Andrea Dunlop is on a quest to check off a bucket list of items in her 29th year. You can read more about her adventures at her blog, thirty things.

Why is vacation so much better than real life?

Maybe ‘better’ is the wrong word; but why is it so much more enjoyable than real life? What is it I love so much about being abroad? How can I make my real life more like it? These are the questions I’m left with after and amazing, life-altering month in Argentina.

I spent my last night abroad with my now dear friend Julianna. I left the beach city of Mar del Plata a day early to spend just a little more time back in the Buenos Aires, the city I’d fallen so in love with. I wanted one last day at the San Telmo market, once last warm evening in the Plaza Dorrego, one last really good steak.

Even though Julianna is a vegetarian, she returned with me to La Brigada in San Telmo for one last incredible meal before I left. Just outside the restaurant, I stumbled on a cobblestone and my sandal broke so that it would barely stay on my foot. Once inside, we asked the waiter if he could bring us some duct tap; he summoned over three other waiters and they stood conferring over my shoe as though it were a patient in triage before disappearing into the back of the restaurant with it. They came back with the offending strap stapled back into place in a way you’d have to look very closely to notice. ‘Better than the shoe repair shop,’ the waiter proudly exclaimed. Better steak here too. It was a Sunday night and Julianna and I stayed late, having one of our long, intense discussions. When we noticed we were the last customers there and the bartender was looking at us with unabashed hatred for keeping him at work, we suddenly got such an attack of giggles that we could barely contain ourselves. Afterwards Julianna and I (stapled shoe and all) went out for one last night on the town at a fun expat bar called the Red Door in San Telmo where the crowd is a lively mix of foreigners and Argentines who want to meet them.

As such, Julianna and I had no trouble finding a couple of handsome locals to keep us company. For a while we were joined by a random British girl whose boyfriend had just stormed out but she got bored once everyone started speaking Spanish and left. I was smug in my pity for her. I thought ‘that must be so awkward not to be able to speak the language. That’s not me anymore. yay!’.

The handsome Argentine’s name was Fernando and he was a musician (of course). I told him I was sad to be leaving the next day and he told me not to think about it; that I had to enjoy the moment I was in. It was a line, yes, but perhaps my delightful companion had stumbled upon the answer to the question above about why a trip like this feels so different from real life. Because when you’re traveling, you’re living in the moment, experiencing your life while it is happening. If you’re like me, often you spend a lot of time thinking about both the future the past and fretting about the implications of both. Even the good times can feel too fleeting to properly appreciate: I find myself having a blast and simultaneously worrying about it ending.

So was Argentina everything I’d dreamed it’d be? I’d checked off the first four items on my list, made a couple of amazing new friends and reconnected with some old ones; I’d danced in a milonga and eaten the best steak of my life. I’d remembered how exciting it was to be alone and free but also that the people around you are what make it all worthwhile. And I had lived every moment of the trip, the good the bad and the ugly: I’d been present for it all. Time would tell if I could hold onto this feeling once I was back in the Northern Hemisphere where all of my responsibilities and problems were waiting for me. If nothing else stuck, I knew I would have Ninna and Julianna; the two friends who really made the trip for me, who I had ended up sharing what I thought would be a solitary journey with.

Julianna was heading back to Brazil two days after I left. She told me she that she felt like she was leaving with a lighter spirit and a fuller heart. Does that make sense in English? She asked me. It does, I told her and I couldn’t have said it better myself.