Thank you, 2016!

2016 has been one of the best years of my life. I set out on an adventure to travel around the world without a plan, and it couldn't have unfolded better. Check out my video for a preview of some of my highlights from this year. (Thank you Sara for the edits). I am so grateful to have taken this time to be completely free to live out my wildest dreams. From teaching yoga around the world, to facing my fear of heights, to nonstop adventures, to the friends I made, to making checks off my bucket list, I am so in love with the adventure that is life.  Thank you to all the friends I met on this journey and the everlasting memories. I am happy to say I have gotten my wanderlust out for a bit and am settled back in San Francisco. I look forward to what is to come and welcome it with open arms. I am excited to get back in the workforce and be challenged  in new ways. Life is the greatest adventure of all. Cheers to the best year yet. Happy NYE everyone! 

 

 

 

Megspire's Travel Route

For anyone following along here is a look at where I've been the last 8 months -

Dec 7, 2015 - February 12, 2016 - Colombia
February 12, 2016 - February 22, 2016 - San Francisco (Home sweet home)
February 22, 2016 - April 5, 2016 - Australia
April 5, 2016 - May 15, 2016 - Philippines
May 15, 2016 - June 14, 2016 - Vietnam
June 14, 2016 - July 10, 2016 - Cambodia
July 10, 2016 - July 16, 2016 - Thailand
July 16, 2016 - July 26, 2016 - Laos
July 26, 2016 - July 28, 2016 - Thailand
July 28, 2016 - July 31st, 2016 - Hong Kong
July 31st, 2016 - August 9th, 2016 - San Francisco (Home sweet home)
August 10th, 2016 -  Amsterdam

The adventure isn't over yet, I will be spending the next two months traveling around Europe. I plan on making a video at the end of my travels with videos of my adventure. Thanks for following along! 

Australia Review

I made it to my 30th country, one that has always been high on my list to visit. Australia, you're wonderful, and I enjoyed every minute of my visit. I know I will be back to work for a period of time. 

My time in Australia flew by. One of my best friends, Kayla, did a solo trip through SE Asia and ended up moving to Australia. Seeing her was one of my main reasons for going to Australia when I did. Kayla left for her trip the same time I left for India in 2015. Her original plan was to travel around SE Asia for three months, but fell in love with an English man, Josh, and the two of them moved to Australia. They dedicated a year to working hard and saving all their money for another travel adventure. I returned home after 7 weeks in India, and remember being so envious of Kayla and her continued adventure. 

When I first met Kayla, I wouldn't have expected her to be the woman she is today. I admire her for taking a leap of faith and getting rid of everything to travel. She knew what she ultimately wanted and has found it in her travels. Watching Kayla's adventures unfold after I returned back to work was an inspiration for me. It was the motivation I needed to do the same. I am proud to be her friend. She shines brighter now than she ever has and is living life to the fullest. Because of this, I knew I had to go to Australia to see her. 

Kayla and Josh were wrapping up their last month of work when I arrived. It was fun to be with them during the transition of getting back to the travel life. Since Kayla and Josh worked opposite schedules, I got to spend quality time with both them. Meeting Kayla's mystery man was great. Josh is laid back and easy to get along with which made me really enjoy our time together, not to mention he loves yoga. Before they wrapped up work, I found a yoga Ashram outside of Sydney to volunteer at for a few weeks.  

Finding yoga Ashrams along my travels is the one thing that makes me feel most grounded. I love being part of a yogic community where judgement does not exist. Although the daily routine was long and left me exhausted by 8:00 pm, I craved the routine and lifestyle. I felt so welcomed and loved the moment I arrived. I stayed at Mangrove Ashram for 11 days. There was no wifi at the Ashram, so I got to completely disconnect for a bit. Not having my devices or having to come up with a daily routine freed my mind and allowed me to be completely present. It was magical. I cherish my time at Mangrove Ashram and left with some incredible friendships. 

One of the girls I met, Jean, has instantly become a life-long friend. I can already see the reason why the universe brought us together. You see, Jean is very into meditation, and her dedication to a two hour daily practice was inspiring for me to be around. Not to mention, we have the same sense of humor. My perfect Jean has completed three Vipassana courses (10 days of silence) which is something I've been wanting to do for awhile. Jean's presence in my life came at the perfect time because I've been debating on signing up for a course, and now I know my time is coming soon. Besides meditation, Jean is a traveler and free spirit like me. I'm looking forward to the day we meet again, wherever that will be. 

The most challenging thing I have faced while traveling is my desire to be a vegetarian vs. the reality of actually being one. I have let eating chicken slide quite a bit. I am not okay with the poor treatment of animals and being a vegetarian makes for a more sustainable world. So, in a perfect world, I would actually be vegan. But, that being said, I love the taste of meat and it's hard to work around this when you aren't around other vegetarians, esp as the newbie that I am. I am not the type to beat myself up over this. So I've decided to continue to eat vegetarian whenever I can, and be okay when I can't. It's the best of both worlds, and I know I'm still making an impact by cutting back the way I have. It's crazy to think about how much I used to eat meat and how little I do now. I would love to hear advice from anyone who has gone through this transition themselves and any tips they might have while traveling? I'm over the label of calling myself something based on what I eat, but I want to continue to be mindful about the topic. 

Before coming to Australia, Kayla had mentioned that her and Josh wanted to get a camper van and do a road trip up the coast. When I arrived, their original plan fell through and the person they were getting the van from sold it. The cost of getting our own van wasn't in the budget, so we were stuck trying to come up with a plan of how to see more of Australia before we left. We had found cheap flights to the Philippines and booked them out of Brisbane, so we knew we had to make the 9 hour trip up the coast. The question became, how can we do this the cheapest way possible?

Once again, the universe aligned in our favor. Josh's friends from home, Fiona and Fran, were selling their van and found someone to buy it in Brisbane. It couldn't have worked out any better since we needed to be in Brisbane to fly out. Our road trip dreams became a reality, and we got to take Venus on an adventure up the coast. Let me just say, this road trip is one of the biggest highlights of my life. I think everyone should rent a van and go on a road trip once in their life! 

Something about having your home on the go and not knowing where you will be staying each night is so freeing. Each day is a completely new adventure. We had a kitchen on the go and were able to make food wherever we wanted. There were countless mornings where we parked at the beach and made breakfast while the guys surfed in the ocean. Not only did we save a ton a money, but we got to appreciate how little you need to be happy. I am grateful for the countless free campsites Australia offers. In our 12 days, we only paid for accommodations 3 of the nights. 

Two of those nights were spent at the Rainbow Temple outside of Byron Bay. This place was magical. It felt like a second home the moment we arrived. For $30 AUD ($23 USD) a night, it included our food and bed in a tree house. The unique thing about the Temple is you do not call ahead for reservations, you simply show up. The guy who started it had a vision to create a community where anyone can come and contribute. It is constantly a work in progress and evolving. 

My favorite part about the Rainbow Temple are the tunnels. Guy has spent the past 20 years digging out tunnels and a room underground. Walking through the pitch black tunnels lit up by glowworms was one of the coolest experiences. The glowworms lit up everywhere and it felt like we were looking up at the night sky. I don't know how to explain the high you feel when you are inside, but it is next level. When we made our way to the room we did an Om circle and all connected on the same vibration. It was pure magic and love. It is so humbling to feel the oneness of all beings. If you ever make it to Byron Bay, be sure to stop by the Rainbow Temple for a night. 

I can't believe I've gone this far without mentioning the stars at night. Each night the sky showcased the Milky Way and more stars than I've ever seen. Australia wins for the best night sky. The beauty of the universe was a constant reminder how lucky I am to be alive and grateful for this adventure. Kayla, Josh, and I traded off sleeping in the van and tents throughout our road trip. But, as comfy as the van was, sleeping outside in a tent was the real winner. The places we camped along the way were incredible.

Check out the review below to learn more about the places we stopped along the way. I'm happy to have experienced Australia through the life of a van. I look forward to the day I return and work in this beautiful country. 


I am very behind on blogging. For those of you following, my Instagram @megspire is the best way to stay up to date with where I am and what I'm doing. 

A short update on my last few months (April-June)  - After Australia, I headed to the Philippines for 5.5 weeks and have spent the last month exploring Vietnam. Tomorrow I am heading to Cambodia for a 2 week yoga retreat. I have been toying with the idea of doing a Vipassana retreat (10 day silent meditation) after, but who knows because I am living in the moment and taking each day as it comes. I am having the time of my life and am so grateful to be on this adventure. I will eventually get around to writing a review for each place I go, but am not sure when that will be. Stay tuned and thank you for following along. Namaste <3 


Review of Australia 

Time Spent in Australia:

5.5 weeks | 40 days | February 25th - April 5, 2016

Overall Weather:

Hot! I came for the tail-end of their summer and beginning of Autumn. I experienced a few days of rain.

National Holidays while I was there:

Easter

Places Visited:

Sydney, Gosford, Jervis Bay, Port Stephens, Seal Rocks, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Byron Bay, Rosebank, Brisbane

Highlights of my trip:

All the friends I made, Volunteering at Mangrove Ashram, Road tripping up the coast in a van, Staying at the Rainbow Temple 

Tips:

Join the Facebook group Australia backpackers to meet like minded individuals and have the option to travel with others. This is the most helpful group if you have any questions about traveling around Australia. 

Budget:

For the travelers budget, Australia isn't  the cheapest place to go, but there are ways to make it cheaper. To give you an idea of how expensive it is: a cocktail out is $17 AUD ($12USD). While this might sound okay to some of you, I am not okay spending that much on a drink with 30 ml of alcohol. Another example: avocados ranged from $3-5 AUD ($2.30 -$3.80 USD) for ONE. If you know me, then you know avocados are my favorite, so eating them at this price is not doable for daily consumption. Anyway, some of the ways I found to save money in the food department was to go to the Rotisserie chicken places which are everywhere. They usually have an option for half a chicken breast and 3 sides for relatively cheap. The place Kayla and Josh frequented in Bondi was $12.90 AUD ($9.84 USD) for half a chicken breast plus 3 sides. The portion was huge and accounted for two meals. This was a go to for me to save money. The Asian markets are another good option for cheap food. Other than that the food was very expensive in Sydney. 

I did go to Australia at a good time for the US dollar ($1 USD = $1.31 AUD). I was also very lucky with the connections I had in Australia because it made my cost on accommodation close to nothing. For travelers who might not have friends to stay with the option of couch-surfing is always available and I did find some cool profiles of people offering a place to stay. Traveling can always be affordable, if you are flexible and willing.  My overall total in US dollars spent in Australia was $1589.69. On average I spent $39 dollars a day, I did splurge a little on a few gifts. I did however, live at an Ashram for 11 days which was free accommodation and food in return for volunteering. 

Total spent on Accommodation: $72.52
Total spent on Food & Drinks: $609.67
Total spent on Transportation: $597.50 (This price includes my flight out of Australia to the Philippines which was $322)
Total spent on Fun Activities/Souvenirs: $310 (Yes, I did say souvenirs.. I don't usually buy things when I travel unless I'm replacing or exchanging things but I did buy a gift to send to my Mom for her birthday)


Sydney

Sydney is a beautiful city. What surprised me most about Sydney is how spread out it is. It is a lot bigger than I expected. There is good transportation in Sydney from buses to trains which is nice, but I spent majority of my time staying in Bondi. Kayla and Josh lived in walking distance to Bondi beach and Bondi junction where I could catch any train. 

Free things to do in Sydney:

  • Take a walk! There are some great walks along the coast that go to the different beaches. The Bondi to Coogee walk is a beautiful one. It's 6km and passes beautiful beaches and parks. Fun fact: The sunrises over the ocean in Australia, so I'd recommend a morning walk to catch the sunrise. I'm used to seeing the sunset over the ocean, so this was a fun difference. 
  • Botanical Gardens by the Sydney Opera house
  • Close to the botanical gardens is a free museum (I'm blanking on the name)
  • Beaches (There are countless beaches in Sydney from Coogee, Bondi, Milk, to Manly, etc)
  • The Establishment on Tuesday nights in Sydney offer free salsa lessons at 8pm followed by salsa dancing. I highly recommending checking this one out!

Mangrove Ashram (Outside of Gosford)

To sustain my travels it is essential I find places to volunteer along my journey. The one thing I am passionate about finding is Ashrams in the countries I visit. Mangrove Ashram is located 45 mins outside of Sydney. By train it takes about 1.5 and requires a transfer at Gosford station to a bus. This place was amazing! I was able to stay here for 11 days for free and enjoyed some of the best food I had during my time in Australia. Mangrove hosts all sorts of retreats on the weekend. Check out more here


Jervis Bay

Kayla and I spent two nights camping here and had the best time! Booderee National Park has a few different campgrounds. For the nature lovers, I recommend staying at Bristol Point it is in nature and a close walk to beautiful beaches. We went camping on the weekdays so there wasn't a lot of people. Most of the time we were the only ones on the beach. Another place you can camp is Cave Beach which is a better beach for surfing and seeing kangaroos. They are everywhere! Cave Beach is a prettier beach, in my opinion, but I preferred staying at Bristol Point because of the trees. 


Port Stephens

Port Stephens is 3 hours North of Sydney and is a must see. We went to Anna Bay Sand Dunes and slept on the beach for free. This isn't actually a campsite, but we were told the rangers leave at 5pm and don't return until 8am, so technically we could camp here if we were packed up before then. It was amazing! The ranger ended up coming at 7:30am, but just told us to pack up. We were able to make breakfast from our van in the parking lot. Our go to breakfast during the road trip was a sweet potato hash with capsicum (bell peppers), onions, garlic and scrambled eggs, served with avocado, tortilla and hot sauce. As yummy as breakfast was the best part was knowing we were spending  less than $5 dollars a day on it. 

Waking up on the beach on Easter morning was one for the books. We woke up facing the ocean and continued the day at Nelson Bay hiking to the top of Summit Hill. When we made it to the top we noticed a patch of sand where the oceans meet, curious, we asked if anyone knew how to get there and were quickly informed. We drove to the other side and made the trek. It was incredible to be between two bays that were crashing into each other. The beauty we were surrounded by was out of this world.  


Free Camping 

Australia offers a lot of free camping which is ideal for budget travelers. The best part of the road trip was stopping along the way at beautiful beaches and taking a dip before finding a new place to camp for the night. Not all the campsites were nice but I was definitely surprised by a few. Here's a list of free sites we stayed at along the way from Sydney to Brisbane. For campsites and accommodations you can check out this site or download the app WikiCamps Australia.

  • Coopernook Forest Camping - This place is located 1.5 outside of Seal Rocks. It is a beautiful free campsite. One of my favorite places we stayed. 
  • Burdett Park - Coffs Harbour
  • Billinudgel Hotel is 25 minutes out of Byron Bay and allows people to camp for free behind the hotel. They charge $5AUD for a shower.
  • Hugh Mountz Park and Dump Point - Surfers Paradise (This place wasn't great but it was free so we can't complain).
  • Captain Logan Campground - an hour north of Brisbane. This was a paid campsite on a beautiful lake. Check out the last place below for more details and pictures.

Byron Bay

Everyone I have met in my travel has always told me to make sure I go to Byron Bay, I finally get why. This is a fun hippie town 1.5 hours south of Brisbane. Think beautiful beaches, incredible sunsets, great shops, farmers market and tasty oysters. 


Rainbow temple

The coolest community living home located between Byron Bay and Nimbin. All I can say is do yourself a favor and come here once in your life. Thank you Guy!


Captain Logan Campground (Outside of Brisbane)

On our last night in Australia we decided to stay at a paid campsite and celebrate the friendships we met along our journey. It was worth it! The first day of our road trip we met an English guy, Mitch, & Scottish girl, Jen, who were also traveling up the coast. We ended up spending our entire road trip together. We quickly became a travel family and made some of the best memories together. I will always cherish all the good times we had together. This road trip was one of the biggest highlights of my life and each of you added to it. 

Colombia Review

From arriving to Colombia on Dec 7th, 2015 to leaving on February 12, 2016 the one consistent thought that never left my mind was, "Wow, Colombia is beautiful!" It has easily become my favorite country. Colombia is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. To me, it is the perfect mixture of big cities with easy escapes to beautiful beaches, incredible national parks, and getting lost in the jungles. Every day I was there got better and better. 

My favorite form of transportation in Colombia are the buses because the landscape is so lush and beautiful. I should warn you that the driving is a little scary, but, mind you, I have also been to India so I might be a little jaded from driving there. The roads can be windy, so I would suggest Dramamine for those who get motion sickness. The buses are comfortable and very affordable for the traveler's budget. To give you an idea, it was 70,000 COP ($20.83 USD)  to travel first class on an 8 hour bus ride from Bogota to Pereira. Regular tickets range from 40,000-50,000 COP ($11-14 USD). I splurged for first class because it included seats that reclined all the way, wifi, plugs, personal TV, and a bathroom. Regular tickets have smaller seats but still include wifi and a bathroom. If you don't have much time then flying is your best bet. You can get cheap flights on Viva Colombia, but in my experience with flying Viva Colombia, the flight was delayed 2.5 hours. Flights within the country range from $40-$150 USD depending on the airline and when you book your ticket. Avianca is another airline which pleasantly surprised me and I found to be very nice. You can always find last minute cheap flights on Viva Colombia, but if  you book in advance you can find cheap flights on Avianca. 

The people of Colombia are wonderful. They are so unbelievably kind and giving. It is a shame there is still such a misconception of Colombia because anyone who hasn't been is missing out. Yes, there are still dangerous places in Colombia, but overall the country is safe to travel to and travel around. As a solo female traveler, I felt comfortable the entire time and look forward to my return.

I was not expecting to spend as much as I did in Colombia, and am actually still in shock with how much I managed to spend. Because the US dollar is so strong in Colombia at the moment, I should have been able to manage my money better. Instead of beating myself up over what I can’t change, I am using it as a lesson learned and will be more mindful about my spending going forward.  I splurged quite a bit from time to time with the VIP options over the regular bus seat, but now I know better if I want to continue traveling for a year. I will need to get a job at some point so I can make money along the way and not worry about spending all of my savings.

But I wouldn’t trade my last 9.5 weeks for anything. It was worth every penny. What I would modify and be more mindful of as I continue traveling is how much I am eating compared to how much I am working out. Weight gain is usually inevitable for me when I travel, and since I am traveling open ended, it is a must that I find the proper balance asap. I am reminding myself the less I eat & drink going forward, the more money I will save, which is a win. I did teach yoga along the way which was nice, but a harder personal practice and additional cardio is necessary to make up for all the good eats I'm indulging in. Again, there is no point in beating myself up over what I can't change. Acknowledging the changes I want to make and making them is all I can do now. 

As much as I have traveled in my past (28 countries & counting), this trip is the first time where I do not have an end date. I have already learned so much, and am blessed to have the opportunity to come home in between travels and implement necessary changes. The number one mistake I made in my first 9.5 weeks is how much I packed. I packed way more than necessary and learned quickly that all the organizational methods I used were actually making me more disorganized. I originally got an Osprey backpack that I accessed from the top and that was a huge pain. After traveling with others, I was able to pick up on what worked well for them and how I could better prepare. I was lucky enough to get my backpack from REI whose year long return policy really saved my big travel mistake. When I came home, I downsized my backpack from the Osprey Aura 65 AG Pack Women's  to the smaller Osprey Farpoint 55 Travel Pack. This new backpack opens from the front and comes with a detachable backpack. Having a backpack that opens from the front is more convenient for a traveler who is constantly on the move. The compression bags for my clothes ended up more of a pain than a help, so I will no longer bring them. Because the majority of my flights are standby on United, it was necessary for me to have carry on luggage.  I no longer have to check my bag, which is a big money saver. 

I overdid it on toiletries I thought I would need. I have scaled down to bringing shampoo, conditioner, bodywash, facewash, leave in conditioner (its a ten), toothbrush, toothpaste, a razor, deodorant, baby powder, comb, & nail clippers. I will bring bug spray, sunscreen, and some medicine as well.  Before, I overdid it and packed too many face products, hair products, and I hardly used a thing. It was a waste of space. 

I may still be packing too many clothes. Since I lived in 3 of my tees the majority of the time, I adjusted my wardrobe and added 3 more tank tops. If I realize I have too much, then I will need to practice non-attachment and rid myself of items as I go. 

Now that I am traveling to Australia, I am going far enough away from home to not have the option to pop home and readjust. My plan is to start in Australia, then head to Southeast Asia and get lost for a few months. I am enjoying not having an actual plan. I love meeting people as I travel and discovering places that are a must from other travelers. The second I have a plan, I feel as if it limits me. Living day by day, free of a plan, allows me to be spontaneous. Of course, if my budget comes in to question, then I will need to find a workaway or way to save money along my journey. 

The best part about this trip is learning as I go and improving each day. I am happy to be the guinea pig and relay this information to others who are planning a round the world (RTW) travel. Please note, this is my own personal experience and my recommendations come from self reflection and talking with other travelers along the way. Check out my break down below of the places I visited and what my overall expenditures were for my time in Colombia. 


Review of Colombia

colombia.gif

 

Time spent in Colombia:

9.5 weeks | 67 days | Dec 7, 2015 - February 12, 2016

Overall Weather: 

Warm. Hottest places - Cali, Cartagena, Santa Marta. Coldest place - Bogota 

National holidays While I was There: 

Little Candles, Feria de Calle, Christmas, Carnaval de Barranquilla

Places visited:

Bogota, Granada, Cartago, Salento, Cali, Buga, Medellin, Guatape, Santa Marta, Minca, Barranquilla, Cartagena

Highlights of my trip:  

The friends I made, Paragliding, Spending Christmas with a Colombian family, 58 Feria de Cali, My birthday in Cartagena in with my friends, Teaching yoga at Casa Elemento, Hiking through Valle de Cocora in Salento, Carnaval de Barranquilla 2016

Budget:

My goal while traveling is to keep it real and be honest about what I am spending. There seems to be a taboo around sharing this type of information, but I think it is important to be honest and open about it. That being said, I still cannot believe I spent as much as I did and can only attribute it to living large and having a little too much fun in my first two months of travel. My birthday can account for a few of my big splurges. I was not very strict with my budget, and I have learned quickly that I need to be better about this if I want my travels to last. The average budget traveler can expect to spend much less. My total amount spent overall was $3459.32. Broken down by the days I was there would be on average $51 a day. Please note you could do Colombia for much cheaper, if you wanted. I met travelers who spent 600,000 COP ($178 USD) a week. On average that is $25 dollars a day. 

I've broken down my budget into 5 categories; accommodation, transportation, food & drink, fun activities, and miscellaneous for the things I couldn't pinpoint.

Total spent on Accommodation: $1044.59
Total spent on Food & Drinks: $1019.76
Total spent on Transportation: $458.79 (This price does not include two flights that I bought before I started my adventure. If I include these then my overall transportation cost is $750.79)
Total spent on Fun Activities: $381.24
Total spent on Miscellaneous: $554.94  (I wasn't able to pinpoint these items on a particular experience but would assume these accounted for a lot of my fun experiences)

Transportation: 

Number of buses taken: 13
Number of taxis: countless
Motorbike rides: 4
Number of flights: 2


Bogota

Bogota is one of the largest cities in Colombia. The population of Bogota according to the latest demographics index is 8.7 million. If visiting Bogota, it is a must to check out the bike tour for 40,000 COP ($11.92 USD) or the free walking tour which usually requires a donation of 20,000-30,000 COP ($8.94 USD). Both tours are totally worth it and are easy to arrange through your hostel. The La Candelaria district is a great place for travelers to stay. It's walking distance to everything you need including Monserrate, which is an incredible view of the city. 

Things to do: 

  • Bogota Bike Tour
  • Bogota free walking tour
  • Bogota Grafitti tour
  • Visit Monserrate
  • Try Crepes & Waffles -This restaurant is all over Colombia and is delicious. They have amazing savory crepes, sandwiches, and delicious ice cream. A cool fact is they only hire single mothers. 
  • Right outside Bogota is Varsana Eco Yoga Farm - you can volunteer here or visit. 

Cartago

I volunteered at a yoga ashram, Mayapurita Eco Yoga Farm for a week. It was my first workaway experience and a really great one at that. I taught yoga every morning and volunteered for 3-4 hours in the afternoon. I learned new vegetarian dishes and made some great friends. The Ashram was along the river and the bugs were the hardest part about my stay. When visiting any jungle in Colombia, insect repellent is a MUST. Even with 100% deet and using the local repellents, I still had over 30 bites on my legs alone. Not to scare you with the bug bites, just be prepared. The place was incredibly beautiful and worth the pain.

Things to do:

  • Walk around the town of Cartago
  • Volunteer at Mayapurita Eco Yoga Farm
  • Paragliding

Cali

Cali is a beautiful city with the most authentic Colombian feel. It is the salsa capital of Colombia and I was lucky enough to be there for 58 Feria De Cali. Feria de Cali is the main cultural event in Cali that is celebrated over a 6 day salsa festival filled with free concerts and parades. I stayed with a friend who's been living in Colombia for the last year, and had the best time. We went to free concerts at night and watched bands that had created all their instruments from recycled materials. The people I met were some of the kindest in the world. Everyone went out of their way for me to ensure I had the best visit. 

Things to do:

  • Teatro Magico del Sabor - A unique dining experience with amazing food. Watch the chef prepare the dinner while keeping the audience entertained with witty comments. Not recommended for anyone who is easily offended. 
  • Explore the graffiti
  • Salsa clubs is a must!
  • Yoga Meet ups
  • Visit Cristo Rey 

Buga

Buga is one of the oldest colonial cities in Colombia. It is home to a microbrewery which was the main reason I went. A German guy started Holy Water Ale, a hostel, pizzeria, & brewery, which is a must visit. The owner was extremely nice and even gave us a tour of the brewery. I found this to be some of the best craft beer in Colombia. If you are traveling down to Cali, stopping in Buga along the way is a fun place to stay for the night. 


Salento

My favorite place in Colombia! Salento is located in the coffee region and is known for Valle de Cocora, which is an incredible hike with unreal landscapes and the Colombia national tree, the wax palm. The hike itself is 5 hours and goes through 3 different eco systems. It begins in a beautiful valley  that leads into the jungle where you can hike to Acaime, a hummingbird sanctuary, and backtracks to a farm with incredible views before ending in the Cocora valley, home of the wax palms. If you only see one of these, the Cocora valley with the wax palms is a sight to see. The view is surreal and the most stunning place I've been in the world.

Things to do:

  • Valle de Cocora - 5 hour hike
  • Eat at Brunch and try the peanutbutter brownie - holy yum!
  • Walk around the town and walk up the long street
  • Bike tour around the coffee farms

Medellin

This city is a favorite by most travelers. Unfortunately, I did not get the total experience of Medellin, and need to go back to explore all there is. The most popular advice from all travelers I met was to take the free walking tour in Medellin. The Poblado neighborhood is a favorite of travelers and has many good restaurant and  hostels.

Things to do: 

  • Envy Roof Top at the Charlee Hotel is an amazing bar with incredible views of Medellin
  • Medellin walking tour
  • Day trips to Guatape 
  • Pablo Escobar's grave

Guatape 

It's a colorful town with many shops and restaurants. I wish I had spent more time here. This is a place I will need to come back to and explore more. Hiking up the rock is one of the most incredible views and worth it. 

Things to do:

  • El Penol - incredible views of Guatape
  • Paintballing at one of Pablo Escobar's old mansions 

Santa Marta

Santa Marta is a great stopping point to get to other places. I didn't explore much of the town, I used it more as a home base when exploring places nearby like Tayrona National Park, Minca, and Taganga. 

Things to do:

  • Lost City Trek - I didn't do it but met a lot of travelers who had, and the overall feedback was worth it. It isn't an easy hike but the experience is worth it. 
  • Tayrona National Park - be sure to plan accordingly depending on the time of year you go. December & January is holiday for Colombians as well so January can be a very busy time to visit Tayrona. My first experience, we were turned away because the park had reached capacity. So be sure to get there early (Gates open at 7am) to ensure a ticket into the park. If you plan to stay overnight in the park, you need to wait in additional lines to reserve a hammock or tent.  Again, we missed the hammocks because we got in line late, so we ended up hiking out of the park that evening. Prepare if you plan to visit. 
  • Visit Minca!
  • Past Tayrona National Park are a few hostels, Costeno Surf and Rancho Relaxo, that I would recommend visiting or staying at.  If you're going to Palomino, these hostels are on the way.  

Hostels to Stay in the Area of Santa Marta:

  • The Dreamer - a bit overpriced but a nice place to stay and enjoy the pool & chill vibes.
  • Drop Bear - This is an old Narcos home and great place to stay in between trips. They have a giant TV room with couches that are relaxing for any traveler.

Taganga

A fishing & island town close to Santa Marta. You can take boats from Taganga into Tayrona National Park. 


Minca

My second favorite place in Colombia! Minca is a hidden gem. There are beautiful waterfalls, tours of coffee farms, and hikes in the jungle.  You can take a jeep or bus from Santa Marta to the town, then transfer to a motorbike to get to the different hostels located in the jungles. The best hostel and most incredible view comes from Casa Elemento, home of the biggest hammocks in South America.The construction of roads is lacking in this area, so it takes an adventurous soul to hop on a motorbike with an experienced local and hold on tight for one hell of a ride. It costs 20,000 COP ($5.96 USD) for a 45 minute ride to Casa Elemento. Once I got on and started going up, I knew I was in for quite the adventure because the motorbike ride is the furthest thing from smooth, but oh so fun!  What started as a few days' visit turned into 3 weeks and staffing at Casa Elemento. Casa Elemento was my favorite hostel in Colombia. It is the best adult playground. There are multiple hammocks to hang out and read, star gaze, or meet travelers. The hammocks range in size and hold between 8-10 people. There is a tree-house for chilling which also became my favorite place to sleep. Waking up with a view overlooking the jungle and Santa Marta felt like a dream every morning. Jungle town was another favorite spot at Casa Elemento. It consisted of a ropes course, rock climbing wall and another large hammock in the jungle. 

Oscar's Place is another good hostel in Minca and has different views overlooking Santa Marta. Oscar's Place is lower than Casa Elemento and a chiller vibe. Oscar is one of the most caring souls I have met. He is so welcoming and known to have a joint in his mouth at all hours. 

Places to Stay:

  • Casa Elemento
  • Oscar's Place

Things to do:

  • Visit Casa Elemento for a day trip 10,000 COP ($2.98 USD) or stay the night, but be sure to call for reservations, they are always booked!
  • Visit the Waterfalls
  • Explore the coffee farms 
  • Ropes Course at Casa Elemento

Cartagena

Be prepared for hot weather because Cartagena is easily the hottest place I went. It took a few days to adjust to the 90 degree weather and humidity, but it is worth it. The old city in Cartagena is beautiful! The buildings are unique and painted all sorts of colors. It's easy to get lost walking the streets but you will feel safe inside the old city walls. This a place where wealthy Colombians travel, so the prices are a little higher within the city. 

Places to Stay: 

  • El Viajero - Great hostel located throughout Colombia but especially great in Cartagena. It is located in the city walls and arranges fun events every night from Spanish lessons, salsa lessons, bbqs, to game nights. This is a great place for travelers to meet others and it's affordable. 

Things to do:

  • Visit the islands - Playa Blanca 
  • Rooftop pools! Bastion Luxury Hotel was incredible and charges 60,000 COP ($17.88 USD) to visit the pool for the day. These are a must to escape the heat and enjoy looking out over Cartagena
  • Mud Volcanos - Such a neat experience 
  • Kite surfing

Barranquilla

Home of the second largest Carnival in the world. I went to Barranquilla for Carnival with friends I had met along my travels. I didn't know what to expect when I went to carnival, but what I can recommend to anyone going is to make sure they see the Parade on the first day! This is the day where the floats & costumes are the most done up. The second day is for more traditional dances and the third day has ladies in feathers and dances. The parties at night vary throughout different neighborhoods and are always packed. It is a very fun event with little sleep. 




The Choice is Yours

Every day when we wake up we have a choice; we can choose to be happy & grateful for all that is, or we can choose to be down about all that isn’t. I choose to be happy & grateful each and every day. I know life comes with challenges, and I am not naïve to this, but I choose to look at the bright side of all situations because it could always be worse.

Instead of dwelling on the negative, I like to relish in all of the positives. Waking up every day and being alive is a gift in itself. Being alive is enough to be grateful for. When we focus on the negatives and dwell in the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve moments, we are losing time when we could just be happy. It is that simple! The world owes you nothing, so to live life thinking that it does is a mistake. You are the controller of your happiness. It is your responsibility to be the voice for your wants and needs. You cannot expect anyone to be looking out for your whole heart at every moment. Life is difficult enough for one person to live, so it’s essential we take responsibility for our own being and choose the outcome we want every day.

My trip continues to get better and better. That isn’t to say I haven’t experienced any challenges, because believe me, I have! I’m in Colombia where the native language is Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish. If you can imagine, there are many moments where I feel left out, but the only person to blame is myself, because it is my own responsibility to learn. Sure, I have met many amazing people who have had patience in translating for me, and even spoke English so we could communicate. But I am not entitled to have this be the case and I deserve to experience the challenges I have. Who am I to come to someone’s country and expect them to speak English when I can’t even learn Spanish to speak their native language? All this said, I am trying to learn Spanish and have spent a lot of time studying.

My biggest challenge is that I am dyslexic and pronunciation in general is very hard for me, so it’s taking a lot to learn. I will continue to try my hardest and am grateful for everyone who takes the time to speak English, translate for me, and teach me Spanish. My attitude in the end is what determines the outcome, and my undying decision to be happy is what makes each day continue to flourish the way it has.

The challenges we face can always be turned into a positive light. Every situation in life is either a lesson learned or experience. Be grateful for both. I spent a few days of my trip sick already and have realized that I am not as invincible as I thought and need to be more careful with the water I’m consuming. My body isn’t used to being in a foreign place and the adjustment time is valid. So instead of dwelling on it, I’ve learned and appreciate when I feel 100% even more. I also have more bug bites than I’ve ever had in my life and it is SO hard not to scratch them. On the flip side, I’m staying next to a river in the jungle in an outdoor cabana and get to enjoy all sorts of wildlife nightly. I feel one with nature and know this is a unique experience that won’t easily be repeated.

I’ve quickly had to overcome any fear I’ve had of bugs, especially cockroaches. They are innocent bugs that cause no harm, but aren’t the best looking. At night they roam all around our cabin and I had the pleasure of finding them in my jean pocket and sleep shirt. Gross I know, but hey, I survived! Everything is only making me a stronger more fearless person in the end. I can overcome uncomfortable situations and grow into a better person because of it.

The best part of my trip so far has been the people I’ve met. I love being reminded of all the wonderful people that exist in the world. Traveling always restores my faith in humanity. Sofia, a 22-year-old solo traveler from the UK, and I have quickly become great friends. We spend the majority of our time together and I’ve turned her into an acro-yoga addict. She is also volunteering at Mayapurita Eco Yoga Farm and is on her third month of traveling. She has great stories and within the first day of meeting her she reassured my belief of how exciting and fun traveling is. I no longer question a year being too long of a time to take off and just be.  We stayed up late swapping travel stories our first night, and our friendship has grown from there.

The farm has been an incredible experience and has given me the opportunity to teach daily yoga classes. What better way to start the day then teaching a 7am-8am yoga class? It feels magical to be in a routine at an Ashram that includes two yoga classes a day. I’ve also been so happy to be back to a place of only eating vegetarian food, and again feel so incredible because of it. I know that it is confirming my desire to fully give up all meat. It is becoming a part of my identity and who I see myself being. It embodies my best self and allows me to show more compassion to all living beings.

At the farm, I teach in the morning followed by breakfast, then usually a cold shower. By 9:30-10am I am ready to begin my volunteer hours. The farm asks for 4.5 hours in return for the accommodation, food, and small daily fee of $12.00 USD. I happily accept this and enjoy the different volunteer tasks. I see everything as a learning experience and a way to grow into the person I’m meant to be. A few of the days I’ve spent time scraping what seemed like bark off sticks for a new bungalow the farm is building. I find the work to be like pulling a scab off, and enjoyed using a machete to get it done. Another day I spent time raking and tidying up around the farm. Practicing Spanish was also included in my volunteer hours and I helped one of the yoga teachers on the Farm, Gopal, say phrases for teaching a yoga class in English. Needless to say, my volunteer work at the farm is flexible and enjoyable because of my attitude towards it.

The power of positive thinking is so significant that I think it’s best I give examples to show its proof. I am hoping my journey can inspire others to see firsthand how powerful our mind is. 

I’ve been wanting to try paragliding for quite some time now, and have put it out in the universe that this is something I wanted to do. Two days after arriving on the farm, during breakfast, we saw someone paragliding over the mountains. I instantly explained my desire to do it, and Krisina said she knew a company in town and would call to arrange it. I couldn’t believe how easily it happened, and within a day I was set to go paragliding the following  Sunday for 100,000 Colombian pesos,which is $29.99 US dollars! Can you believe it?!  A dream come true and affordable enough to not make me feel guilty for splurging on it.  Leading from this example is my next point where positive thinking helps. I became good friends with Sofia over the week and she decided to take a few days off and head to Salento with me.

I was thrilled, because although I had no problem going to Salento alone, I did like the idea of having someone with me. And it couldn’t have been better than going with Sofia. Since meeting, my stomach has hurt more from laughing than anything else. It is almost nonstop. She understands my humor and comes back with even funnier responses. Our 1.5 hour bus ride from Cartago to Salento was filled with laughter. Sofia shares my positive thinking and is such a joy to be around.

Our plan was to go paragliding Sunday morning, then take a bus to Salento in the afternoon. We didn’t end up getting on a bus until 5:30pm due to the fun morning that extended into the afternoon and all the goodbyes at the farm. When we got to Pereira, we had to book another bus to Salento. We arrived at 6:30pm only to find out that last bus to Salento left at 6:30pm. The lady at the ticket booth called the driver and asked them to wait until we made it to the bus. We felt so lucky with our timing. We enjoyed nonstop laughter and jokes during our hour bus ride to Salento.

When we arrived in Salento we needed to find a hostel. This is the first time I’ve ever just showed up to a location without any idea of where to stay. We decided to walk around and asked two girls if they knew of any nearby hostels. We were directed to one and found out they only had availability for that night, when we needed a place that could accommodate us for two nights. The receptionist attempted to call another hostel, but they didn’t answer. So after continuing conversation (thank goodness for Sofia and her Spanish),  the lady asked us what we would pay and we repeated the price she had told us initially: 35,000 CSP which is $10 US dollars. Then out of nowhere the lady said, “Alright, we have a room for you,” and we saw her erase an appointment for the following day. We were both shocked, but so happy because the hostel was super clean, nice, and just the luxury we needed after being on the farm all week.

We got room 7 which had two beds and our own bathroom with HOT water! Did I mention we didn’t even need mosquito nets?! It’s amazing how one week of pure torture from mosquitos can make you realize you don’t have to worry about them for a change. Anyway, in total we only ended up spending 70,000CSP for our time, and it was worth every penny. The hostel, Casa Borbon, was right around the corner from the main square and next to a pizzeria. Our plan the day before was to find a hostel then a pizzeria for pizza & wine. Low & behold, there was exactly that next to our hostel! By putting the thoughts of what we want out into the world, we are allowing them to manifest and come true.

I cannot stress this enough, our thoughts are everything! By changing our point of view of a situation from negative to positive, we are still allowing anything to happen. But our chances of having a better outcome and experience are much greater. What we think becomes our reality, so remind yourself to find the positive in every situation. Your world will change. Namaste! 

Thank you for continuing to follow along. I have not had good Internet to be able to update my blog the way I would like, but I will continue to post when able. 

Making another check on my bucket list. Paragliding in Cartago, Colombia. What an incredible experience. I realized I am more afraid of heights than I thought but enjoyed being able to fly for 30 minutes.