority project, prepping my boss for meetings with the Big Guy, and it’s been incredibly rewarding.  My career is important to me.

But at some point in the last six months, I realized my life has pretty much looked like this for several years now:

toomuchwork_pie chart 2
i worked 110 hours one week. seriously.

Sure, I’d take vacations once in a while. But something wasn’t right.

I couldn’t stop thinking about certain pieces of advice I’d heard from mentors and articles the last year.

  1. Unwitting Mentor: What do you love so much, you could do it every day, without stop, forever?

Everyone has something like this, but so many of us have lost it. It’s usually something you did non-stop when you were little. Maybe it’s being outside in the sun (and now you’re in a windowless cube), or sketching, or playing a sport, or reading or baking. You know what it is. That thing that every time you do it, you disappear into the zone, hours pass, and you are at peace.

This advice came from Elizabeth Theranos, who I think is one of the most amazing and talented women alive today. She worked nonstop on her invention for years on end. She loved it so much, there was nothing else she could do but this. (Of course, she eventually got to her goal and now is a gabillionaire, but money isn’t the point here.)

Probably most of us aren’t built like that – I know I’m not – but there are things I love so much that I would like to do every day, and I’ve lost over the years. Like writing for pleasure, and not for work.

Here is a cover and a page from a “book” I wrote at 8:

my writing has improved thankfully since i was 8


2. Fully Aware Mentor: What stories do you want to tell from your rocking chair?

How you won that big account of a paper company and your grandchildren don’t even know what paper is now because it was obsolete by 2030? Or how you wrote a billion papers that were used for a total of 10 seconds in some meeting once?

Or do you want to talk about the time that you ran from a bear, you almost drowned learning to dive, or that person you loved but just wasn’t right for you? That you explored the world and made huge mistakes, but you don’t regret any of them?

I don’t know if I want to have grandchildren of my own, so I’m not entirely sure who will listen to my stories, but I definitely want to be talking Big Adventure. Big (more, already made plenty) Mistakes.

  1. Random Online Quote Mentor: Make new mistakes. Do what scares you.

Making mistakes is scary. I don’t think you can be human and not fear making mistakes and being judged for them.

This is probably a healthy emotion to a degree, but you have to know at what point it stops being a positive – don’t-go-down-that-dark-alley-alone-it’s-dangerous – and turns into a negative – don’t-try-purusing-that-thing-you-love-because-it’s-new-and-different.

Letting fear hold you back leads to only one thing, as far as I can tell – regret. Whether it’s starting something new or leaving something, it’s the first step that is the most terrifying.

In fairness, I’ve quit a job previously and gone to travel. It was one of the best six months of my life.

nortern peru valley penwriter

But to do it now, when my career is going so well, when everything and everyone around me is telling me to settle down, buy a house, have a family, keep that steady job and keep advancing it?

Very scary.

  1. My Mentor (and Unwitting Love) Mark Manson: Just don’t give a fuck.

I need to be honest with myself: I don’t want to be judged.

It’s kept me from making decisions before in my life. I do care what people think. And not just my family and friends, but random people I’ve never met who might theoretically learn something about me and think it’s stupid. Yea, I’m that scared of judgment.

Unfortunately, you can’t avoid it. People are going to judge you. Whenever you do something out of the norm, you’ll hear or see a reaction.

Which is why I love Mark Manson, who writes that learning the difference between when we should and should not give a fuck is essential to being comfortable and honest with yourself and others. It’s tricky. But worth it.

Unfortunately, Mark is not single as far as I can tell, so I will continue to love him from afar and recommend his articles to anyone who will listen. (Especially this one on relationship myths.)

  1. My Closest-Thing-to-a-Life-Coach Mentor: Visualize your two futures.

Fair warning: My friend called this technique “very Portland-y.”

Picture yourself, 10 years from now, having made one decision, on your current trajectory. Build that full picture in your mind – the job you’ve achieved, the office, the car, the family. Or maybe it’s a relationship or a place you live.

Did you feel something good in your body? Maybe you sat up a little higher, or smiled, or relaxed your shoulders? Or did you feel a twist in your stomach, a frown, or a claustrophobic sense of breath?

Now picture the other choice and the future it’s created in as much detail as you can.

How does your body respond to that future?

Your body already knows the answer.

Mine knew. It was time to leap and create a new future from the path I was on.

So I drew a new chart, composed of the kind of stories I want to tell on my rocking chair.

better life pie chart 2

Even now, sitting with my decision made and out in the open, I am scared some of the time. And I feel the weight of judgment some of the time. But after a few minutes of indulging those some of the time, I either call one of my friends who supports me 100% for a pep talk, or I look at the cover of my Chile travel book.

liz lemon i want to go to there chile_book

I am to go to there.

Or I sit and write and two hours have passed and I’m happier than I’ve been in weeks because I’ve been doing something I love.

Because this life has to be about more than just work. Starting a new path will never be easier – a lot of planning and saving, yes – but the timing will never be better.

I can do good, meaningful work, AND have a good life. I am convinced.

So I’m leaping.