Razor Sharp Intuition – A Side Effect of Long Term Travel

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

“The combination of emotions and feral energy,
viscerally running through the body.
A sensing so strong it’s like intimate directions
that must be followed.”

Heather Markel, May 2019.


I’ve begun to realize that world travel – through different countries, different languages and different levels of safety has caused me to develop an interesting sense of intuition. It happens with people and places. It’s a keen sense of awareness that travels through me, sometimes an emptiness that signals all is ok, and at other times a gentle warning that I always heed. In past, I realize I had that same sense and often ignored it. That choice caused me harm and pain. Now this awareness is like a gentle friend, with me at all times.

A tree that exists in only a tiny part of South America.

Photograph by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

At times, I’m surprised where my intuition leads me. I find it easier to use instinct to avoid danger and much harder to follow the instincts that tell me a place or a person is ok.  In Costa Rica, I still cringe at the memory of the guy who stopped me on a quiet road on which we were alone, to ask if I wanted to follow him and see his “secret place.” Thankfully my instinct was well in check and I didn’t go. There have been a few roads I could have walked on over the past months. They looked safe, but that instinct howled at me, so I turned around and didn’t go. Recently I practiced following a good instinct and ended up with a plethora of experiences and journeys I never would have had  and that I’ll never forget.

“Sometimes I forget that instinct isn’t just about warning me of danger, it informs me about positive experiences, too.”

One of the things I’ve found interesting in South America, that didn’t happen to me anyplace else, is that I’ve met a number of people along my travels that are either going the same way and want to travel together, or who end up being in the same place as me weeks, or even a month, later. We get to meet and spend time together! One of my favorites is Maria who I met on the bus from the airport in Bariloche. She and I got chatting and I learned she quit her job at Starbucks and had gone to Antartica and planned to travel all year. We ended up meeting up in Easter Island and then again in Santiago. And, we may meet up yet again someplace in South America or in Africa!

Small towns with cows that roam the streets.

Photography by Heather Markel, Copyright 2019

While I was sitting in a cafe with two lovely new Argentinian friends, I ended up meeting a South African man at the next table. We were headed to the same town, and after hanging out there for a couple of days I decided to join him on his out of the way travels since both of us planned to go to Mendoza. My logical alarm bells definitely rang but my instinct was so certain that he was a good person that I decided to brave taking off with a man I hardly knew. That led me to some hilarious and original experiences.
I was out of my comfort zone not just traveling with him, but also taking local buses with no luggage rack, and, wait for it, we hitch-hiked! I’ve never before hitched a ride, (well except with a French couple I met in Ushuaia to go to a local park – but never to avoid paying bus fare!!) and here I was sticking my thumb out at passerby, learning that I should make sure both headlights are working if it’s getting dark, and that the car shouldn’t look too beaten up, otherwise, no thumbs up for them! We ended up stranded past one of the small towns we went to, where the only signs of life were a stop for gas, and a police checkpoint. We slept on the cold stone floor of the police checkpoint (they graciously offered us the spot and told us we’d be safe.) On another occasion, we actually paid for a bus, but arrived in a small town around midnight where every hostel and hotel owner appeared to be at the music concert that went till 5am. So, we slept on the porch of a hotel till then, woke up and walked to a hostel, sleeping on the bench in front of it until they opened at 8am. Hey that’s two nights with no hotel charge, great for the budget!

I saw small towns I never would have even heard of had I not trusted my intuition. I got to spend a bit of time traveling with someone rather than being on my own, another nice deviation. That came with its own set of challenges as we have very different personalities, but I learned to be a better listener and to rely on my sense of compassion. I saw landscapes walked on by dinosaurs, small towns where a horse is still common transportation and experienced so much kindness from hostel owners, tour guides, and other people we met along the way. I’ve also learned how little I know about South African politics and am simply shocked by so much of it, even though I still want to see it. I’m learning that intuition is my most powerful guide, but the part of it that I’m really enjoying developing is a sense of trust and connection with people. In the end, following my instinct towards great people has allowed me to FEEL instead of just protect myself. Onwards to my next intuitive adventure!

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