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Travel Tips

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January 24, 2017

Cuba: Mystery Solved

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. Read more

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April 5, 2015

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.

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March 16, 2015

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?

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January 26, 2015

7 Basic Travel Tips for Beginners

Planning your first trip and trying to figure out pre-trip precautions? There’s nothing better than feeling fully prepared for a trip. Things happen, which is why its good to be as surprise proof as possible. Here are some of my basic travel preparation tips I’ve gathered along the way. For anyone just starting out with travel, whether it be domestic or international.

1. Call all banks and inform them of travel plans.

This is to make sure that your credit/debit cards have full functionality while you’re traveling. Most people do this when they travel internationally, but I have had my transaction denied while attempting to pay for gas in California. Highly inconvenient.

2. Write down all contact phone numbers of credit/debit cards in case of loss or theft.

This way you will be able to contact the institutions immediately if you suspect your cards have been lost or stolen. I try to keep a physical copy or store in my phone.

3. Send all trip itineraries and hotel information to a family member or friend.

I always send my flight and hotel information to my mom. If I’m going on a highly adventurous trip, I try to send her a round about summary of activities I plan to do, along with the times and days I plan to do them. Of course, this more so applies to short trips rather than extended stays.

4. Scan copies of driver’s license/passport.

This really comes in handy in case of theft or losing your wallet. Passports are kind of a big deal, and it can be a headache getting them replaced. So having a photocopy will give you a head start on the process. I either send the copies to my mom or save it somewhere I know I can have easy access to (Dropbox is cool because of the verification process in retrieving documents).

5. Purchase reusable toiletry containers.

This mainly applies if you only plan to use carry on luggage. Because I have naturally curly hair and because most of the products I use don’t come in travel sizes, this helps me maintain my mane. I simply pour my fave products into the containers and voila! Beats having to spend money on travel size toiletries.

6. Know before you go how much cash you’re going to withdraw.

This is why its a good idea to develop a trip budget! This mainly applies to foreign travel, just because of the international transaction fees charged by your bank. You don’t want to pay fees for multiple transactions because it adds up to a significant amount. So its good to take out money in one go, if possible. If you are traveling some place where most credit cards are accepted, keep in mind fares and tips for cab rides. Also, small local shops may not accept plastic.

7. Double-check hotel front desk hours.

The last thing you want is to have a delayed flight and show up to your hotel 3 hours later than planned, only to find out there is no one there to help you. Always check front desk hours and keep the hotel number handy to notify them in advance of any potential delays should you arrive after business hours.

Hopefully you find these tips helpful. Some I learned after the fact. But luckily you won’t have to worry about that:)

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January 15, 2015

Working to Live: Juggling Debt and Travel Ambitions

My new journal. Because anything is possible. All you need is a little hope...

My new journal. Because anything is possible. All you need is a little hope…

Far too often we spend more time convincing ourselves why we can’t do something instead of planning for a way to make it happen. I’m totally guilty of this. I held myself back from satisfying my wanderlust with the usual ” you can’t afford it” or “in a year when you pay off ALL your debt”. And then one day, while scrolling through plane fares, a voice in my head said ” just buy the damn ticket!”. And so I did.

With two degrees under my belt, I love the fact that I am working in a career using the education that I worked so hard to obtain. And the reality is, I have bills, just like everyone else. Plus, I like the security of having health insurance (if you’ve never been without it, its the worst). I’ve lurked around travel blogs for years looking for answers on dealing with debt while maximizing travel and working full time, state-side. The only things that ever came up were:

a) Develop a skill that you could use in any country to earn a living.

b) Teach English in another country.

c) Work really hard to save and quit my job to travel the world.

These are all good choices, no doubt. I admire those people who can religiously pinch pennies to pay off all their debts or save up enough to quit their jobs and travel the world. I could get to that point, but I’m not there yet, nor do I want to be right now. Seriously, that takes a ton of will power, so kudos to them. I guess I fall somewhere in between.You see the thing that I have come to realize is this; I could spend all of my time and money on paying off every single debt I owed and die at any given moment during the process. There goes my travel wish list!

So I plan and set realistic goals. For example, I know that this year I want to pay off at least 1 credit card out of 2. I also know that given my vacation days and relevant monthly expenses, I can set a goal of 2-3 domestic trips (I take full advantage of 3 day weekends) and 2 international (Tulum in 2 weeks!!) for a total of 4-5 trips this year. This works for me. It satisfies my need for travel while not making me feel like a slacker in paying off my debt. It just goes back to what I’ve said in previous posts.You don’t have to be rich to travel. I’ve also noticed that some people don’t consider domestic travel real travel, which is definitely not true. I once priced a plane ticket to Bermuda and it was the same price for a ticket to Portland. So based on that, domestic travel IS travel. Travel is travel, period.

To those of you in a similar situation as me, I say, know your limits and whether or not you are comfortable with them. If not, come up with feasible goals and ways to change them. To reach my debt and travel goals, I find the money. What am I saying? I have a tax refund coming up. There goes the credit card I want paid off. Two months out of this year I’ll get an extra paycheck. There goes money towards my travel funds. Again, you know your situation better than I would. But don’t put off your passions for something that will still be there if you died tomorrow.

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January 13, 2015

3 Reasons Why You Should Travel Solo At Least Once

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I wouldn’t call myself a travel expert by any means. But I’ve traveled enough to know and understand why I enjoy solo travel. It never fails, no matter where I go, when people realize that I am traveling alone they always say “Good for you!”.  I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t feel some sense of accomplishment from it.

The media and all of your aunts and uncles can put a damper on solo travel plans. Of course they mean well, but at the end of the day its your life. And here’s another word of unsolicited advice: The world isn’t as big and scary as they would have you believe. Not saying it is free from crime, obviously. Some of us hold on to this idea that we’re safer in America than anywhere else, which is false. This theory crashed and burned after my house was broken into AND I was living alone. Just because terrible things are happening in one part of a country, we start thinking it’s happening all over said country. Think about it. Would you not go to Denver because of crimes going on in certain parts of Chicago?  I mean they’re both in the United States. See where I’m going here? But now for the top 3.

1. See what its like to step out of your comfort zone.

Best part of doing so? No one will likely recognize you because you are in unfamiliar territory. When I was in Turks and Caicos, the front desk attendant at my hotel told me I should change my name for the rest of the week and do something I had never done before. I passed on the name change, but I did swim with a barracuda. This divorcee I met said her friends had challenged her to have a one night stand. A bit too rich for my blood, but I’m no judge! My point? Do what you want! Do a little jig looking at your reflection while window shopping. Dance on top of a table. Become the astronaut you said you would become as a kid. Well, I mean not literally. But the people you are meeting for the first time don’t know it isn’t true (unless you really like the new people you meet and intend to keep in touch, then be honest). You catch my drift?

2. You don’t have to wait on anyone else to make up their mind.

We all have that ONE friend. God love them, but they are one of the most indecisive creatures on the planet. From guided tours to dining options, they are super picky. But that’s one less thing you have to worry about with solo travel. Your time is YOUR time. If you want to lounge at the beach or go sight-seeing ALL day, you can. There’s no one there to give their input on what they would rather do. It’s all you baby!

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3. Get a chance to discover or re-discover yourself.

This is your alone time with you. Maybe you need to re-charge from the monotony of your everyday life. Now you can. Find a place and meditate. Enjoy the silence. Actually take time to thoroughly hear your thoughts without distraction. You may recognize answers you’ve been looking for. Enjoy these intimate moments with you. There’s only one of you and you deserve it. You may find that there are things you didn’t know you could appreciate about yourself. I never knew how sociable I was until I traveled by myself for the first time. Conversations with strangers came so easily to me. I opened up.

Quit hoarding away those vacation days. Stop relying on the crew to answer your emails about the payment plan for Jamaica. Go…. Just go. Trust me on this one, ok?