How being a bridesmaid in a destination wedding turned into a journey of self-discovery

As a bridesmaid in a destination wedding in Peru, my journey began with me sitting tautly upright in an airplane window seat, my head propped up by a borrowed neck pillow, grazing elbows with a stranger on an international flight. As a Midwestern girl, I know that traveling internationally means first traveling to the coast, so I took full advantage of the first layover with a trip to the airport bar. Two cocktails later, I boarded my next flight, and I unfortunately didn’t feel that calm — the alcohol didn’t bring on the sleep I had initially hoped for.

So, the eight hour flight proved to be time for reflection.

I felt accomplished for getting myself to Peru. Self-employment has proven to be financially difficult after a year and a half, so most of the anticipation of the trip had been financial fear. Would I even be able to go? After a few clients finally paid me, I used those funds, along with the last chunk of money my grandfather had given me when I graduated years ago, to purchase my tickets and trip itinerary on the last possible day.

I thought about how I would have never chosen to go to Peru on my own. After studying abroad in college, I was more interested in visiting Europe when I thought about traveling internationally again. I hadn’t done much research about Peru, and didn’t quite know what I was getting myself into. I just knew that I was going on the trip for my friend who I have known and cherished since middle school.

I knew how the bridesmaid role usually went — I had been one before, on top of watching several friends go through the process. You suffer through the ugly dress, the expensive destination bachelorette party, and the controlling maid of honor because you love and adore the bride, your friend.

Little did I know that this trip wouldn’t just be a celebration of someone else’s wedding, but an adventure of my own.

airplane

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All of the wedding guests arrived in Cusco, Peru. I shared a hotel room with two of the bride’s friends, whom I had briefly met earlier in the year at the bachelorette party: Karen, a self-employed brunette with a quick wit and and endless amounts of positive energy, and Dani, a friendly, tall blonde whose contagious laughter kept me smiling throughout the whole trip. They quickly became my buddies.

I got to reconnect with old friends, too. I had known Andrea, another bridesmaid, since middle school. We used to be attached at the hip. After a tearful high school graduation, I stayed in the Midwest as she journeyed out to the east coast, where she has continued her life. These women immediately became my comrades in adventure as we vowed to explore and experience as much of Peru together as we could. All in our late twenties, we were eager and appreciative of the life-changing moments ahead of us on this trip.

My dear friend Anna, the bride, scheduled a few days of sightseeing before the wedding, so we took walking tours in the city of Cusco and climbed rocks in the countryside.

Climbing Peru’s ancient rocks so we could reach mountaintops was our biggest goal on the trip.

Our first countryside tour was the Sacred Valley of the Incas. As a fierce traveling girl squad, we made it to the top together. Between the thousands of man made rock steps, we took breaks to catch our breath and (of course) have a fabulous photo shoot among the ancient ruins. Once we had reached the highest point of the rock, I felt exhilarated, unstoppable. Those of us who were fearful of heights shared our panic through fits of laughter as we awkwardly clung to rocks, talking each other through the climb back down to the valley.

lauren hedenkamp peruCoutesy of Lauren Hedenkamp

We next saw Machu Picchu, and these excursions were not for the faint of heart. A lot of these countryside tours didn’t include railings, so that added a level of fear, bonding us together even more. Each time an excursion ended with all of us safely at the bottom of a mountain, I felt physically and mentally stronger. These journeys helped me begin to feel more personally accomplished, and I recognized the support given to me by my travel sisters.

As the days went on, each trek felt like a bigger metaphor — it was no longer about simply climbing a valley or hiking up a mountain.

Each outing felt like a mixture between excitement and fear, but I met those emotions with patience and the support of new and old friends. I made it through the obstacle every time.

In life, I have found that challenges can feel like impenetrable barriers. During my twenties in particular, life has brought about many obstacles that felt impossible to overcome by myself.

machu picchu

Patrick Endres / Design Pics/Getty Images

But if I can approach life like the trek up the Sacred Valley of the Incas, remaining patient while allowing myself to rely on the support of those around me, then I can make it to the top every time.

After days of touring the Peruvian countryside, we arrived to Lima, Peru, weathered and changed. We showered, threw on our party dresses, and spent a magical day witnessing our friend marry the love of her life. It felt like we were all part of this special club, forever bonded by the extraordinary times we shared in Peru together.

Traveling to a destination wedding helped me understand my own life journey, the ultimate adventure. I can move forward, feeling new, knowing that I can tackle life’s hardships by believing in myself and having a little help from my friends.

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