A LUXURIOUS EUROPEAN CITY BREAK YOU CAN ACTUALLY AFFORD

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48 HOURS IN LISBON: AFFORDABLE LUXURY

Photo: winespectator.com

Photo: winespectator.com

Portugal is one of the most affordable travel destinations in western Europe. Live it up in this capital city – stay in a luxury hotel, eat at upscale restaurants, and indulge in the vibrant nightlife – all on reasonable budget.

If you only have 48 hours in Lisbon, or in any city – try my travel methodology and pre-book accommodations, so you can hit the ground running. Fortunately, Lisbon is a fairly small and approachable city you can easily explore on foot, cable car, or tuk-tuk. Skip the rental car, unless you have more time and can escape to the sea for world famous beaches in Ericeira or to Sintra for a glimpse at surreally beautiful castles – both of which are super close and you won’t want to miss!

SINTRA                Photo: handluggageonly.co.uk

SINTRA              

Photo: handluggageonly.co.uk

Lisbon is the oldest European city, and has been described as a “living museum.” Yet right away you can feel the essence of the city, a brilliant blend of historical landmarks, architecture, and culture alongside all of the modern sophistication and amenities. Take away the big city pretentious attitude and inflated prices, combine it with a whole lot of charm, beauty, and diversity – and that’s Lisbon.

SLEEP Well

Opting for 4 or 5 star hotels isn’t usually my first choice, but when a night costs at least 2-3 times less than a typical luxury hotel, starting at €120 – I’m all about the comfort. Avoid the big name chains and check into one of Portugal’s small brand of luxury hotels like Hotel Olissippo’s which are scattered around the city.

Photo: booking.com

Photo: booking.com

I was impressed with the thoughtful and modern style rooms, quality breakfast, and the welcoming Portuguese friendly service. Go ahead and splurge for room service — a nice bottle of local wine and cheese plate will set you back a whopping €20.

If you’re into the more boutique hotel thing, there are perfect options all within the €100-200/night range.

Lx Boutique Hotel-  Offers whimsically decorated rooms with city or river views and themed murals throughout.
Solar do Castelo – Set inside the walls of the hilltop Moorish Castelo do St. Jorge, this chic hotel in a former 18th-century mansion has a modern annex and is less than 10 minutes from the city center.

Altis Avenida Hotel – this elegant hotel is close to shops and cafes at Praça do Comércio, with sleek rooms and suites and a rooftop terrace offer w/ panoramic views.

Must SEE and DO

25 de Abril Bridge     Photo: travelchannel.com

25 de Abril Bridge   Photo: travelchannel.com

Lisbon is all about the views, most of which overlook the beautiful Tagus River with the 25 de Abril Bridge in the distance. And there are so many steep hills, seven to be exact, with historical landmarks that offer up a different perspective of the city – you won’t run out of chances to bust out your selfie stick.

It’s hard to miss the St. George’s Castle, dating back to the 5th century, once you arrive into the center of Lisbon. If you want the exercise with a worthy view as the reward, I suggest walking to the top. Simultaneously, you’ll immerse yourself in the oldest and historic neighborhood, called the Alfama. a quaint area with winding cobblestone streets, traditional restaurants, with clothes hanging outside of windows and residents milling about. Truly a charming neighborhood best discovered on foot!

IMG_0664.jpg

To zip around quickly and hit the other ‘must do’s in less than 2 hours, hop in a tuk-tuk for about €40-50. You really can’t beat the price for a personal tour with a local that’s away from the crowds and offers you the novel experience of riding in a tuk-tuk if you’ve never done so.

Cable cars (or trams) stop off at the most important and historical sites, take route 28 for €2 and get a feel for the local public transport system, although nowadays it’s a big tourist attraction with people packed in like a can of sardines. The lines to get on may detour you straight away if you don’t have the time, or patience.

Venture to the Terrerio Do Paco and dive right in to the vast history of Lisbon at the Lisboa Story centre. Well worth the €7 – walk through in less than an hour for a fun and creative mixed media experience, including a movie remake of the day an earthquake devastated the city in 1755.

Just steps away climb to the top of the Augusta St. Triumphal Arch for a stunning 360 city view. Look down below on the hustle and bustle of Lisbon’s Baixa district – a shopping haven for the fashion minded.

Augusta St. Triumphal Arch   Photo: geocaching.com

Augusta St. Triumphal Arch   Photo: geocaching.com

The street art scene is booming in Lisbon, and has become a popular destination for talented graffiti artists. Vibrantly colored and thoughtful pieces are scattered across the city which adds an edge to the modernized yet ancient city. If you want to see some of the best art up at the moment, fork out €20 for an awesome 4 hour street art tour that will surely impress.

Photo: messagez.com

Photo: messagez.com

EAT from the SEA
Photo: portugalresident.com

Photo: portugalresident.com

Portugal is a seafood lover’s paradise, and is at the core of their diet. For centuries they’ve been perfecting the art of its preparation – simple and super fresh ingredients – what a concept! The Portuguese have managed to make codfish, a basic white fish, into a national dish with over 1001 variations.

All of the food in Portugal is based on the Mediterranean diet – so it’s all about the bread, cheese, olives, and of course – wine. Portugal has a massive wine industry, and is an iconic symbol of their identity. Different regions produce an incredibly diverse variety of reds, whites, rose’s, ports, and greens. Yes – green wine or ‘vinho verde’ is unique to Portugal and has a delicious effervescent quality. It quickly became my drink of choice, and with a glass starting at just €2 (bottles €4) – it’s literally than cheaper than water.

 

Photo: cmjornal.pt

Photo: cmjornal.pt

With limited time in this culinary mecca, I sought out a local foodie for recommendations on where to go. Note these are definitely on the upper end of the spectrum, but if you have only a couple days to taste the best of what Lisbon has to offer, here you go!

Tabik
Modern Portuguese cuisine with an upscale cocktail bar.
*If you want the best deal, go for lunch and get the pre-fix menu including wine for €19.
Price range €21-40

Belcanto
2 star Michelin chef Jose Avillez offers Portuguese cuisine in an upscale environment that still embodies the romanticism of the old Chiado neighborhood.
Price range above €41

Photo:  10bestmedia.com

Photo:  10bestmedia.com

Café de Lisboa
The most casual restaurants of Chef Jose Avillez’s where you can dine on a beautiful piazza for lunch, dinner, snack, or a drink at anytime. from 12pm-12am.
Price range €11-20

NIGHT full of LIFE
Photo: stmgrts.org.uk

Photo: stmgrts.org.uk

You can’t come to Lisbon without listening to Fado, a musical experience that won’t have you jumping up to dance – but instead will tug at the heart strings. There’s several Fado houses in the Barrio Alto neighborhood but for a more traditional show while you have dinner, head to the Alfama neighborhood. Grab a drink and tissue, then make your way to the trendy Bairro Alto hood for vibrant nightlife that has people spilling out onto the streets until sunrise. Most bars serve nice cocktails from sizes L to XXL for €5-7, which can be a little dangerous if you’re not

*Check the calendar at – Lx Factory: a creative hub and serves as a stage for a diverse events related to fashion, publicity, communication, fine arts, architecture, music, etc. You also find a mixture of restaurants and alternative shops here, as well.
Photo: travelsandmore.files.wordpress.com

Photo: travelsandmore.files.wordpress.com

Lisbon is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and charming cities where you can afford to treat yourself to the finer things in life. But know, in 48 hours you’ll barely scratch the surface of this European gem that absolutely has it all.

VANS, VIBES, AND SURF TRIBES: WHY PORTUGAL IS THE CALIFORNIA OF EUROPE

Photo: Sheli Spring Saldana

Photo: Sheli Spring Saldana

Always in search of an active and affordable holiday, a friend suggested Ericeira, a small town on the southern coast of Portugal. Deemed a world class surf reserve, Ericeira attracts surfers from around the globe for its unique waves suitable for all levels. After looking at a handful of photos, I booked the 2-hour flight from Barcelona to Lisbon.

Hey San Francisco, meet your twin: Lisbon.

Portugal’s capital city in mid-July felt like stepping into an oven. I hopped off the bus in Lisbon’s city center feeling overdressed, and was faced with a trek up a ridiculously steep hill to the hotel. Perched at the bottom of the cobble stone street was a graffiti clad cable car; I looked around and was immediately struck by the similarity to my hometown of San Francisco, California. And at that moment I realized I had neglected to do any research on Lisbon, not even a Google image search.

Nearly overheating as I made it to the top, the view of the city overlooking the Tagus river was gorgeous and then I literally did a double take. In the distance was the ‘25 de Abril Bridge,’ which is a spitting image of the Golden Gate bridge in SF in both color and design. The similarity to the look and feel when you drive across is uncanny! In fact, the same American company who built the Bay bridge in SF, oversaw the construction of the 25 de Abril Bridge.

photp: travelchannel.com

photp: travelchannel.com

Gleaning a quick history on Lisbon, I learned it’s the oldest city in western Europe, and one of the oldest in the world. Similar to SF in its small population, I found the essence of the city sophisticated yet approachable, multicultural, and incredibly charming. Even though the cable cars are mostly a tourist attraction these days, it was a fun way to see the important landmarks, viewpoints, and the oldest and most historic neighborhood of Almafa.

Photo: winespectator.com 

Photo: winespectator.com 

Add in some Google buses, tech bros, and bone chilling fog – and Lisbon, you could very easily double as San Francisco’s twin -- albeit a much more grown up version with over 20 centuries of rich European history and culture behind it.

 The Billabong takeover: surfing is a lifestyle

As we made the 30-minute drive from Lisbon to Ericeira, I couldn’t help but notice the resemblance to California’s rugged cliffs and coastline. Having neglected to write down an exact address for the guest house, my bus driver kindly circled a few times and then let me off to ask for directions. As I stood on the side of the road just a stone’s throw from the ocean clearly looking lost - a dusty van with a large Surf School logo pulled over. By chance they were headed to my destination, and I happily piled in with the exhausted salty and sun-kissed surf students.

Ericeira is one of those idyllic old school fishing villages with narrow cobble stoned streets, white washed buildings, modest shops, and expansive Atlantic Ocean views. Like California with its proximity to the ocean and perfect conditions for growing grapes, both fresh seafood and wine are at the core of Portuguese culture and cuisine.

For generations, fishing has been the primary livelihood for coastal dwellers in Portugal. In Ericeira in particular, that has changed with surfing as a national sport. Ericeira was made famous for its beautiful beaches and recognition as a world class surf reserve, alongside Malibu and Santa Cruz in California. Surfing has become the most essential aspect to the local culture and economy.

And there is no mistaking the surf and board sport influence on this tiny village. As soon as you roll into town the familiar surf brand logos dominate the newly constructed main street. There’s over 15 surf shops, 22 surf schools, and 4 shapers in town. Board shorts, flip flops, and sun-bleached locks is the uniform, and a van the ideal way to get you and your board from beach to beach.

#Vanlife

#Vanlife

In town I met a handful of expats from other countries in Europe. It seemed their motivation to call Ericeira home was for similar reasons people migrate to California: those seeking the alternative, outdoorsy, adventurous, and active lifestyle.  

That night I was invited to join them for dinner at a restaurant run by friends of theirs. I quickly got the sense it was a tight knit community, and was grateful to have connected in as I was traveling solo. Conversations at the table centered on the day’s events in the water, tomorrow’s swell, and where it’s going to be ‘pumping’ over the next couple days. I sat there excited to be there, for being around like minded people who clearly were drawn here for the same reason. I just didn’t expect to have such a familiar vibe ever since stepping off the bus in Lisbon.

As it neared midnight, and we finally finished our last bit of food, talk of a full moon surf started to circle. As I sat and wished for another layer of clothing and a warm bed, one of them asked if I was going to join. “Seriously, right now?!,” I said. This guy could not be serious.

Several vans screeched in unison into the beach parking lot. The energy was palpable as 20 or so people excitedly put on wetsuits, waxed their boards, and raced towards the ocean. I followed quickly behind and tried to take photos of the experience, but most came out blurry in the darkness.

Surf Tribe

Surf Tribe

1 AM: All you could see was the occasional shimmer of white wash, and all you could hear were tribal shrieks in the distance as the first group paddled out. The second group were women, most of whom had transformed from their casual waitress attire at the restaurant into fearless surfers. As they stood on the shores edge with boards in hand, I was finally able to capture a clear photo of their silhouettes illuminated by the glorious full moon.

That night I witnessed a tribe in their natural element. A tribe with an undeniable joy for life bonded together by the love for their sport. Over the following days I caught more glimpses into a community who regularly shares meals, sits around bonfires telling stories, takes road trips in caravans, sleeps under the stars, and howls at the full moon while surfing at midnight.

It felt like a home away from home – from the warmth and openness of the people, beautiful beaches, fresh food, stunning landscapes – and a sophisticated European city so closely intertwined with a vibrant surf culture. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LIFE, WORK, TRAVEL - online resource guide

Good f*cking read. 

Good f*cking read. 

Let's be honest, we all can use some guidance while navigating this human experience. I am the first person to admit to not having much figured out (it’s about the journey, right), and have been drawn to the self-help bookshelf for most of my adult life. Nowadays there are so many, almost too many, online resources on all things 'Life' it can make your head spin. And mine does on a daily basis – with access to so much awesome content out there created and curated by experts and people committed to sharing their knowledge to inspire people like you and I. Lucky us!

Below is a list of suggested blogs/books/podcasts for those of you who are interested in a more unconventional perspective on life  - from psychology, step by step guides to finding your Dream Job, travel stories/advice, navigating modern dating/relationships, and learning how to not give a f*ck about things that don’t really matter.

Enjoy, xo  

Mark Manson - Life

Mark Manson is a bestselling author, blogger and internet entrepreneur. Mark specializes in personal development advice that doesn’t suck.

Book: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Chris Guillebeau - Life

Chris Guillebeau created the AONC (Art of Non-Conformity) The purpose of AONC is to share the story of how to change the world by achieving personal goals while helping others at the same time. In the battle against conventional beliefs, we focus on three core areas: life, work, and travel.

Book: Born for This: How to Find the Work You Were Meant to Do

4 Hour Work Week - Podcast

Tim Farris deconstructs world-class performers from eclectic areas (investing, sports, business, art, etc.) to extract the tactics, tools, and routines you can use.  This includes favorite books, morning routines, exercise habits, time-management tricks, and much more.

The Muse - Career

Browse jobs, explore the inside of top companies, and meet the people that work there. Get expert advice and connect with a career coach who’ll help give your career a major boost.

I will teach you to be rich - Career

Rami Sethi has created material that teaches you how to use psychology and systems to live a Rich Life. That could mean automating your finances, making more money, finding your Dream Job, starting an online business or mastering your inner psychology.

Ashley International - Career

Ashley Stahl helps you get clarity on the best career path or helps job hunters land offers.

Slutever - Love

Karley Sciortino is a writer based in NYC, writes column for Vogue on sex and relationships, called Breathless, creator and host of the “Vice Slutever show,” for Vice.com and column called for Vice called Sugar Babies.

Oh The People You Meet - Travel

Michaela Guzy founded OTPYM, a global collaborative of contributors who create content for travelers, foodies and philanthropists seeking authentic local connection. Michaela created an all original travel web video series that she writes, produces and hosts. 

Project Inspo - Travel

Jinna Yang founded project inspo to ultimately inspire people to travel the world and live the life of their dreams, showcasing the world’s most beautiful destinations alongside stories of strength, hope and inspiration. 

Dangerous Business - Travel

Amanda is just an ordinary Midwestern girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world. She’s here to prove to people that traveling (and especially traveling as a woman) doesn't have to be scary, lonely, or out of anybody's reach. 

This American Girl - Travel

Camille has traveled for the last five years in over twenty countries across the world as a single woman, built a successful business from scratch, inspired millions of people with her blog This American Girl, and created a life that offers me adventure, fulfillment, and joy. She leads woman’s retreats in Thailand.

Do you have any sites to add to this list? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comment below!

 

 

 


LAST MINUTE LISBON

Part 1: 

Within five minutes of looking at pictures of a newly built surf lodge - more like a villa - in Ericeira, a coastal village in Portugal — I was booking a one way ticket to Lisbon. Only two hours flight from Barcelona, where I was for a glorious and gluttonous 9 days of mainlining sangria and coming home with the sunrise, I was craving a different type of beach activity that involved a wet suit and board. 

From what I had heard about Portugal, which wasn't much except it’s fairly cheap for Europe and has nice beaches — I sort of categorized it like the side dish you order alongside the main entree of Italy, France, and Spain if you still had room. Always keen to check out affordable and beautiful destinations with surf, it was inching near the top of my travel hit list but wasn’t sure when I’d check it off. 

As with most things that align, the timing was perfect. I had one week before a 6 week apartment swap with a friend in NYC, and unfortunately it also entailed cat sitting so I had to be there and responsible for keeping something else alive. Having somewhat low to no expectations - a week seemed just fine to see Lisbon for a night and the rest of the time going to bed early, eating healthy, and trying to catch some waves. 

Booked a one way ticket from BCN to LIS using my favorite and highly addictive app skyscanner.com and opted for a super early morning flight. Because not only was it the cheapest option, I’d been conditioning my body for over a week to stay up all night so I’ll just do that, obviously. 

Sure, I had no problem the night before finding things to do to keep me awake but when I found myself running from the dance club through the streets of Barcelona to my flat to pack up with very little time to spare - I was a bit panicked. Why do I always do this? It’s as if I subconsciously enjoy being on the edge of missing a flight - and trust me I’ve ridden that edge several times and actually missed the flights. Lessons sometimes need to be learned, many many times. But I did make it, even after being kicked out of the cab on the way to catch the bus because apparently I mislead him by saying “airport.” Cabbies in that city can be such jerks, note to self. 

Arriving into Lisbon mid-July was like stepping into a furnace on full blast. The humidity harsh and unrelenting, I stepped off the bus in the middle of the city feeling like a lost puppy.  Okay, more like a zombie who hadn’t slept in over 24 hours, and tried to decipher where the hell I was. I’m terrible with maps and directions, even if Siri is telling me exactly where to go alongside a big blue arrow I’ll still instinctively go the wrong way.  The only way I’ve survived and navigated through so many places is by constantly asking for directions, everywhere. 

Exhausted and with no one around to ask, I re-read the directions again from the hostel website on how to get there. “Oh no,” I looked up and thought, “not up that hill.” As I walked closer and saw a cable car perched in the middle of a ridiculously steep hill I was like, “Woah, this looks just like San Francisco!” And then I realized I had done no research on Lisbon, not even a google image search.

Snapped a quick photo of the cable car and immediately uploaded it to Instagram once I found beloved wifi, so friends could see the crazy resemblance to our beloved hometown of San Francisco. And even more hauntingly similar is the Ponte 25 de Abril bridge right outside of Lisbon, which eerily resembles the Golden Gate Bridge’s younger sibling. Needless to say I felt right at home as we crossed it the next day, and I couldn’t help but show comparison pics to my car companions. “If you think Lisbon is beautiful, you will love SF!” I said, proudly. 

Ponte 25 de Abril bridge 

Ponte 25 de Abril bridge 

After begging hostel front desk guy to please let me check in early, I collapsed into a delicious yet sweaty mid-morning nap only to be awaken by a heavy breathing and cursing Irish woman in the bunk next to mine. She appeared to still be drunk from the night before, and kept tossing and turning and muttering “I lost everything, my purse, my passport, all my money. Does anyone have a cigarette??!” Being the only one in the room I sat up and looked over, “So sorry to hear that, are you ok, what happened?” She didn’t bother to look in my direction,“Cigarette, do you have one?!”  “Nope, sorry” I said and laid back down. She proceeded to ask everyone that came in after that, and my compassion for her unfortunate predicament dwindled quickly. 

Unable to fall back asleep and driven by hunger, I decided to explore my surroundings and find some food. Because it was a Sunday front desk guy warned, most things will be closed. And no, I didn’t want all you can eat sushi which seemed to be the only place he knew was open. Frustrated, I walked to the top of the hill and took in the view and was blown away by how absolutely gorgeous it was. 

Gorrrrrgeous views, and GG bridge look-a-like in the distance

Gorrrrrgeous views, and GG bridge look-a-like in the distance

Thinking there was no way I could possibly spend just one night here, I vowed to myself to come back for at least another night on the tail end of my week here. Wanting to make the most of it, I wandered along the beautiful off-white cobble stone streets careful with each step, as they’re really slippery and pristine after centuries of wear. Took a turn down a tiny street as a Nepalese man stepped out of a small doorway and welcomed me to try his restaurant. Quickly scouring the menu for something recognizable, he convinced me it was local fare and curious to what that entailed exactly, sat down at one of two empty tables. This was my introduction to the cheap quality food and drinks in Portugal. A few courses involving different kinds of fish and 1 euro beers later, I was shocked at the damage to my wallet or lack thereof. 

In defense of my non-planning nature, one of the main benefits of not doing much trip research beforehand is the amount of surprises that can await you once you get there. As I meandered around Lisbon into the warm night, I was in awe of it’s beauty, charm, and the next day on a walking tour - immersed in its rich history. With a population of 500K and one of the oldest cities in Europe, Lisbon is a true gem - easily the main course on the menu. And the warmth of the Portuguese people is palpable in the way they proudly call it their home. 

Stay tuned for Part 2…”Ericeira and the Surf Tribe” 

 

 

ONE WAY

About a month earlier I found myself in NYC --  a result of being nearby in Toronto on a one way ticket from San Francisco. I left it open ended to extend past the week I’d planned in the event things were ‘going well.’

I went to Toronto for a boy. We’d met last year on a magical island in Brazil, and after two days of ‘getting to know each other’ kept in touch over Skype. The plan to meet up in Cuba solidified over the next 9 months. While the excitement to reconnect was there, I knew we were very different people and lacked things in common. But the distant memory of an attraction blinded any hesitation. Fast forward to the end of that adventurous month in Cuba, and I felt very connected (attraction can be blinding!) But deep down I knew there wasn’t much else besides our shared experiences in exotic places.

He moved to Toronto right afterwards, and the invite to visit was thrown out casually. Thinking, “What’s the point, it’s long distance...” I didn’t take the invite too seriously.  At 37 and single for some time, I really do want something with the potential to move forward. For real. And I actually am open to taking on the challenge of location logistics, and a believer in anything is possible. Yet, I consistently choose people or situations that are ultimately unavailable with little to no potential for longevity.

A combination of a free ticket and influence from a close friend -- because "You just never know!," I booked my one way flight to Toronto for the end of June.

That first day I knew my decision to come was not the best move. It was obvious to both of us.

Not sure what to do about my uncomfortable predicament, I called a friend in NYC. “Girl, come to New York!” she said. I didn’t realize how close it was. One way ticket to NYC was booked for later that week.

A visit to Barcelona was looming on the horizon for sometime in the summer, a reunion with a group of travelers I’d also met in South America. Not able to commit to a specific time because I could have a job I sat back on our group texts as they tossed around dates. All of a sudden the plan to meet in early July solidified. Physically I was now much closer to Europe, didn’t have that job, and still had a lot of unused airline miles. A one way ticket to Barcelona was booked for the following week.

I’ve been asked whether I am running from something or trying to find something, in regards to all of my travels this past year. While I tend to find these types of questions a little assumptive, as i think it implies that a traveler only looks to escape, is lost, or seeking something outside of what the cultural norm says you should be doing. Especially at my age.

Personally -- I thrive on new experiences, am insanely curious, have a short attention span, and loath the mundane. I crave connecting with new people, and really do enjoy getting outside my comfort zone because sometimes that uncomfortable helps me to feel truly alive. I remember the excitement of taking a bucket shower in Kenya, because it was different. I love to shop in foreign grocery stores because it’s different. I didn’t mind living out of tiny backpack with only two pairs of underwear for a month in Thailand, because it’s a different kind of challenge.

Ultimately, I enjoy saying yes to things to see where it can go, what will unfold. Because we really don’t know how things will go, at any point with our decisions. We can only hope for a positive outcome, or an experience to go the way we want. So while there are many benefits to a one way ticket because of the flexibility it can afford you, I’ve learned that you have to remain open to things not going your way once there and choose a different direction than planned. And who knows, there could be an even better opportunity awaiting. Because if life was predictable and safe most of the time -- how boring would that be?






 

LAST MINUTE CUBA

Cuba is the perfect place for the last minute, spontaneous traveler who prefers little preparation or planning ahead. Over this past year, with the luxury of time and flexibility, I have opted for one way flights whereby I can decide once in a place where and when I'll go next. Because If I've learned anything from my recent expeditions, if you do have that luxury to change your mind and direction within travel - it can greatly add value to your experience, and not just monetarily. 

Cuba for a long time had been a 'Forbidden land' to American tourists, therefore, I’d always been curious about visiting this intriguing, mysterious, and elusive country. The idea to visit Cuba this spring arose when a friend I’d met on my travels last year, suggested it as a meeting place. Because it was so far in the future and thinking by then I’d have a full time job, boyfriend, or both - I didn't commit to anything until a week before the departure (as it turned out I had neither at that point). Booked last minute flights from SFO > CUN > HAV totaled $550. This was the easiest and most affordable route to take via Mexico.

On one of our many Skype conversations about the trip, I threw out the idea of biking around part of Cuba - as a fairly avid cyclist it sounded like the ultimate adventure. I saw a cool YouTube video of a guy who did just that, and and at the end he donated his bike to a well deserving local. Feeling inspired, the day before leaving I decided to bring my beloved road bike of 15 years to use and then give away. I set out to figure out how the hell to pack a bike.

However, after many calls to the airlines and a visit to the bike shop, I discovered it would cost hundreds of dollars and as much of a do-gooder I wanted to be - decided to skip it and rent a bike there. Bike tourism isn’t huge in Cuba at all, but I luckily found one out of two Canadian run rental companies in Havana and it seemed straightforward enough.

Money, Getting in, Staying Connected :  

Money exchange - American banks can not be accessed here so you will have to bring all of your cash with you, no use of ATMS or credit cards. With that said, prepare to bring lots of cash. It’s NOT a cheap country overall. It’s ideal if you can get your hands on some euros - you’ll get a much better exchange rate compared to USD, which automatically is charged a 10-13% fee. I went to a Travelex in my local bank to get euro’s and casually mentioned I was headed to Cuba. Do not mention anything about visiting Cuba, they won’t give you money! Learned that the hard way, but honestly it made me even more excited about visiting a country with so many restrictions. Such a rebel.  

Having read several examples of people who asked to not have their passport stamped, I felt confident about doing the same so there would be no trace of my travels to Cuba. When I landed in Havana and waited in the cluttered line at border control, I was pulled aside by a  woman in plain clothes who asked several questions about my purpose of travel. Already prepared to say “journalistic activity,” one of the 12 government enlisted travel categories, I told her I was there to shoot a documentary. “Yes I worked for myself, here’s my website, contact information, sure you can look through my bag” … I started to sweat and asked a couple times, “is everything OK?”

She nodded and finally ushered me to the passport agent who within 2 seconds stamped my passport. “Nooo...I didn’t want it stamped,” I said. “Well you should have told me, sorry,” she said. I grabbed my passport, quickly found the stamp and the part that said Republic of Cuba was hardly legible. To make it even less so, I wet my finger and tried to wipe it just a teeny bit more. Stupid yes, but I was motivated by the image of being handcuffed and taken to airport jail when I returned home. *I’ve had some bad travel experiences involving airport police.

 

Shortly thereafter, I rolled into the heart of Havana in a 1950’s chevy (or something like that) and was immediately hit by the sticky heat, crumbled buildings, and a chaos of people filled the streets. I felt as if I was an extra on a giant movie set, full of every mid-century classic American car in every style and color, with once beautifully constructed buildings now cracked, worn, and dilapidated, with weathered tributes to the dream of Americana. Cuba is literally a country stuck in time and desperate for progress, a result from being cut off from modernity by our cruel embargo enforced a half century ago.

Like most things in Cuba, rates are negotiable and if you offer a fair enough price they will usually agree. Just don’t be a cheap arsehole and low-ball too much, be aware that Cubans give over HALF of what they earn to the government and their average salary is a $18-20/month. A MONTH, people! As a culture they are very honest and seem to be government fearing, which as a result Cuba is very safe country with a low incidence of crime.

To survive and live comfortably, most people have a side hustle because who the hell can live on that kind a salary? We met doctors who earn much more driving taxi’s, farmers selling fruit illegally on the side of the road, and aquarium workers offering to swim with dolphins for 3 x their salary for an hour. Which brings me to the two types of currency. There’s CUC which equals $1, and CUP which is the locals currency. You’ll see the difference in the two, watch out for the 3 CUP bill with Che Guevara, it's good luck. I’d try and get your hands on the local CUP’s, you can give them CUC and get CUP’s in change.

It’s cheaper in the long run for things and made sense to use in the smaller less touristy towns, and I usually preferred to eat in the local joints anyway. They get a kick out of seeing gringo’s eating in their local spots, and would usually ask us how we found the place. Just ask a local where to go, of course.  watch out for the 3 CUP bill with Che Guevara, it's good luck. 

For those of us who are addicted to wifi, this country will challenge that addiction and force you to look at your habits a little differently. Cuba just got legal wifi about a year ago, and can only be accessed in public parks. Which seems so counterintuitive, right? A select number of public parks allow access and you have to purchase a card for $2-3/hour. And this is for everyone, not just tourists. You can get the card from guys selling them for a $1 mark-up around the parks or you can wait in long queue. Either way I was so aware of my usage that an hour card was stretched over 3 days sometimes, I didn’t waste any time on social media, or just scrolling through random content and sometimes we couldn’t find wifi for 3-4 days in the smaller towns. I was deliberate, and would write emails or text ahead of time and then just press send.

Honestly, it was a relief not to be tied to my phone, having the option or excuse to not respond immediately, or get lost in social media’s endless web. It was a nice change of pace and kind of fun to resort to setting a meeting time/place, and actually following through. As strange as it was to see huge groups of people sitting in the park with their laptops, skyping with loved ones, and carrying on intimate conversations in such a public space- you didn’t see people aimlessly on their phones outside of the parks, avoiding social interaction like us addicts do so much of the time.

Accommodations:

The universal symbol for “Casa Particulars”

The universal symbol for “Casa Particulars”

Sure, you have the big fancy hotels (none of the large chains, though) but why stay in those when you can have a more authentic experience renting a room in a local's home or the entire flat? These rentals called, ‘Casa Particulars,’ are everywhere, easy to find, and you can rent them with little to no pre-planning. Perfect!

You will start to see this symbol all over the place on people’s doors, hanging on signs, and on small tiles above the door. Once you see a place that looks nice, has a sweet terrace, or is in a desirable area just walk up to the door, knock, politely say “Hola” and ask if they have availability. It’s that simple.

And If they don’t have anything available, usually the homeowner will cheerily invite you in, offer you a coffee and will call up their cousin, brother, nephew, or some other family member or friend to see if they have space. We even had a woman call ahead to the next 4 towns we were set out to visit and ensured we had a place to stay and negotiated the same nightly rate. The rooms are the same price no matter how many people you have in the room, and usually there are two full beds or a large queen. We paid anywhere from $15 - $35/night and 85% of time included a decent breakfast. If you’re lucky, dinners are also on offer for an extra $6-8 and I have to say some of my favorite meals were in the casa’s. *More on the food in a minute.

We learned that almost every Cuban is given a home by the government, and most of the them have been kept in the family for several generations. Like many other cultures, the entire family can be found living together until the children are well into adulthood. A prime source of income for families with extra space is to turn part of their home into a Casa Particular. As modest and outdated as the rooms can be - with silk bedding, lace doily decor, and fake flowers- they were always clean and had a fan or AC, and tiny refrigerator with cold drinks for purchase. It’s like the old-school mini-bar, and for much less!

You can now also book properties through Airbnb, but only if you’re doing so from outside the country. When I tried to book a room the same day, an error message popped up something like, “we see you are in Cuba and you’re not allowed to book from there”.  I received a similar error message when I tried to log into my bank, they put my account on lockdown real fast until I was able to later verify my identity when back in the states. While it may seem things have relaxed a bit in regards to Americans traveling to Cuba, American companies still have a lot of restrictions against spending money there. Hopefully this changes quickly.

As a fairly new to solo traveler, who mostly enjoys it because I never feel completely alone, I personally didn't feel the country is yet designed for this adventurous soul. Here’s why: after spending the first two weeks with a guy by my side, I had a contrasting experience when my girlfriend came for a short visit. While it’s one thing to get the occasional eyebrow raise, head turn, or whistle --being completely eye f*cked, followed, constantly approached by groups of men who asked  “where are you from,?” was overwhelming. But once we were again in the company of a guy, all the oogling and oggling practically came to a halt. So ladies, take this into consideration and team up with a male travel partner if you are able to!

Stunning beaches in Vinales

Stunning beaches in Vinales

Also, because there isn’t a hostel culture there (yet), the chances of meeting fellow solo travelers are slim. I primarily spotted couples or groups of guys, and the occasional group of two or more woman. I do think Cuban culture oozes sexuality in its music and dance, so it's an ideal place to spark the fire between you and your significant other.

Food/Drinks:  

Unfortunately Cuba isn’t a foodie haven. A fairy delicious mash-up of black beans and rice is a huge part of their diet, as well as fried chicken, fish, pork, plantain, salad (tomato and cucumber) and potatoes. As a meat eater you’ll be hard pressed to find beef, as it’s really expensive for them to produce. When on the road most of the time I fueled up on jamon y queso sandwiches, it’s the easiest thing to find everywhere you go. Breakfast is typically an omelette, bread, coffee or chocolate milk, and fruit (pineapple, papaya, banana). Some of my favorite meals were in the hole in the wall restaurants set in someone’s home, offering heaps of quality food for a around $3.

Being a vegetarian here could be tough, and you’ll probably get tired of the limited veggie options in restaurants. I recommend hitting up the fruit and vegetable stands which are always separate from grocery stores, and getting creative. Beware nothing is more depressing than the government run grocery stores - everything is canned, packaged, and unhealthy. We literally couldn’t find water in most grocery stores, only several aisles dedicated to all types of soda, rum, and beer.

Which brings me to Mojito’s and Cuba Libre’s - the national drinks! Super sweet with lots of mint, you can find a variation on these classics that will either make you fall in love with rum or you’ll never want to look at a bottle of Havana Club again. To complete the whole experience, channel Ernest Hemingway who lived in Cuba for 20 years - sit at an outdoor cafe, sip your mojito, spark up a cigar, listen to the sounds of live salsa music billowing out into the streets, and take in the charm of Havana before you...

Nightlife is also a national pastime, especially in Havana where there are several clubs playing all styles of music, live or otherwise, with some specially catered toward the gringo crowd. Like most other Latin cultures, nights begin here after midnight and go well into the early mornings.

One of my favorite dance spots was with some locals who took us to a small reggaeton club off the tourist path, and while it had it’s shady side with prostitution clearly on offer, I prefered this type of spot over the crowded version with cheesy music and tourists. Plus, in these types of places you’re guaranteed to dance with someone who will want to teach you proper Cuban style salsa. And if you want to feel like a total baller, do like the locals do and buy the whole bottle of rum with mixers for less than $20.  

Day one, outside Havana

Day one, outside Havana

After getting acquainted with Cuban culture for a few days, It was time to leave the confines of the big city and head onto the open road. After spending an entire day to get the bikes rented and back to our casa - nothing seems to be that efficient - we left around 5pm with a couple hours to our first destination. The heat was oppressive, and thick smog followed us in a consistent black cloud. Roads in Cuba aren’t terrible, but they are not yet equipped with much of a shoulder for the cyclist, and just about anything with wheels can be seen rumbling down the busy road from Havana - which stretched on for what seemed like forever. I quickly caught a glimpse of what we were really in for on this two week two wheeled adventure.

Over the next couple days we both gained our bike legs, and slightly adjusted to all of the elements at play which made the journey that much more rewarding. We got a kick out of the waves and funny looks from locals, and almost every casa owner shook their heads in disbelief when we rolled up on our bikes. They’d say, “you’re biking all the way from Havana to Trinidad, are you crazy,?!” Yes, pretty much. I’ll never forget the look on our host’s face when we asked if she could make us sandwiches for our 4am departure the next morning. We had one long final stretch left to Trinidad and I couldn’t bear the idea of doing it in the heat like we’d been doing the past week.

The ride out of town at 4am was by far one the most memorable and insane things we did. At first I was amazed by the amount of light we had as we rolled out, I stupidly forgot as soon as we left the street lit village, we’d be in absolute darkness. The kind of darkness where you feel as if you’re floating in the middle of an abyss, I couldn’t see anything. Through a nervous laugh, I tried to stay calm and made casual conversation like, wow it’s still really warm even without the sun ...ha ha.

And then the dog. All I know is it charged out of nowhere and chased me, barked like a crazed lunatic inches from my foot and my laugh quickly turned into shrieks. The visual in my head getting pulled off the bike and dragged to the woods where I’d be attacked by a more vicious dogs, propelled me faster.

My bike partner on the other hand, couldn’t stop laughing through my screams of terror. OK - maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but this is how I felt it went down. And on top of that, the day before we’d driven the same way in order to get an idea of what we were in for. At the bottom of one of the steep hills we come down, were several cows just chilling in the middle of road. Pedaling as fast as I could, the fear of running head on into a cow was also on my mind.  

The forethought to bring a bike light never crossed my mind, but then I remembered my iPhone had a flashlight!  We quickly pulled over, dug out tape and strapped that bad boy right on the front of my bike. Now with enough light to see a few feet in front of us, we relaxed a little and took notice of all the shooting stars. It was awesome. We then rounded a corner to witness the most beautiful orange colored moon rise above the mountains. Truly an unforgettable experience, as was the sunrise hours later as we ate our sandwiches.

Besides the bike version as a way to see Cuba, you have many other options. Most popular seemed to be renting a car for the obvious freedom, but this isn’t the most economical option. Buses and collective taxis are fairly affordable, easy to find, and are a great option for the last minute journey. The country isn’t relatively that big, although to be time efficient a flight is recommended to places like the south east to Guantanamo Bay for example.

For those of you who have asked if you should visit Cuba now, I don’t think it will change overnight, there is plenty of time before we see the positive and negative effects of our inevitable American influence. But to answer the question to visit or not, the answer is absolutely yes.

Favorite places to visit:

Varadero, 12 miles of pristine beach along the Caribbean sea 

Varadero, 12 miles of pristine beach along the Caribbean sea 

Varadero - Two hours east of Havana, known for it’s endless stunning beaches on the Caribbean sea and is a very popular tourist destination. We found it to be mellow despite it's popularity and definitely worth a couple nights stay. Plenty of nice casa particular’s close to the beach along with several hotel options, and a wide range of restaurants. Very sleepy town though, you’ll be hard pressed to find any decent nightlife.

Vinales has a unique landscape and is absolutely gorgeous! 

Vinales has a unique landscape and is absolutely gorgeous! 

Vinales - Two hours west from Havana, this gem is beyond charming and is surrounded by stunning scenery. Soon as I arrived into town I knew my two nights planned were going to extend to four. Again a very touristy destination, we found that it was quiet for the most part and we could escape the crowds which there wasn’t much to avoid. Taking a walking tour with a local guide was a major highlight even though his whole  “I just want to make new friends, I’m doing this for free” turned out not to be true (obviously), the all day event was so worth it. We swam in a never ending cave for almost a mile in pitch dark, sampled the high quality cigars where the tobacco was dried, danced to live music and drank beer with locals in the middle of nowhere, and

We rented scooters and headed to the coast, this I highly recommended to get out of town to enjoy the crystal blue water and white sandy beaches. The views are absolutely stunning along the way as well!

Trinidad is a colonial charmer, you won't want to leave! 

Trinidad is a colonial charmer, you won't want to leave! 

Trinidad - All the way to the south of Cuba, this city was a highlight and our final biking destination! Arriving into town I immediately felt at ease and loved the cobblestone streets, horse and buggies, and quaint restaurants, shops, and bars. There is a club in a cave here too, and goes off on the weekends - it’s huge and an experience not to be missed. While there are heaps of tourists in town, you can easily avoid them by opting to not gather in the ‘hot spots’ or take a crowded tour on a bus with AC. We did our own version of some of the touristy things in a private taxi and found that what they boasted as the ‘best view in Cuba’ was in my opinion not the case. But explore for yourself, there are many things to do here and I think we barely scratched the surface.  

“Cuba - a country stuck in time and forever in my heart.”  - WM







 

SECRET TO SAVING MONEY AND FACING FEARS

*Disclaimer: I really have no sound financial advice - this is just my story.  

I get this question all the time:  “How do you do it, what’s your secret to being able to do all this travel and not work for extended periods of time?” First of all, it’s none of your damn business - but I usually answer something like, “I have fairly low overhead expenses and have some savings and…” And then the “uh-huh” as they look at me sideways and wait for something more like, I’m secretly a trust fund baby who inherited millions... or I have a sugar daddy hidden away somewhere.

Nope, none of the above. I’m just apparently pretty savvy at saving money - or as my friends would lovingly joke I’m their favorite cheapass. While that may be somewhat ‘true,’ as I generally don’t put a lot of value on acquiring a lot of material things and will literally run (for example my car and bike) things into the ground before replacing. I have chosen to put money towards one thing I value most, and that’s freedom. Freedom and flexibility to have choices, new experiences, to explore and focus on what I really want to do, and see the world.

My non-groundbreaking method is to spend less than what I earn and put away in savings or stocks, and along the way I’ve been fortunate to have had certain situations like not paying rent for awhile or a generous partner who bore the financial load. Situations like this allowed me over time to build up some reserves. But that can come with a price tag too, living with your mom as a 30-something isn’t exactly glamorous.

I also don’t have a lot of the common financial stresses like a mortgage, children, student loans, car payments, or credit card debt. In the past I’ve shouldered plenty of debt and only had $50 in my bank and those experiences were incredibly stressful - so I made it a goal to simply live within my means, pay off all my debt quickly as I could, and put some away.

We make choices everyday, about everything. I can remember being determined to save money at 15 yrs old with my first job scrubbing boats. I made a conscious choice to save most of it when I didn’t have any real expenses besides coffee or beer, and then kept going throughout my jobs throughout college earning just $5/hour. The drive to save had to do with my upbringing, so let’s go way back to where most of our issues and hangups are manifested.

I’d consider myself to have grown up materially under-privileged. Meaning, I often heard “we can’t afford that” or “we don’t have enough,” and was admittedly very self conscious that my mom, sister, and I lived differently than our friends and extended family.

We lived in a small town on a lake in upstate Illinois, in a simple neighborhood with tons of kids and nature all around us to explore. For no reason other than wanting to be like everyone else at school, I was embarrassed of our thrift store clothes, hand me down furniture, our unfinished house, rust ridden hand car, and would hide behind the washing machines at the laundromat to avoid anyone seeing me. I envied friends who had the huge tract-homes with perfect green grass, swimming pools, and stay at home moms who greeted us after school with fresh baked cookies. My mom worked a couple jobs at a time, was into yoga, health food, and always prioritized putting money towards buying organic. At the lunch table I eagerly traded my blue chips and carob bars for twinkies and ho’s ho’s and avoided hosting sleepovers at my house.

And then we moved to northern California before my freshman year, to one of the wealthiest areas in the country. No one seemed to care what house I lived in, the kind of food we ate, or the kind of car we drove. People were more interested in my mid-western accent.

During college while most kids lived on an allowance, I worked at a pizza place, coffee shop, and a clothing store. I liked having my own money, which made me feel independent and responsible. I became super conscious of having enough so I could pay everything on my own, because I didn’t have another choice.

But underneath the sense of responsibility is now what I can identify as a core motivation for being so conscious about money - and that’s fear. Fear of not having enough, fear I’d ultimately end up in a financial struggle that I felt at such an early age.

It’s not easy to admit these fears, and the last thing I want is to seem as if there’s blame placed on anyone else. Especially my mom, who worked so arduously to keep our family afloat all on her own.

Honestly, when people ask me “how do I do it?,” I want to turn around and ask my own questions. Like, “How do you raise a child or multiple kids and maintain a full time job, or buy a house on your own, start and run a successful business, run a marathon, or get a phD?” I don’t have experience with these things, and can only imagine the varying motivations and maybe even some fears that fuel certain life paths and pursuits.

So there are no secrets, just a series of conscious and subconscious choices and priorities put towards creating more freedom to make certain choices. My ultimate mission is to consciously come from a place of abundance and gratitude - rather than lack or a perceived scarcity. Regardless if I have $50 in the bank or $50,000, and while I’ve experienced both at times it’s still very much a work in progress. Like successful weight loss, you have to really want it and be determined to keep it off. Consistently take in less than you burn, and exercise regularly. Easier for some, super hard for others. But once you determine what’s worth sweating your ass off for, you’ll hopefully make it a priority. And in the process you may baffle others by always looking so fit and having a great time doing so.




 

PERMISSION

free spir·it

free spir·it

We enter into the world a free spirit, most of us carrying this throughout childhood. Then we are gradually molded into permission-asking-beings raising our hands to use the bathroom, having to ask our parents or teachers if we can do this or that, and after consistently doing what we’re told, some of us enter into adulthood just the same - asking which direction to go, taking advice on what is the safest and most practical route we can take. Simultaneously, we try and shape ourselves into a self-sufficient individual with a unique voice who seeks to be truly seen, but is silently abiding by a cultural rulebook of what is acceptable, cool, or what success looks like in the eyes of others. 

One of my favorite articles by author/blogger Mark Manson is called, “The Art of Not Giving a Fuck.” “Look at Tim,” the cartoon reads above of a stick figure of a guy holding a balloon flying away and flipping the bird, “Tim doesn’t give a fuck.” Wow. I absolutely love the idea of truly not GAF, it sounds so fucking liberating! I do remember a time in my rebellious youth when I really didn't give a fuck, but that feeling has faded with age. Currently, I am seeking the balance.

So I recently started contemplating this question; Why do I feel the need to ask for permission?  

Diving deep, I guess it could stem from insecurity which also manifests into other things like the need to over think or consult with others before making a decision. I’ve literally felt paralyzed until I was given actual or subconscious permission from someone else to validate what I really wanted to do. I've completely ignored my own gut feeling, and waited for someone else to say it’s OK.

On a recent trip to South America, I had just parted ways from a friend who came down for a couple weeks and was now back on my own in a touristy village in Argentina with a world famous waterfall. Showed up at the hostel eager to meet new faces and delve into another adventure, but unlike my previous experiences I didn’t connect with anyone for the first 24 hours. Spent the day at the falls amongst thousands of tourists, nudging my way in front of the viewpoint to snap a few selfies and pushed on as it relentlessly poured. I came back exhausted, my fingers on the verge of frostbite, and could check the box A quiet dinner and an uneventful stroll around town left me anxious to get on my way.

Next morning I still felt uncomfortable, I was literally aching to talk to someone. Texted friends back home and some people from my travels. Tried calling my mom. What felt so unfamiliar was having to make a decision on my own. All I really wanted to do was go back to Brazil, where I had just spent a surreal month in the north but hadn’t yet really explored the south.

Over the past 2 months I had essentially traveled solo, but most decisions were made alongside my newfound travel buddies. It all had just flowed.

But this next move felt painstakingly huge and uncertain. I wasn’t allowing myself to trust what I really wanted to do for fear of it being the ‘wrong’ decision.

Let me break down the first world problem at stake: Do I go by bus for 40 + hours through Bolivia and then to everyone’s bucket list - Machu Picchu? Or, do I go back to Brazil? Thoughts of going back made my whole body relax. Warmth, sun, smiling and generous faces, beaches, and coconuts.

What will people think if I essentially only see 1 country in the 3 months in South America, and detour from my original plan?

“What will people think….?” Wait, who exactly are these people and more importantly, why do I care?

A German I had befriended in Brazil responded to my ‘can you talk?!’ text. I needed help! But what I really felt I needed was permission to go ahead with my gut. He dished the straight talk I always appreciated, and said I could always go back to Peru at some point and didn’t have to go everywhere just because it was on my trip hit list. Which by the way, I changed or just ditched every return ticket purchased ahead of time.  *Lesson learned, thank you very much*

After hours of flipping back and forth both literally and figuratively in my Lonely Planet, I mapped my way back to Brazil by way of a 16 hour bus ride. Took a deep breath.

Next, Googled flights to Colombia - a country nearly everyone I’d met along the way said was their favorite overall. Shortly thereafter I had bought my ticket, 10 days from then out of Sao Paulo. Minutes later the gloomy skies that had been attempting to rain all day cleared, and as I looked up the sun blinded me. My mom called back. The gnawing anxiousness, mental paralysis, and feeling of wanting to jump out of my skin faded away.

Was it anxiety? Gateway to a panic attack? As someone who hasn’t necessarily experienced these sensations so acutely before, I don’t feel the need to diagnosis it but rather examine further and hopefully learn from it. Especially because now back home, those overwhelmingly uncomfortable sensations and thought patterns have resurfaced as I face another series of unknowns and decision making, that seem a bit more intense than making a choice of what country to visit next.

When I do start to feel myself sinking into that place, I try to become aware of my thoughts. How they start forming a negative spiral staircase, and if I’m not careful the drifting downwards can break into a sprint. Then the littlest thing like a phone call or text from a friend - can nudge me to turn around and start walking back up, because intuitively I know there’s nothing for me at the bottom except more darkness.

Over the past couple months I’ve also sought out a an intuitive counselor, one of the best astrologers in the city, and had a tarot card reading. All asking similar questions and again, subconsciously asking for permission. 

Honestly, the best thing I've found and is also free (yay) is meditation. You hear it all the time, meditation is so important! Learning to quiet the pesky permission asking kid inside is KEY to letting the free spirit not giving a f*ck individual that you truly are. 

What kinds of things are you waiting to get approval on before moving forward? 

 

 

SURF AND SPANISH

Brazil - The other day while out surfing in the frigid water and pouring rain, waves thrashing me around like a rag doll, barely able to catch a wave, and then stung by a jelly fish - I started thinking about the things I had set out to focus on improving during my trip to South America. 

Surfing and Spanish. Two things I'd love to improve and simultaneously terrify me. 

Reflecting on whether there's been any improvement over the last month and a half, at that moment all I could think was how terrible I was and whatever excuse I could muster - the board is too small, the waves are too big, and I just basically stink at it. 

Spanish is a bit of the same thing - finding my way around best I can, stumbling along and when feeling defeated coming up with any excuse for not stepping out of my comfort zone and practicing. 

Ideally, the key is to spend as much time as you can with a non-native speaker who knows a few things in english, and then it’s a reciprocal experience. For over 2 weeks I traveled with a Spaniard, and found it was the best way to learn via a lot of practice and consistent laughter. And then at times it was extremely frustrating (so incredibly thankful for Google translate). 

Later on that day after my attempt to surf,  I mentioned this to a friend about how i set out to tackle these things and felt I hadn’t made much progress. "Yeah," she said, "but you're out there doing both of those things, and isn't that the point?" 

She’s right, I thought. At least I'm trying. Traveling is such a wonderful way to get out out of your comfort zone and focus on things that you may not be able to on a daily basis because of some excuse or life gets in the way. Maybe it’s to read a book a day for a month, master calligraphy, or find your true calling in life. 

But more importantly, now I'm trying not to be so hard on myself. Because while it’s good to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish or have a goal to focus on - more often than not at first you’re going to fall down much more than you stand up. That’s all part of the process of becoming better at anything, so in the meantime I'll just keep paddling and rolling my r's. 

Insecure? Sure. Determined? Yes. 

Un dia a la vez! 

THE RIGHT ONE

IMG_2172
IMG_2172

Most of us know the fundamental difference between right and wrong. As someone who definitely prefers, stubbornly, to learn from my own mistakes rather than follow what people say to do (most of the time), I’m simultaneously very influenced by others opinions and actively seek advice. Deep down, there is a sense of knowing it will all work out, and even if the decision is impulsive - at least it’s a decision.

And when it comes time to face the consequences, if any, be grateful for the support system that surrounds me. But what about when things aren’t clear at first and take a painstakingly long time to figure it out if it’s right? I’m also beginning to think right and wrong is subjective, and ultimately, if you can learn from the wrong it can hopefully transform into a right.

the wrong one

“Thank God we can't tell the future, we could never get out of bed.” - August: Osage County

In a rush out the door to the airport for my flight to Rome, I quickly grabbed my passport. I’d be turning the big 35 somewhere in Europe in the coming week and would either be in Prague, Amsterdam, or Berlin – or all of them at some point.

But the first stop was Rome, where I’d scheduled a round trip from last year after coming home from an 8-month stint abroad. Not knowing with whom, where, or what this trip would entail when I purchased it last year was exciting and sitting in the airport enjoying a glass of wine before boarding I was looking forward to an adventure – despite unsettling events leading up to the my departure.

As I handed my passport to the attendant at the counter to get my boarding pass, I realized it was my old one as I’d recently renewed it for this trip. Not yet expired, but it had 2 punch holes in the front cover. But there were no problems getting my boarding pass and onto the plane, so I thought everything was OK.

Ten hours later, exhausted yet excited to be in my favorite country again, I stood in front of the customs guy with a smile as he looked up and down from my holey passport back to me with raised eyebrows.

When another agent came to further inspect my passport, still smiling and nodding, I thought it was going to be an easy explanation. Oops, silly me, grabbed the wrong one!

Not so fast. Second agent man was there to take me back behind the scenes, the back room where you’re greeted with stern faces and glaring eyes. After being asked several times by different officers as they vigorously shook my passport, “what is this?!” I tried to calmly explain the easy mistake, and that I had a valid passport at home.

Therein steps the police chief, a tough woman that would take no pity on me or offer any understanding, her words stung and I could feel all the blood rush out of my face; “You have to go back to the US – this is not a valid passport – you will not get into Italy with this!”

Dizzily I pleaded with her, and took off my jacket as I broke into a sweat. Surely there is something I can do, someone who can help, call the embassy? Going back is not an option (!)

Or so I thought.

“No. You’re going back now.” (insert Italian animated hand gesture here, once considered charming, now cringe worthy as they all laughed and gestured in unison about the dumb American with her invalid passport).

Luckily I had a phone and could communicate with my friend who was on the other side waiting and wondering what the hell was going on. He connected me with the US embassy and still hopeful I spoke with a nice person there who didn’t have much hope for me. Unless I could physically make it to the embassy.

I was shuttled upstairs and told to stand outside of a room where I could apparently use the internet to connect to the embassy, even though I had the contact info already. After 20 minutes standing there, alone, watching the airport personal and travelers whiz by, I had a momentary breach of movie-inspiration/insanity.

Jason Borne style. I started to walk away from my post, wandered into a store and asked the clerk how do I get out of the airport. How do I escape? I had seen a glimpse of my door to freedom when I was led upstairs, and now was determined to find my way back there. On the phone with my friend I said, I’m walking, I’m walking away, OMG.

Not making it very far I came up against a security checkpoint. Of course they wouldn’t leave me alone with a chance to get away. And what was I thinking?!

Sheepishly walking back to where I had been standing, I was intercepted by a frantic US Airways manager and another police officer. He was pissed. “How did you get through the US customs with this passport?!” US Airways guy yelled, “We now have to pay a very big fine for this, and you’re going back to San Francisco in 20 minutes”

Ouch. Reality was hitting. But I still begged for him to let me go the embassy, to please not put me back on that plane.

Within 3 hours of landing in Rome, I was deported and on a flight home. (free of charge, thank you US Airways)

On my layover in Charlotte, NC a woman was complaining that she couldn’t get on a flight and had to wait a couple hours. I leaned over, interrupting her conversation, and said, “You wanna hear a crazy story? I was just in Rome this morning…” That shut her up.

Clearly, the passport was the ‘wrong one’ and it led to negative consequences (HIDE YOUR OLD PASSPORT FROM YOURSELF!). But in our lives, relationships, and decisions it may be best to avoid judging them as either black or white. Knowing what’s right and wrong for yourself is ultimately your decision – what works and what doesn’t for your life - and sometimes you miss the punched holes the first time around and need to learn to take a closer look.

PS. Determined and taking this as only a small bump in the road, I jumped on a plane the following day and completed my trip to Europe with a damn good story to boot.

RECYCLED

Leopardpants
Leopardpants

Packing light is essential. Either a weekend getaway or year long round the world trip, cutting down on the content in your suitcase will make your life much easier. I learned this tip somewhat early with a 6-week trip to Thailand, only bringing a small backpack. Two pairs of underwear, shorts, tank tops, and a bathing suit.  This was a huge shift in my usual packing habit where I’d consistently overstuff XL suitcases and end up wearing half of what I brought, and paying the airline for the extra weight.

It allowed for such an effortless trip in regards to schlepping around, and brought envy from fellow travelers lugging massive backpacks.

Two sides to every coin. On the latest trek to nine countries, I packed fairly light with a carry on roller bag. And with the variations in weather and venue in each location, it was a challenge to pack for every occasion. Buying jackets, shoes, and borrowing things were necessary.

I also became slightly self-conscious thinking, “I’ve literally worn these leopard print pants in every photo, what will people think?” They’re most likely NOT thinking about it, so get over it.

But let’s just say by then end of the trip I wanted to set fire to all my clothes, they’d been recycled one too many times.

Flip the coin again. If you want to feel like you have just shopped for an entirely new wardrobe in your size, go away for almost a year and then come back home. Open your closet, and an entire new set of clothes, shoes, and accessories that have taken years to accumulate awaits you. And you had forgotten all about them.

It’s a great feeling and fun to reconnect with those ‘new’ items!

Travel Tip: TRAVEL LIGHT. ALWAYS. YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

GOOD PEOPLE

Walk-with-Angels-PRINT-SM
Walk-with-Angels-PRINT-SM

I think people are generally good.

Unlike some of my [girl]friends, who may be more guarded - and even with my obsession with crime TV, I tend not to live in much ‘fear’ of what’s out ‘there.’ And maybe it’s because of this innate feeling that most people are good.

Friends joke about the guardian angel that must be hovering above because honestly, there has been way to many incidences where I shouldn’t have come out unscathed…with plenty of those during the wonderful teenage years.

Traveling can open up the opportunities for bumping into those bad apples along the way, but of course anything can happen anywhere at anytime. Being aware, cautious, and making good decisions are key, but choosing to come from a trusting place feels comfortable to me. And, so far so good.

Over the past seven months out there in the world, out of comfort zones and country living, my overall experience around this belief has been reinforced.

And while we can seem to live in a bubble at times in our busy important lives, I’ve experienced many situations where people stepped out of their way to help – and for no other reason but to do good.

Yes, it is a big world out there with many unknowns, what if’s, and strangers. But if you really look around I think people generally want you to be safe and happy, just like they do.

#LONDONLIFE

undergroundpic
undergroundpic

Rainy, dreary, snooty, uptight, expensive – just some of the adjectives I’d think of when considering a visit to London. Always curious, but going on others' opinions and observations I moved it down the list accordingly. Then I had an opportunity to find out for myself. Yesterday I finished a month-long intensive at the London School of Journalism.  Let’s just say all said preconceived assumptions have been squashed (OK most of them), and honestly it’s been an incredible 30 days. Rented a room in a flat close to school, albeit government-housing aka the ghetto, but it’s been nice having a place to call ‘home’ and a routine in such an exciting city.

And did I mention the bloody heat wave?! One rainy day so far!

We worked really hard at LSJ and wrote like crazy, and the course definitely reinforced my strengths and weaknesses. News writing – not so much. TV stuff and features – yes.

First week in I said to my new school pal, ‘think I may be too lazy to be a journalist.’ All jokes aside, part of that is true. And most of us agreed, it’s highly demanding but a potentially rewarding and exciting job. Overall it was good to get the inside scoop and feedback from people in the biz, and I’d like to incorporate elements of journalism in my work.

Another highlight has been reconnecting with old friends, some really old friends. A childhood BF lives here and we hadn’t seen each other since at least 16! Love when it feels like no time has passed, and I can get a glimpse into people’s lives.

Now I have time to take part in being a full on tourist, but it’s been fun feeling like I live here. Commuting on the tube with the masses crammed like sheep heading to slaughter at rush hour - not super fun - but getting to know my ‘hood’ and local pub has been a plus.

Every experience is what you make of it (of course), and it does help to connect in with a community, learn and challenge yourself when trying out a new place.

So London, I adore you. And thanks for a fabulous time thus far to everyone who’s been a part of the journey.

What places or things are you making assumptions about and not getting out there?

SLOW DOWN

willow car pic
willow car pic

One month ago it all came to a screeching halt - because of a stamp. I was looking forward to the final leg of my four-month trip, ready for some solace and girl time in the Greek Isles. In the airport boarding the plane, I’m sent back through security because I didn’t read the fine print to get a stupid stamp on my boarding pass. I curse you Ryanair! Missed my flights and with the not-healing-so-great back injury, made the rash decision to fly to SF.  In a blink I was back home. Definitely classified as a really bad day for obvious reasons, but also had my first panic attack – or something closely resembling one. With some clarity during the fiasco or ‘freak out,’ I thought if I’m reacting like this and feeling like a crazy person, what can I really handle?

But deep down I knew, this too shall pass. A good reminder in moments when it all feels overwhelming.

Major perk of my ticket home, it was actually cheaper to buy a round trip back to Barcelona. Days before, I was researching and found a one-month program at the London School of Journalism in August. Which also fit perfectly into place before the third and final September wedding in Italy. I hastily threw out a date a few days before it started, and felt excited about the idea of returning to Europe.

Now home my objective was (is) to focus on healing, and once better keep it that way. Obviously not easy when traveling, and so I’m thankful to have had a space and the time and it’s summer thank God! Days are filled with icing, baths, stretching, chiropractic, swimming (aqua therapy kicks ass), reading, writing, piano lessons(!) and of course socializing. The alone time, which was an objective of the trip, is now happening at home. Albeit isolating, I feel lucky in so many ways to have this time to literally chill.

Occasional pity parties, yes, but thankfully I have people around who keep reinforcing and support the “SLOW DOWN” mantra. I can be unaware of ways I do things and how I fill my time, how it’s not necessarily moving me forward in the healing process. And honestly, no one else is living in this body so it’s up to me to take care of it. I’m starting to sound kind of mature, wow.

Our brains have us live in accordance to the non-existent dimension of time called the ‘future.’ It’s good to constantly be moving forward towards setting and accomplishing goals, as it can give us a sense of purpose. But if you have the luxury to actually slow down and get in touch with what you really want and enjoy (without the guilt factor), it can be healing overall. Lately it has been the basic things like getting solid sleep that I’m grateful for. Also rediscovering loves from the past, like swimming and piano, which have also made me happy.

With my departure date quickly approaching next week, I’ve been reflecting on my favorite John Lennon lyric, “life happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Just because you may have a plane ticket for the Greek islands, it doesn’t guarantee you a seat.

For me the key is to acknowledge, when this is all a distant memory, that it did get to this point and there are many factors at play. But ultimately to be more conscious about how I move through the world, both physically and figuratively.

How can you slow down in your life and reassess?

PERSPECTIVE

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IMG_2066

So we made it to the sand dunes, the long awaited part of our journey to the Sahara Desert. Funny because when tour guides try and convince you to shorten your stay, it's usually a sign they're onto something and less concerned about making a sale. A three-day trek on camels throughout the desert from one nomad camp to another sounded completely surreal. But when multiple outfits suggested at the most two nights, we gave in and went for the one night desert camp out and two nights elsewhere along the way to various other attractions, to round out a three day tour. We were determined to see it all. Now enter our colorful and outspoken driver and guide, Driss. Upon first meeting we of course late in our departure and his irritation (American's and their lagging), it began with a haggle about pricing, days and itinerary. I was a little turned off, as it felt like we were paying the same for two nights as for three, and we were confused on what exactly we were doing. Silly me, guess I relapsed on the fact that everything in Morocco is negotiable, from spa treatments to a loaf of bread, so it's merely a formality to bargain and meet around the middle. Needless to say after we relaxed into our comfortable mini-van listening to an Arabic version of "Gangnam Style," stopping regularly for espresso and bathroom breaks, we all got along famously.

Probably somewhere on most people's "bucket list" is to ride a camel into the sunset to some vast desert landscape. At least it was lodged somewhere on mine, not really knowing when, where, or how exactly but it was on there. Mounting the camel and slowly meandering into the sweltering heat - at 7pm - was a feeling like nothing else. Almost as if on a movie set for a cheesy Arabian film, an image i've only seen onscreen or in other people's photos from trips to the Pyramids. Couldn't stop taking pictures of all the classic shots; camel shadows stretched along the dunes, the #selfie (instagram reference) like hey! i'm on a camel! The views were beyond stunning, and with the golden sunset it was dreamlike.

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IMG_9413

Lucky for us it was a full moon. Never have i seen a moon rise over a sand dune, and it actually looked more like the sun - it was unbelievable! After our typical Moroccan meal (couldn't even look at another 'tagine' after awhile), drum, singing, and shisha session we hoofed it up the ridge to get a closer look. Not until well after midnight did we retire to sleep outside under the *full moon.* Sunrise came early, and again we hiked up the dune to experience yet another unique encounter with the sun. Barely 8:30am, luckily we were almost back to our starting point at the edge of the desert, and it was scorching. How people live in that climate I have no idea, and no wonder one night is recommended. So all of you wanting to check this experience off your list, I urge you to do a single night and it will be more than satisfying.

Unfortunately the rest of the tour wasn't too memorable, for me anyway. Coupled with mild food poisoning and the back pain, i was horizontal in the van a good portion of the time hoping for a cool breeze and the headache to go away. The saving grace was Driss, who has a keen sense of humor and did everything he could to help ease our woes as we each were struck with the queasy unsettling bouts of an unsettled stomach. Surely par for the course in Morocco, but what a drag. We did have some great times and Driss posted pics on Facebook, but I could sense his relief as he dumped us off in Marrakech after four long days on the road.

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IMG_2184
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IMG_9545

Hustle- bustle, crazy, hectic, chaos - these are just a few ways to describe the city of Marrakech. It's amazing. Oh, and tourists - so many of them! I kept imagining stepping off the plane and right into this maniac of a city, thinking this is what all of Morocco is like. Luckily for us our jaunt began in the quaint 'blue city' far far away from this place and we were thankful to have ended here rather than began. Imagine a giant plaza with snake charmers, guys with diaper wearing monkey's doing tricks, drum circles, ladies (chasing you) with henna, restaurants with fierce salesmen out front, relentless merchants (yelling at you), orange juice carts everywhere with the same product for the same price, and massive fruit and nut displays. Add thousands of people going in all directions any time of day and oppressive heat, there you have a basic sketch of Marrakech.

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IMG_2259

Hundreds of venders lined the plaza and went on forever twisting around in narrow corridors, never-ending and selling everything you can imagine. Getting lost is what you do there, for fun. Good luck buying something and finding that shop again for a return or a fix. My most exciting moments were in discovering a new section of the medina, like the dying quarters where all wool, fabric, scarves, etc. are hand dyed with natural pigments. Men with permanently dyed red arms and hands stood above boiling liquid and posed for pictures. And then the leather tannery. You need a "Moroccan" gas mask for your nose (aka mint leaves) just to breathe for the stench of the ingredients used to treat the animal skins is overwhelmingly pungent and burns your eyes. The metal workers section, welders hovered over their works of art in tiny dark spaces were covered in dirt and grease. Scariest and most 'twilight zone' of them all, was the section that sold animals. Curious as to what the smell was and why the eery feeling as we stumbled through the 'gates,' we saw dead and live animals for sale. Men here were covered in blood from head to toe, shoved and sharing a a small stall with a hundred live chickens, and several rabbits and pigeons in cages. Other men in stalls were de-feathering chickens using a horrible machine, it's one of those places where you swear off eating meat all together. On an upside, these animals are fairly 'free range' and this system seems more farm to table style in comparison to gross scale of factory farming. All how you put it in perspective, i guess.

Lots has transpired in the last weeks in Morocco until now, as I'm sitting in a beautiful apartment in the heart of Barcelona, Spain. (thank you new friends, Shayne and Kristen!) The week here has been a bit relaxing, as I'm still in healing mode but trying to get out and about to take in the sights - most importantly the beach. What a fantastic city! Even if it's covered with Gaudi architecture :)

Something terrible has also happened recently, my young and vibrant aunt Erin is in the ICU for bleeding in her brain and was in a coma for several days. Yesterday she opened her eyes. Heavily drugged and sedated, doctors still aren't clear on what's happening but she is responding and making progress. We're all in shock, and i feel really far away. On that note it's approaching the five month marker, and I've recently been planning my trip home for the end of June.

Nothing like a sudden and serious health scare to put your own life in perspective. Again a reminder of how fragile and fleeting life is, but also how incredibly powerful we are to create the life we want. Which brings me to the question, how do i incorporate travel (taking pictures, video, writing and telling stories) and get paid?

BTW, my comp is totally dead and for real this time. Not a terrible thing overall (may be last blog entry for awhile), but now having to lug the useless metal corpse around it could affect my luggage weight limit, damn these budget European airlines.

Tomorrow I fly solo to my (possible) final destination - Crete, Greece.

Random Travel Tip: For the first time ever I didn't have a flight scheduled out of Marrakech until the day before. As freeing and exciting as it can feel, prices and options literally change and go up in a matter of seconds. I recently was introduced to this highly addictive and amazing app, Skyscanner. Late on the game i'm sure, but it gives you cheap flights to "everywhere" instantly. Planning ahead can take up a ridiculous amount of time, but just getting an idea of available flights and prices a little early on, can save you a lot of time and money. I wish it were the opposite and prices went down as you waited, until the very last possible minute. For all us spontaneously bad planning folks out there.