Traveling solo: Finding your inner Jack Kerouac in Central America


WASHINGTON, May 26, 2013 — It is still there; the individual travel experience, without the prescribed–outlined-tourist-vacation.

Taking a bus through several countries could be overwhelmingly problematic to think about, but taking one step at a time, enjoying the moments, allows the experience to come together quite peacefully, rather than a tide of worrisome feelings.

SEE RELATED: Destination Journey Machu Picchu

The solo traveler has the time to reflect, write, document -- and for a good cup of local coffee / H. Biernacki

The solo traveler has the time to reflect, write, document — and for a good cup of local coffee / H. Biernacki


When Isabella left for Madrid, she only wanted to see Guernica. She understood it was not about seeing Guernica. That entire process, finally traveling to stand in front of such a piece of art, made her want to experience more of the world.

The slight irritations, which seem to stand in the way of most people rambling off to a new country, would not stand in her way anymore.

SEE RELATED: The true luxury of travel: Leaving the comforts of home behind

Upon returning from Spain, Isabella decided to travel again, going to several countries at one time rather than visiting one. She would take local buses along the Pan American Highway from Panama City, Panama to San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico. There was no more, “This is something I have always wanted to do.”

There certainly is the romance of being on the road, exploring the once hidden areas of the world. Airport public announcements echo, “Passenger Willis to the courtesy telephone please.” The people next to Isabella began pointing to the map, “I want to go there.” Other passengers read books, heads nodded, tired bloodshot eyes strained to remain open, and turbine engines purred through the airport windows.

The Miaflores Lock at the Panama Canal - A place to sit and watch / H. Biernacki

The Miaflores Lock at the Panama Canal - A place to sit and watch / H. Biernacki


“Your attention please, will passenger Smith kindly report to gate 54A to board the aircraft!”

Another repeats a few minutes later, “Last call for Managua, Nicaragua.”

There was that vacant spot in her heart being filled by such discovery, through wondrous experiences. It began with a harsh reality of deplaning and forced to slow down, not even out of her comfort zone, but moreover lack of control. She appreciated the fine fact she never listened as intently as she did while being in a new city and culture. Traveler’s listen, see, touch, smell, and taste to know their surroundings when they are in a new country.

After she landed, she exited the airport and asked a group of men sitting on a bench, “Cuando viene otro autobus?”

Each man shrugged his shoulders, indifferently, as they ate corn tortillas stuffed with grilled chicken and spicy sauce. She smelled the fresh aroma pouring out each time they took a bite. One man puffed out his lips as if to say who knows when the next bus comes. The Central American time schedule dictated to her. She waited at the airport for a bus to take her to the city center.

Isabella would take multiple buses through several countries. Diesel buses vibrated, motorcycles clicked, and cars honked as she began her one-way journey north, from Panama to Mexico. It may be difficult to get a feel of a country from the big cities.

Road side tortilla makers / H. Biernacki

Road side tortilla makers / H. Biernacki

She decided to explore the countryside.

After several days on the bus her legs ached, like growing pains, without the growth. She was stuck in a confined seat, next to the toilet, which fashioned such stench, she was sure her clothes would never be fresh again; the only solution would be to burn them at her earliest convenience.

The throbbing agony of sitting upright, without moving for fourteen hours, began to take a slight toll, but the smell helped her forget about the throbbing ache of not moving.

The seat had a relentless shape to it, the shape of a much larger person’s rear. At this point, no amount of stretching would do. The only cure, walking, and that would not occur for many more hours.

The days became lost. The only moments moving forward were when she waited in line at the border. Immigration looked through every passport page, finally slamming down a stamp, waving the next person in line to step forward, “Siguente, por favor.”

“Alcohol, it evaporates really fast, which is why you have to drink it quickly and keep your mouth shut,” a man said while waiting for his passport to be given to him from a Nicaraguan Immigration Officer.

He was already drunk and slurring his words. That was the most Isabella understood from the conversation before they returned to the bus. He spoke to everyone.

The line sluggishly advanced.

Other moments halted, suspended in the air where everything blended. Around the border, dogs limped in search of food and moneychangers assembled by the bus doors to catch someone getting on or off, “Cambio? Quieres cambiar tu dinero?”

Each moneychanger had different rates and the most patient person received the best rate.

Unintended experiences seem to only happen this much while on the road. Traveling is a lot like life; we have an idea where we want to be and we simply adjust to what is around, while the result is never quite what we had in mind. This is the glorious idea about traveling, taking people off the daily track to adapt to something completely new.

She did not need to guard anything except the memories she was creating. Who would have thought anyone could pour such large amounts of milk in a cereal bag, eating it so easily, while swerving around mountainous curves and intermittently, the driver slamming on the brakes. Only on the road do you see such things. Isabella never realized her willingness to do without, simply to grab a few more experiences minus the material possessions holding her back.

Each town she stopped, Isabella found a place to lay her head and then decided how long she would stay as she walked around the area. She was consistent in her travels that she consistently changed her surroundings. She was never quite clean, never quite dry from sweating, never quite full, and certainly never quite anything, except lost and trying to figure out how to navigate through new areas.

Fruit seller / H. Biernacki

Fruit seller / H. Biernacki

Central America was manageable for Isabella and each border was the end of the line to a new beginning. It was a relatively small geographical area, covering several countries, yet having distinct cultural differences. It was a step to move onward to more adventures. She figured traveling through South America was still too large of an idea. She would soon have that confidence to travel from Ushuaia, Argentina up to the northern portion of South America.

Being on the road means throwing yourself to those experiences, where in the moment, seem to take away from everything about your travels, and in the end, those are what a traveler truly remembers. Those experiences feed the imagination to crave more exploration.

It is still there, if you let go of those prescribed-travel-itineraries. Go and venture without an idea, hitting the road to allow the experience to sort itself out along the way. It is something so many of us have wanted to do.


Henry Biernacki

“Global Henry” (Traveler to over 120 plus countries)

Author: No More Heroes

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Henry Biernacki

Henry Biernacki has been traveling with his rucksack since he was 17 years old when he took a Greyhound Bus from Colorado to Mexico. In one year, Henry went around the world, sleeping in the streets, spending only 3700USD. He met Mother Teresa 2 September 1997 (3 days before she passed away) and had a personal audience with her. He has traveled to over 120 countries and continues to travel. 

He earned a BA in Romance Languages (French/Spanish) and International Affairs. He has lived in France, Germany, Taiwan, the West Indies and Mexico before returning to the United States.

Today, Henry is an airline Captain for one of the top airlines in the United States. He has flown Airbus319/320 and Boeing747-400/757/767.



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