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.
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.
When In Doubt…Face Your Fear
While everyone else would be eating turkey and sweet potato pie, I would be basking in the relentless humidity and endless aromas of arrepas and fresh mango. I chose to travel solo for my 30th for a specific reason. The last time that I remember my birthday falling on Thanksgiving day was when I was eight. It was also the last Thanksgiving I would spend with my mother. Thats a memory I have cherished throughout the last 22 years of my life. So I wanted 30 to be just as memorable.
Aaaaaaah, the Sunshine State! Embarking on yet another road trip, this time I decided to get away for some Vitamin Sea. The last time I saw blue water was February in Tulum, so I was overdue for a a beach day. I’ve been to Miami before and honestly, I wouldn’t be pressed if I never went there again. It just wasn’t my speed (no offense Miami goers). So we set out for the Emerald Coast. Absolutely beautiful beaches that almost rival some of the most pristine Caribbean treasures.
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.
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?
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.
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!!!
What I wouldn’t give to be back there staring at a view like this every day.
Until next time Oregon… I’ll definitely be back!
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 that’s 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.
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.
I know you’re wondering about it. And yes, the food was delicious! But I mean, its New Orleans, what did you expect?
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!
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.
So much life has happened. Trips have been taken. Memories and new friends have been made as well as life decisions. I’ve had a lot of time to think, which can have its advantages and disadvantages. But most of all, I’ve gotten one step closer to figuring my life out, which I’m pretty sure I probably have a few more steps to go. I used to feel like getting closer to 30 meant that everything should start falling into place. But that’s the furthest from the truth. The over achieving, overly analytical thinker in me just will not let my mind rest until I’ve figured out a solution for a pressing problem. And the wear and tear is showing. So, at 1:31 am on a Friday night (well Saturday, Happy 4th!), I’m writing. I write to cope with overthinking. Maybe in the midst I’ll start to figure out those steps I mentioned earlier.
I know part of my purpose is to create. Exactly what I’m supposed to create, I haven’t quite figured out yet. And I’m starting to realize that that’s okay. Its so funny, on a recent road trip, I had my fortune told. The first thing she said to me was “You’re impatient and quite indecisive”. I had to chuckle, because she nailed it. My mind gets so frazzled trying to figure things out all the time that it often stresses me out. I just want to be perfect, really. But don’t we all?
And at the center of all the chaos, I find my balance in travel. I find my inspiration to create from sharing my experiences. One thing I do know is that I’m a great story teller. I’ve always had a huge scope for imagination. Traveling allows me to let my imagination run free. So with that being said, I’ve got a few trips up my sleeve. And I plan to keep you posted on all the juicy details.
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?”.
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.
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!
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.
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 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!
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.
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?