From wine to crime: I celebrated a career change with a challenging trip to Peru

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My 12-year career working in the wine and spirit industry came to an abrupt end in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. I’d moved to Los Angeles from Sonoma, northern California, the year before. Suddenly, all the big hotels I worked with were closed and the music festivals, another major part of my job, were cancelled. I was laid off, along with so many others in my industry. 

In that moment, I was faced with the possibility of new choices and a whole new life. I had been toying with the idea of going back to school for a while and decided to study forensic psychology – I’m interested in its crossover between psychology and law.

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I was faced with the possibility of a whole new life

I started an online masters programme in June, 2020. As I wasn’t working, I decided to double up on my classes, completing the course at the end of 2021. At the same time, I downsized my home and made a lot of changes to adapt to my new student finances and lifestyle. I sold my car and other belongings and moved in with flatmates for the first time in a decade as a way of affording sky-high LA rental prices. 

Then, after finishing my masters, I enrolled on the four-year doctoral programme at the LA campus of The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. This intensive course features a combination of classwork, lectures and clinical placements. My goal is to eventually work with offenders in correctional facilities, helping people with the tools and skills they need to reintegrate back into life and the community.

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I had time for one last bucket-list trip

I had the summer off before my course started in September, during which time Alison – a friend I met on a previous Flash Pack trip to Nepal in 2019 – got in touch. She wanted to know if I’d go with her on Flash Pack’s newly-launched Rainbow Mountain adventure in Peru. It was perfect timing for me, providing one last bucket-list trip before I immersed myself in the doctorate.

Before we knew it, the trip was upon us and Alison and I touched down in the Peruvian capital of Lima. There were so many highlights from the 12-day adventure that followed, including the climb up Rainbow Mountain through very sparse Andean scenery. The trek was challenging yet phenomenal.

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The bike ride through the Sacred Valley was challenging

Midway through the ascent, we camped in the snow in order to get up very early the next day for the trek to the summit. We were on quite a remote route, so we only saw a few other people. It was almost a surprise to find them waiting at the top. 

The high altitude on Rainbow Mountain was tough – we climbed to 5,200 metres. For me, though, the bike ride through Peru’s Sacred Valley was the hardest part of the trip. I haven’t been on a bike since I was 12 and we were still at quite high elevation for that, too – cycling on rocky, uneven ground with a series of steep downhill slopes.

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It was wonderful to make it through – I felt proud of myself

My main aim was to make it through the cycle route without falling off, which I did – just. At one point, an alarm I’d never heard before went off on my Apple watch. My heart was pounding so hard, it thought I was having some sort of cardiac incident. 

Despite the difficulty, it ended up being my favourite part of the Peru adventure. On a personal level, it was wonderful to make it through the feat – I felt so proud of myself. Afterwards, we celebrated with a surprise barbecue in the grounds of our lodge, which was beautifully located.

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With Flash Pack, you meet people living differently

The hotel had this table set out on the lawn and so we all got to eat together as a group. We had a playlist of songs on an outdoor loudspeaker – all number ones in the charts on the day each of us Flashpackers were born. It ended up becoming this big mash-up of mostly 80s music. 

And, just when we thought the night couldn’t get any better, the hotel owner took us to the on-site astronomy tower and pointed out all the different constellations you can see in the Southern Hemisphere. We went down into the planetarium and he did a show for us, projecting the stars up onto the ceiling and moving them around as if we were in orbit.

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I had the most incredible experience

I love the whole idea of Flash Pack. I’m at an interesting point in life – in my 30s, but I’m not married and I don’t have kids, unlike most of my friends. When you’re on a group trip, you meet people who are also living life in a different way – going on an adventure rather than lying on the beach. As you bond, you also get to peel back the layers of your fellow travellers from all over the world, which is fascinating.

The Peru trip was perfect for me. I had the most incredible experiences in dramatically different landscapes, from jungle and mountains to cities and beyond. It also offered a good balance of strenuous activity followed by rewards – carbs and Pisco Sours became the theme of the trip.

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My memories from Peru to cheer me on now during my doctorate

The combined effect was that I felt like I was able to cleanse my mind, body and soul before going full-pelt into studying for a four-year stretch. 

I definitely miss parts of my old career: I loved all the free wine, of course. Yet, ultimately, what I’m working towards now has more of a purpose. There’s a long road ahead, but luckily I have all my memories from Peru to cheer me on along the way. 

Joy Makin is a doctoral student in clinical forensic psychology who lives in Los Angeles. She travelled with Flash Pack to Peru

Got a story or adventure that could inspire a solo traveller like you? Tag @flashpack on social or email [email protected] to be featured.

Images: Flash Pack, Jeremy Walters, Unsplash

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