Tag Archives: travel

Cuba: Mystery Solved

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Havana was amazing.  A very vibrant atmosphere to fulfill all of your adventure needs. But there are quite a few things that need to be considered. While doing research for my trip, I found it extremely difficult to find specific information. Once you got passed the fluff of the gazillion blogs out there, I was starting to realize the lack of important “need to know” information available. Basically, I REALLY had to dig to find it. Hopefully, me posting what all I found out will make it easier for you.

First things first. Let’s get those expectations in order, shall we? Cuba is NOT the Dominican Republic. It is NOT Puerto Rico. It is NOT like any other Caribbean island out there. You have to understand that not everything is as plentiful and readily available there like you would find elsewhere. If you’re the type that likes to be catered to or have everything lined out for you, don’t go. No, seriously. And knowing basic phrases in Spanish will make your life that much easier.

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Authorized Categories for Travel into Cuba

Keep in mind that tourism in Cuba is still prohibited. You have to fall into one of the 12 categories of authorized travel set by the US government in order to book a plane ticket. Most airlines have a message that automatically pops up and asks you this when booking travel anywhere in Cuba online. As long as you fall under one of the 12 categories, you don’t need prior approval from the government. It is based on good faith. They include:

  1. Family visits
  2. Official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations
  3. Journalistic activity
  4. Professional research
  5. Educational activities
    • People to people interactions
  6. Religious activities
  7. Public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions
  8. Support for the Cuban people
  9. Humanitarian efforts
  10. Private foundations or research institutes
  11. Exportation and importation of information materials
  12. Special export transactions

So which one did I select? Educational activities. The people to people clause allows for you to make individual trips to Cuba by planning your own schedule of activities, without having to go through a private company ( which used to be the only way to go under the educational category and needed prior approval from the government).  Be sure to keep a detailed itinerary listing all the things you did. It has to be enough to cover a full day, so maybe 3-4 activities. Its suggested that you keep itineraries for your records for at least 5 years. Also keep in mind that you want activities that center around interaction with the Cuban people. I find it extremely difficult to go to Cuba and not have an educational, people to people type of experience.

Visa Requirements

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Here comes the fun part! I only say this because there is a wealth of conflicting information out there on this topic and it will literally make your head spin.

The Cuban government requires a visa for entry into the country. As a U.S. Citizen, you will need to apply for what the Cuban government refers to as a tourist card ( I know, weird because tourism is prohibited by our government… but hey, thats what the visa is called). Here’s where it can get confusing. There are multiple ways to obtain a visa. It all just depends on a) your level of patience in playing the waiting game and b) how much you are willing to spend. There are 3 ways in which you can obtain a visa:

  1. From the Cuban Consular office in Washington D.C.
  • Cost: $50 for Visa + $20 if request made by mail= $70
  • Must be paid with money orders, one for each fee
  • Legible copy of valid passport and stamped self addressed envelope are required.
  • Embassy of Cuba (Ref: Tourist Visa), 2630 16th St NW Washington DC 20009
  • I couldn’t get an exact estimate of processing time, but I would allow for 4 weeks. Government processes aren’t known for being the fastest.  Also, you can get the process going in person, but it will still take a few days for you to actually receive the visa. Its not necessarily same day pick up.

2. From a Third Party

  • There are a number of third party companies that can help obtain a visa for you. The most common one I heard about was Cuba Visa Services , which is who I used. I prefer convenience over everything. And with convenience often comes a premium. It was a seamless process though. You fill out the form online and pay the fee.
  • Cost: $50 for Visa + $35 processing fee+ $25 shipping via FedEx= $110.
  • I received it 4 days later after I submitted my order

3. Through the Airline

Now this one can vary a lot because prices and processes are not uniform across airlines. For instance, Southwest charges $50 while Spirit charges $100. Also, some airlines send you an email about 30 days out from your trip directing you to a third party they have contracted to provide the visa service. Others let you buy the visa over the phone and let you pick up at the check in counter. Or purchase the visa same day at the check in counter. Bottom line… if you’re going the airline route, CALL the airline and verify directly with them.

If you opt for a non-US carrier, you may be able to purchase the visa on a layover. For example, I flew Aeromexico with a layover in Mexico City. Some of the ladies I went with purchased their visas on our layover at the customer service desk for a whopping $20 (this is by far the cheapest option). I believe it is the same flying Copa Airlines with a layover in Panama City for around the same price. One note of caution in going this route: Make sure you have a long enough layover where you can comfortably do this. We were on a 2 hour layover in Mexico City and had plenty of time to spare. However, it wasn’t a busy time when we arrived so customs and immigration were a breeze. I’ve been on a layover in Mexico City with immigration lines double wrapped around the corner and the entire process took an hour. So just be mindful of connection times.

It is important that you fill the visa out correctly or you will have to purchase a new one!

Travel Medical Insurance

Cuba requires all U.S. citizens entering the country to have travel medical insurance. Most U.S. medical insurance policies through your employer will not cover Cuba. Also, some travel insurance policies won’t either. I purchased basic travel insurance through the airline, then purchased medical insurance through another 3rd party for like $12. InsureMyTrip is an excellent resource for comparing policies (select the “medical coverage only” option when doing comparisons). Also, you can purchase insurance at the Havana airport but its more expensive than getting it before you go. Some people will say that they weren’t asked about insurance when they arrived at the airport. When I arrived at the Havana airport, I was definitely asked to show proof of  it. So its always better to be safe than sorry.

Accommodations

Lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. We chose an Air BnB in the neighborhood of Vedado. We paid $366 for 4 nights in an apartment that slept 6. I would highly recommend you use the “Instant Book” option with Air BnB. There were quite a few instances of hosts canceling requests extremely close to travel dates. While Instant Book isn’t a guarantee your reservation won’t be cancelled, the likelihood of that happening is slim. Air BnB is still fairly new to Cuba, so there are still a few kinks to work out.  You also have the option of staying in a Casa Particular. A simple google search will yield plenty of mediums for booking. You can sometimes book one when you land in some cases. They are literally everywhere throughout the city. They are distinguished by a particular sign, which sort of resembles an anchor. Of course, there is always the option of a hotel. But given the influx of American tourism, the costs have increased. Like I said, lodging depends on your level of comfort as well as your budget. I will say that most of the people I know who traveled to Havana went the Air BnB/ Casa route.

You can see the symbol for the Casa Particular above the door way.
You can see the symbol for the Casa Particular above the door way.

Money Matters

PLEASE keep in mind that you can not use your credit/debit cards in Cuba. They will not work. Which means you need to pay for everything in cash. Which also means you need to budget your trip accordingly. I would say you would do fine on $100 per day. Whatever that total comes to, add another $200-300 to that just to be safe. I brought $1,000 total. I only spent half in 4 days. About $250 on food, $80-100 on transportation, $40 on our group activity with the remainder on miscellaneous items ( Cigars aren’t cheap! Budget accordingly).

I would advise you to exchange your USD to Euros first, then exchange the Euros to CUC when you arrive in Havana. Why? Because there is an extra 10% fee tacked on to the 3% conversion fee for USD due to the embargo. So basically:

  • For every $100 you exchange you get back 87 CUC. The conversion rate is 1 USD= 1 CUC
  • 460 Euros got me 466 CUC

I didn’t exchange the other $500 I had. I never exchange the full amount of cash I bring because of the fees associated with selling and buying currency. Don’t want to lose money on the cash you don’t use.

Other Miscellaneous “Need to Know” Tips

  • Wifi is limited. Be prepared to be disconnected. You can buy a wifi card from some of the hotels. I bought mine from  the Melia-Cohiba hotel. $10 for 1 hour. But the hotel was like 4 blocks from our apartment. Whenever you see a gathering of people on their phones, its a wifi spot.
  • Taxi rides from the airport should run you about $30. Negotiate prices and agree on them before you get in.
  • Bring LOTS of sanitizer and wet wipes. Sometimes there was no soap, running water or toilet paper in the restrooms at the places we were at.
  • Bottled water ONLY.
  • Trips to the beach in an official taxi (the yellow ones) will run you $50 round trip. You can try your negotiation skills with a local taxi though. Most definitely will come out cheaper.
  • If you have a sensitive stomach, start taking those probiotics!
  • Pack your allergy meds. The exhaust from the cars had mine going haywire at first.
  • When giving addresses for your casa/Air BnB to taxi drivers, make sure to include the street, intersection and house number. For example:
    • 6 calzada y 5, 115 means between 6th and 5th streets, number 115. Air BnB doesn’t always have the addresses accurately posted.
  • Google Translate is an awesome tool for the not so fluent Spanish speaker. But it translates English to proper Spanish. Some of the phrases you put in might not translate as smoothly to the everyday Spanish that Cubans use. So try to ask basic, yes or no questions.
  • I would strongly advise you to do carry-on only. Wait times from baggage claim can be at least 2 hours in most cases. They simply don’t have the personnel to handle the influx of tourism. Save yourself the trouble. If you’re buying cigars and alcohol, check it on the way back.

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If there is anything you would like to know that I may have left out, or you have a specific question, please feel free to contact me! Happy planning!

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Cuba On My Mind: My Visit to Havana

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There’s always this child-like fascination with “forbidden” things. Why is it bad? Why can’t we go? Some of the questions I found myself asking about Cuba since 5th grade social studies. It’s been drilled into our heads that Cuba was a no- go zone. I used to always wonder why, aside from the politics behind it of course. It usually makes something that much more interesting when you tell people its taboo. Which is why I jumped at the chance of buying a ticket to Havana. I had been preparing for this the last few years or so, ever since it was announced that Obama was considering easing the limitations on visiting. I was ready for yet another adventure.The preparation for such a trip was more work than I had ever done for any other trip (more on that in a later post) but it was totally worth it.

Fresh Off the Plane

We landed in Havana around 2:00 pm on a Thursday. I was anxious and excited. I felt like I was finally granted access into a secret club. The anticipation was so built up, it was spilling over. I had read all the blogs and posts about the customs and immigrations process, so I had somewhat hyped myself up a bit. There was absolutely no need for worry as the entire process was seamless. I handed over all my documentation to the agent and after about 10 minutes, all was well.  The next stop was for currency. What a time suck! We were in line a good hour and some change. Annoying, yes. But I had also read that waiting for extended periods of time was the norm in Cuba, as everything moved at a much slower pace. This was the first instance where my privileged was checked, and rightfully so. I needed this dose of reality to get me prepared for the humbling that was underway.

Havana, the Tainted Beauty

Havana is gritty. I won’t sugar coat it because I feel it would do you a great disservice. Often times, this is either overlooked in a heavily romanticized depiction of what seems to be a unicorn. When the reality is it’s raw. Its unkempt. The fumes from the exhaust of the old classic cars knocks you square in the face. The stench from the trash along the streets can send you into a dizzy spell. But even still, Havana is unique in her abilities to still captivate your attention and hold your imagination hostage, flaws and all. If you allow her to.

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We were based in the neighborhood of Vedado. A few blocks from the Malecon. Quite the hipster neighborhood, by Cuban standards at least. You didn’t have to travel far across the city to appreciate the photogenic gems lying around every corner. And there were so many. So much beauty in what some would deem ugliness. So much scope for imagination.  But we did manage to  travel a considerable amount around the city as much as we could in the time allotted.

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Because wifi is so limited here, you have no choice but to make the most of your time offline. Havana forces you to be in the moment. There was no instant posting overtime I took a picture. I think this is what makes it easy to really experience Havana. And the people! The people make the trip! From our gracious host, to our cab drivers, we were surrounded by nice people. People eager to meet us and talk to us about our lives in America.They didn’t hold back on questions. The most common question?

“How do you feel about Trump? “ My answer to that is another post for another day.

But they were just legitimately curious. My little bit of Spanish made it somewhat easy to have an open dialogue ( and Google Translate, of course). Best of all is that I felt welcomed everywhere we went. Yes, Cuba has its problems. And should you decide to venture there, you will find that not all Cubans are excited that the Americans are coming. But they will politely let you know. But you can expect to be treated with respect anyway. Which is how it should be.

It was a delight to witness everyday interactions amongst the locals. I always take great joy in doing this everywhere I travel. Old men arguing over baseball, women in hair salons gossiping, children playing in the streets. Something about it seemed so peaceful. Perhaps it reminded me of the stories my grandma used to tell, and how I would sit and paint my own visuals. It reminded me of her stories of how things used to be within the black community. The togetherness and sense of real community. Walking off the beaten path into the neighborhoods of Havana made me feel as if I was experiencing the very things my grandmother used to talk about.

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There were also reminders of Fidel Castro everywhere we went as well.

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Once I became accustomed to being on Cuban time, I started to enjoy myself even more. I should also add that Havana is extremely safe. Is there poverty? Yes. But I promise you, you have no reason to be fearful. Always take precautions, of course. But let Havana wow you. You’ll be glad you did.

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I know you’re probably reading this and thinking ” so exactly what all did you have to do to make this trip happen?”. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. There’s such a wealth of information to tell you that it would simply make this post too long. I’ll give a detailed break down of all the processes (and paperwork) you will have in order to make the trip to Cuba. So stay tuned!

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My Summer of wanderLUST: Oregon

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Continuing on with my summer filled with trips throughout the states, I decided to high tail it to Oregon. I have family that recently relocated there, so the timing couldn’t have been anymore perfect. Never in my life have I seen a place so green! And coming from an area where the air is extremely polluted with smog and the likes of refineries, Oregon was literally a breath of fresh air.

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Driving through Willamette Valley

The coolest thing I found about Oregon were all of the green/eco-friendly initiatives. It was weird asking for a to-go box and not be given styrofoam. And everywhere seemed extremely walkable. I didn’t really get a chance to explore Portland.  Most of my stay was in the quaint little town of Independence. I swear, I could’ve just roamed the main street the entire time and been content with life.  I walked around and found a cute Thai restaurant for lunch. And one of my favorite past times that I’ve grown fond of is finding a local ice cream parlor. The simple things that make us happy, right?

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Downtown Independence, OR

Oregon is such a scenic state. Like I literally was in awe taking in everything I was seeing. I didn’t want to do anything else other than to sit and stare at God’s wonderful creations. Something about being out in nature is very humbling and soothing at the same time. I went on this trip with a heavy heart and a completely stressed out mind. Somehow, I managed to find peace. Being amongst family helped tremendously too, but I was actually able to just relax. You know how there are some trips you take to be adventurous, while others you take solely to do absolutely nothing but just.. be? Totally one of the latter type of trips.

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And of course, I had to splurge on dinner at least once. I give you Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Crab Stuffed Salmon with a Hazelnut Bleu Cheese Salad. Yum-MEEE!!!

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What I wouldn’t give to be back there staring at a view like this every day.

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Until next time Oregon… I’ll definitely be back!

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My Summer of wanderLUST: New Orleans

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I was determined to have a jam packed summer, full of road trips and lots of sun. I made it happen, and it was glorious. First up on the list was New Orleans. Because you can’t ever go wrong with NOLA. I spent a great deal away from Bourbon Street. I know thats usually the go to spot for out of towners, but seriously, there are SO many unique and cool things about New Orleans outside of Bourbon Street. However, making at least one appearance for a hand grenade is ok.

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Somewhere on Bourbon.

This trip, I visited Frenchman Street as well as the Garden District. I was blown away. In all my years of visiting this wonderful city, I never witnessed the beauty of these places.  The Frenchman Street Art Market was definitely on my list. So many cool things to see and buy from the local artists.

Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market
Out and about. Frenchman St Art Market

 

The Presbytere, New Orleans
The Presbytere Museum, Mardi Gras Exhibit

 

The Presbytere
At the entrance of The Presbytere

 

Audubon Park
Audubon Park

 

Just wandering through the park.
Just wandering through the park.

I know you’re wondering about it. And yes, the food was delicious! But I mean, its New Orleans, what did you expect?

Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter
Gumbo from Stanley in the French Quarter

 

A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice
A triple treat! Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffe, Red Beans and Rice

One of the best things about driving through Louisiana on the way to New Orleans are the pit stops in between. Cracklins are a must!

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My mom’s side of the family resides in the Greater New Orleans area, so naturally, I spent a lot of time there growing up. But somehow, this trip was different. This trip stirred up a fire in me that I thought had died out. Life gets hard sometimes and trying to maintain your sense of imagination and creative spirit can be taxing on the mind in the midst of it all. This trip, I did a lot of self reflection. The long walk through beautiful Audubon Park leading up to the riverfront was freeing in its own right. As some of you may know, my mom died when I was eight. I couldn’t help but take in all the beauty around me while thinking “Man, my mom grew up here? In such a cool place?”. I feel like I was supposed to experience this New Orleans. I don’t really know much about her, but I feel like my sense of adventure comes from her. And in a way, I feel like I connected and shared this moment with her spiritually. This was the start of something good.

Exploring Your Backyard: Embracing Domestic Travel

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Calistoga, CA

I’ve often heard the many reasons why friends and family opt out of international travel. Costs are always a common factor, followed by time off from work and other obligations. In an earlier post, I mentioned how people don’t consider domestic travel as an option when making vacation plans. There are so many marvels waiting to be discovered with domestic travel! To date, I’ve been out of the country twice ( but that is soon to change!).  However, I’ve visited 16 states since I’ve been traveling. Its amazing the varying levels of cultural differences and experiences you can find in your own backyard. It begs the question, ” why do people write off domestic travel as if its not really traveling?”.

Driving through Arizona
Driving through Arizona

There’s this underlying perception of domestic travel as not really counting as travel.  Its almost as if people feel that international travel is real travel because you are paying that much more for a valid travel experience. Which is the furthest from the truth. I say this because, yes, while domestic travel can be cheaper than international travel at times, it can also cost just as much depending on where you go. A trip to Miami/Ft. Lauderdale cost around the same amount as my trip to Tulum. Costs aside, the experiences can be just as rich, no matter where you decide to explore. The varying cultures and ethnicities alone in Miami are enough to make it feel like you’re outside of the U.S. I got a kick out of just sitting on the beach people watching.

Beach walking in Ft. Lauderdale
Beach walking in Ft. Lauderdale

Some of my main reasons for embracing domestic travel include:

a) Quick weekend getaways- Turn that 3 day weekend into a fun filled, action packed exploration!

b) Inexpensive lodging and airfare (depending on where you go and the season).

c) No hassle with sifting through international customs and cultural differences (think language barriers and currency exchanges).

d) Unique landscapes across the country to explore- From mountains to beaches, skyscrapers to cozy main streets, we have it all!

French Quarters, New Orleans
French Quarters, New Orleans (photo credit to my bff Essence!)

There are so many “off-the-beaten path” type of destinations the U.S. has to offer, its almost overwhelming the amount of options. And the cool thing is, there is something to fit everyone’s personal interests. When people think of Texas, they usually think of flat lands with roaming herds of cows and cowboys. A lot of people are shocked to learn the multitude of terrains one may encounter within the entire state. There’s mountains to the west, plains and rolling hills to the north, miles of beaches along the southeastern coast to the south, and stunning hill country views and watering holes in the middle.  When I start planning for trips, I try to incorporate as many domestic trips as I can, because I want to learn and see my own backyard just as  much as I do international destinations.

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If you’re reading this and are one of the people I’m referring to, stop placing limits on yourself! Get out there and explore, even if it is your own backyard.

A Curly Conundrum: Natural Hair Maintenance while Traveling

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A self-proclaimed curly girl, I’ve been wearing my hair in its natural state for about 7 years. I cut it all off to start over after years of chemical processing. Best decision I ever made. Since I began seriously traveling about 5 years ago, I’ve learned what works for my hair (and what doesn’t) when I’m in a new place braving new elements.

Sometimes Humidity is Your Friend

I know you read that and thought “since when?”. I’m here to tell you, my best curls were on a trip to Miami. That Florida humidity whipped my curls right into shape. I only had to do water rinses and a light moisturizer and let nature do the rest. I usually co-wash every other day but that can cause build up.  Obviously, straightened hair in Florida is a resounding NO for me when visiting. Because then, me and the weather wouldn’t get along too much.

Hard Water Setbacks 

When I was preparing for my trip to Mexico, I knew the water wasn’t going to be all that great. So I planned for it by putting twists in my hair to prep for a twist out and packed my favorite moisture rich conditioner (Garnier Fructise). My twist out lasted me the first 2 days. I had also made a mixture of my favorite moisturizer diluted with a little water  and a light oil (I prefer grape seed or almond) and put in a spray bottle to create somewhat of a leave in conditioner. It worked wonders!

Windswept Days

For extremely windy days, I usually wore my hair pulled back. I would love to be able to whip my hair through the wind. However, the detangling process would be a nightmare. French braids and twists have helped me get through many windy days so that I could focus on my adventures ahead.

Dry and Dull

Drier climates I may opt to straighten my hair, depending on where I’m going. Both times I’ve visited Napa Valley, I’ve always worn my hair straight. No wind + No humidity= A great hair day. While visiting the Texas Hill country, it was a very dry heat. I wore my curls but kept a spray bottle with water handy to spritz when needed.

Some people skip the maintenance and opt for protective styles like weaves or braids. I’ve personally only wore weave in my hair once and it only lasted 3 days. The constant feeling of having a helmet on my head wasn’t appealing at all. This also makes swimming difficult, so it wouldn’t work for me since I like to swim under water.  A trick I learned for dealing with swimming pools and ocean water is to throw some conditioner on my hair before going swimming or simply wetting my hair before diving in. It helps alleviate the dryness that comes from salt water and chlorine.

I’m all for keeping it simple. The last thing I want to be worried about is being miles away from home suffering from bad hair days.

Going the Distance: How I Plan My Trips

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You can’t avoid the itch that comes from being bitten by the travel bug. My way of scratching that itch is planning my next travel destination. As I’ve stated before, I’m not one of those types that can pack up and leave at a moment’s notice, with me having a career and all. But I do try to plan as thoroughly as possible, while still leaving room for some spontaneity.

Adventurer vs Beach Bum

The biggest question I ask myself when considering a trip, is “what type of trip am I trying to take?”. Will this be a lazy trip, where I do absolutely nothing but sip mojitos by the beach. Or am I looking to venture out and be active? Knowing what level of activity you plan to partake in will help determine what kind of budget to plan for your trip. You also need to know what type of atmosphere you feel comfortable in. I’ve been some places that made me feel a little out-of-place at times. Especially being a solo traveler in a place that may be deemed a romantic getaway by some. Turks and Caicos was very laid back and beachy by day. But turned extremely romantic and intimate by night. Naturally, I did start to feel a little like a third wheel. So I opted for a seat at the bar, and chatted it up with the locals. But no two beach destinations are alike! My trip to Tulum was the exact opposite. I mean at times you saw many couples. But I ran into so many back packers and solo travelers. I knew these things before I chose both places as my destinations. I knew that Turks and Caicos was one of the more expensive islands with nothing more to do than frolic the beach, so most of my money would go towards food. I also knew that Tulum didn’t cost nearly as much and that there were tons of places to visit and sites to see. This made planning my budget way easier.

Navigating Pricing with Seasons

Understanding the seasons and their relation to accommodation and flight prices will save you a headache and money! For example, while high season for the Caribbean is between December- April, those periods are actually low season for places like Bermuda. This because Bermuda sits in the Atlantic and the weather is more aligned with that of the South East coast of the U.S. Know beforehand what type of weather you would be ok with. I’m not a cold person, so traveling to Chicago in February or March is a no go. I’ll just have to save up to go in the summer! I still always try to travel in the off or low seasons, for obvious reasons. I went to TCI the first week of June, the start of hurricane season. As a native Texan growing up on the Gulf Coast, anyone will tell you that June is still relatively early in the season, so a hurricane off the bat, while possible, is not likely to happen. Record high temps for June were in the mid 90’s (I’m from Texas after all. I’m no stranger to 3 digit temps). So June was perfect for me. Absolutely no crowds whatsoever and I got a really good deal on the hotel.  My trips to Napa Valley are always in the fall. It’s the start of low season. The weather is amazing with not a cloud in sight. And the fall foliage is simply breathtaking. AND the accommodations are dirt cheap! The only way you will ever catch me there in the summer would be during a group trip where the costs could be split.

Flights and Accommodations

I always try to be as flexible with my flight dates as well. Departing on a Saturday and returning on a Tuesday has yielded cheaper results than flying out on a Thursday and coming back on a Sunday. Signing up for flight alerts are a must as well (my fave is the Fare Deal. Be prepared to have the money on hand to purchase, as most deals only last 2 days). And depending on the duration and type of trip, I try to be flexible with my hotel bookings as well. What do I mean? If I know this will be a short weekend getaway, I use sites like Hotwire for the cheapest deal. The catch is, in order to get the cheapest price, you don’t find out the hotel until after you book. The trick is, at least for me, to never book anything less than 3 stars. It’s not completely fool-proof, mind you. But I’ve done it enough to know what kind of hotel to expect. For longer or out of the country stays, I prefer Booking. com or booking directly through the hotel if they offer specials.  I ALWAYS use Trip Advisor as a guide (Not law. Some reviews are just down right petty). So far, it hasn’t steered me wrong.

Lavish Foodie or Minimalist 

Food while on vacation is kind of big deal. Some places, the food prices may be outrageous. In those situations, I always try to book accommodations in walkable areas ( or easily accessible by car) near local food marts or grocery stores. I can purchase snacks and breakfast items, which would allow me to splurge on lunch and dinner. Or, you could book accommodations where breakfast is included. I stray away from all-inclusive because I’m all for culture immersion. Plus,  it’s a wonderful way to get out and be a local for a day or two.  However, if I know that I am going to a foodie mecca, I try to skimp as much as I can on flights and accommodations.

If nothing at all, I try my hardest to keep everything simple. This is a time for you  to relax or focus on getting out and seeing. The last thing you want to do is overcomplicate things. Do you have any ideas or things of note that help you plan for your trips?

Wanderlust-ing: My 2015-16 Travel Wish List

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So I have finally put the finishing touches on my travel wish list! Because my job’s fiscal year is September through August, I have to plan my trips around our year beginning and end. This also aids in knowing which locations I can visit during what times of year for the best price, based on busy/slow months at the office. The list stretches into 2016 (I’m pretty handy with budgets and spreadsheets). I also incorporated a “wild card”, just in case I find some extra money floating around. What places does your travel wish list consist of?

1. Tulum

2. New Orleans

3. Oregon

4. Niagara Falls

5. Breckenridge, CO

6. Big Bend National Park, TX

7. Belize

8. Great River Road Drive (Louisiana road trip)

9. Ireland

10. Charleston, SC (wildcard)

A Day in Isla Mujeres

Such a world apart from Cancun, and a 30 minute ferry ride. Isla Mujeres or Woman Island, is a teeny, tiny stretch of land in the state of Quintana Roo. It boasts gorgeous sapphire blue seas from the south end of the island, with the calm turquoise waters to the north. Its charm is old-world like, very rustic. The locals are extremely pleasant and you’ll find a handful of ex-pats taking up residence within the neighborhoods. The preferred mode of transportation is by scooter. For exploring, most rent a golf cart. I chose to explore by foot (which I don’t recommend if you are staying at opposite ends of the island. Staying in the middle allowed me to break it up). It was a cloudy day when I arrived, which made it that much more calm and serene.

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I enjoyed my slow walk into town, taking in the sights and the light, misty rain.

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And then the skies cleared up, and I got to take in the spectacular views of Punta Sur.

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20150205_143534You can literally explore the entire island in an hour by golf cart. For that reason, I would definitely recommend a stay here if you intend to do absolutely nothing. Call me crazy, but I kind of liked the fact that it was a dreary day for most of the time I was there. It helped wrap up and wind down a super busy and exhilarating trip. Just the kind of calm I needed to prepare myself for the reality that awaited me at home.

 

 

 

Tulum: Day 3

My final day in Tulum. It was bittersweet. Such a chill place. So I made the most of it and did some more exploring. I caught a taxi to the Mayan ruins. The level of creativity and intelligence to build something so intricate before its time definitely demonstrates the ability of the human mind.

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I even made a new friend.

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After a walk through the entire site, it was beach time. The day was perfect. Just enough breeze to keep you comfortable.

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I decided to walk the beach side a little more for lunch. I found this really cool spot, El Prez. I had the best beer battered fish tacos ever. Like, EVER. And they take credit cards, one of the few places that did without charging an outrageous fee.

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And the drinks… A Hint and a Whisper… Gin and real lavender.

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I am definitely coming back to Tulum, especially now that I know what to expect. Its charm has truly captivated me. And there were so many more places I wanted to go, and in due time, I shall. Tulum was very international. I met French, Canadian, Argentinian and Australian travelers. Lots of back packers. If you are truly looking for a unique beach experience with a little bit of jungle thrown in the mix, I highly recommend Tulum. Keep in mind that its off the grid, with no connection to power lines ( hence the wind turbines you see along the beaches). It is definitely eco- chic.

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Farewell, Tulum! We shall meet again.