Category Archives: Adventure

How I Afford To Travel The World

Probably the number one question I get asked when it comes to my travels is, “How do you afford it?!” Since I work seasonal employment, it’s not exactly the most profitable field, and therefore I shouldn’t be traveling as much as I do. But, the answer lies in the details. As a former travel agent, I have a few tricks of the trade that have helped me throughout the years and as I travel more, I have gained a few tricks of my own. 

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH. I scour websites like Momondo and Skyscanner and STA travel and Student Universe, and I’m not picky. When I bought my ticket to Japan, I originally had no idea of where I wanted to go. I used the “Take Me Anywhere” feature on Momondo, and found my $378 round trip ticket to Tokyo. I didn’t really have any interest in going to Japan, but at a price like that, I couldn’t say no.

Being flexible allows more doors to open and better flights to pop up. If you have one particular place in mind, chances of finding the “perfect” flight at a stellar price are pretty slim. But, if you go into it with no expectations of where you’re going, there are some absolutely phenomenal flights out there to places that are super up and coming.

Save. Everything. Since I work seasonal jobs, my bills are almost non-existent. Most of my contracts offer me food and housing, so I can save nearly everything I make instead of having to pay for rent and utilities and car insurance and car payments and and and…While this isn’t the case for a lot of people, when I worked a “normal 9-5”, I was putting 20-25% of my paychecks away for future travels.

Because I’m committed to traveling as much as I can, I was willing to sacrifice a few nights out with friends or going out to dinner or splurging on a new outfit if it meant that I could take a helicopter ride in Iceland or order an extra bottle of wine in Venice or stay in the hotel that I had been looking at for years online. While 25% is steep, you can always adjust that to whatever you’re comfortable with.

I have a Round-The-World trip planned for this September and just about everything I’m making is going towards tickets, hostels, excursions, food, drinks, etc. It’s sometimes hard to debate with yourself as to whether saving is worth it when there are so many things going on right now, but it always pans out well. 

Be Diligent. Once you’ve found an area or a location that has captured your heart, and clouded all your daydreams, sign up for fare alerts, check up on the price when you can, and check fare predictors. (Skyscanner and Student Universe both have pretty reliable ones.) Word of Caution: a lot of these third-party sites that offer lower rates usually use cookies, and if they see that you’re checking the same flight over and over, they’re likely to raise the price solely because they know you’re interested. To avoid this, turn off your cookies while browsing or browse in private mode. 

Travel on Tuesdays. If you’re traveling internationally, try to book your flight for a Tuesday and search for your flight Tuesday or Wednesday. Airlines tend to lower their prices to match competition on Monday nights, so you’re going to find cheaper flights on these days. Try to avoid searching for flights on weekends, as the prices are usually inflated. As for traveling on Tuesday, fares are usually less expensive than say, Sunday afternoon. 

Book Your Trip During The Shoulder Seasons. Shoulder seasons are the month(s) before and after peak travel times; think April, September, October. While you might miss out on the best weather, shoulder seasons are much cheaper both airfare wise and expenses during your stay. Hotels and exclusions are usually less too. And shoulder seasons tend to have less crowds, which is always a plus. 

Think Outside The Box When It Comes To Lodging. Hotels. They can be so, so expensive. Think about staying in hostels, Airbnb’s, or couch surfing. If you’re dead set on staying in hotels, try hotels.com, they have a fantastic rewards program where for every 9 nights you book through them, you get 1 night free. Which adds up so quickly. Plus, once you sign up, they “unlock secret prices”, which is usually $5-25 off the listed price. 

Pack Light. Luggage fees are getting more and more exorbitant. Airlines like Spirit and Frontier make a large majority of their profit from fees and last time inchecked, luggage fees for Frontier were upwards of $65. That’s as much as a ticket! Try to pack what you can into a carry-on and your personal item, not only are you saving on luggage fees but you’re also saving yourself from having to schlep around a ton of luggage. 

Don’t Be Intimidated By All-Inclusive. I have to admit, I was not at all keen on the idea of any trip I took to have the words “all inclusive” anywhere near them. I felt like it was cheating, or there had to be some sort of catch. But, when I found an all-inclusive trip on Living Social to La Fortuna, Costa Rica for $250, I was intrigued. It included lodging, food, drinks, and an excursion (I went ATV’ing on a volcano 💁) and it was so worth it. I didn’t have to worry about constantly having money with me, and I was still able to leave the lodge and walk around the town and get a sense of the local culture. 

Honestly, traveling is as much of a priority as you make it. If you’re bound and determined to see as much of the world as possible, you want to make it happen and you’ll do what it takes to see it come to fruition. If you’re okay with a vacation a year, that’s awesome too, we all have different priorities and it’s your life to live. 

I travel as much as I do because it’s probably my number one priority. It’s what I’m always thinking about, it’s what I save for, it’s my therapy and my escape. I’m so very lucky to have such an incredible and supportive family who lets my wanderlust take over and they’re there for me every step of the way. 

Travel is as achievable as you want it to be. Go forth, my dears. 

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Narita, Japan

The most beautiful thing about travel, to me, is that it lends itself to you in such transformative ways. It opens these doors that you didn’t know existed, not only in the literal sense but in your mind and your soul. It allows you to have moments of complete and total clarity, unclouded by the chaos that surrounds you.

I just spent the last month in Japan, traveling the country alone and taking in as much of the sights and sounds and culture as physically possible.

On my first full day in Japan, I was anxious to see. I was anxious to get out and explore, so I asked the front desk where the closest shrine was and they pointed me in the direction of Shinso-Ji Temple in Narita, a 4 minute walk from where I stayed.

Since my body wasn’t used to the time change yet, I was at the temple at around 6:30 in the morning and I recommend going at that time to anyone.

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It is so peaceful and gives off such serenity that I was taken aback. I was alone, walking amongst these buildings and gardens that were hundreds of years old. The mist of the morning was clouding these pagodas that are so brightly colored and rich.

There were so many moments where I would just stop and stare for minutes on end, transfixed by the history and unable to grasp how many thousands upon thousands of people from all walks of life had stood where I was standing, in awe of the same unmoving and unchanging building.

As the morning ticked on, I became more aware of people around me, bustling through the park to get to their job or gliding lazily through on a morning stroll, a couple visiting from South Korea who couldn’t seem to stop smiling and a pair of friends from Vietnam who wanted nothing more than to practice their English with me.

About the time I decided to head back to my lodgings, a processions of brightly colored monks made their way through the main gardens, accompanied by a loud drum and a ringing triangle. I obviously followed as we made our way to the main building.

15781550_10155642135623135_6997755831028819612_nThere, they began a ceremony, at least that’s what I’m assuming from what I gathered from context clues. A fire was lit, chanting began, and those watching with me began bowing at specific times. I was overcome with emotion. Here I was, a girl on her first day of travel alone in a country she knows little to nothing about and the universe was rewarding me with this abundantly beautiful showcase of culture and religion.

As I sat silently crying, thanking anything and everything that would listen, I watched as those around me; travelers, couples, children, families, and businessmen alike come together for a brief moment in time. The deafening drum beat became our pulse and the chanting monks transfixed our hearts. And then, with 3 sharp blasts to the giant drum, it was over.

I sat stunned for a few moments, as those around me clamored to get up quickly. I didn’t know where to go from there. It was my first day of travel, alone, and I had witnessed more than I thought I was going to see in an entire month.

How lucky I am.

Bahamas Cruisin’

This past week I had the awesome, and somewhat unexpected, chance to go on a cruise to the Bahamas for my and my best friend’s birthday. We’re about a week apart so we tend to cluster our birthdays together to make the most of it.

We left out of Port Canaveral, Florida and boarded Royal Caribbean’s Enchantment of the Seas. My friend, Drew, and I shared a room while the two couples we were with shared rooms as well. There was 6 of us and we were excited for what was to come.

Now, I’ve cruised before but on Carnival and I feel like the experience was completely different. When I cruised with Carnival, I left out of Tampa and went to Cozumel and Grand Cayman. I also had gone with my best friend and we were much more focused on excursions and seeing as much as possible.

This time, not so much. We had booked the cruise about 3 weeks before departure date so our budgets were a little limited and we were more focused on drinking.

Royal Caribbean offers an amazing deal where you pay one solid price at the beginning of the cruise and you can drink (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) as much as your heart desires. We opted for the Premium Package which cost us about $239 for a 4 night cruise. When you think about it, each drink normally costs about $10-15, so in order for the package to pay for itself you needed to drink 15-18 drinks over the course of 5 days which is 3 a day. That’s child’s play.

Needless to say, we drank our share of the package within the first 48 hours.

Drew and I stayed in a Large Oceanview Stateroom and we were on the 3rd floor near the front of the ship. The room itself was awesome, a King sized bed, desk and couch, and the bathroom was a decent size.

I would recommend staying near the center of the ship if possible, though. The anchor noise woke us up every time it was deployed and sometimes the rocking of the boat could be felt a bit more than we would have liked.

Nassau

Our first stop was Nassau which was beautiful. It was like any other port city with it’s bustling stores, taxi drivers who swear they’re the best priced, cruisers who are a bit too sunburnt from their day at sea and loud beach bars.

We stopped in Senor Frogs and stayed there for a few hours but quickly realized that there was “free” alcohol on the ship and made our way back for a couple hours.

This particular sailing we were scheduled to be in Nassau from 8am until Midnight so we had more than ample time to explore.

After a few drinks, I decided I wanted to see more than just the port city and since it was only 2pm, I decided to strike out on my own and take a scooter ride around the city. I was offered an awesome deal with a man named Charles who was missing at least 6 teeth but was as harmless as a gnat.

I paid $10 for a two hour ride around Nassau and saw everything from the Atlantis-style mega resort at the end of the island to the lesser known ghettos surrounding the outskirts of the city. Charles made sure to point out every single man that could sell us pot. Although it’s not my thing, it was funny to hear him say “There’s soandso, he get you a good deal. Let’s roll up, sweetie” at least 7 times.

I tipped him a few bucks and made my way back to the boat since I hadn’t seen any of my friends in a few hours. I met back up with Drew and we proceeded to drink the day away on the much less crowded pool deck.

After dinner, our group of 6 went back out to Senor Frogs for one last hurrah before the boat set sail.

Cococay

The next day was Cococay, Royal Caribbean’s private island in the Bahamas. It’s a tendered port, so you have to get onto another boat to get to the island but it’s only a 5 minute ride either way.

Once on the island, your drink and food packages still apply which is so incredibly convenient, so no having to worry about extra cash.

The island itself has so many things to do and so many places to escape the mass amounts of people that constantly surround you. I HIGHLY recommend going to Barefoot Beach, it’s a little out of the way but there is absolutely no one there and the bar is usually empty, so drinks come out pretty damn quick. If you’re looking for a little solitude, Barefoot Beach is the way to go.

Back on the boat, it’s a ghost town when you’re docked at Cococay because a majority of people are laying out on the beach or on an excursion. Although a lot of the bars were closed because the workers have to go to the island, it’s still a nice time to get away from people and just relax.

The last night on the boat we went to the Viking Crown Lounge where we were surrounded by all of the friends we had made over the past week. It was a nice last farewell and great to meet so many different people from all walks of life.

I had such an amazing time and I would do it again in a heartbeat, in fact, I think I might start planning another one now ;).

What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Camp is one of those places where you feel at home, where an adventure is steps away and where a smile never really leaves your face.

Being a camp counselor is the best job you’ll ever have. Hands down.
There’s something about waking up in the morning and loving what you do. In every sense of the word. There’s something about being surrounded by kids who look up to you unabashedly and that think you’re the coolest person they’ve ever met.

There’s something about swimming and laughing and playing and creating and making and loving and jumping and running and dancing and laughing some more.

I work at a camp in Maine and you can read about that here. But, I have to admit that I was completely lost when I found out I had gotten the job. What do they wear? What should I expect? Do we decorate our own cabins? There were so many questions that wouldn’t be answered until I got to camp, but I figured I’d write about my packing list to make it a bit easier for everyone.

The camp I work at employs us from mid June until the beginning of September so I need to pack enough to last me 2 months, barring small shopping trips. Since I’ll be flying up, I’m limited as to what luggage I can bring. I will be bringing a backpack for my carry-on and 2 suitcases as my checked bags.

My backpack is a Thule Enroute Backpack.

backpackIn my backpack I will have:

  • My Phone with charger
  • Wallet with necessary ID’s, check with your Program Director as to what you’ll need for paperwork
  • Extra pair of clothes and swimsuit, just in case
  • Books for downtime, I suggest “A House In The Sky” and “All The Light We Cannot See
  • Journal
  • Sunglasses
  • My Macbook
  • Pressure Reducing Earplugs – I have terrible ear pain on flights

As for my suitcase, I have the tried and true Samsonite luggage. It’s the perfect size, it’s durable and it’s been to 10 countries with me.

samsonite-luggage

If you’re more interested in just bringing one large backpack worth of stuff, I have a great High Sierra Appalachain 75L that holds everything that I need, barring linens. Your camp might specify that they provide linens, so just ask!

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When it comes to clothes, comfort takes precedence over everything. You will be running, dancing and composing absolute tom-foolery, so looking good kind of goes out of the window.  Think about what you wear to work out in when no one is looking, now think a little grungier and you’re pretty much there.

My luggage packing list goes a little like this:

  • 6 T-Shirts
  • 5 Running Shorts
  • 5 Yoga Pants for sleeping, exercising, etc.
  • 3 Crazy patterned leggings-look here for some ideas
  • 5 Tank Tops- make sure to find out if there’s a dress code regarding tank top strap thickness
  • 1 Rain Coat
  • 1 Pair Rain Boots
  • 2 Pairs of Tennis Shoes
  • 2 Pairs of Flip Flops
  • Shower Shoes (an old pair of flip flops work perfectly)
  • Undergarments, enough for at least 2 weeks
  • Socks (mixed thickness, it can be really hot and pretty cold)
  • Sweatshirts-it can get down to 50 degrees at night in Maine
  • Ben’s Bug Wipes-so much easier than a spray

On to toiletries. Keep in mind that you may or may not have access to shopping during the summer so make sure you know how much of each you should pack. At my camp, there’s a Walmart about 10 minutes away so a few people don’t pack any toiletries and just buy them all when they get there. Up to you.

  • Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Hairbrush
  • DEODORANT, you may or may not shower for 4 days at a time
  • Room Spray becomes a necessity especially in the boy’s cabins
  • An abundance of hair ties
  • Shampoo/Conditioner- there are some really great biodegradable ones if you will be bathing in lakes or rivers
  • Lotion

For your cabin, find out what the living conditions will be like. Typically, we stay in a cabin with 3-10 campers depending on age and we have a dresser and a bed to ourselves. While my camp provides bedding, especially for International counselors, I prefer to bring a few things of my own. Most counselors bring their own pictures and decorations from home to showcase who they are and their interests. Contact counselors that have worked there before to get a lay of the land! I will be bringing:

  • 1 Comforter
  • 1 Sheet Set
  • 2 Pillows
  • 2 Tapestries
  • Pictures From Home-it’s always a nice reminder
  • 2 Strands of Christmas Lights-it definitely helps if you have really young campers who might still be afraid of the dark or for “flashlight time”

Obviously each camp is different and depending on where you’re located will adjust what kind of clothes you’ll be wearing but this is just a basic guideline for those embarking on counselor-ing for the first time.

Enjoy your summer!

 

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There’s an old saying that goes something like;

Find what you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life.

This past summer, I did just that. Hopelessly lost one day in January, I was on Facebook dreaming of all the things that I wanted to do this year, all the things I wanted to accomplish. I saw an ad that, for some reason, stuck out to me. It read “Change Your Life This Summer Working With Kids” and had this picture of a counselor smiling and a camper smiling even harder. I made a mental note of it, but didn’t act on it, after all, I was too busy dreaming.

Two days later, the same ad popped up. I decided to check it out. You know how God sometimes opens up doors for us that we didn’t even know were there? This door was a camp called Kingsley Pines in Raymond, Maine and God seemed to have flung open 20 doors at once.

I applied, was accepted after an extensive interview process and made travel plans to start working in June. I was to be teaching Ceramics and Pottery and as the time to leave grew closer and closer, I realized that I physically could not wait. I researched articles on how to be a good camp counselor, I brainstormed ideas for games and I daily checked out pictures of KP. The calm waters and the pine trees and the distant mountains seemed to be calling for me.

I packed, repacked and reached out to at least 6 counselors on what to pack. I felt like I was in such new territory. I had been to camp as a kid but I couldn’t remember what to bring, I couldn’t remember what I wore and as I was to stay there the entire summer, I didn’t know what to expect.

But the day finally came where I took everything I had fit into two suitcases and a backpack and headed towards my new home.

I was greeted at the airport by a guy holding up a sign that read “Welcome to KP Stephanee” and it had a (very well drawn) buffalo. This struck me, I remember. I was born in Montana and there are buffalo everywhere, just roaming and free. Montana is my place to gain clarity, to see things wholly again and having a buffalo seemed to be a sign that this was where I was meant to be and I just remember smiling so hard that it hurt.

sign

I was here. It was beginning.

We picked up another girl who was a newbie just like me and we could barely contain our excitement in the backseat of that van. As a 23 year old woman, I have never been more giddy. It was like we were the kids on our way to camp.
We talked about our goals for the summer, how we were both searching for something, anything to give us direction. Both of us had reached a point in our lives where we lacked not a purpose, but a passion. We had high hopes that this place would be the answer to that dilemma.

IMG_0279As the van pulled onto that gravel drive and we drove past the greenest grass and the thick woods blending and swirling into this beautiful landscape; it was like an oasis for the weary, a jolt to the heart of everyone who felt lost.

That first day, no, that first week was a blur. We were in and out of meetings and orientations and trying to sleep whenever possible.

 

Session 1

The day came when our first campers came, and I honestly don’t know who was more excited; the campers or the counselors. I was assigned to Hatcase with 7 girls who were all 13. At first, I was intimidated. That’s a whole lot of early teenage girls but the second they hatcasearrived, all of my worries were dispelled. They were goofy, charming, sweet, and even more goofy.

They were at this age where looks and what everyone else thinks are starting to matter but they’re not quite ready to let go of their childhood and they recklessly abandoned their worries. It was 3 weeks of laughing and giggling and dance offs while cleaning the cabin and absolute tom-foolery. They were my nuggets.

Some memories will always stay with me and others add to the memory of camp as a whole. One memory in particular sticks out about this session. The cabin, as a whole, has to come up with a way every morning to show unity within the cabin and we seemed to be running late that morning (no surprise there…) and I was in charge of cleaning the shower. When I came back out, there were all 7 of my girls sitting on the floor in a circle writing things about each other that they appreciated.

They had, on their own, created an idea together and had governed themselves to do this act of writing out how they felt. And not just “You’re really nice” or “You clean good”…they were things like “The way you try new things at camp makes me want to try new things too” or “I really like having you in my cabin because you’re my best friend”. It’s amazing what a few words strung together can do for a teenage girl’s self esteem.

I honestly have to say my favorite thing about Session 1 and Hatcase was the absolute gut-wrenching laughter that happened every day. Whether it was laughing at the girls being silly, laughing with the girls at a camp fire skit or laughing at myself, it brings a smile even thinking about it.

Session 2

Opening Day was always hectic for me. It’s moving 200+ kids into cabins scattered all over. It’s lugging trunks and suitcases and bags. It’s airport runs, It’s integrating campers into their new environment and affirming parents. It’s teaching and learning and absorbing. It’s a beautiful chaos that runs effortlessly well.

This Opening Day was no exception, I had come back from an airport run of picking up 8 campers in Portland and I learned that I would be with the OGC that session. I was excited, scared, nervous, and thrilled all at the same time. The OGC is the Older Girl’s Circle and it’s for the campers that are 14-16 years old. I would be in Androscoggin and I loved that little caandrobin, I think the most of any I stayed in.

I would have 3 campers staying with me and 3 that would reside in the one next to it. I had the oldest of the older girls. They were bright, they were smart, they were gracious, they were beautiful, truly, inside and out. They had these big ideas and a tenacious love for life.

The wonderful thing about Older Girls is you don’t need to keep track of 6 different schedules because they know where to go and when to be there. You don’t have to constantly check up on them because they’re little mini-adults and they want to figure out how camp works on their own. I learned that the more you stepped back and let them thrive, the more they wanted to flourish. My co-counselor and I often to referred to this group and our time together as “3 weeks of bliss”.

Every night you would close out the evening with Embers, which was a time for reflection on your day and things you wanted to accomplish in the future. The articulate and graceful talks we would have during Embers took me aback. Here were these 6 teenage girls, 2 of which spoke Spanish and 1 who spoke French, revealing their goals and insights on the world. I often went back to the counselor whom I shared the ride with that first day and we marveled at how much we were changing because of these kids, how much we were growing and learning thanks to these campers.drwaing

This session’s favorite memory was a night spent on the beach. I decided to do a star-gazing Embers and I had each girl pick a song that was near and dear to their heart that we would play and they would get to talk about why the song meant so much to them. When we got down to the beach, all bundled up in sleeping bags and blankets and sweatshirts, we looked up to see the crispest night sky. The stars looked like they were shimmering in the sky and on the lake and there wasn’t a cloud in sight.

Since KP is far away from any big cities, there’s no light pollution and the night skies are breathtaking. That night we talked about everything we could think of, showcased our hidden talents, giggled about the going-ons of camp life and every now and then, the entire group would fall silent just to marvel at the sky.

Session 3

Everyone was starting to become aware that camp was ending soon and this being the last session of campers, we all wanted to make the most of the time we had left. I was again placed in the OGC and was so grateful; I had found my niche. I was in the cabin trio of Brandy-Nubble-Crystal and resided in Nubble. I had 3 quirky, fun and awesome girls. We had this tradition of saying one thing that you liked about someone else in the cabin before bed. It honestly made my heart swell each and every night.nubs

Here are 3 teenage girls who know little to nothing about each other but every night they consistently found something about their bunkmate to compliment. With this particular group of girls I never knew what to expect. The compliments towards me ranged from, “You’re the chillest, most swaggiest counselor that works here” to “I honestly want to grow up to be like you.”

My two co-counselors and I this particular session decided we wanted to do everything in our power to knock things off the girls’ bucket lists. Since we had 9 girls, this was no small task. Our first Embers, we came up with a Cabin Contract and a Bucket List. The Bucket List was at least 15 items long with things ranging from; star gazing to climbing a mountain at sunrise.

But, we did it. We did it all. We star-gazed the last night of camp in the middle of the common field, all squeezing on a much too small blanket. rattlesnakeWe climbed Rattlesnake Mountain before dawn to catch the sunrise, or the “Sun Ball” as the girls called it. We built a human pyramid on Quaker Ridge and may or may not have stolen snacks from a certain camp photographer.

The greatest thing about this group of girls,though, was there were no two that were even remotely similar. You could not have picked 9 more different teenagers. But as the two weeks drew to a close, we realized that their differences made them a stronger unit. They were helping each other and joking about how diverse they were. They were making each other friendship bracelets and talking about past camp memories.

The one memory that resides with me the most from this group was an Embers we did on one of the last days of camp.quaker We got a huge assortment of beads and each girl picked out a bead for every other girl. We then went around the circle and told the girl why we had picked that particular bead for them. Although it was a small gesture by each person, when you have a bracelet full of beads with stories behind them, it amounts to so much more. I still wear mine around my ankle and I received a snapchat from one of my campers and she was still wearing hers. It made my day.

Ceramics

Teaching Ceramics was like a dream. Every day I woke up and walked to this shack that was lined with handprints and names written in clay. Where the sound of the pottery wheels drowned out the noise of the radio. It was this place tucked away into the woods where campers could build anything they could think of. They could build pots and bowls and cups and animals and plaques.

Some of the funniest and most honest conversations I had with campers happened in the Ceramics Shack. We taught 3 periods that lasted 50 minutes long and each one seemed to be like a party. We had music and dancing and we were creating these works of art.

I loved literally every second of it.

I can’t put into words what this past summer meant to me. There are too many memories, too many people to thank, too many smiles and laughs, too much fun, too many moments that took my breath away. It all adds up to this beautiful, chaotic, wonderful and sometimes crazy thing we call camp.quaker2

Related: What To Pack: Camp Counselor Edition

Buffalicious.

Buffs are awesome. I’m just gonna put that out there.

They’re literally so useful and they’ve saved my sanity more times than I can count. While in Belize, I stayed in rooms that had thatch roofs. Now, I had heard that there MIGHT be thatch spiders and thatch cockroaches but we probably wouldn’t see any. Wrong.

Every night, I felt like I had to sleep with one eye open because I would stare above me in horror at the palm sized spiders weaving in and out between the cracks in the thatch. The cockroaches would scurry on the wood beams and disappear into the black darkness above me. It was terrifying.

That’s where my buff would come in. I would sleep with it covering my eyes, ears, nose, mouth, everything. I didn’t want any creepy crawlies thinking any of my orifices were a good place to take a rest. No thanks.

I actually own two different buffs. One is from the TV show Survivor that my parents got me when I was about 11 and I had never really had any uses for it until I started traveling. My other one I recently purchased because it’s a little more appropriate and plain-looking. You can get it here. It’s a green pattern but both are exactly the same size, same material, same thickness.

Since I’m leaving in three weeks, I’ve started making packing lists in my head and buffs are definitely at the top of them.

My Study Abroad Adventures

I’m a college student. I love to travel. So naturally, I took advantage of the study abroad programs offered at my college. There’s about 9 to choose from, ranging from places like Costa Rica to Ireland. Every trip has a course tied to it that you take while in country. I’ve been on two and will be going on my third in three weeks time.

The first study abroad trip I went on was to Derry, Ireland. I left in early May of 2012 and spent 15 days in country for the class. I then stayed a week and a half later traveling on my own and then my mom met me for a trip to London and Paris. mommaparis

Let me say this; I LOVED my study abroad experience. Granted, every college is different and every trip within that college is different but I have yet to experience or even hear of a trip that wasn’t amazing.

Ireland was fantastic, a place I’ve always wanted to visit and the group that ended up going was 14 girls. Nuts. We all had serious apprehension before leaving but it was actually one of the better experiences of my life. We grew to be very close, albeit a few cat fights, and actually still keep in very close contact to this day. Two of the girls I went to Ireland with are now some of my best “traveling buddies”.

The way in which the trip was set up was easy to understand. We stayed at a local bed and breakfast, went to class three times a week for four hours a day and then had the rest of our nights free. We had planned “excursions” to places like Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills Whiskey Distillery, Belfast and the Titanic Museum, and only one guided tour of the city (thank goodness). 401711_10151133175688135_246478389_n

What was awesome about this planned trips was that we were still able to see things as tourists even though we were there for school. It also allowed gave us more of Ireland for our money.

Speaking of money; in total I spent $2300 for 15 days in Ireland. This included airfare, the program fee, food and souvenirs. The program fee included hotel, entrance fees, the cost of the class and transportation. Not too shabby.

I mean, I’ve never claimed to be a “thrifty traveler” but I like to save money where I can. Yes, I could have traveled throughout Ireland on my own for cheaper but I was gaining credits while abroad. I think that’s awesome.

Ireland was awe-inspiring. The history was rich and the people seemed to have this unabashed pride for their country. The greenness of it all is almost overwhelming and there are times where you’re silent, for there are no words to accurately describe the beauty of this country.

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My next adventure was to Belize. Belize kind of fell in my lap.
Two weeks before I left for Ireland, one of my professors told me about a scholarship they were giving away to go study abroad in Belize. I figured why not and filled out an application. As luck would have it, I won. All expenses paid (minus airfare) to Belize. SWEET.

So, a month and a half after I got back from Ireland, I began the paperwork for Belize and left two weeks later.

Belize was a complete 180 from Ireland. I frequently get asked about which trip I liked better and there is literally no way to compare the two.

caracolllBelize was a different world. Humid and jungle and animals and no air conditioning and true adventure. It was perfect. We arrived in Belize City and ran at about 100 mph for the next 15 days.

We saw Guatemala, we saw Mayan ruins of all kinds, we stayed in local villages, we went spelunking in an ancient Mayan Offering cave, we jumped from cliffs and rode waterfalls.

The class for this trip was Tropical Ecology and instead of sitting in a classroom for a few hours a day we would go into the jungle and learn from locals how different plants interacted with the environment, their medicinal uses, their spiritual properties. All of it. So if you’re a hands on learner, look for a trip like this.bz

I can honestly say, wholeheartedly, these trips changed my life. They opened my eyes to the endless possibilities that the world offers us that we’re sometimes too afraid to take advantage of. We’re in this world that most people know very little about and studying abroad gave me a chance to completely shift my world view. If you’re thinking about going, do it.

I will forever be grateful I went and I will always value the memories that I have from my time studying abroad.

Creating The Perfect Playlist For Your Trip

I like to think of myself as knowledgeable when it comes to different genres of music and truth be told, I’m an absolute music junkie but sometimes when I’m getting ready for a trip and I’m loading my iPod up, I have no idea what to put on there. Country? Too twangy. Rap? Too much. Classical? Too soft.

What I’ve realized is that your playlist almost decides what kind of trip you’re about to embark on and that it can make the getaway that much better if done properly.

Like when I went to Ireland, I had an iPod Shuffleand loaded it up with Of Monsters and Men, Mumford and Sons, classic Irish music and some lighter country. It was perfect. Those long drives through the rolling green hills was almost like a movie with the music behind it. Looking back on that trip, I was very contemplative, very in the now, very centered. I recommend “Love, Love, Love” by Of Monsters and Men as well as their song “Lakehouse”. The Civil Wars have a creepy, hauntingly beautiful sound that adds so much character to the sights you’ll visit.

On the same token, while in Belize I took a lot of newer alternative-y, pop-y, rock. Think Imagine Dragons, Kate Herzig, and the like. I also took a lot of beach music with songs from Bob Marley, Jimmy Buffet, Kenny Chesney’s later stuff such as “Pirate Flag”. The trip had more of a laid back feel but also felt more upbeat thinking back.

Getting ready for my trip in less than a month I’m racking my brain and scouring Pandora to find some new and interesting songs that really catch my attention. Right now I’m attracted to the Imagine Dragons radio as well as Radical Face radio. The song that’s currently on repeat is Gustavo Santaolalla’s “Motorcycle Diaries”.

I think the playlist is a crucial item in your packing list and I’m always open for ideas on new songs as well as new adventures.

What To Pack: Belize Edition

As my trip to Belize draws closer and closer (31 days!) I begin mentally packing. I do this with all of my trips, I begin a month out, mapping and planning what I could ever possibly need and start shopping for random items.

Since I went last year and the itinerary is almost the same,  I have a general idea of what I should be packing.

We’ll land in Belize City and head straight to Orange Walk to see the Lamanai ruins of the north. I’ve never been there so I’m excited to see what it entails. From the pictures I’ve mercilessly googled it looks beautiful.

From Orange Walk we will meander to San Ignacio and stay there for 6 nights. I really love the area of San Ignacio and can’t wait to go back. The time I spent here last year was life changing for me. I stayed with a local family and got slapped in the face with reality of how a majority of our earth makes it day by day and how little they need to be so incredibly happy. I’m envious and I’m striving everyday to be more like them. The “things” in life that we seem to need are so unnecessary.

From San Ignacio we will trek to Hopkins, a small beach community that was closed to tourists until just recently due to the malaria threat (No worries, it’s been decades since their last outbreak). The laid back atmosphere draws me in and the Garifuna people are eclectic and eccentric, just how I like it. 🙂

From Hopkins, our final stop will be Caye Caulker, a small island next to San Pedro.

The Cayes in Belize all have different personalities. San Pedro is the main island and can sometimes be over run by tourists, Ambergris Caye is beautiful but the hotels can be very pricey, leading to a more affluent clientel. Caye Caulker is home to students and budget travelers, just my cup of tea.

Caye Caulker is less than a mile long island lined with small shops and restaurants that give you a glimpse of it’s diverse population and history. The bars are a-plenty and all have a daily happy hour that runs from 4-7pm. I stayed at Tropical Paradise which is on the south end of the island; the rooms are just enough but be sure to ask for air conditioning.

With all that being said, the packing list will need to fit a smaller luggage (I’ll have to carry it from place to place to place) and a carry-on bag. I’m notorious for bringing a backpack as my carry on, it’s versatile and so useful once in country.

My backpack is a California Pac which was around $40. I love it because it’s super useful and there are a TON of pockets.

backpack

My luggage is a standard Samsonite. I like it because it’s literally the perfect size. I’ve taken it with me when I’ve been gone for a month and I’ve taken it with me when I’ve been gone for a short 5 days. Get it here.
samsonite-luggage

My carry-on will include;

  • GoPro HERO3: Black Edition
    with skeleton and waterproof casing
  • My Mac (to upload videos)
  • Money Belt
  • Wallet with Belizian Dollars and USD (both are accepted)
  • Passport with additional copy in seperate pocket
  • Phone (for use as an alarm clock) with charger
  • 1 book (for the couple hours of down time we’ll have)
  • Journal with pen and pencil (the humidity causes the pen to malfunction sometimes)
  • Debit Card
  • Sunglasses, Air Pressure Reducing Earplugs
  • 1 Extra Pair of Clothes
  • Swimsuit

In my checked luggage I will have;

  • 4 pairs of shorts
  • 6 tank tops
  • 1 long sleeve shirt (for night hikes)
  • Buff (So no bugs get in your orifices while sleeping…)
  • 1 sundress
  • 2 hats
  • 12 pairs of underwear, 10 pairs of socks and 6 sports bras
  • Extra Swimsuit (or 2)
  • SUNSCREEN (SPF 45 or above)
  • Ben’s Bug Wipes
  • Hiking Boots, Sneakers, Flip Flops, Water shoes
  • Headlamp, Snorkel Gear, Flashlight
  • Shampoo/Conditioner, Quick-drying Towel, Toiletries
  • Snacks
  • Ziploc Bags (all sizes)

Here is a video of how it all comes together!