The stages of your first solo trip

It took me a long time to venture into the world of solo travel, but since then I have become the biggest advocate for this. Was I scared?  Of course! We all go through every likely scenario of what might go wrong. But then something wonderful happens and it all breaks down sort of like this:

Stage 1 - WTF?!

It's my first solo trip and I decided on Roatan, Honduras. I needed an escape and for some reason had this incredible urge to go alone. Without much thought I had made my way from Tampa to Dallas and on to Roatan. I've flown solo plenty of times so this wasn't anything different. But then I landed, went through passport control, customs, and was standing in the arrivals hall. What The F*** am I doing here?! ...my exact thought. What do I usually do now? Get cash and find a taxi - simple. The ATM prompts me as to how much cash I would like to take out in multiples of 200. It dawned on me that I never looked up the exchange rate - Rookie mistake! After what cost about $37 in roaming charges, I finally got cash and a stressed out taxi attendant ushered me into a car. As we pulled out of the airport the thought process went from WTF to 'Let's hope this guy doesn't murder me'.

Stage 2 - Overcoming Fear

This leads us to stage 2 - over coming fear. Needless to say I wasn't kidnapped by my taxi driver and was now in the safety of my room where I laid down on the bed for a few hours. I kept telling myself it was because I needed the rest. Truth is, I had without much preparation decided to go on a solo trip and now that I was here, I was terrified. I didn't know what to do by myself; I had a solo room since I needed to work and so for the first time in a long time I was facing a week of being completely alone. In a foreign country. Without one person around who knew me. It was this overwhelming feeling I needed to get a rest from. But as I laid there I realised I had to go out eventually so might as well. With dusk settling in, I walked out of my second floor bungalow into the muggy summer night and carefully locked the simple wooden door that even I could probably kick down. Deep breath. There was no backing down from this adventure. 

The beautiful sights of Honduras

Stage 3 - Eating Alone

Food makes everything better, so I made my way down the street (there was only one in the town) and had a look around for my options. I settled on a Thai place the Host had recommended to me and soon found myself on the most romantic terrace, facing the bay, at a table dressed for 4. As if that wasn't bad enough, nothing makes you feel more alone than having absolutely no service on your mobile. So there I was, sitting in silence. I felt awkward and uncomfortable; which must have been written on my face because the waiter tried to engage in conversation with me, most likely to put me out of my misery. I finished my glass of wine and took the left-overs home with me. A quite uneventful evening but I will never forget that meal. If constantly being in touch with or surrounded by friends is my comfort then that meal was like being on another planet for me. 

Stage 4 - The Beauty of Silence

This only became clear in retrospect, because what made that dinner so memorable was the silence. Yes it was out of my comfort zone, and yes I was slightly uncomfortable. But it was only because I wasn't used to the silence. Over time as I've travelled solo more often, that has become the reason I do. To have the option to not speak, to not have to listen, to have absolutely no stimuli except the world around you is an incredible and rare thing.  Think about it, nowadays we never find ourselves in silence - we pay for it at yoga, but even there you're told instructions that might as well be another language.  This true silence can only be found while traveling solo. 

I spent my days working & diving so I have no pictures other than at night :)

Stage 5 - Listening. To yourself. 

The next morning I woke up, picked up a few essentials from the store on the corner, and finished my work by about 1pm. With plenty of time left in the day, I was again faced with the task of venturing out. It was easier this time. I wandered the street that had now become slightly more familiar, recognised the little spot I had dinner at, and suddenly felt a sense of comfort. And then I got to ask myself, 'What do I want to do today'. I came to Roatan with absolutely no agenda. As I wandered the street I kept seeing signs for 'Scuba certification' being offered at the guaranteed best price on the island. After the third sign, I went into a shop. Everything aligned and without even thinking about it, I knew this was the obvious next step. No overthinking it, no googling it, it was a gut feeling and I went with it. The best part was - this entire time I never once had to ask someone else 'oh what do you want to do', 'well maybe I want to do that, but if you don't...', 'do you want to go eat first'.... you get the picture. There was none of that and it was a beautiful thing. The silence from the night before had now turned into an effortless ability to make decisions and listen to my gut. 

Stage 6 - Learning what you're Capable of

Fast forward 3 days later, I was singing karaoke for the first time in my life (to Barbie Girl in case you're wondering), I was one day away from being open water certified, and I had made several friends whom I still speak to today. It sounds like that silence and being alone part faded away, except it was quite the opposite. Just earlier that night I was invited out to dinner with the whole Scuba crew. I declined because there was a tiny little taco stand I wanted to have dinner at by myself. In a matter of only a few days I learned to enjoy eating alone, to the point where the lovely taco vendor was almost imposing on my evening with his friendly but non-stop banter. With a job that has no set office hours and that mobile device that means I am reachable at all times, the wonderful thing I learned from solo travel was the importance of saying no, of unplugging and of listening to myself. But most importantly, I learned that wonderful things happen on the other side of your comfort zone. 

Every person is looking for something different when travelling solo, and this is not to say that your experience might be like mine. I just wanted to give a glimpse into the reality of it. I'm not some brave superhuman girl ready to face anything. I just learned that while solo travel sounds scary, it is the polar opposite and something I recommend to everyone. No matter what you are dealing with, if you go out there and dare to face the world, you will, above all else, find yourself. 

My last night - Sunday Funday filled with $1 drinks all day and a free pig roast!

6 Things I do to travel cheap

I often get asked how I manage to travel as much as I do. The long answer includes all the things I don't spend money on such as going out or new socks; but the short answer breaks down into 6 things I stick to, to keep my costs when buying tickets and travelling as low as possible. 

1. Be flexible on dates

I realise this might be easier said than done for most; maybe you only have certain days vacation, the kids are off that month only etc etc. But I have found that sometimes a difference of 3 days can make hundreds of dollars of difference in air fare. As with everything in life, be flexible on the picture and expectations. Maybe you spend one day less at your destination than you wanted or maybe you take the early morning flight instead of the afternoon. By staying open minded as to what your schedule will be, you can save yourself a good bit of money. In regards to the whole only buy flight tickets on Tuesday and 1 month or more in advance, I haven't quite made my mind up about that. I have gotten some incredible flight deals 2 weeks before leaving as well as 8 months in advance. 

2. Be flexible on destination

I have a list of my top 5 or so places I'd like to go to next. And believe it or not, whatever is cheapest wins. Obviously a flight to Europe will always be more than a flight to the next state over, but by continuously keeping an eye on the routes and checking every time I plan a trip, I know when I have found a steal for that flight to Europe and I feel good about buying that ticket (my last return trip to the UK was roughly $500 and I was pretty pleased with that). By once again staying flexible you're able to take advantage of whatever sales might be going on, going where most aren't headed but checking places off that travel list in the process. 

3. Be flexible on route

Are you noticing a trend yet? FLEXIBILITY is key! And here I mean two things: departure airport and layovers. My home base airport is TPA (Tampa) and although growing, it isn't exactly an international hub with lots of options and low fares to chose from. So I've learned to think outside of the box - am I willing to drive 2-3 hours to nearby airports and save $200-$300 on a flight? D**n right I am. I used to be one of those people that wanted a direct flight no matter what - it's easier, less travel involved, and also generally more expensive. Now I am perfectly happy to have a layover in Stockholm, Dallas, or Beijing. And with stop-over tourism becoming a thing, some airlines will allow you to spend a few days at your lay-over exploring before getting the connecting flight to your final destination. A wonderful way to see a new city. After all, it's about the journey - so learn to enjoy the process of getting there as much as finally being there. 

4. Know what matters for accommodation

Searching for a great hotel can be a minefield. But I know exactly how I narrow it down and pick the best price accommodation while not sacrificing the things I need to be comfortable. I mainly use booking.com and hostelworld.com to find cheap accommodations. TIP: sometimes hostels are on both sites except on hostelworld they require a deposit but booking.com they don't. Another reason I use booking.com is that hotels come with free cancellation/amendments which works perfectly for being flexible with my flights. And then I read reviews. I read reviews on both sites looking for cleanliness and location. If several people rate both of these high and the price is right - we have a winner! (If there is a close tie, a breakfast included option wins) Those are the things that matter most to me when I am abroad. Obviously your preferences might be different, but if you know what those are you'll have an easier time narrowing it down and won't simply go with the very cheapest option which may save money but make you incredibly uncomfortable in the basement 'suite' and hitchhiking rides from the locals just to get somewhere near town. 

5. Budget your activities in advance

I pick a lot of my destination based on some sort of outdoor activity or sights to see. I make sure to research the cost of these before hand and calculate that into the flights and hotel costs. The flight may be cheap and all, but if the activity will cost me a couple of hundred dollars, that needs to be added into the 'where do I go' calculation. If that then means another option becomes cheaper, this particular one might have to wait. See, flexibility is key again. Also, researching costs ahead of time helps you find the most budget friendly providers (with good reviews obviously) and you know what you're getting into once you're there. 

6. Skip a meal

This sounds terrible and I certainly don't condone not eating. I love eating. Food is one of my favourite reasons to travel! But, I do watch my spending abroad and will do a lot of cooking at 'home' if possible, grab a banana and extra toast from the included breakfast, or call a bag of potato chips lunch. That means I generally aim to eat only one meal a day out. Street food is also a great option. Definitely try to avoid anything that looks fancy and touristy (especially inside of hotels/resorts) and if needs must, split a dinner with your travel partner/buddy (which I have certainly done). I guarantee you though, I have never gone hungry! I turn into too much of a curmudgeon if I did.

Hopefully some of these tips have helped shed some light on small but powerful ways you can get the most bang for your buck when planning a trip. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or share any tricks you might have up your sleeve.

10 Tips to Stay Safe Abroad

Especially as a solo travelling girl, I often get asked if I get scared or worried about my safety. And the answer is always the same - Not really (besides the moments where I face my fears like hang-gliding or jumping off cliffs). Over the years I have developed a certain set of rules I adhere to no matter where I go. The theory is to blend in with the locals as much as possible. As a little white girl I can obviously not look like a local everywhere, but following some of these rules definitely avoids drawing attention to myself. 

1. Don't bring the expensive jewellery

I personally don't wear any jewellery, but basically this means be aware of the general standard of living where you're going and leave the flashy things at home. I tend to stay away from resorts and tourist spots, so I would stand out wearing a fancy watch at my destinations. I have even found myself in places where taking out my expensive camera equipment doesn't feel right and so I simply won't. 

2. Keep copies of your passport

This might sound a little obsessive compulsive, but keep several copies of your passport (in color) in a couple of different places, just in case. Especially if you are travelling far or for a long time, it will always be easier to get a replacement should anything happen, if you have a color copy. 

3. Get Insurance

I'm an oaf and I don't trust myself with nice things. So especially for travelling, I have insurance on all of the expensive equipment I take. It gives me peace of mind and I can enjoy the trip without worrying about anything. This isn't an absolute must, but I know it takes a lot of pressure off for me. And that's the point of getting away right - to not worry about anything. 

4. Trust your gut

As mentioned above, a lot of staying safe abroad has to do with evaluating your environment and using common sense. If walking down a dark alley late at night gives you a funny gut feeling, don't do it. I'm not saying to constantly assume the worst, but just stay aware of your surroundings. You can feel when something's off.

5. Don't get drunk

That brings me to the next point - don't get hammered. You make yourself an easy target if you are visibly drunk out in public. I know you want to unwind and have a good time when travelling, and you absolutely should, but just don't do it in excess. Stumbling around makes you an easy target.

6. Leave the cash

It's another one of those preventative things, but don't carry your passport or loads of cash around with you. You wouldn't do it at home, so I don't recommend doing it anywhere else. I usually have my cash distributed in various places, much like the passport copies, and will only take what I think I will need for the day/evening with me. 

7. Blend in

I know I've mentioned it before, but blending in is the best thing you can do. Basically don't stand out. Don't be flashy, don't be loud, don't draw any unnecessary attention to yourself. While you will never completely blend in, not being a sore thumb is the next best thing you can do. 

8. Share your itinerary

It can be quite an unnerving thing to be in a foreign country without anyone knowing your whereabouts or of your well being. I always make sure to share my itinerary with someone - OK, my mom makes me share it with her...BUT this gives a lot of peace of mind and there are some great apps out there to easily do so (I personally use tripit). 

9. Be polite but firm

This has a couple of meanings. First, for the solo travellers and especially solo girls out there, you are never travelling alone! If anyone asks, your friends are back at the hotel and just didn't want to come out with you. Even if that's not true, you've just taken a lot of your vulnerability out of the picture. And secondly, when you are being approached by locals trying to sell things, be firm. You will have a much better time and get hassled much less, if you are firm with your no's. I don't mean be rude but simply, say 'no thank you' and carry on doing what you were doing. It will help to not feel like you are being taken advantage of.

10. Know your prices

This ties into the previous tip. I like to have an idea of everything from taxi rides to food to activities. That way I have much more bargaining power when I am there and know if I am being taken advantage of. Most of the time locals are fair on pricing and I haven't been in a position where I felt robbed, but it has certainly saved me from expensive taxi rides at the airport where you're very likely to find extortionate pricing. 

I hope some of these tips have helped ease your mind about travel and feeling safe when wandering off the beaten path. If you have any questions, please comment and I would be glad to help! Happy and safe travels!

Worry-free travels are the best kind!  (somewhere in Belize) 

5 Countries in 12 days

Sounds pretty crazy right? It was. Do I feel like we missed out on anything? No. Did we sleep much? Nope.

A couple of years ago, I got the chance to take one of my best friends to Europe. It was her first time so I wanted to make sure she got as much out of it as possible. I had 12 days to play with in terms of being a tour guide and to this day I am proud of everything we managed to see and do. So here it is, a glimpse into our crazy itinerary:

Orlando to London Gatwick- day 1

Within 30 minutes of our plane taking off, I had spilled red wine on myself. Score. Then upon landing, my friend in the UK who was supposed to pick us up had stayed out the night before and was still asleep. Perfect. (Note to self: I need new friends; or don't fly in on a Saturday morning) But no sweat, I am pretty confident in my driving skills, so I got a rental car and drove us to our hotel. Let’s pretend I didn’t panic on the road and go the wrong way through a toll. Anyone who has made the transatlantic journey heading East will know that the jet lag on this route will hit you hard. As much as we wanted to sleep, there was no time! We freshened up and found a rooftop bar to watch the Bayern Munich v. Dortmund Champions League final that was being hosted in London. It was an incredible atmosphere and I’m so glad I got to introduce her to the fun that is football in Europe. We then stumbled into one of the most amazing little Thai restaurants I desperately wish I could remember the name of. After a pint in the pub, it was finally time to go to bed!

A shot Chelsea took while we explored the sights of London

From London to Paris - day 2

We set off early the next morning with 2 of my UK friends in tow and drove to Paris – one of my favorite ways to get there since the view of the Dover cliffs from the ferry are always lovely! My old roommate from my time in London was living in Paris so we had a free place to stay. Once there we spent the first part of the day catching up and hanging out at his flat. Then he drove all 5 us into the city and we walked around Paris without much of an agenda. We wandered through Montmartre, sat in cafes, had crepes, and were perfectly Parisian for a day. I mostly recall that night though. We picked up a couple of bottles of wine and champagne from a corner shop, sat in front of the Eiffel tower, and let time pass just talking and lounging around. Eventually the lights from the tower started to sparkle and I remembered why this is my favorite thing to do in Paris.

Reunited with my old flatmate from London in Paris. Yeah, we're super cute. Miss you Alex!

Onward to Rome- day 3-6

The next day it was on to Rome because there’s no rest for the wicked. This was my first time in Rome as well so I made sure we had 3 days there. I needed the time to do my thing and wander aimlessly, let the map sink in, and let that city of ruins and pizza change me. We walked a lot in those days but we also ate a lot (let’s also pretend I didn’t eat whole pizzas by myself). The most striking thing to me about this city was the clash of past and present: parking lots built around ruins as if it was the most normal thing; pizza places overlooking the Colosseum as if you could have dinner and then watch a lion-versus-gladiator-man-eating-show. The other thing I distinctly remember is that they have Kinder Bueno gelato. If you ever find yourself in Rome, forget about drinking wine in the piazzas and find the nearest gelato place! I can say for certain that we saw all of what Rome has to offer, soaked it up and ate it.

Also taken by Chelsea, a fantastic view of the Colosseum 

Rome to Albania - day 7-10

With another early morning wake up, we headed to the airport and caught our flight to Albania, another destination I hadn’t visited before. But boy am I glad we did. Albania has absolutely stunning countryside, with some very good looking people and a gorgeous coast line. We started our journey in Tirana where we drank, partied, and ate. We then got a car and drove down the coast where we spent another few days by the beach. Driving through this country was quite the adventure, not just because of the mountain roads, unpaved sections of highway, and occasional stops by the police looking for a small bribe - we also had the brakes give out on us while driving down one of the winding mountain roads. I’ll never forget the 5 minutes after we finally got the car to stop, which were filled with relief and laughter and a touch of nausea. Overall though, I honestly don’t remember the details of our time in Albania because it was such a magnificent blur of drinking, eating, and good times. I do remember the food though (shocking, I know)! I would walk back to Albania for the stewed meat dishes and salty fried goats cheese.

Fantastic views of the Albanian countryside and Tirana

24 hours in Corfu - day 11-12

Since we found ourselves quite close to the Greek border at this point, I knew a 5th country would make the trip. We hopped on a ferry and headed to Corfu. For exactly 24 hours. We had to make sure we caught the ferry back the next morning, otherwise we would have missed our flights back to Rome, back to London, and then back to Florida. So no pressure at all. But Corfu was lovely, with winding alleys, historical sites, and delicious Greek food. We wandered around a bit, explored the island for as much as we could, and reminisced over the last 10 days the 4 of us had spent together. The vibe on Corfu made for a relaxed last evening. Making our way back was quite the opposite the next morning when we needed to buy our ferry tickets with cash and had none. A frantic scramble ensued, running through the alleys we had so leisurely wandered the day before. But alas, it all worked out and we made it back in time to stick with our itinerary. The only casualty was my phone which I left behind somewhere in the kerfuffle. A small price to pay. And thus we began our long journey home. 

Those lovely alleys in Corfu

Those lovely alleys in Corfu

Any trip to Europe is always full of incredible sights, beautiful architecture, and people that remind you what’s truly important in life. But this particular one will always be special to me. I got to take one of my best friends, show her all of this, and also feel a bit like we were Thelma and Louise on the run. Minus the tragic ending of course.

The 4 of us at the Trevi fountain in Rome 

Budgeting Belize

Belize is one of those places most have heard of but couldn’t easily locate on a map (it’s on the south-eastern end of the Yucatan peninsula ;)) The one thing any traveller who has managed to find it will tell you is to go! It’s an unexpected gem surrounded by its more popular neighbours like Guatemala and Mexico. I have been to a few spots in Belize but here are my two top picks: Caye Caulker and Placencia. I will preface this by saying that unlike some of its more well-known neighbours, Belize is also a touch more expensive so be prepared for this with your budget.

Caye Caulker

This island is a backpackers dream. It is located about an hour water taxi ride from Belize City ($25 return with Belize Water Taxi). This laid back island is popular with backpackers and offers a huge variety of water based activities. Or if you’d rather relax, rent a bike and explore the island and its ‘slow-pace’ that is always encouraged by the locals. There aren’t a large number of amazing beaches, but the clear turquoise waters make up for it and then some. Belize boasts the second largest barrier reef in the world, making this a hotspot for the following activities:

              The great Blue Hole & Diving

The great blue hole is a sinkhole within the reef, creating a bucket list dive spot for many divers. This dive will usually run you about $200-300. There are also cheaper options to simply snorkel the blue hole. I didn’t actually dive here since I heard it is very much a cave dive and there isn’t a lot of wildlife to be seen.  I was more interested in this so opted for diving the reef instead. For about half the price I got to see some nurse sharks, a moray eel, lobsters, and awesome canyon formations.  Another great way to see the blue hole is to do a fly-over. After my research I found that this is actually the best way to get the full picture and decided to treat myself to this. Depending on how many people you can gather, the price drops significantly per person. I wasn’t so lucky and ended up paying $400, so this is definitely a treat on the high end of the budget. But I will also say, the views and incredible colors of the reef made it absolutely worth it.

              Snorkeling & Spear Fishing

There are a lot of options on the island for this. You have shark and stingray alley where you can snorkel with the local wildlife, as well as take a snorkel tour of the reef and explore some of the nearby islands. Fishing is also a fun activity and I decided to try out spearfishing. The fish were safe though since they were just too fast for me (definitely not my lack of skill…ok, no I was terrible). Depending on who you go with these full day activities will run you on average between $60-$70.

Placencia

Placencia is a quaint town on the south end of Belize, only a couple of hours (2-3) from Belize City. You can easily get here by bus, shuttle, or plane (Tropic Air), depending on your schedule and budget. It is a bit more low key of a place with basically one main bar and one nightclub. Food prices are much like in Caye Caulker – above average for the region, so I made sure to cook at home as often as possible in both. The main reason to visit?

             Swim with Whalesharks

One of the most incredible feelings - sharing a swim with this gentle giant

You have the option of diving or snorkelling. I went with snorkelling ($195) versus diving ($265) and it turned out to be the right decision. No whale sharks had been spotted that season yet, but on our 2nd dive/snorkel of the day we got very lucky and saw a younger one surface. So in the end the divers came back up, put snorkel gear on, and jumped back in. It was a once in a lifetime experience and such an incredible one to tick off my bucket list. Unlike some other places in the world, they are pretty strict here about not touching or getting too close to the animals, so it’s a great place to do it. Plus, lunch on the reef offers some amazing clear ocean as backdrop.

The other more well-known places include Belize city, but there isn’t much to see or do here. It is mainly a hub for taking ferries, buses, or flights to the other nearby destinations. A lot of people also tend to visit San Pedro, an island about one and a half hours from Belize city by water taxi. This is a much more populated island with a greater western influence and honestly not my favourite. It felt very busy and faster paced than I generally look for.

Overall, Belize is still a fairly unknown vacation spot, but it is definitely getting a great reputation. Lodging is comparable to its neighbors with hostels starting at $12 per night for a dorm bed, and hotels or Airbnb’s are averaging about $90 per night. Obviously this all depends on time of year and season you go. There are lots of happy hour deals with drinks between $1-$2 and meals will generally run between $10-$20, so I did cook at home for most meals. But that being said any country where I can get a fresh grilled lobster with sides for $10 is a winner in my book. It may be slightly more expensive than say El Salvador or Guatemala, but in my opinion, it’s a must see and one of my favorite spots in Central America.

Can't end on a better note than that :)

On Open Seas

How do you explain one of the most unique trips you'll take in life. It is not an uncommon journey - crossing from Panama to Colombia via the San Blas islands; yet I can't help but feel that none could be as great as ours was. We had the most varied cast of characters, but all complimented each other and were instant friends. Even the crew became part of us misfits, but by the end, if we're being honest, probably were ready to get a break from us and our constant energy. I mean, when guests from neighbouring yachts come to crash your party bearing gifts of champagne, you know you're doing something right! So where do I start? I think this might be best done in parts. Enjoy.

The Experience (feelings and other stuff I'm not good at expressing):

There is no WIFI, no technological input, no connection at all to your routine. When you spend your days with absolutely nothing on the agenda, something interesting happens. You wake up, sit and stare at the horizon while waves crash against the hull and the sun warms your skin. (The wind would be blowing in your hair, except after days of not showering that rats nest isn't moving!) With nothing but silence on your mind, you begin to learn about yourself. You can clearly evaluate where you've been, why you're here, and where it is you really want to go. These are such important things we are usually 'too busy' to ask ourselves. Even better, once you have answered those questions for yourself, you can begin to see around you much clearer. It was at this point that for the first time in my life, I appreciated myself. I appreciated how little I could live with and still be happy, how good something as simple as a bite of toast can be, how easy it is to be nice and kind to everyone, how capable of understanding we all are and how the tiniest moments can make you smile months later. And then I fell in love. I fell in love with the beauty of our planet, the stories of strangers, the joy of a midnight swim, and the people whose paths I would have never otherwise crossed. But mostly our planet... I became a serious stage 5 clinger to mother nature.

The incredible night skies I fell in love with. Photo credit goes to Luke Wolfe (@l_wolfepack)

Seasickness:

I have never in my life gotten sea sick. All the emails warned that even people like myself should bring some Dramamine. Sure, why not. Well, I learned a very important lesson here. Dramamine is magic and as much as you think you'll be fine, there is something about that constant rocking no one is used to. I ended up being one of only 3 from our group that didn't throw up...and believe me, if you're going to venture across an open ocean, you better get used to people throwing up. We joked about it the first night, even making bets on who would vomit first. Karma is a bitch since the guy making the bets was the first to puke. By the end we brought each other crackers and didn't mind when someone was throwing up right next to us as we ate our dinner. We just kept eating with one hand and patting them on the back with the other. 

One of my favourite views, feeling like a proper adventurer!

Privacy:

With 12 people on a 42 ft sail boat that only has 4 cabins, you have to forget the concept of privacy. More likely than not you will be sharing a room, possibly a bed, with someone you've just met. Oh and have I mentioned that your poop gets jetted out the side of the boat? Better make sure you only go number 2 when the boat is moving and no one is swimming next to it! Although it does make for a fun game of 'whose poop is floating by?'  Also, with 12 people in such a confined space, you will likely never find a quiet corner for some alone time. A pair of headphones and roasting in the sun when everyone else is seeking shade is probably the closest you will get. Side note: perhaps this was unique to our group, but after a couple of days a lot of nudity ensued; from skinny dipping to random acts of streaking. I saw a lot of wieners.  

You become strangely attached to your tiny floating home

Food:

I was prepared to have this crossing be the solution to my vacation weight gain. Surely, between possible seasickness and the limited supplies on board I would eat little and get fed up with Spam or whatever tinned food they would feed us. On the contrary, I now want to marry Cesar, our chef. We ate so well and so much for those 5 days! Rolling waves or anchored, Cesar whipped up everything from Lobster to pancakes to Barracuda Ceviche in that tiny kitchen! Bottom line, I feel bad for those that got sick because that food was some of the best and most unexpected I've had. Although, maybe they win since they got to taste it twice. 

Definitely my kind of food delivery! Photo credit goes to Luke Wolfe (insta: @l_wolfepack)

Sleep:

Never going to happen! If it hadn't been for the drowsiness caused by the (non-drowsy!) Dramamine, I'm not sure I would have slept more than 4-5 hours each night. The first night, I couldn't go to sleep at all - but this was mainly because we had just set sail and the thrill of it all kept me awake. I truly began to understand the saying that 'If you can't sleep it's because real life has become better than your dreams'. In my wildest dreams, I couldn't have imagined what it was like, standing there on the bow, wind in the sails, setting off into darkness using a method of transport that has been around for thousands of years. Eventually though, you go to bed. And man, that first night is rough. Your stomach is just sloshing around and you're not quite sure if facing bow or stern is less horrible. For the rest of the trip you tend to sleep wherever and whenever you can, day or night. And if you think I'm exaggerating, believe me when I say that I slept on top of a Yeti cooler next to the designated barf ledge. 

Watching a midnight thunderstorm while anchored in the islands

The Expected versus the Unexpected:

Nothing I can write about this trip will ever do it justice. The people I met will stay with me and the things I saw and felt have changed me forever. Each journey will be as unique as the people you're with, but there were so many unexpected things that came out of this, I decided to make it the final section of this blog. 

I expected to see incredible night skies - I never expected to see the milky way from one end of the horizon to the other, Jupiter, Neptune, the ISS and satellites above while bio luminescent plankton was sparkling in the water below (all within the same 15 minute window)

I expected to make new friends - I never expected to miss people that 5 days ago weren't even a part of my life

I expected to be slightly uncomfortable - I never expected a cooler to be one of the most sought after sleeping spots

I expected to possibly get bored  - I never expected 5 days to be filled with so many fantastic moments that it almost wasn't long enough

I expected to feel dirty - I never expected to get so used to being filthy that 5 days without a shower didn't seem like a big deal

I expected it would change my life - I had no idea in how many ways it actually did.  

Photo credit: Luke Wolfe (insta: @l_wolfepack)

Photo credit Luke Wolfe (insta: @l_wolfepack)

Rules I live by

It has been a busy couple of weeks and unfortunately I haven't had much time to write. The good news is, I'm going to have some exciting announcements coming up! But today is not that day. Today is a day for a random blog post I haven't had a chance to post previously. So enjoy my random thoughts on how I make decisions:

  • If Champagne is an option, always have a glass
  • If fish tacos are an option, always get fish tacos – unless there is something exotic on the menu you have never tried. Then always get that.
  • Say yes to most things and invites. The only time I will say no is if I am absolutely not feeling well or too tired…or too broke.
  • Travel alone at least once. It seems like a daunting thing, but it is one of the most unique experiences which will create a whole new idea of happiness and love
  • If travel is an option, always go. The experiences and memories are once in a lifetime, everything else can be made up later
  • If you're going to have desert, make sure it's covered in chocolate and filled with caramel. If you're going to cheat on your diet, do it right!
  • Unleash your inner floosie at home. There is no need to use travel as an excuse to explore your sexual freedom - it's the 21st century, f*ck the social pressure and do what you want - at home. Don't let boys or girls be a distraction from how beautiful our planet is. Go and let a place change you, fall in love with nature and form relationships without any motives. 
  • Don't look at your phone during dinner, unless absolutely urgent
  • Go outside as much as possible.
  • Be good to your body. It's the only one you get.
  • Everyone you meet knows something you don't. Be open minded and listen to what they have to say
  • If there's a hammock, use it 
  • Keep in touch with everyone, because you never know where you might end up (yeah, I know, you only hear from me once a year sometimes - but you do hear from me!)
  • Always try something new: If there is something on the menu you have never eaten before, get it! If someone suggests a good book you'd otherwise never read, give it a go! If there's an activity you've never done before, do it! 
  • Spend less time looking at your phone and more time looking up
  • Give everyone the benefit of the doubt
  • Be good to our planet. It's the only one we get.
  • Rules are made to be broken. Including these. (except our planet - always be good to our planet :))

What are some of your favourite rules to live by? 

Taken in the middle of the night during a sail trip through the San Blas islands - Rule: if you can travel, always go and travelling alone is a must!

The Danger of the Negative

While this easily relates to travel, I think it's actually a much larger concept. I've dealt with this topic a lot recently, so I decided to write about it.

People often assume that I don't get scared or nervous doing the things I do, or that it comes easy for me to have a positive outlook and make the best of everything. Well I'm here to tell you that neither one of those is true. If you ask anyone who has known me for a long time and known me well, they can attest to the fact that I was a rather negative person and as a result sometimes hard to be around. I also get scared every time I'm about to jump off a cliff (proverbial or not) and I am nervous every time I travel alone.

We are all human and we are all allowed to feel these things. But there is one important thing I've learned. There is a massive difference between the person that listened to these feelings and the person I am now. Now I acknowledge the feeling but I defend the big picture. The big picture are my dreams. They mean achieving my goals, seeing the places I want to see, and experiencing new things. The big picture shouldn't stay a daydream but should rather become what we are actually working towards every single day, no matter how small the step.  Unfortunately every negative thought I listen to, stops me from accomplishing this. Every negative thought tries to turn your attention to the small things in front of you. The excuses for why you can't. The reasons you shouldn't. Why it's just better not to. 

Your dreams and your big picture might be drastically different than mine. But I guarantee you, the negative thoughts sound the same. So all I am really trying to say is, don't let yourself be bullied by those thoughts. Stand up for the part of you that dreams big. Fight to make that big picture your reality. Defend the daring part of your soul. Because if you won't, no one will. 

There is nothing more satisfying than the moment your daydream becomes your reality. Cheesy, I know. But so true :)

A Day in Transit.

I have never hitchhiked anywhere. Something about potentially being murdered I never found appealing. I did however have an experience recently that was comparable to what I imagine hitchhiking is like: a desperate attempt to jump from one vehicle to another in an effort to reach your destination, no matter how long it takes to get there. 

Let's set the scene. Early December. My objective: a week of snowboarding fun. My destination: Portland, Oregon.  I left Tampa (flight 1), bound for a quick stopover in Houston, then on wards to Portland. I didn't even have to change planes in between! This couldn't have started out as an easier day. Unfortunately, a massive ice storm was making its way through Oregon and shut down Portland airport completely. I found out about this when we were asked to de-board (is that a word?!) in Houston. '..But.. I had my window seat picked out and everyth...Ok fine.' As we sat by the gate waiting for further instruction, there was some good news! The flight wasn't cancelled, just delayed and we have to switch gates. Yippeee! I was going to make it to the slopes in the morning after all. 

Fast forward to the new gate, same plane. We've boarded and I even got an entire row to myself plus window seat. Score! As we're about to close the hatch and push off, there was an announcement that the flight has been cancelled. You could physically feel the 'you're joking, right?!' atmosphere in the plane. No joke. Once de-boarded (it's now a word) we were told there was another flight from Dallas to Portland so we've gotten rerouted there. A quick hop, skip, ascend, and descend later, I was in Dallas (flight 2). 

Fast forward to a terminal restaurant where I just sat down. The phone dings. My flight from Dallas to Portland has been cancelled. I'm about to get annoyed when I overhear a TV in the background announce the 'winterstorm in the Northwest that is affecting millions of travellers'. I'm just one of many and mother nature will do as she pleases. Getting upset about this is a waste of everyone's time.

Let's skip ahead to the Southwest counter. I am being rerouted via Albuquerque over San Diego to Portland. Anything for the chance to make it to Portland this evening because I want to be on the mountain tomorrow with ... my snowboard!!! It occurs to me that there is a slim chance my board has managed to follow me around but no time to think about this now, the flight to Albuquerque is boarding!

After landing in New Mexico (flight 3) I didn't even get 5 minutes to enjoy the airport because guess what?! Yup. The flight out of San Diego to Portland was cancelled while I was in transit. The advice was to head to San Diego anyways because it was a much larger airport with better connections. The fact that my arrival and departing gates where right next to each other, would prove that to be true. Another ding from my phone. My friend in Portland has sent a picture of the ski lodge I was supposed to be at by this point - you motherf*cker. But not much time to sit and stew on this; next flight is boarding, must hop on and California bound I was (flight 4). 

At this point, it was nighttime. I had left home before sunrise, and my only glimpse of sunset was on final approach in NM. I had never been to San Diego before, so not being able to see much on landing was quite disappointing. In retrospect, not as disappointing as the news I received once I landed there. You guessed it! San Diego - Portland flight was cancelled. My last attempt to reach my destination left me with one final option - head to Seattle. Exhausted from the constant up and down (he he ... ) I settled for this option. And without much hope of any kind, I asked about my snowboard. 

No record of it in Houston. No record of it in Dallas. It hasn't been scanned in anywhere. Well, that's just how the cookie crumbles because at this point all I wanted was a bed and a proper meal. I sent some positive thoughts to Lily (my snowboard and I are close) and wished her the best for her journey wherever she may be; living in transit, like I was (flight 5). 

Fast forward to a random airport hotel in Seattle, where after 22 hours of travelling I finally get to go to sleep. So when my friend in Portland was my hero for the day and booked me the bus from Seattle to Portland the next morning, I gently declined the 6:30 AM departure and opted for the 8:00 AM. A girl needs her beauty rest! Which I'm sure at this point should have been more like a week! 

I finally made it to Portland at 11:00 AM - 24 hours after I was originally supposed to arrive. Lily? Well believe it or not, after a few phone calls, I found out she had been rerouted and would arrive in Portland at 11:30 AM that morning! And yes, I did make it to the mountain for a few runs that afternoon - Mission Accomplished!

 

Nothing worth having ever came easy. 

Nothing worth having ever came easy. 

On the Hunt

I'm not actually a hunter or anything so I can see how the title might be misleading. I actually just enjoy 'hunting' the spectacular and rare sights of this beautiful planet. Recently I set out with the northern lights as my prey.

I've heard so many stories about how magical they are and what a spiritual experience it is, varied and unique each time you see them. With my home base in Florida, this isn't exactly something I have easy access to; but I happened to find myself in Norway as the result of a work trip. So I decided to take advantage. Alone I set off to Tromso, where in the middle of January there is no actual sunlight, but instead a sleepy little town that looks like something out of a fairy tale. 

With only a couple of days here and work to do in between, I knew my chances were slim as 3 nights minimum is always recommended for this adventure. I quite enjoy the feeling of going after my goals though, so this wasn't going to stop me. As we set out on the chase, I quickly realised the chances were dwindling - a massive snowstorm had rolled in. Without clear skies, those wonderful lights would be performing for no one. 

We had left town at 6pm and returned about 5am. The journey took us into Finland, through a snow storm, past reindeer, and onto a photo op on a frozen lake complete with campfire and marshmallows. Unfortunately, the lights were rather weak that night and we only got a brief 10 minute glance at what appeared to be fog to the naked eye. A green glow could be detected with the proper camera. Clouds took over the sky and the lights were done performing for that night. 

I decided to try my luck again the following night. But within 3 hours of booking, the chase was cancelled due to avalanche warnings and the next morning I began my journey home to Florida. I didn't get the mind blowing experience of seeing the aurora borealis dance above me at the top of the world. Am I disappointed? No. Let's call this an occupational hazard of tracking down all the wonders mother nature has to offer. I will definitely go out and try my luck again. 

On the Unexpected

The unexpected moment is always sweeter. I learned this in a really fun way on my recent trip to Norway. Seeing the northern lights has been at the top of my bucket list for a long time and as I got onto the bus to 'chase' them down, quite literally, I was filled with so much anticipation. As with every natural sighting or phenomena there is no guarantee you'll get lucky enough to see it.

But still. I was there. Planning on seeing the aurora borealis. 

What I didn't plan on was that our search for the lights would lead me across, not one, but two country borders that night. Several hours of driving through a massive blizzard taking over Norway, we found ourselves in the middle of a frozen lake in Finland! Finland has also always been on my list of countries to visit, and without realising it, I just made it there. 

Now I also have a somewhat strict definition of what a country visit has to consist of in order for me to count it:

1. Must leave the airport or arrival terminal

2. Must eat local food

3. Must meet the locals 

In this case, I only met the first part of my criteria and so I can't totally count Finland as a country I've been to. For consolidation I gave it half a point on my roster - after all, a campfire in the middle of a frozen lake in a country I didn't expect to be in should be worth something! 

Another fun unexpected turn that night? Sweden was just across the lake, so of course we wandered over. Can't say I've ever been in 3 countries in one day. Add and check that one off the bucket list! 

On the Weekend Getaway

I generally give preference in my budget to spontaneous getaways versus things like fancy home decor, nice dinners out, or even new socks. I admit, sometimes they end up costing more than I would have liked to spend (mainly because I can be quite stingy). However, on my return home, I never think about that. I've gained more than money can ever buy and I feel rejuvenated enough to get back to work and bust my tushie to cover the extra cost. 

People always tell me that they wish they could go do the things I do and I always have the same response - you absolutely can! There is no reason anybody can't be doing the same things I am. Perhaps you don't have the luxury of working from home, but sometimes the weekend is all you need (and at times that's even all I have because as flexible as my job might be it can take weeks of planning since working for yourself generally means free time doesn't exactly exist). I also don't want you to have the impression that I am this budgeting master who has her sh*t under control. I'll be honest with you, I absolutely have no idea what I'm doing financially most of the time. But I do know where my priorities lie.

So I'm just here to tell you, that if you let go of some of those material desires, even just once in a while, you can easily begin to enrich your life with experiences. Starting small with those weekend getaways is one of the best ways to catch the travel bug...and pretty soon you'll find yourself converting price tags to the cost of flight tickets. Then, the brief happiness of a new TV is replaced by your face lighting up when you tell the story of unexpectedly catching a sunset on the open seas.

Taken on a spontaneous sunset sail during a weekend in Key West

On Falling in Love

Ahh falling in love. You know what I’m talking about - that overwhelming butterflies-in-the-stomach joy when we meet someone that challenges us, inspires us, and appreciates us. We walk around smiling like an idiot when we think about the last time we saw them or the next time we get to. All because our ‘soul mate’ finally crossed our path! ( never mind that it’s probably the 4th time we’ve thought that).

I have felt this feeling many times recently. No, not because I’ve lowered my standards to anything male.

In fact, I've felt it but haven't met anyone. Instead I’m overcome by those butterflies when I think about the absolutely stunning diamond skies I saw a couple of nights ago on a water taxi in Bocas del Toro. I become overwhelmed with joy when I picture my very first sailing trip. And I realised that we limit ourselves if we think being in love can only be felt from a person entering our lives. Truth is you only need yourself, an open mind, and open eyes. New places challenge us like a partner that knows our flaws. Dramatic purple hues of island sunsets can inspire us to want to become a better version of ourselves. The fellow travellers with whom we swap stories and laughter over exotic foods appreciate us in a way the people at home likely don’t. So I am now fully convinced that the feeling of ‘being in love’ is a much greater concept than I used to think. And I’m head over heels in love with that fact. 

On Trust

Trust is a funny concept which I've learned several things about from my adventures. It started when I went surfing and had a rental board. Believe it or not, you begin to establish a relationship with this inanimate object. It takes a bit of time, but you learn its boundaries. You learn what you have to do to get the best back from it, and then you learn to trust it. You begin to have faith that as soon as that tail goes up on a wave much bigger than you thought you'd have the balls to go after, it'll stay afloat and glide down the almost intimidating drop you're facing. And then it does. You've managed to stand up and now you're on a joyride of adrenaline together. 

Then, while on horseback in the Colombian mountains, I was faced with the same issue. Here I was having to trust this horse I just met. That it will make it down the steep hills without tripping, rolling over, and crushing me under its massive (but adorable) weight. Then slowly you figure out how to work together, how I should lean in the saddle to ease the journey for her, how to encourage her, and her boundaries. And before you know it, we've become a team, working together and exploring the countryside. 

So I've come to the following conclusion: Trust is a universal phenomenon that comes slowly and starts with us getting outside of ourselves. No matter if surfboard, snowboard, horse, or partner. Whatever you're riding (ha ha ;P) be sure to give it time, pay attention to what is needed from you, and most importantly take a leap of faith. More often than not, they want to carry you and enjoy that ride with you.

Hosteling at 31

Yes, I’m aware that this sounds absurd. Almost as bad as me turning hostel into a verb. 

But seriously, this idea sounds as if you are some disillusioned grown-up, so unsatisfied with life choices, that you are now grasping to your youth by mixing in with the 22 year-olds in a hotel whose reputation is based on late nights and skinny dipping. Don’t get me wrong, the parties are a blast! I just think there is more to it. There is a level of respect that comes along with sharing a room (and bathroom!) with 10 strangers of both sexes.

Minding someone else things, being quiet when others are sleeping, and the bathroom cycle that strangely yet organically develops all point to an interesting sense of trust and a feeling of community. I have met plenty of 30-somethings back home that could learn a thing or two from the respect and open-mindedness that these 20 year-olds possess. Above all, it also becomes clear that age is nothing but a mindset and that kindness to one another transcends age, race, location, background, and native language. I wish I had started travelling like this sooner because I envy the lessons these young travellers will learn and the wealth of experiences, social awareness, and knowledge they will possess by the time they reach my age. It allows me to have faith in humanity the way these kids have faith that I won’t steal the Gopro they left lying out on their bunk. 

Definitely acting my age on a night out in Panama 

Why is that wet?!

When travelling through Central America during the rainy season, prepare yourself to become best friends with 'moist'. I learned this the hard way. No, this doesn’t mean I’ve left all my stuff outside to 'dry' in the middle of one of those regularly occurring thunderstorms. I’m not an idiot. Not that much anyways.

I just highly underestimated how quickly things like my towel dry. They don’t. I only brought one towel on this five week trek, perhaps partially influenced by the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. And it turns out that between taking showers, beach days, and the stifling humidity nothing is dry. Ever. Even clothes that have been in my bag unexposed to the outside feel moist and sticky! Next time I will definitely bring a second towel. Although after a week of this, I’m not sure that it’ll make a difference. Maybe I should just make my peace with that clammy feeling I’m becoming strangely attached to. 

UPDATE: The towel and I have parted ways since I wrote this. Four weeks was too much and there was no way to recover.  Adios, second best beach towel I've ever owned (I'd never put my favourite one through this!). You served me well and will be missed. 

Waiting out the storm in Bocas Del Toro (taken at Bambuda Lodge on Isla Solarte)

The Joy of Stamps

The stamps in my passport don’t mean more or less that I’ve been somewhere; it is the foods I have tasted, the pictures I took, and the memories I will treasure for the rest of my life that make the experience real. The passport is merely a means to an end. But then I started to think that in fact it does carry a lot of weight. It is that country’s official acknowledgement of my having been there. Someone stamped it in that forceful and noisy way they do, and now there is no denying it. This strange, new country has granted me access. They’ve invited me in to experience it and this is my paper trail.

The experience is as varied and unique as each new border crossed, so here is where that paper trail comes in handy. Sometimes I might be so stuck in a moment, I forget to take a picture. Other times I might get food poising from eating cart food at the side of a dirt road. Then again perhaps one day my memory will fail me and I will be left without all of these wonderful moments. That is when I realised that these stamps are the record and collection of each individual handshake I've had with foreign places - the common denominator between all of my adventures. And that is definitely worth cherishing. 

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