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Travel Reflections

Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: May 2016 Edition

May 2016

In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. 

Where I’ve been

This month I spent between three US cities I love: New York, Austin and Tucson. I also road tripped through the Southwest, visited Dallas for the first time, and spent time with some amazing people. Overall, a great month.May 2016 Arizona Texas

May Highlights

Spending nearly a month in Austin

Austin had been on my travel wish list for a while, but I always knew that I wanted to dedicate some time to exploring the city, not just a long weekend. After all, Austin is known to be a foodie city and I had more restaurant and bar recommendations than I could possibly check out in a month, let alone a weekend. And so I didn’t have to think long when a housesitting opportunity for nearly four weeks came up. And I am so glad that I spent so much time in Austin – it quickly became one of my favorite cities in the US, and I even could see myself returning for a longer stint (although I feel like I’m cheating on NYC just by saying this out loud!). You can read all the things that made me fall for Austin here: Polaroid of the week: Wonderfully weird AustinAustin Texas

First time SUPing

I had several people come visit me in Austin which meant: a good excuse to do a lot of sightseeing. We kayaked on the river, checked out some museums, hiked in the Barton Creek Greenbelt (basically a forest area in the city with lots of hiking trails), bar hopped our way through Austin’s nightlife districts, sampled food trucks, went on a wine tasting trip to the Texas Hill Country, watched the flight of the bats, and saw live music. But my favorite thing? Finally going stand-up paddling, something I’ve been wanting to try for a while now. And I had a blast! I am pretty sure that this is something I’ll be incorporating more often into my travels from now on, and I’m already contemplating where I could try it out on the ocean (which I feel will be much harder than on the calm Colorado River in Austin!). I think that this could happen in California later this year. And then: SUP yoga. Okay, who am I kidding here.. I don’t think I have a good enough balance for a headstand on a paddle board, but who knows.stand up paddling austin

Road tripping through the Southwest

I was supposed to fly from Tucson to Austin, but at the very last minute, the opportunity for a road trip with a travel buddy arose, and of course I jumped on it. We decided to break up the long drive (900 miles) into three days: to White Sands, New Mexico on the first day, Big Bend National Park the second day to hike the Santa Elena Canyon Trail, and then the remaining distance to Austin on day 3.

While this plan didn’t quite work out as planned (see What Went Wrong below), it was a fantastic road trip. I love the barren scenery of the Southwest, returning to White Sands was everything I hoped for, and I had great company – which was important, especially on the long drag of the I-10 from El Paso to Fredericksburg, which doesn’t have any road side attractions and is apparently the most boring part of the I-10 (which runs from coast to coast).Road Trip May 2016

Returning to White Sands

I loved the white dunes of White Sands when I visited this desert in the south of New Mexico in 2013, and I loved it the second time around, too. Even though I’d been here before, the dozens upon dozens of dunes, the bright white sand, the solitude and tranquility of this place – everything had me in awe again. And this time around, I got to experience two things I missed out on when I came here during my New Mexico road trip – I got to sled down some of the dunes, and I got to see the sunset. Would I visit White Sands a third time? Absolutely!White Sands New Mexico

Exploring Dallas

If you read last week’s Polaroid, you already know that Dallas wasn’t really on my list of must-see places, but I am not one to turn down an opportunity to check out a new city, and so I found myself in Dallas for a weekend – and pleasantly surprised by the city! Dallas, as it turns out, is way cooler than I thought it’d be, and I regretted immediately that I hadn’t allowed more time for my visit. I loved especially Deep Ellum, a trendy neighborhood with clubs, bars and great restaurants, and I hope I’ll get the chance to return one day to explore more of Dallas.Deep Ellum Dallas

What went wrong

Road trip fail

We were on our way to Big Bend National Park on Day 2 of our road trip, had finally left the quite boring I-10 and were driving towards the Mexican border when on the completely deserted road a Prada Store appeared on the right side. A Prada store in the middle of nowhere?! It had been about twenty minutes since we even saw the last house! Of course we had to stop to photograph the store. And that’s when I realized that my camera bag wasn’t in the car. We had driven for three hours from Las Cruces and were two hours from Big Bend. I knew exactly where I’d seen the bag the last time: Under the desk in our hotel room in Las Cruces. Shoot. What to do?!

prada art store texas
The Prada ‘store’ in the middle of nowhere

In the end, we decided to drive the three hours back to Las Cruces, because a) I didn’t want to go to Big Bend without my camera gear and b) I was afraid that my gear would get damaged or lost in the mail if i asked the hotel to ship it to Austin, and I had just replaced my lens that broke after the attempted robbery in Mexico City last month. And so we drove back to Las Cruces, on the most boring stretch of the I-10, only to drive it again, for the third time, the next day. Oh well.. I guess it could have been worse, and luckily we discovered it not only in Big Bend, which would have meant a five hour drive back to Las Cruces.

However – I kept thinking how lucky I was to not have lost all of my camera gear – this could have ended much worse than with an additional 6 or 7 hours in the car.road trip

A broken screen

You might have noticed by now that I’m just not very good with electronics.. I lose them, I break them, I washed them (a USB stick, not too long ago), and this month it was the screen of my beloved iPhone that had to stand in for this category. My phone falls .. often.. But this month, I finally managed to break the screen (something I hadn’t done in a while) – and not just crack the screen, but really break it.

broken iphone
Ouch.

Emotional roller coaster

…and that’s all I am going to say about it. Or to borrow Taylor’s words: ‘Heartbreak is the national anthem, we sing it proudly.’ That song was playing a lot on the radio this month and I could relate well to this line.heartbreak is the national anthem

Financial struggles

I don’t want to go into detail here either, but let’s just say that the life of a freelancer is not always as glamorous as it might seem. I get to travel a lot, yes, but trust me, I don’t make a lot of money, and this month was a tough one.May 2016 pics

What’s next for me

An unexpected change of plans

I am only spending a few days in NYC before I’m flying to Germany! I had no plans to visit my home country until October, but a sudden turn of events is bringing me back to Europe for a while. Unfortunately I can’t talk about the details just yet, but I hope I can shed some light on the recent events in next month’s round-up or in July at the latest. Let’s just say that this could be life changing, and I am not exaggerating here.

Of course I’m super bummed out about missing on some fun in the sun in NYC (y’all know by now how much I love my New York summers) but 1) I hope I’ll be back stateside soon and 2) it’s not the last time that there’s summer in NYC and 3) I already have a pretty packed calendar for Germany, and one confirmed visitor for a week of fun in Berlin, a place that I also happen to love in the summer!May 2016 NYC Austin

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: April 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. April 2016

Where I’ve been

I began April in Mexico City, road tripped around Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and finished my month-long stay in Mexico on the tiny Caribbean island of Isla Mujeres. After a short stop in New York City (just enough time to say Hi to a dear friend and to stuff my face with a bagel, something I’d been craving for months!) I flew to Tucson, Arizona, where I am ending the month – but I am actually packing up my stuff right now, about to head out on a mini road trip to my next destination, but more on that below.April 2016 Mexico Arizona

What I’ve been up to

This month was supposed to be a relaxing one, at least the second half, but somehow I never slowed down.. Story of my life, I guess. I ended my time in Mexico City with a near disaster (more on that below), but also with a great weekend that involved a return to Frida Kahlo’s house, the Casa Azul, and a fun day in Coyoacan, market madness and lots of craft beer. Then I flew to Cancun where I met up with my favorite travel buddy (again, after traveling together in Colombia a couple of months ago) to road trip around the Yucatan, which just so happens to be one of my favorite parts of Mexico. For eight days, we swam in cenotes (underwater sinkholes), beach hopped along the Caribbean and got our culture fix by visiting several Mayan ruins before a chilled out island getaway in Isla Mujeres. And with that, my 3-month winter escape to Latin America came to an end..MexicoMid-April I found myself in New York for a minute before I jumped on a plane to Tucson for my fifth visit to southern Arizona since 2010. While I usually use these weeks of housesitting to catch up on work, this year it seems like I had much more ‘play time’ than work time.. First, my friend Katie came to visit me and I found myself frolicking around old western towns, hiking in between giant Saguaro cacti, revisiting the beautiful San Xavier del Bac Mission and sampling all the craft beer Tucson has to offer (well maybe not all of it, but quite a lot!) and then I had a surprise visitor distracting me with a visit to a PowWow (get together of Native American communities) in Phoenix and a sweaty canyon hike. Plus, I also finally made an effort to meet some new people in Tucson and caught up with friends I made on previous visits. And just like that, my three weeks here are over.. But I hope this wasn’t my last visit, because the more time I spend in Tucson, the harder I fall for the city, discovering more and more cool stuff.

Arizona

Highlights

Road tripping around the Yucatan

I spent hours planning this road trip, but in the end it was so worth all the sleepless nights and the effort that went into it: the road trip couldn’t have gone any better. Beginning with a fabulous stay at the exquisite Grand Hyatt in Playa Del Carmen to accident-free driving to introducing my favorite girl to really good Mexican food, not the stuff you get in the States!yucatan road trip
Desert hikes in southern Arizona

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how much I love the desertscape of Southern Arizona – and I was happy that I had several visitors who got me out of the house to hike some of my favorite trails here and explore some new ones. Bonus: it’s spring, which means the cacti are blossoming, making the dessert look extra pretty.arizona desert hikes

Returning to Isla Mujeres

I fell in love with Isla Mujeres when I first visited the tiny Caribbean island in 2010, and I decided to spend an entire weekend there after our road trip – even though I had no idea if I’d still like the island after all these years of travel and all the places I’ve seen since then. Moreover, I didn’t know if Isla Mujeres had changed – had it become just as touristy and crowded as Playa del Carmen, a place I used to like a lot but that doesn’t do much for me now? I had nothing to worry about: Isla Mujeres was as charming as ever, and yes, it had become more touristy, but just look at these pictures… what’s not to love?!isla mujeres

What went right

Great publicity

Bild Der FrauThis month was an awesome month for publicity – An article about me appeared in one of Germany’s biggest women’s magazines, and I was featured by Lonely Planet! Being included in a list of the Top 50 Travel Bloggers was another pleasant surprise yesterday.

My first Mexican road trip

As I said above, my Mexican road trip was a blast, but it was also my first time renting a car in Mexico for longer than a day and driving on roads I hadn’t driven on prior to this visit. The only reason I was confident enough to sign up for this trip was because I remembered from living on the Riviera Maya in 2010 and 2012 that driving was a breeze in this part of Mexico, but I was still nervous if everything would go okay with the rental, if the route I had mapped out was too ambitious and if the car would be safe everywhere we parked it (sometimes with all our belongings inside). I am happy to report that everything went smoothly and without a glitch – and this road trip is perfect for anyone who wants to explore the Yucatan, so I’ll be writing about it in more detail soon.Mexico road trip

What went wrong

The almost robbery in Mexico City

My time in Mexico City almost ended with a tragedy – on my very last day in the city my friend and I were strolling through the big Saturday market that sprawls out into the streets surrounding La Merced, the city’s biggest market.

I was happily snapping some pictures and munching on a mango when all of a sudden I felt someone grab me from behind, wrapping his arms around my chest so that I couldn’t move my arms, while a second guy tried to rip my dSLR camera out of my right hand. Luckily I had strapped it around my wrist tightly and he couldn’t just grab it, and I started screaming like crazy. My friend pushed the guy who was holding me, and we both fell to the ground, I was holding my bag and camera tight to my body prepared to defend them, but they decided to run. My friend ran after them, not sure if they’d gotten anything from me or not, and saw them disappear into a courtyard right off the market. Knowing where these thieves lived we decided to get the police involved but they seemed a bit lackluster about the situation. They still came with us to the house, but told us they couldn’t go in without a permit / order.

I can’t believe how lucky I was – this could’ve ended much worse. I had my passport in my bag (required to go inside the National Palace which we had planned for that day), my Kindle, and a chunk of cash. However – I wasn’t entirely lucky during the incident: in the fall, I smashed my camera lens which died a slow death after the incident and had to be replaced, and I hit my big toe so hard that I was sure it was broken.

mexico city merced market dani
This picture was taken minutes before the attack happened…

The credit card scare

At the beginning of the month, I logged into my account to check the balance on my credit card. But what was that? In my ‘Account Summary’, my credit card didn’t show up! Where was my credit card balance?? I looked everywhere in my online banking account, but there was no sign of my credit card. No message either about it being blocked or something. It was midnight in Mexico, so I had to wait until the next morning to call my bank in the UK. Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep that night. How could my credit card simply disappear from my account?!

When I finally got hold of my bank the next morning, it took an hour on the phone with them to resolve what had happened – the card had been blocked after I the rental car company I rented with try to charge a $2,000 deposit for the car. Yes, these high deposits are customary here in Mexico.. And so my bank put a flag on the account.

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Dealing with British banks makes me want to RUN.

I lost more things… And this time, really expensive things.

The ‘lost items’ section seems to evolve into a running segment in my monthly round-ups, much to my dismay. After losing clothes and my Sennheiser headphones last month, and my Kindle charger as well as camera charger the month before, this month’s loss was very tragic: I left my beloved $300 JBL headphones on the flight from New York to Chicago on my way to Tucson. When I realized what had happened while waiting for my connecting flight, I immediately ran back to the gate I’d arrived on, but I was told nothing had been handed in. Oh well, I guess somebody else is enjoying these amazing headphones now.

And not only did I lose my headphones in transit, I also managed to leave my belt behind in Cancun when I took it off to go through security in the airport. Only on the plane did I notice that I was suddenly belt-less! I really hope May goes by without me losing something.

isla mujeres dani cliffs
If I lose anything next month, I might jump off a cliff

What went almost wrong

The almost missed ferry & almost missed flight

For my last night in Mexico, I had booked a hotel near the airport in Cancun, because we were leaving on a super early flight the next morning. The plan was to spend the entire day on Isla Mujeres and head back to the mainland just to sleep there – why waste a day in Cancun when we can spend it in this island paradise? I had seen online that ferries were running until late at night, which was perfect for us – that way, we could even have dinner on Isla Mujeres!

But when we, happily stuffed with tacos, made our way to the ferry terminal around 8pm, we arrived to complete darkness – the terminal was closed! I panicked immediately, knowing that the first morning ferry wouldn’t run until 5am – too late for us to make it to the airport and to catch our flight. I started to hyperventilate, because neither my friend nor I could miss that flight the next morning. In my head, I already saw us pay for a private boat to the mainland, and ran over to a taxi driver to find out if there might be a car ferry or another way to get off the island that night, and he simply pointed to the ferry terminal next to the one we were at. Yes, this one had closed for the night, but the main one was still open. I almost suffered a heart attack in that near-travel fail, thinking I had screwed up and maybe ferries weren’t going late on Sundays. Luckily, everything went according to plan when we finally boarded the ferry.

isla mujeres sunset - Copy
The sunset was worth missing the ferry for

As if that wasn’t enough, the next morning we then nearly missed our flight even though we were at the airport two hours prior to our flight departure – and just because we were chatting at the gate waiting for the flight to board.. Our conversation was so deep that we forgot to pay attention and somehow missed that everyone had already boarded – they were ready to close the doors! Luckily we noticed that we were the only ones left in the departure area before the plane departed.

What’s next for me

I am finishing up my housesit in Tucson and am almost on my way to the next housesit: a month in Austin, Texas! I’ve been wanting to visit Austin for years, so when this opportunity came my way, I didn’t have to think long.

And because my travel plans aligned with those of a travel buddy I am finding myself now road tripping from Tucson to Austin, stopping along the way at one of the most remarkable places I’ve visited in the US, the stunning white desert of White Sands in New Mexico (which I hope I’ll get to photograph at sunset this time around) and in Big Bend National Park for a day of hiking before eating my way through Austin for the next few weeks. If you know Austin and have recommendations for restaurants, food trucks, craft beer bars and things to do, please share them in the comments!tucson cowboy hatsYou can follow along in real time on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Life Lately & Upcoming Travels: March 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. 

Where I’ve been

March was probably the most interesting month of 2016 so far – simply because on 1 March, when I was still in the Colombian Amazon, I had no idea where I’d be now, at the end of the month. So where I am? I am in Mexico City! Yes, this was a completely unexpected turn of events, or change of travel plans. But let’s start at the beginning… A short overview of the places I visited this month: From Leticia in the Amazon I flew to Pereira in the zona cafeteria. From there I moved on to Salento, the heart of the coffee region, hiked in the striking Valle de Cocora, and finally traveled further north to Medellin – which would be my last stop in Colombia… at least for now. I flew to Mexico City, from where I traveled to Poza Rica to visit the El Tajin ruins and from there to Cuetzalan, one of Mexico’s ‘magical villages’. Now I am back in Mexico City for a few days to catch up on work before I go on vacation (well, at least sort of) next week.March colombia mexico

What I’ve been up to

It seems like ages ago that I was leaving the hospital and finished up my time in Colombia’s Amazon region! The beginning of the month was quite tough, to be honest. I flew out of the Amazon into Colombia’s zona cafetera, which saw me travel alone again, quite a change after being surrounded by people for all of February and January. Being sick didn’t really help to get me back into a ‘solo travel mood’, and the cold and rainy days in the coffee region were a huge change from the hot and sticky days in the Amazon where I had to change my shirt twice a day because I was soaked in sweat.March Mexico ColombiaAnd so I found myself booking a flight to Mexico, where I would meet up with several friends. This is not the potential ‘change of plans’ that I briefly mentioned in my last round-up, by the way – that would have been a trip to the Canadian Rockies for a Winter Pride event, and I would’ve returned to New York from there. But I had to cancel the event due to my sickness and kept hearing stories about cold and rainy weather in NYC (even snow had been reported to me!) and I had no desire to return yet. So here I am, spending a month in Mexico.el tajin dancerI sacrificed some of my time in Medellin for this trip, which I had been looking forward to the entire time I was in Colombia, but I made the most of my few days there, and as soon as I took a bite out of my first flor de calabaza quesadilla in Mexico, I had no regrets about leaving Colombia a bit earlier than planned. To be honest, I was getting a bit tired of the food in Colombia and was ready for something new.

Now Mexico is not necessarily new considering that this is my fourth time here, but of course I’m not only revisiting old favorites but also new places. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of Mexico City though – there’s just always something new to discover here, and with a city of the size of Mexico DF (22 million people!) you can never see it all. I’ve spent over a week here again, and found it fascinating to see how the city has changed since my last visit in 2012.Mexico CityMy plans to visit new plans didn’t go as smooth as I would’ve wished for – see below in What went wrong – but I guess it can’t always be just awesome, right? Read on to find out what went well and what went wrong this month, and where I am off to in April… I am stoked for the next month!

March Highlights

A kayak trip on my last day in the Amazon

I was still sick as a dog when I left the Amazon, but after staying in that horrible hospital I wanted to do something awesome before leaving. And so we went for a kayaking trip which was the perfect way to end my time in this incredible region of the world. The massive trees we saw while paddling through mangrove forests, a swim in a lake, monkey spottings and these beautiful surroundings – with nobody but us out on the water – was a memorable experience.kayak trip amazon

Returning to Mexico

I think I’ve already made it clear that I’ve been having a blast since I got back to Mexico! I love that I have the freedom to purchase a plane ticket on a whim, like I did, deciding to come here a mere week before my plane departed. While I spent most of my time in Mexico City, I also got to visit some new places – two UNESCO World Heritage sites, to be precise. In the quaint little town of Cuetzalan I went on an awesome caving tour and got to have a small ancient site with pyramids almost to myself, and in El Tajin I visited the famous Pyramid Of The Niches. Some people find Mexico City overwhelming, but I feel right at home here, and I love the street food, the people, the markets, the weather, and seeing the Jacaranda trees in bloom (the first time I get to see them in bloom here in Mexico!) – plus, I’ve been getting my culture fix this month… see below:
March 2016 Mexico
A month filled with culture

One reason why I’m drawn to big cities? Culture. Sure, I love the beach, and I love being outdoors, hiking in the mountains or through the jungle, but at heart I’m a city girl. Not only do I enjoy all the amenities of a big city (hundreds of food options, movie theaters, events, concerts…) but I need me some culture! Museums, art galleries, or simply urban art in the form of graffiti murals or sculptures – as a creative, I feed off the creativity of talented artists. And this is why March was awesome – I got so much culture in the past four weeks… In Medellin, I got my culture fix with all the Botero sculptures that can be found throughout the city and in the Museo Antioquia (along with his art and other art), visited a fabulous Modern Art Museum, and here in Mexico, it’s been culture non-stop: the amazing museums of Mexico City including yesterday’s Night of the Museums, and my visit to two pre-Columbian ruin sites, El Tajin and Yohualichan. And there’s more to come next month – see Upcoming Travels.Artsy March

What went wrong

Plane to Pereira had to turn around because of a storm

The worst thing that happened this month was my flight from Bogota to Pererira, the second leg of my flight that would bring me from the Amazon to the coffee region. My flight left Bogota at 5pm and was supposed to land in Pereira at 6pm, but while in the air, around 5.45pm, the pilot announced that we might have to return to Bogota due to a massive thunderstorm in Pereira. After circling above the storm for 30 minutes, we indeed turned around and went back to Bogota. While I was still wondering if the airline would put me up in a hotel in Bogota for the night, as soon as we reached the gate, the pilot announced he had been notified the storm had passed and we’d give it another try. So nobody was allowed to leave the plane, they counted all our luggage for security reasons, and about 7.30pm we were supposed to leave. Then there was another inexplicable delay, and in the end it took us until 9pm until we departed again. By then, I was ravenous – I had only had breakfast. The flight attendants only handed out nuts, and that was 4.5 hours after we’d boarded the plane. I finally got to Pereira at around 10pm, and by the time I got to my hostel, it was 10.45pm – no restaurants were open anymore, and I went to bed starving. Considering that I had only left the hospital two days prior to my flight, I wasn’t in the best condition to begin with and sure didn’t need this flight from hell.

colombia plane
Usually I love being on a plane! Window seat, always!

Being sick suuuuucks

When I woke up in Pereira, the first time in weeks that I was completely by myself, still feeling sick as hell, I had only one thought: being sick on the road sucks. Especially if you’re traveling alone and have nobody to go to the pharmacy for you, to get you water or food. Luckily I had someone to look after me in the Amazon.Leticia Hospital

Traveling during Semana Santa

Ah, Latin America’s holiest of all weeks, the week before Easter.. I should have thought about traveling during this time, which is prime travel time, but somehow I forgot about it (again!) and ended up wasting an entire day trying to plan a week of travel during that period. Buses and hostels were completely booked, and if I was lucky enough to find a ticket online, by the time I had gone through the booking process, somebody else had snatched it. It was frustrating, to say the least. Instead of going south, I ended up going to Veracruz for a festival of indigenous culture and dance music, held in an ancient ruin site. See below how that went down…

transport in cuetzalan
Public transportation in Mexico

Rained out festival
El Cumbre, the festival we went to, and paid a considerable amount of money to attend, was completely rained out the day we got there. We were bummed, decided to wait it out for a day and to attend the festival the next day. It still rained on and off, and it was terribly cold. I had stupidly not taken my rain jacket with me, because it had been sunny in Mexico City and I had only used it once on the entire trip. Lesson learned! We tried to make the best of it despite the crappy weather, but it still put a damper on our mood. A good reminder though how lucky I am to be traveling in great weather 95% of the time!

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Braving rain and mud at El Cumbre

Losing (more) stuff

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Only my big $300 headphones left. They’re great for working & blocking out noise, but not for working out..

Somehow I keep losing stuff on this trip.. after my Kindle charger and Canon battery charger (including battery!), and a few other things, this month I lost my favorite (and only!) pajama shorts and top, which I had bought in Bangkok last year. I must have left it in a hotel room, and it really upsets me because they were fitting great and I need to wear something at night when I travel with someone, which I mostly do. And then I lost my beloved Sennheiser in-ear headphones. I’d finally invested in pricey headphones a few months ago, and it didn’t take long for me to lose them – that’s why I usually use cheapie headphones while I travel. Oh well. I replaced them with inexpensive headphones in Colombia which broke after only a couple of weeks, and then replaced those with headphones here in Mexico. And guess what? I’ve already lost them. What the hell is wrong with me?!

Other noteworthy happenings

My first Temazcal

As if one indigenous ceremony wasn’t enough (I’m referring to last month’s ..um… interesting… ayahuasca experience), I experienced my first Temazcal this month, which is an indigenous Mexican steam bath that has been part of the Mesoamerican culture for hundreds of years and involves religious, ritualistic and healing motives. A Temazcal, similar to a sauna done at a very high temperature and prepared with medicinal and aromatic herbs in a small round stone building  usually lasts for about 2 hours and is supposed to help you connect with yourself but also with the fundamental elements of nature. Usually you are guided through the ceremony with songs and prayers, allowing for the purification, inner renewal and healing of the body on an emotional and spiritual level, but my experience was a bit different from what I had read about Temazcales before trying it.

cuetzalan sunrise
The beautiful town of Cuetzalan, where I had my first Temazcal experience
dani temazcal
After the Temazcal

The lady who was guiding us through our Temazcal experience seemed to suffer from the extreme heat much more than we did and was on all four down on the floor for most of the time, and asked us to beat each other with branches of herbs, for an inner cleaning. Afterwards I read that this is called ‘leafing’ and is part of some temazcal experiences (the ceremonies vary), and supposedly means that ‘the bather is gently beaten with the herbal branches’, but trust me, this was no light beating, this felt more like a full-on whipping, and she kept yelling at us to hit each other harder. I had a hard time not laughing out loud during the experience, and I don’t think we were in there for more than thirty minutes (instead of 2 hours) before being massaged by her daughter, whose massage skills were questionable.

I think I might give the Temazcal another try because I usually do enjoy sauna experiences and would like to see how I feel after a properly executed temazcal.

What’s next for me

April is shaping up to be another awesome month – I will fly to Cancun this weekend to meet up with my favorite travel buddy for a road trip in the Yucatan peninsula, which is probably my favorite region in Mexico. We’ll be checking out Mayan ruins, cenotes (underwater sinkholes), Caribbean beaches, snorkel with turtles, visit one of the most picturesque towns I’ve ever been to and finish our trip with a couple of beach days on a gorgeous Caribbean island (can’t tell you yet where because it’s a surprise for her and she might read it, which would spoil the surprise 😉 )MexicoAfter that, I will return to Southern Arizona for my ‘annual desert retreat’, which my trips to Tucson have evolved into, sort of. I am stoked to see my friends there and I will be housesitting there again – but this time, in a different house! But more on that in my next round-up, which will come to you from Arizona.

If you want to follow my travels in real time, add me on Snapchat: mariposa2711

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Life lately & upcoming travels: February 2016 Edition

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February was an interesting month.. The road led me down some unexpected paths, and held several incredible highlights in Colombia for me, but unfortunately there were some lows as well, like the fact that I’m only posting this now thanks to a visit to the hospital…

Where I’ve been

I started the month in Santa Marta, which I used as a base for my 4-day jungle trek to Colombia’s Lost City, and flew down to Bogotá from there. In Bogota, I met up with a travel buddy I met in Santa Marta, and later with my friend Rease, who I went to Iceland with last year. With her, I visited Villa de Leyva, a beautiful little town in the mountains. After that, we returned to Bogota, and I ended up extending my stay there after enjoying it much more than expected. And because I decided on a whim to meet a friend in the Amazonas region, which wasn’t part of my original itinerary… I think, it might have been Ayahuasca that was calling me down here, but more on that later.

Colombia February 2016
Clockwise: The Amazon rain forest, Santa Marta, Bogota, the Lost City, and Villa de Leyva

What I’ve been up to

I thought I’d be traveling alone for most of the month, but I was wrong! I ended up spending most of February with a friend I made while traveling, trekked through the Sierra Nevada with a great group of people for four days (and met up with one of them later in Bogota), and traveled with Rease for a few days. I am ready for some ‘me-time’!Colombia Friends

I’ve also enjoyed quite a bit of offline time – some planned, some unplanned… and both times, I found it refreshing to do a digital detox, and to realize that the world doesn’t end if I don’t check my Facebook / Instagram / Snapchat / insertothersocialmediahere / email every day. While my first digital detox, during my 4-day trek, was planned and something I prepared for, my second one, on a spontaneous trip to Puerto Nariño on the Amazon, was a bit of a shock, because I didn’t expect to be completely offline for a few days – I thought I’d have at least a 3G connection on my phone, but no.. nothing. I definitely prefer going offline when I can prepare for it (I also worried quite a few people when I simply disappeared to the Amazon with a stranger and went offline without a warning) but overall I came to the conclusion that I need spend more time offline.

dani amazon
Offline on the Amazon River… bliss!

Overall, my travels this month went without a glitch… From the trek, which turned out to be a highlight of all of my travels (see below), to a few slow days in Santa Marta where I caught up on work projects, to my time in Bogota, which I was a bit afraid of, but which turned out to be fantastic – everything went according to plan! Note to self: Don’t let other people scare you off places. I had heard so many horror stories about Bogota, but I had a fantastic time there. I treated myself to a lovely weekend at the Hilton Bogota, including a taste of their extraordinary Sunday brunch, while exploring the Chapinero neighborhood, I danced the night away in South America’s largest gay club, El Theatron (I wish New York had a giant club like this… including the free-drinks-until-2am policy for $13.50!), I went to the Botero Museum which I adored, enjoyed the views over Bogota from Monserrate Mountain, took a street art tour and a city tour, escaped the city for a few days to quaint little Villa De Leyva, and finally flew down to the Amazon which I adored, despite getting horribly sick here. But altogether, I couldn’t have asked for a better month in Colombia (minus getting sick).Colombia 2016

Highlights

Ciudad Perdida: Colombia’s Lost City

This 4-day trek (actually supposed to be a 5-day trek but I ended up walking it in 4 days) was definitely a highlight of all my travels so far, not just in Colombia. It was extremely hard, I’m not gonna lie, but arriving at the top of the mountain on which the ruins of the city sit after climbing up 1,200 on the morning of the third day was incredibly rewarding. The trek itself led through some beautiful mountain and jungle scenery and I’m glad that I got out of my comfort zone to do it.ciudad perdida

Swimming in the Amazon River

…and seeing pink river dolphins! Experiencing life in the Amazon was something so unique and memorable that I was happy I followed my gut instinct to fly down into this remote region of Colombia and spend time here. It’s a different pace of life down here, and being so isolated and surrounded by water and rain forest on all sides, with no roads leading here, makes it such a special time to visit.amazon sunset

The people I’ve met

This month I’ve met some incredible people – I’d even go as far as saying that this month alone I met more interesting people than during my entire Asia trip last year, and it reconfirmed something I’d been thinking for a while now… The kind of traveler that goes to South America is a completely different kind of traveler that goes to South East Asia. I find the kind of people who come to South America not only much mature, but also much more invested in the local culture, meaningful experiences and encounters than the people I met on my trips to South East Asia. Sure, I can’t generalize this, and of course not everyone who goes to South East Asia just wants to party and island hop, but the majority of people who go to Asia seem more interested in cheap booze, beaches and cheap parties than in truly getting to know the countries they visit, whereas here, people are in for an educational experience, questioning things… willing to learn. Hence, the people I’ve met, and the conversations I’ve been having with people, have been thought provoking and eye opening.hikers

Holding a 2-hour business meeting entirely in Spanish
This is something I’m very proud of – I didn’t know how I’d manage on this trip with my rusty Spanish, but luckily my Spanish came back to me fairly quickly once I got to Colombia. But still – sitting through a 2-hour meeting entirely in Spanish was a whole different story. The more proud and achieved when I left it, knowing I’m still able to speak Spanish fluent enough to have a professional meeting in my 3rd language. It surely helped that I hung out with someone prior to that who I only conversed with in Spanish – and I should do more of that while I’m still here.

dani hilton
Feeling accomplished in Bogota!

Lowlights

Being hospitalized

It started all of a sudden – we went out for dinner, and from one minute to the next, I felt horribly sick. I couldn’t get anything down, and I sat at the table shivering – in the 90 F heat that is common in the Amazonas region at night. Then my legs started to become heavy, hurting like hell. I barely made it back to our guesthouse. I laid down, still shivering, but at the same time sweating, my skin burning hot, with a high fever. The next morning, the entire bed was soaking wet, that’s how much I had sweated. My head felt like it was going to explode, my eyes hurt and felt as if someone was pushing on them constantly. My whole body felt so weak… what was going on?? The next day, I barely managed to get out of bed. I felt horrible. And I was 50 miles up to the Amazon River from the next hospital, and the only way to get there was by boat. Getting into a boat was pretty much the last thing I wanted to do. I waited until we got back in Leticia to go see a doctor and find out what I had. The symptoms led me to believe the worst: Zika. In the hospital, I was told my symptoms matched more Malaria or Dengue than Zika, and after I had my blood taken, I was asked to stay in the hospital until the results were in. It was a terrible experience staying in one of the worst hospitals I’ve ever come across, but luckily all my tests for mosquito-borne diseases came back negative. I had just gotten a really bad flu.dani hospital

Wi-fi struggles
Ah, what is it with me and bad wi-fi? I feel like I’m whining about bad wifi every other month! Seriously though, in the Philippines last year I nearly had a nervous breakdown because of the slow wifi, in Thailand I had a bad signal more often than not, even in Europe I sometimes had a hard time finding a reliable connection. And now Colombia. Bad wifi is following me around the world, it seems! It makes it super frustrating and difficult to run a business online sometimes, and had me on the verge of tears more than once. This month I was happy to have someone to share the pain with: when I traveled with my friend Rease, who also works online, and we had terrible wifi in both Bogota and Villa De Leyva, we both nearly lost our minds. With a slow connection, it takes me an hour to do what usually takes me 20 minutes. And I am still trying to send a large file with photos to a client that she was supposed to receive last Friday. I knew that internet in the Amazonas region would be slow, but I didn’t expect it to be nearly non-functional.

villa de leyva street
Villa de Leyva was so pretty… but the wifi was pretty awful.

Balancing blog & work

Yes, I make money from this website, but it isn’t my only source of income… I still rely on income from freelance projects, and this month, with my wifi struggles and more offline time than I’d factored in, I let my regular blogging schedule skip. Paid work comes first, of course, but I don’t feel good about the lack of updates. I hope I’ll be able to manage to do better again in March.

Noteworthy happenings

(I put these things extra because I feel like they are noteworthy, but am not sure if they were good or bad experiences!)

An Ayahuasca ceremony

Ayahuasca. A plant that grows only here in the Amazon, and which, brewed into a tea, has been used by shamans in Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil for centuries to cure illnesses and which is said to open a door to another reality. A strong hallucinogenic, it is supposed to make you confront your biggest fears, face your inner demons, deal with all the ‘baggage’ you carry around with you without ever dealing with. Some people even go as far as saying one night of Ayahuasca equals ten years of therapy.

ayahuasca experience
This picture pretty much sums up my Ayahuasca experience: blurry, vivid, a bit messy, intriguing.

When I read about Ayahuasca for the first time, two years ago when I traveled to Peru, I wasn’t ready for it. This time, I was ready for what’s known to be a very spiritual, emotional and for some frightening, for some cathartic experience. I felt like it was the Ayahuasca that called me down to the Amazon.. I had absolutely no plans to travel here, and not much interest, to be honest, because it is so out of the way. And yet, I boarded a plane down to Leticia, the small town on the Amazon River that borders with Peru and Brazil, and the next day, I found myself wandering through the jungle for an hour, on the way to a shaman’s house for an Ayahuasca ritual.

I will write about it in more detail in a separate article, but let’s just say that I didn’t have the life changing experience that I had read other people had, I didn’t have any mind-blowing revelations, I also didn’t have crazy hallucinations or anything like that. I might even have been a bit disappointed that it didn’t have a stronger impact on me, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t strong – boy was I feeling sick! The next morning the shaman told our group of four that this had been an exceptionally strong brew, and Jeremy, who had already done a ritual with him a couple of days prior, said that his other experience with him was much better than this one.

Ayahuasca Plant & Dani
Left: the plant from which the brew is made. Right: Me the morning after.

I got a haircut!

… and it was my first haircut in over two years, which is why I thought I should mention it. In January 2014, I had a traumatic haircut experience in New York, and after that, I vowed to never go to the hairdresser again. Back then, I showed the hairdresser four or five pictures of what I wanted, and the end result didn’t look anything like that. I was in tears afterwards, and horrified for weeks every time I happened to look into a mirror. But after a year, I noticed that I couldn’t go without a haircut forever. It took me a whole other year to finally take the leap and set foot into a hair salon. Am I happy with the result? I’m happier than last time, but of course my hair will never look as fabulous as it does after an hour of blow drying and straightening (I left my straightener in New York, now I wish I would’ve brought it!). On the upside, it was only about $13.50 – and that included some fancy hair products and it was in one of the nicer salons in town!Dani haircut

What’s next for me

Despite my current sickness, I’ll be continuing my travels through Colombia as planned, hoping I’ll be recovering quickly. I am looking forward to exploring the Zona Cafetera, Colombia’s coffee country, which I’ve heard great things about, and after a few smaller towns along the way, finally: Medellin! I’ve been wanting to go to Medellin for years, and it might sound corny but after watching Narcos, I’m looking forward to go on a Pablo Escobar themed tour there. Plus, I already know some people who are in Medellin, which is an added bonus.

And then… an unexpected opportunity came my way, which would see me leave Colombia a bit earlier than expected to visit a country I’ve been to twice, and which I like a lot (and for which I don’t have any appropriate clothes right now, but I’m sure I’ll manage somehow.. any guesses which place I’m talking about?)… Since I’m still discussing the details of the trip and haven’t entirely decided if I should really sacrifice some of my time here in Colombia, you’ll have to wait if I ended up going there until my March round-up.Colombia Feb 2016

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Life lately & upcoming travels: January 2016 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me. 

What a month it’s been! I wrapped up my time in New York City and flew to Colombia, my first new country of 2016. I was traveling with someone for the first couple of weeks, which means I traveled a lot faster than I would’ve had I been by myself, but it also meant going on some adventures that wouldn’t have been half as much fun had I been on my own.

January 2016 Colombia and New York City
From New York (with spring blossoms in January!) to the sweltering heat of Colombia

What I’ve been up to

I started the New Year with a relaxing day in Brooklyn, cuddling with my (temporary) cats and generally taking things slow before my departure. I was cat sitting for a friend of mine who happens to have one of the most gorgeous apartments I’ve come across in New York, complete with a giant kitchen where I tried my hands on all kinds of recipes and enjoyed my daily baking and cooking sessions.

I finally made some time to relax, which I’d been wanting to do for months! Movie nights, long sessions in the bathtub with my Kindle, long runs in the park while listening to my favorite podcasts. I was lucky with the weather – while I was still in New York, it was still warm enough to run outside without freezing to death, and more importantly: warm enough to cycle! If you’ve been following me for a while you know that I love cycling and I was happily reunited with my bike last month.New York January 2016And then it was time to leave for Colombia. As usual, I started travel planning at the eleventh hour, running last minute errands the day before I left, ordered stuff on Amazon on 2-day delivery, hoping it would arrive in time (and picking it up from the post office literally 5 minutes before they closed), and not knowing where I’d rest my head upon arriving in Cartagena until a few short days before leaving the U.S. Some things never change 🙂

My travels through Colombia started in the north, in Cartagena to be precise. Cartagena is one of Colombia’s most popular (read: touristy) cities, and it’s popular for a reason – It has a well preserved and beautifully restored historic center, surrounded by thick, centuries-old stone walls that used to protect the city. I couldn’t have picked a better place to start my Colombia explorations in than this Spanish colonial city that sits right on the Caribbean Sea. I spent hours walking the narrow streets, marveling at the wooden balconies, usually overflowing with bougainvillea, and colorful houses. In fact, I am writing this from Cartagena, even though I was supposed to leave already (twice!), but I kept extending my stay. cartagenaFrom Cartagena, we set off on a whirlwind tour of the coast, stopping in Tayrona National Park, the beach paradise of Palomino, and a detour into the mountains before circling back to Cartagena with a visit to nearby Playa Blanca and the famed Totumo mud volcano.

While this might all sound fabulous, let me tell you that this month didn’t go by without any hiccups – you can read them below in ‘What went wrong’… but let’s start with the January highlights!Colombia January 2016

Highlights

River tubing in Palomino, Colombia I don’t know how I’ve spent 35 years on this planet without ever going tubing! But somehow I just never came across it, even in all those years of travel (except for Belize, where we had to skip it due to heavy rains and Laos, where we passed on visiting the back then notorious party town of Vang Vieng). Anyway – trying it for the first time in Colombia was perfect. We slowly floated down a river that comes down from the Sierra Nevada Mountains,  surrounded by lush green jungles on all sides, and finally empties into the Caribbean Sea. Extra bonus: doing it in the late afternoon when the light was warm and soft. The only sounds we heard were the sounds of the jungle. Heavenly!palomino tubingTraveling with my favorite travel buddy As I mentioned above, I had a travel buddy for my first two weeks in Colombia, and it was such a fun trip! Yes, I might not have gotten as much work done as I wanted and traveled faster than I’m comfortable with, but I had such a great time and I think it made it easier to ease into South America again. This was our fourth trip together and we’re already planning our next getaway – can’t wait!

Being a housewife in New York I had such a good time in New York before I left – even though the last few days were freezing (19F/-12C) and I realized I hadn’t been in weather that cold since my visit to Chicago for Christmas in 2007! I was definitely ready for sun and beach fun by the time my departure date rolled around, but I loved having a temporary home with an amazing kitchen. Knowing that I wouldn’t have the chance to bake, cook or have people over for a while now, I made the most of it, and tried my hand at all sorts of recipes I’ve been pinning onto my Pinterest recipes board. I also made sure to eat all the foods I knew I’d miss in South America, like a decent Thai meal, veggie sushi, a bagel, New York pizza and Mexican breakfast. Guys, you have no idea how ready I am to have my own kitchen again and go from full-time nomad to part-time traveler!

cooking in nyc
Still can’t believe that this egg-in-a-biscuit turned out great on my first try making it.

Winning a Margarita Maker You might remember that I won two round-trip tickets on Singapore Airlines (NYC to Singapore) in November, and my winning streak doesn’t seem to stop. At the beginning of the month I received an email that I’d won a Margaritavilla Margarita Maker, worth $300! I am usually not a Tequila drinker but it looks like I should give margaritas another chance?!

Receiving a package from my sister
This was definitely a highlight of the month – I received a package from Germany, and I got it the day before I left for Colombia. Talk about good timing! It was supposed to arrive in time for Christmas, but my chocolate Santa still tasted amazing mid-January, and I was so touched that my sister had sent me a few little gifts for Christmas.

Lowlights

Self-imposed stress
I am not sure why I always do that to myself… I had weeks, if not MONTHS in New York to plan my South America trip, and yet I ended up procrastinating until the very last minute, not even picking up a guidebook until about a week before my trip to look up where I wanted to go. Once I held said guidebook in my hands, I decided spontaneously to do a 5-day jungle trek while here, and found myself scrambling to get everything I needed for this trek – most of which arrived in a package from Amazon which I picked up from the post office minutes before they closed on the night prior to my departure, as I’ve already mentioned.

Colombia vacation
Luckily all this helped me de-stress quickly!

Reading horror stories about Colombia the day before my departure Let me tell you: it’s not the greatest idea to read an article titled Solo Female Going To Colombia? Just don’t. while you’re in the middle of packing your bags for COLOMBIA. This, along with another scary story by a female solo traveler who’d recently visited Colombia, totally freaked me out and I left for Colombia slightly scared – not a great mindset to start a trip with! Luckily I had company for the first couple of weeks, which calmed me down quite a bit.

Forgetting to pack important things I don’t know how I forgot to pack some essentials like my Swiss army knife (necessary to cut fresh fruit), Ziploc bags (for all kinds of things), but more importantly my underwater camera and my second external hard drive!!

Not winning the lottery With my recent lucky streak when it comes to winning things, of course I had to buy a ticket for the $900 million Powerball lottery (and then again for the $1.2 billion). Needless to say I didn’t win.

marilyn and dani
This girl helped me getting over not winning the Powerball.

What went wrong

A bungalow break-in in Palomino My first day in Palomino was off to a great start: I’d worked until late into the night the evening before so that I could take time off and enjoy the beach. And that’s what we did… a lovely morning spent walking the beach and playing in the waves, and we were ready for some river tubing in the afternoon. We dropped by our beach bungalow to drop off some stuff and I froze when I unlocked the door and saw that all our bags had been emptied and the entirety of our belongings was strewn across the floor.

Every little bag we had with us had been opened, and my heart dropped when I remembered that I had left our laptops, passports, credit cards and a lot of cash in my backpack. As my eyes fell on my backpack, I saw that it was still locked! They hadn’t opened the main compartment which I had locked with a padlock. We assume that they were interrupted because they seemed to have left in a rush, and they also didn’t find some cash in one of the cosmetics bags they were searching through. How lucky were we?! While this was definitely a scary moment (and could’ve ended my entire trip right there and then!), I don’t put Colombia down for it – something like this happens everywhere in the world.

beautiful colombia
Celebrating the good side of Colombia

Food poisoning It all started so well: with the best meal we’ve had in Colombia so far. Both dishes we ordered, plus the coconut lemonade, were divine. I even proclaimed ‘I’m going back here for lunch every day now!’ when we left, and my friend was mad that I hadn’t brought her to ‘La Mulata’ earlier, which is a popular and highly-ranked Caribbean restaurant in Cartagena. However, four hours later, I started to vomit like crazy, had stomach cramps, diarrhea, the whole nine yards. I was bed ridden for 24 hours and it took me another two days to get back to normal. The last time I had food poisoning that bad was in 2011!

coconut lemonade cartagena
I’m pretty sure that this is what caused the food poisoning, because we both got it, and that’s the only thing we shared

Not being allowed to board my flight because I didn’t have proof of onward travel Well this seems to be an ongoing theme in my life – not being allowed to board a flight, see last March and last May. When I was checking my bag at JFK I was told that I wouldn’t be allowed to board the plane since I didn’t have a return ticket or proof of onward travel. Obviously my own fault, I should’ve learned by now to at least look up if a country requires a return ticket before entering it on a one-way ticket. Again, stress that I didn’t need when I frantically tried to book a refundable ticket while discussing with the airline staff at the check-in counter. Luckily, the booking went through in time and I was handed a boarding pass.

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Almost would’ve had to stay here! Not that I would’ve been too upset ;-)

Losing stuff I don’t know how I could have possibly lost two of my most important items within two weeks of being on the road: my Canon charger (I left it plugged in a socket at the cabana after the break-in, with an expensive Canon battery in it. Luckily I have two spare batteries.) and my Kindle charger (also left plugged in somewhere). I also lost my favorite tank top (not my fault, the laundry lady lost it), and I’m sure there are some other things that I can’t remember now.

Challenges

Getting back into a travel work balance Having spent 10 weeks in a productive routine in New York before leaving for Colombia, I really struggled to get back into a work-and-travel state of mind. Plus: I just don’t seem to be lucky when it comes to finding accommodation with decent wifi. 4 out of 5 times the wi-fi is mediocre at best, and often doesn’t reach my room. Several of the hotels I stayed at closed their common areas at 8pm, which is when I usually start getting a few hours of work in! In the past couple of days, I’ve found myself walking around town in search of a ‘coffice’ two days in a row this week – one day, I went to five different places! The first one had wifi but no AC (not even a fan, and it’s 91F right now), the second one had wi-fi but no sockets, the third place was completely full, the fourth had AC but no wi-fi, and the fifth one was finally decent, except for the terrible music they were playing. I am tired of it.. I just want to start my work day without wasting time and energy finding an office.

And then there’s the temptation to ‘play’ all day instead of working when you travel with someone, and I am easily convinced to go out exploring instead of staring at my screen, yes, I admit it. I’ve gotten better at finding a balance, but it’s taken me a while to get back into working & traveling.

colombia january 2016 pics
Colombia might give me a headache with the lack of speedy wi-fi, but it does have its perks..

What’s next for me

I’ve got an exciting month ahead of me! I’ll finally leave Cartagena tomorrow, after extending my stay twice, and head back to Santa Marta, from where I’ll set off on the 5-day jungle trek to the Lost City, which is an archaeological site of an ancient city in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada. It is believed to have been founded about 800 CE, making it 650 years older than Machu Picchu! I’m stoked for my first multi-day trek in a while.

After that, I’ll fly to Bogota to meet up with my friend Rease, and from there I’m not sure yet, but I’ll just go with the flow… Who knows where I’ll be writing my next update from. colombiaP.S. You can follow my travels in real time on Snapchat (user ID mariposa2711), see my travel updates on Facebook and daily photos of my trip on Instagram.

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The evolution of a nomad

The Evolution Of A Nomad 1

It’s been almost a year since I looked back on five years of full-time travel, and I thought it was time for an update on how my nomadic life has evolved in the past twelve months.

It’s been now over 2,000 days since I switched my London apartment for a life on the road, and quite frankly, I’m tired of being on the road constantly. Over 2,000 days of vagabonding – that’s even longer than I had an apartment in London, or anywhere else I’d lived before. When I started traveling in 2010, I thought it would be a one-year trip around the world. I even had a new employment contract ready for me to sign, and a job waiting for me upon return.. which I obviously never started. In the beginning, I thought I could travel forever, never getting tired of exploring new places, meeting new people, trying new foods. I had an insane amount of energy, my body fueled by new experiences and my mind stimulated by the ever changing scenery around me.

pacaya hike
Volcano hike after a full work day? Sure!

I had so much energy to work while traveling back then – just recently when I was researching for my current (and third) South America trip, I came across an old blog post written by my friend Erin of Never Ending Voyage, written shortly after meeting us, in which she says: ‘We were impressed with the Globetrotter Girls‘ work ethic when we met up with them last week in Panama. They get up early and work before a day of travel or sightseeing, then work late in the evening too.’ I wish this desirable work ethic would have lasted forever, but of course the longer you are on the move constantly, the more tiring it gets, and I have yet to meet another long-term traveler who doesn’t bitch about travel burn out at some point. And running a business out of your suitcase instead of an office isn’t easy. It isn’t impossible, but it comes with challenges that most business owners don’t have to face.

koh tao office
Offices like this one are rare, trust me

When I think of all the times that I found myself touring the coffee shops of a town in order to find a decent wi-fi connection.. A waste of my time and my energy, and I often get frustrated before even battling the painfully slow internet connection. Or all those times when I tried to send off an article that was due – or even worse: large files with high-res images – and failed, or tried to call someone on Skype on a sketchy connection. No one is going to show any sympathy for you when you try to blame it on the mediocre wi-fi in Nicaragua. It is hard to maintain a business when you’re traveling, but grow it? Let’s just say it takes a lot of discipline, and when you’re your own boss, it takes a lot of willpower to stick to deadlines and work routines. But still, for a few years, traveling the world was all I wanted to do, and I was willing to put up with the hassles. Traveling is addictive – the more places you visit, the more places you add to your travel wish list. Soon, places that you never imagined you’d see in your life, aren’t out of reach anymore. 

dani in malaysia
My first trip to South East Asia, 2011. I was beyond excited!

As the years went by, I became somewhat jaded though – travel couldn’t really excite me anymore, unless it was a place that was completely different from anything I knew, such as the Atacama Desert or Cambodia. I started to spend longer periods of time in the places I visited – a couple of months on a beach in Mexico, a couple of months in Santiago de Chile, a couple of months in New York.

I needed these breaks to recharge my batteries, to get itchy feet again. As might be expected, if you visit new places all the time, it turns into a routine rather than an adventure, and I started to miss the excitement about exploring a new place And sometimes, all I wanted to do was curl up on a sofa and do nothing for a few weeks, not deal with travel planning (which takes up so much time when you travel all the time), just relax.

chill time in new york
Couch time with my Kindle… don’t get enough of that! (And yes, that’s a bird on my head. Don’t ask.)

I’ve also missed having a steady circle of friends instead of the alternating nomadic friends or travelers who you hang out with on the road, parting ways after a few days or weeks together. I missed regular catch-ups with good friends, people who’ve known me longer than for a few short days.   manhattan from top of the rockCome to New York!’ was all I needed to hear to book a flight back to NYC in October when I was supposed to travel to Nepal. I listened to my heart – I just couldn’t get excited about my trip to Asia and the 3-week Annapurna Circuit, even though it is a trek that is definitely on my bucket list. But I was still tired from a six-week trip around Europe and knew I wouldn’t fully enjoy it. And I am so glad that I didn’t stubbornly stuck to my original plan, but followed my heart.

dani and lola
Home is where my bicycle is! I got my first bike in many years in NYC.

One of the reasons why I chose to return to New York was because it is the place where most of my friends are now that I’ve lost touch with most of my friends back in London after all these years. I was craving to spend Christmas and my birthday with people I loved instead of trekking in the Himalayas. It felt amazing to have a routine again, weekly drinks, dinner and movie dates, and last but not least a workout routine, because I’ve noticed that I start to feel unbalanced and moody pretty quickly if I don’t have a regular workout (in my case: running) routine, which is hard to maintain while traveling, especially in hot and humid places like South East Asia.  dani hidingBut it’s not only a solid workout routine that I’ve been missing – what I’m craving even more is having my own kitchen again. Sure, I’m fine living on fruits and nuts on a weeklong road trip, but never being fully in control of my diet stopped being fun after a while. Even when I rent an apartment, they are usually never stocked as well as a real, lived-in apartment – which is why I love housesitting so much.

birthday love
Home is where you don’t get one, but two cakes for your birthday!

Cooking and baking are two things I enjoy tremendously, and I cook and bake up a storm every time I have a well-equipped kitchen at my disposal. I throw dinner parties, try out new recipes, and bake just for the fun of gifting people cookies. But it’s not only about how much I enjoy it – I am also very picky with what I eat, and traveling as a vegetarian can be difficult. Last year in the Philippines, I lost nearly ten pounds simply because I couldn’t find anything but fruits on some days. If you want to eat healthy while traveling, that’s an even harder thing to accomplish, because most local specialties you want to try are not necessarily healthy.

avocado toast
Homemade and so good!

In Argentina, the only vegetarian option would often just be cheese pizza or cheese empanadas, and the salads there were some of the worst I’ve had anywhere in the world – try to eat healthy while traveling through Patagonia for two months. This might sound pathetic but right now, I really miss my daily green smoothies.

homemade food
I miss my blender and I miss trying out new recipes.. My next blog will be a food blog, that’s for sure.

I haven’t even talked about relationships yet, but naturally it is not easy to keep a romance going when you’re out gallivanting the globe for months at a time instead of showing that special someone that you care about them. In an ideal world you’d find someone who is also location independent and can pack up whenever they feel like it, but let’s be honest: most people have a traditional 9-to-5 job or are tied down by other things. Not a single person I’ve met last year (who wasn’t nomadic already) was in the position to simply pack up and go as they please, the way I can.

dani in thailand 2015
Winter Escape 2015: South East Asia

I had already felt tired and burned out going into 2015, and I knew that I needed to slow down. Did I succeed in slowing down in the past twelve months? If I’m honest, I would say only to some extent. While I succeeded in finding a base, my travel itineraries in between longer stints were still much too ambitious and tiring – like September, when I didn’t have a single day to myself all month, or February and April, when I spent too much time traveling instead of planning in a balanced work / travel schedule. In periods like those I wished I had a home to go back to just sit still for a while, but instead I kept going, because there was no place to go home to.

iceland dani photographingThere were several times in 2015 when I thought about giving up – when I nearly lost a freelance client because I didn’t have wi-fi on an island in the Philippines resulting in me missing a deadline, when I wasn’t allowed to board my flight (on two different occasions!), when my bank account began to dwindle away and my savings were eaten up by unforeseen expenses, or when I felt completely burned out after traveling too fast, taking on too many assignments at the same time.dani boracay sunsetThe past year has already seen a shift from long-term stints in one region to shorter trips and having a base in between. Three months in Asia were my longest trip in 2015, followed by three months in the U.S., during which I was trying to recover from island hopping around South East Asia. For the first time in years, I planned several shorter trips, like a week-long road trip through Iceland, or a week in Italy, instead of committing to a month or longer in one place, like I used to do. dani sabino canyon hikeI knew that I was ready to put down roots again when I had gotten so comfortable in my routine in New York, and having my own kitchen again (plus every kind of food that I could possibly want) that I started to dread my departure to South America – even the cold weather didn’t bother me, and I usually despise winter. But I’m not going to lie – arriving in Cartagena’s scorching heat was something I didn’t mind at all after getting pretty chilly on my runs in the park in New York in the weeks leading up to my departure. My ideal situation would be to still escape the winters, but have a base for the rest of the year.

dani in bahia concha
Winter Escape 2016: South America

I love traveling and I will always be a traveler (when I still lived in London I was able to travel somewhere every other month, thanks to a generous number of vacation days and public holidays), but the past year has been pretty rough, to be honest.

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Rough life.. I know 😉 I am well aware that my complaints are completely arbitrary, comparing my life with the lives of my friends and family

Most people dream of leaving their jobs behind to travel the world, which is something I can’t recommend highly enough. But traveling the world forever with a constantly changing social circle, barely any belongings, and no place to call home? It might be for some, but it isn’t something I want to do forever. Now that I am back in South America, I sometimes look at the travelers I meet here and find myself envying them, thinking how nice it must be to just travel – without worrying about making money, just enjoying a year off. I think I might still do that at some point – save enough money to travel for a year, living off my savings.dani chiang mai 2015

Don’t get me wrong – I still love what I do, and I am grateful every single day for living this life, getting paid to write, seeing places that most people will never be able to visit. But there are drawbacks and nuisances, hurdles to overcome (things like taxes, health insurance and a mailing address, to name just a few things that give me headaches regularly) that aren’t fun in the long run. And my trusted backpack, which has been serving me well for six years, deserves a break, don’t you think?

dani brooklyn bridge park
I travel the world and the seven seas Everybody’s looking for something… …But I found a place to call home, finally.
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20 Favorite Travel Moments Of 2015

20 favorite travel moments

As this year is drawing to a close, I have been looking back at the past twelve months, the countries and cities I visited, the new friends I’ve made, the hurdles I had to overcome, the food I ate, the memories I made. Here’s a quick summary my travels in 2015:

  • 15 countries
  • 30 major cities
  • 70 different beds
  • 32 flights
  • 16 ferry rides

elepant nature park thailand daniAlmost all the ferry rides (with the exception of the overnight ferry from Helsinki to Stockholm and back) and most of my flights were taken during my stint in South East Asia earlier this year – traveling in the Philippines, an island nation, upped this number quite a bit, and bouncing around some of Thailand’s beautiful islands also contributed to that number. In addition to boats and planes, I traveled in cars, buses, trains, jeepneys (the main shared transportation in the Philippines), tricycles, tuktuks, pickup trucks, on the back of a motorbike, in minivans, long-tail boats and Filipino fishing boats. Trying to remember all these places is not easy, and trying to pick only 20 favorites is even harder. I gave it a try though and am sharing my 20 most memorable travel moments of 2015 with you today:

20 Returning to California

I started my summer visit to the U.S. with a few days in L.A. and Santa Monica – my first visit to L.A. since 2010! I stayed in Santa Monica to be right by the beach and it was the best decision I could’ve made – it was worth it for these sunsets alone. Other highlights of the trip: the street art in West Hollywood, the Grammy Museum, cruising along the Pacific with my Flightcar (which is the car rental of the sharing economy generation: you basically rent somebody else’s car while they’re traveling or they don’t need it).santa monica sunset pier

19 Temple hopping in Chiang Mai

I spent nearly two months in Thailand this spring and it remains one of my favorite countries. The Buddhist temples, the food (!), the elephants, the night markets, the rice fields in the north, and the beaches in the south.. There’s so much to see in Thailand! I know I’ll be back many more times. chiang mai wat with buddha

18 A black sand beach littered with massive, blue chunks of ice

This was hands down one of the most remarkable moments of this year’s travels. It was my first trip to Iceland and seeing these icebergs, some floating in the ice cold Arctic water, some washed ashore, was a highlight of our road trip around the country. The icebergs are all pieces that have broken off of the nearby Jökulsarlon glacier, by the way.jokulsarlon glacier lagoon ice beach iceland

17 Visiting Hong Kong

I booked a flight to Hong Kong on a whim and I didn’t have many expectations. The more surprised I was when I fell in love with the city! I couldn’t get enough of Hong Kong and returned a few months later for another visit. The vibrant neighborhoods, the chaos in the markets, the mouthwatering food smells everywhere and the amazing eateries quickly turned Hong Kong into one of my all-time favorite destinations. Curious to see how Hong Kong surprised me? Read 12 Things That Surprised Me About Hong Kong.hong kong view from the peak5

16 The deserted beaches of Siquijor

I didn’t have this tiny island in the Philippines on my original itinerary, but my friend Carla recommended it to me in Manila and so I included it in my island hopping tour, trusting her advice. The minute I walked off the ferry pier and laid eyes on the turquoise waters I knew that the detour was going to be worth it. Siquijor was one of my favorite places in the Philippines! By the way, if you’re planning to visit the Philippines or tour South East Asia this year, I recommend checking out Traveloka, an easy-to-use online booking site that has a simple and fast booking process, especially if you use the Traveloka app. Read more about my time in Siquijor here: Searching for magic in mystical Siquijor.philippines siquijor

15 Rediscovering my love for London

It had been years since I spent time in the city I called home for three years until I left to travel the world in 2010. This year I finally spent some quality time in London, revisiting and introducing my friend Shannon to some of my favorite places around the city. London’s changed quite a bit over the past five years, but what hasn’t changed is how much I love the city.london

14 Hiking through hundreds of thousands giant Saguaro cacti

I’ve talked about my love for Southern Arizona so many times already, but it’s the one place that I keep going back to – I am planning my fifth trip to Tucson for next year, and I can’t wait to get back to the Sonoran Desert. This year, I was lucky enough to show a first-time visitor around Southern Arizona, giving me an excuse to revisit all the great National Parks and hiking trails, and explore some that I hadn’t been to before. tucson 2015

13 Spending part of the summer in Germany

It had been a while since my last summer in Germany and this year I arrived just in time for a heatwave. Which meant pool parties with my nephew and going to the lake with my nieces! And lots of al fresco dining in sidewalk cafes everywhere I went, like my hometown of Erfurt which is pictured here. Getting to spend quality time with my family whenever I want is one of the best things about being location independent.erfurt germany

12 Cycling along dusty dirt roads in Cambodia

My rental bike was rickety, rusty and old, it was unbelievably hot and humid, but I had one of the best days of the entire year that day. First of all, I love Cambodia and while my return this year was not planned at all, I ended up not wanting to leave… Second, that day on the bike, cycling through rice fields and small villages, passing families on motorbikes and school girls on bicycles, was such a great way to absorb Cambodian country life and I was blown away by how friendly and welcoming everyone is, waving at me excitedly as they were passing me, yelling Hello from across the street, or just giving me a big smile. Not only one of my favorite countries I visited this year, but in all of my travels!cambodia

11 A beach vacation in Koh Tao

When I returned to Thailand this year I wanted to make sure to not only revisit old favorites but to explore places I hadn’t been to before. The tiny island of Koh Tao in the Gulf Of Thailand was one of them. It was the perfect beach vacation. I had the right person with me to make it truly special and we enjoyed long beach sessions, a daily sunset watching ritual, we cruised all over the island in an ATV, ate delicious food, took a snorkeling trip, watched the fire dancers on the beach at night. I will be back for sure.
koh tao thailand

10 Exploring the Lombardy region in northern Italy

It was my first visit to Italy (one of my all time favorite countries in the world!) in four years, and this time around I explored Lombardy, a region I hadn’t paid much attention to on earlier trips to Italy (with the exception of a short trip to Milan). I loved the places I visited – Bergamo, Lake Garda and Brescia (pictured) and all the delicious food I stuffed my face with! Want to see more pictures of Lombardy? Check out: Why You Need To Visit Lombardy, In 20 Photos.brescia italy

09 Watching the sunset over the Bosporus in Istanbul

My time in Istanbul was short, but sweet. I hadn’t been there in years, even though I love the city, and in previous visits had never made it to the Asian side. This year, I got to know Kadikoy (on the Asian side), eat so much yummy Turkish food (and baklava of course!) and saw some spots off the beaten tourist path, all thanks to KatrinkaAbroad. My short visit was a good reminder that I should revisit places that I love more often, and a longer stint in Istanbul would be amazing.
istanbul sunset birds

08 Stopping in Amsterdam on my way to London

Amsterdam was a spontaneous addition to my European train trip in September, and I’m so glad that I decided to stop there for a quick visit (hadn’t been there since 2000!) I was blessed with gorgeous late summer weather, strolled along the canals for hours without a plan or a map, discovered corners of the city I’d never seen before and took a gazillion photos. Definitely one of Europe’s most picturesque cities.amsterdam canal

07 My fall foliage road trip to the Catskills

We didn’t have much of a plan, the only thing we had on our agenda was to see the beautiful fall colors and to leave the city for a few days. We went on hikes, explored little towns in the Hudson Valley, took scenic byways through colorful forests showing off their bright yellow, orange and red leaves, we played in the leaves and loved every minute of it. You can see more fall colors here: Colorful New York – A fall foliage road trip.
dani in leaves ny

06 A whirlwind trip to Tel Aviv

My rather spontaneous trip to Tel Aviv in October feels almost like a dream now, it came and went so fast! It was my second trip to Tel Aviv and everything was just right: great company, so much good food, a wild night out, beach time, awesome street art in the Florentine neighborhood where I stayed, oh and there was that film crew that followed us around most of the time – you can see more of my trip to Tel Aviv here: bit.ly/TLV-69 or read how I fell in love with the city when I first visited Israel in 2014: My short love affair with Tel Aviv.tel aviv jaffa view

05 Finding paradise in Thailand

I got really frustrated when I was looking for the picture perfect secluded beach in the Andaman Sea but everywhere we went was touristy or built up with hotels. That was until we stumbled upon Koh Poda, a tiny island off the coast of Ao Nang near Krabi. While there were quite a few tourists near the boat docking area, we just needed to walk down the beach a few hundred meters to find ourselves completely alone on a pristine beach with crystal clear water. It was heavenly – a true tropical paradise! You can marvel at more Koh Poda photos here: Please don’t go to.. Koh Poda.thailand koh poda

04 All the little moments that made my love for Berlin grow even more…

I ended up visiting Berlin five times this year and I think I could come up with 20 favorite travel moments in Berlin alone! There were too many great moments to list them all here but memorable were all the meet ups with other travelers, showing several friends around the city (I have to thank Nicky for the photo below!), the Festival Of Lights, the amazing Lebanese food on Sonnenallee, Mauerpark karaoke on a hot and sunny Sunday in August, lazy afternoons in beer gardens, Tempelhof airfield sunsets, a bar crawl and a street art your. Love this city so much! berlin wall dani

03 Chasing waterfalls in Iceland

It was a head-on-head between Iceland and another country (#02 on this list!) for the title of ‘best new destination I visited in 2015’. I think it’s a tie, to be honest, because Iceland was spectacular! Road tripping around Iceland’s ring road with Rease was a highlight of 2015. I don’t know how many times each day we pulled over on the side of the road to photograph yet another stunning waterfall, geysers or lava fields, and the scenery was different every day. One day we drove though a barren landscape that felt like the moon, the next day we drove along beautiful fjords, or glaciers galore! Such a diverse country, considering his small it is. Iceland is magical and if you go, I highly recommend road tripping around country. iceland skogafoss waterfall

02 Visiting the picture perfect White Beach in Boracay

Boracay is probably the most popular island in the Philippines, and it’s popular for a reason: the fabulous White Beach, which stretches for miles. It was not just the beach that made my time in Boracay perfect – it was also the people I met there, the wild nights out, the breathtaking sunsets, the vacation feeling that I hadn’t felt in so long. I felt so stressed and burned out when I arrived on the island, but I left Boracay feeling relaxed and with a smile on my face. You can read more about my time in Boracay here: Debauchery in paradise – Letting loose in Boracay.boracay white beach

01 Every single moment spent in New York City!

You didn’t think I wouldn’t include New York City in my list of favorite travel moments, did you? 😉 This was the second year in a row that I spent the most time of the year in NYC, and of course there’s a reason why I keep coming back to the Big Apple. There’s just no other city in the world that feels so vibrant and diverse, that allows me to travel to another country with just a short subway ride (not literally, of course), that has thousands (literally!) of food places for me to work my way through, that is so rich in culture and has more things to do than I could ever get around to doing – which is important for someone like me who can’t sit still. After living in eight different neighborhoods all over the city, I feel more at home here now than ever before. After years of feeling unsettled, it feels good to have a place again that feels like home, and I hope I’ll be able to continue to spend time here, making it a base in between trips, like my upcoming trip to South America! My 2016 travels are starting with the #1 destination on my travel wish list for next year!brooklyn bridge at night 2015

 

 Amazing travels – amazing year?

A quick word on the side of 2015 that isn’t shown here: all the things that went wrong! I chose to share my favorite travel moments, but believe me, this year wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns. I experienced some setbacks, I was completely overwhelmed with my workload several times, I was on the verge of a burnout in the summer, and I also experienced some difficulties on the road – like not being allowed to board a flight TWICE, almost running out of money at some point, and my personal life (read: love life!) hasn’t always been easy either. I just thought I should mention this because even though I’m living my dream of a life of travel it doesn’t mean that my life is perfect. 

Happy New Year, everyone, and thanks so much for being part of my journey! happy new year

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My 2016 Travel Wishlist

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As the year is drawing to a close, and I am look back at my travels over the past twelve months, it is time to make travel plans for 2016! A good friend of mine and I were supposed to travel together this year, but our plans fell through as my travel plans, as so often, changed. When we were talking about possible plans to travel together next year, she asked me ‘What are your Top Five destinations now?’ and it got my thinking: which places are high on my travel wishlist? And to which of those will I travel next year? I’d love to hear what you think of my wishlist, and which places you think I should definitely visit next year – please share your thoughts in the comments below – and also the places that are high on your travel wishlist.dani cameraSo without further ado – my travel wishlist for 2016:

1 Colombia

I’m starting with this one, because that’s where I’ll be starting my travels next month, but I don’t think you know how long I’ve been wanting to visit Colombia. It was one of the places I was most excited about to get to when I started traveling in 2010, making my way down from the US through Mexico to Central America. When I arrived in Panama, I could almost see Colombia on the other side of the Darien Gap, but I never managed to get there, as even back then, an unexpected change in plans and a summer in Europe ended my trip through Latin America – at least temporarily. But when I finally set foot on the South American continent, I started in the south, and the furthest north I made it was Peru. So I am ecstatic to finally get there – with a delay of only five years 😉 I can’t wait to explore the Caribbean coast of Colombia, about which I’ve heard great things, the beautiful cobblestone streets and colorful colonial buildings in Cartagena, and hopefully hike the 5-day trek to the Ciudad Perdida, the forgotten ancient city in the jungle.

2 Vietnam

I can’t believe that I spent nearly 10 months in South East Asia and never made it to Vietnam. This is something that has to be rectified asap – not only to fill the gap in my travel map, but also because I have heard nothing but good things about the country, which is why I want to finally go on a holiday to Vietnam. And with holiday I mean leave my laptop behind and simply focus on taking in the sights and experiencing the country instead of letting stress over unanswered emails take over. I am obsessed with Vietnamese food, which is another reason why I’m dying to get to Vietnam, but in addition to the delicious food, I can’t wait to see the breathtaking limestone cliffs in Halong Bay in the north, the white sand dunes in Mui Ne in the south, and everything in between. The country is filled with bustling markets, a coastline of over 2,000 miles lined with beaches, excellent trekking in the mountains of Sapa in the northwest, and I have no doubt that I’ll fall hard for Vietnam when I finally get there. Vietnam

3 South Africa

I have to be honest here – South Africa was never really on my radar – until a lot of travel bloggers whose blogs I read started to go to South Africa, posting gorgeous photos of the Garden Route that follows the southeastern coast of the country. Many of my friends who have been to South Africa mention Cape Town as one of their absolute favorite cities in the world, and of course I’d love to go on a wildlife safari in the massive Kruger National Park.

4 Morocco

Staying on the African continent, Morocco is a country I’ve been wanting to visit ever since watching the indie movie Hideous Kinky with Kate Winslet nearly 20 years ago, in which she travels around Morocco with her two young daughters. Taking the train to Marrakesh, sleeping under the stars in the Sahara Desert, road tripping through the spectacular Atlas Mountains, and taking in fifty shades of blue in the city of Chefchaouen (take a look for yourself in this beautiful CNN photo essay). If I can make this finally happen in 2016, it would be one of my longest travel dreams come true!

In Morocco - Amazing Erg Chebbi5 The Baltics

Another spot in the world that appeared on my radar thanks to fellow travel bloggers and travelers who I follow on Instagram. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia look wonderful in photos, and all three capitals, seem like picture perfect with medieval town centers, historic buildings and cobble stone streets. Plus, these three countries are still very cheap to travel in, so I should take advantage of that and visit them while they’re still not on the main tourist trail in Europe.

6 Northern India

When I visited India in 2012, I never made it further north than Goa, which is a shame, since most of India’s most striking provinces and attractions are north of Goa’s pristine beaches. High on my list of places to see: the desert of Rajasthan, the Golden City of Jaisalmer, the Ghats of Varanasi, the tea country around Darjeeling, and the mountain peaks of the Himalayas. Then there’s the Golden City of Jaipur, and the Taj Mahal of course – the list of places I want to see in India is so long that I could spend the better part of the year there and still not see it all! dani with indian family in hampi

7 Nepal

I was seriously bummed out when I had to cancel my trip to Nepal last month – trekking three weeks through the Himalayas along the stunningly beautiful Annapurna Circuit (check out some pictures in this Washington Post article) was something I’d been looking forward to ever since my five-day trek through Peru’s Andes Mountains in early 2014. If I can make it to Nepal next year, that would definitely be a highlight of my 2016 travels.

8 Myanmar

Another country that has been on my travel wish list for a long time – and I had actually planned to visit Myanmar this year but then decided to go to the Philippines instead (a decision I do NOT regret at all!). The golden Shwedagon Paya stupa in Yangon, the ancient city of Bagan, Inle Lake, the colorful markets – I hope that I will finally make it to Myanmar next year. Myanmar: Bagan

9 Cuba

In 2010, I almost went to Cuba, but traveling with my girlfriend at the time who was hesitant about entering the country (we would have gone from Cancun, Mexico) because she was not allowed to travel to Cuba as a U.S. citizen, made us eventually decide against hopping over to Cuba, which is why I still haven’t made it there. I think Cuba is likely to happen next year, and I can’t wait to step back in time in Havana, explore the charming colonial town of Trinidad and enjoy some of the island’s Caribbean beaches

10 Mongolia

I don’t think there’s any other country as fascinating as Mongolia with its nomadic culture and families still living in yurts, its rugged wilderness with vast steppes and imposing mountain peaks, and big open skies. It’s not necessarily solo female traveler friendly, but luckily it’s high on my friend’s travel wish list too, and it would be an unforgettable travel experience for sure. Sunset at Tolbo Nuur, Mongolia

Now it’s your turn – which countries are on your travel wishlist for 2016?

Photo credit: All images used under Flickr’s Creative Commons license. Vietnam by M M; Morocco by Patrick Wuske; Myanmar by Patrik M Loeff; Mongolia by Andrew Kudrin
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Life Lately And Upcoming Travels: November 2015 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

Where I’ve been

I started the month in Germany, where I hugged my family goodbye and hopped on a plane to New York. The rest of the month was spent between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and a few days upstate – first for my fall foliage road trip and then again for Thanksgiving.New York November 2015

What I’ve been up to

Returning to New York truly felt like coming home – and as I was typing these words I thought to myself ‘Haven’t I said that before?’, and a quick glance through my June round-up revealed that I had indeed said that before – when I came back to New York in June. So, it seems like I’ve finally found a place that I can call home.. well, it is definitely the place I feel the most at home, and know better than any other place in the world. You have no idea how good it feels to finally have a place to (sort of) come home to, after so many years on the road. One reason why I came here was because I wanted to spend my birthday with people I loved, and I couldn’t be happier with the choice I’ve made to cancel my Nepal trip (for now!) – I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world right now. new york fun novemberOf course I couldn’t sit still this month – and the glorious weather, a for New York untypically warm November, helped greatly in getting me away from my desk. I explored a few places I hadn’t been to yet, like the gorgeous Coney Island Creek Beach, went to the Museum Of Feelings, saw The Book Of Mormon on Broadway, saw an awesome hip hop concert (more on that below), ate sooooo well (lots of cake! Including home-made cake… I was baking up a storm in Germany and it seems like I can’t stop.. Next up are Christmas cookies!), went to see some new street art in Harlem and spent time in one of my favorite neighborhoods, Williamsburg. I finally visited the Whitney Museum, which I’d never gotten around to during the summer, I spent a lot of time in Central Park photographing the fall colors, and I loved that thanks to the lack of rain I was able to go running nearly every day. And then there was the amazing fall foliage road trip, of course, but more on that below.
November 2015 New York City

Highlights

Fall foliage road trip

I had planned this Upstate New York fall getaway for weeks, and I was blessed with beautiful weather during my road trip to the Catskills. I am officially in love with autumn! My road trip couldn’t have gone better – I hiked up to the top of a mountain, I walked across the Hudson River, hiked to a waterfall, had fabulous food, saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and took hundreds of photos of the colorful fall leaves. Fall Foliage Road TripWinning plane tickets to Singapore

Shortly after arriving in New York, I attended a Travel Massive, which is a meet-up where travel addicts and travel industry get together to mingle and connect with like-minded people (they’re held in several cities around the world- check out here if your city has one and if so, sign up for it.. It’s free!), usually sponsored by a travel company. And this is how I ended up with two return tickets from New York to Singapore on Singapore Airlines – the sponsor of the NYC Travel Massive in November, who gave away this amazing price. It was an early birthday present for sure.

Seeing the northern lights again

On my flight to New York, the pilot made an announcement mid-flight: ‘If you’re sitting on the right side of the plane, look outside. We are having excellent visibility and can see the northern lights.‘ I was lucky here too, having a window seat on the right side of the plane, and marveled at the dancing green lights outside in the night sky. After seeing them from the ground in Iceland in September, this was my second time seeing them, and I can’t describe how special it feels to watch this phenomenon.

Awesome housesits

I am typing this in my 38th floor luxurious apartment overlooking Midtown Manhattan, where I am bird sitting (this is a first!) until I move to Brooklyn, where I scored another housesit following this one. Both housesits came through TrustedHousesitters – while I’m always bitching about the pricey membership of that website, it surely does pay off, though. (If you’re interested in housesitting in New York, I am sharing some tips in this article: Adventures in Housesitting in New York City, and you’ll get 20% off a TrustedHousesitters membership if you sign up through my referral link here).

Housesitting perks New York City
Spot the bird! :)

I also had to turn down THREE amazing housesits over the Holidays here in New York because I’d already committed to a housesit for a former client. If you want a housesit in NYC over Christmas and New Years, let me know 😉

My first American Thanksgiving

I’ve spent so much time in the U.S. over the past few years, but somehow I never happened to be around for Thanksgiving.. Until now! I was lucky enough to be invited for a traditional family Thanksgiving, including a giant turkey, and while this picky vegetarian couldn’t join the turkey eating fun, I actually got my own ice cream cake turkey in honor of my birthday – absolutely amazing! (And I knew that I was in the right place when my friend leaned over and whispered in my ear: ‘You know this day is all about feeling.. Incredibly stuffed.. Right?’. A Holiday dedicated to eating my face off?! I’m in!)

My birthday

I’m not much of a birthday person (the first time I got an actual birthday cake was last year!) but this year I celebrated all week long, it seemed. I started my birthday week with an awesome hip hop show in a tiny club in New York (Angel Haze, for those who are interested.. She’s amazing!), followed by seeing The Book Of Mormon on Broadway. I’d tried the ticket lottery two times and third time’s a charm was definitely true here when I won two VIP box tickets. If you’re not familiar with the Broadway ticket lottery: several shows hold a ticket lottery every day during which you can win tickets to the show for a fraction of the normal prize. (Here is a list of plays and the times of each of their lotteries). I paid $32 for a VIP box ticket that normally goes for $189!! This is even better than the TKTS discount tickets booths in Times Square but of course you’re not guaranteed to win if you decide to try the lottery. I also treated myself to a visit to the Museum Of Feelings, taking half a day off work on a sunny day, and it was such a good reminder of how much I love the flexibility my lifestyle gives me. Yes, I might have worked all day on my birthday on a big project I needed to finish, but I was able to take half a day off when I thought it was too nice out to waste the afternoon in front of my laptop.birthday

Lowlights

Breaking down with the car on a highway

I broke down with the car on the highway … in Germany On my last day in Germany, I was going from Berlin to Leipzig to see my brother and my nieces, and the car broke down on the highway. If you know German autobahns, you know how fast cars are going there, which means I was terrified waiting for time tow truck on the side of the road while cars and lorries were whizzing by me at over 100 miles per hour. It didn’t help that my cell phone was running out of battery in that very moment… to make a long story short: I was towed eventually, and luckily I wasn’t alone in the car while waiting in the dark to be ‘rescued’. In the grand scheme of things, this was a minor nuisance, however, and once I got to New York, things went extremely well – I can’t believe there wasn’t a single incident since I got to the States.

What’s new with Globetrottergirls

Even though I had such a fun-filled month, I also worked my b*tt off. I’ve still got a ton of content from my latest trips to share with you, and I’ve got to see a first preview of the video footage shot in Tel Aviv last month (I don’t hate myself on camera!). I also wrote several travel guides and am happy to stay put for a while to be able to edit video footage, and to sift through the thousands of photos I’ve taken this year that I still want to share them with you.New York November

What’s next for me

I have another month in New York before I get ready for my departure to warmer regions, and I am planning to fully indulge in holiday cheesiness. Ice skating, marveling at the Christmas window displays in 5th Avenue, checking out the Christmas markets, making Christmas cookies, cooking a big Christmas dinner, and ringing in the New Year with friends. I don’t know what it is about New York but this seems to be the only place where I don’t ever itch to travel somewhere else. This might change as soon as temperatures drop to uncomfortably chilly levels, so we’ll see how I feel a month from now about leaving New York.new york autumn 2015

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Life Lately And Upcoming Travels: October 2015 Edition

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In my monthly round-ups, I am looking back at my travels over the past four weeks, what went well and what didn’t, and what’s next for me.

This month was a rather slow month of travel – a much needed break after hitting five countries in September – but coming to think about it I still managed to visit five cities in October (Tel Aviv in Israel and Berlin, Munich, Leipzig and Erfurt in Germany).October 2015 travels germany israel

What I’ve been up to

I started the month in Munich where I went to Oktoberfest, then I returned to Tel Aviv this month for some fun in the sun, spent a few days in Berlin to visit friends and go to the Festival Of Lights, and the rest of the month was spent with my family.   For the most part, I spent October in Germany, visiting family and friends, planning my next travels and reflecting on the past few months, and catching up on work. If you read my last Life Lately post, you might remember that I had to make a decision if I should go ahead with my longstanding plans of traveling to Nepal or not. Well let me tell you that I’m writing this NOT in Kathmandu, where I was supposed to touch down on 28 October. When the 28th rolled around, I was more than relieved that I didn’t go – with my current travel fatigue, I’m just not ready for another big trip yet. I made the right decision. But more on that later. October 2015 travels

Highlights of the month

Returning to Tel Aviv
My return to Israel was a spontaneous addition to my fall travel plans, a trip during which I was supposed to find out if it’s possible to visit Tel Aviv on a small budget and still have fun. I left Berlin in 13C rainy fall weather and got off the plane at sunny 27C – which felt glorious. Beach time, bar hopping, a street art tour and lots of good food made this trip a highlight of the month, plus I was there with two awesome fellow bloggers – Adam and Eve. (I just realized how funny this sounds. Adam & Eve!)

I immediately wanted to extend my stay but I had an important appointment in Berlin the next week – I really hope that a month in Tel Aviv is going to happen some time in the near future!Tel Aviv 2015Festival Of Lights in Berlin  

The Festival Of Lights had been on my travel wish list for a while and I was happy when my plans for a Berlin visit aligned with the festival this year. The Festival itself, during which light and video installations are projected onto Berlin’s major landmarks and historic buildings, was absolutely incredible, but I also had a fantastic time in Berlin again, eating my way through new restaurants, go bar hopping and craft brew sipping, meeting up with old and new friends, and simply enjoy a few crisp fall days in Berlin. Festival of lights berlin

Quality time with my sister

My sister is probably the most important person in my life and not a day goes by without us messaging each other. We often only get to talk via lengthy voice mails, which is why I cherished every second of quality sister time I had with her this month, our shared cooking and baking sessions, dinners and brunches, gossip time and laughs. Nobody knows me the way she knows me, and after moving around for such a long time with frequently changing travel buddies, it felt good to be able to just be standing still and be with someone who truly knows me. And because I knew that I wouldn’t be seeing my sister, brother, nephew and nieces for a very long time, I made sure to spend a good amount of time with everyone. I love being an auntie and adore these three little munchkins so much – and my siblings took full advantage of this, which means I babysat a lot this month. Oh and from the photos below you might be able to tell that I am obsessed crazy in love with my sister’s dog.Family Fun

What went well

 Work routine & work out routine  

I finally got to catch up on work – something that definitely suffered during my hectic travels in September. So this was my main priority this month, but I still got plenty more to do. I also got back into a regular workout routine which was fantastic (except for that run in the snow… yes, SNOW!) October workouts

My first on-camera project

I also completed my first on-camera project this month – my trip to Israel was filmed to make a short promo video about budget travel to Tel Aviv. While I didn’t think twice and immediately jumped at the chance when I was tapped for the project, I have to admit that I wasn’t sure how comfortable I’d be in front of a camera. But sometimes you gotta push yourself to leave your comfort zone, right? And it turned out that I had a blast with the film crew following us around and wasn’t camera shy.

Carry-on travel – this time it went well!

Speaking of my trip to Israel – after vowing only last month not to travel with carry-on only ever again, I ended up traveling to Israel with carry-on! This time it was easy though because I went for just a few days and I packed only light summer clothes. I knew it would save me tons of time at the airport (more on that below in ‘what went wrong’).

A shiny new visa in my passport

And last but not least – and this was the most emotional moment of the month – I was finally able to fit in an in-person appointment at the American Embassy in Berlin, where I had applied for a visa that allows me to spend more time in the States than the regular 90-day tourist visa. Not only did I never seem to have enough time to leave my passport at the Embassy in between trips since I got to Europe, but I also didn’t know if I would qualify for it, which put quite a bit of stress on me. But after a tearful goodbye to New York this summer, when I was absolutely not ready to leave, I knew I had to finally apply for it. And it was approved!october 2015 update

What went wrong

Airport security annoyances  

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Thanks for putting my stuff back where you took it from!!

Oh Israel. Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport is known for its extreme security measures, and travelers are advised to arrive 3 – 4 hours prior to their flight departures. I wanted to be safe and decided to head to the airport 3 hours before my flight, even though I had only brought a small carry-on duffel bag. And was I glad I did – I ended up having to go through a lengthy inspection (having every single nook and cranny in my bag searched, including my undies, feminine products and electronics), was left waiting and had to endure an additional questioning – that’s all I’m gonna say about it but you can read more about Ben Gurion’s questionable procedures, humiliations and aggressive questioning in this article: Stern security at Ben-Gurion Airport questioned.

Packing hassle

After a number of shorter trips with a small duffel bag rather than my giant backpack over the past few months I was faced with packing my big ‘pack again this month – and for the first time ever, I had to fit in clothes for all four seasons. I was completely stressed out by this challenge, and ended up not fitting everything, but let’s see how far I get with the stuff I managed to pack. I am definitely getting tired of living out of a backpack and being limited to two pairs of jeans and one jacket.

What’s new with Globetrottergirls.com

While I have a giant to-do-list and a number of projects that I’ve been contemplating for over a year (!!) now, I can barely keep up with my day-to-day business duties – I’ve mentioned it a couple of times before. Looking back at the year so far, I noticed that I had a great year of travel, but business-wise, I’m not where I want to be and where I could be. And that’s why I decided to sit still and catch up on work for a couple of months instead of keep going. I canceled my trip to Nepal – a week of rafting followed by hiking the Annapurna Circuit for three weeks would have been amazing, no doubt, but I have too many outstanding client commitments to be able to fully enjoy a trip like this (mostly offline). And let’s not forget that I still have a gazillion travel stories sitting in my drafts that I have yet to share with you, videos that need to be edited, and lots of other business-related stuff I need to deal with.

digital nomad office
There’s gonna be a lot of this in November…

What’s next for me

Once I made the decision to take a little travel break it was time to decide where I wanted to do that. There was only one place in the world I wanted to be – New York City. So I am now en route to my favorite city in the world and I’m excited for my first holiday season in NYC – complete with ice skating in Bryant Park, working my way through this list of cozy bars with fireplaces, see a Broadway show and do all the other indoor things that I keep putting off during the summer months when it’s too nice out to spend time inside. So while I’m listening to my heart right now, I also know that even with lots of awesome stuff going on in New York all year round, it’ll get too cold for me at some point, and I’ll be heading to the beach – to Colombia’s fine Caribbean beaches, to be precise. Yes, after a 2-year hiatus I am ready to return to South America!

But back to the immediate future – to be honest, I won’t be sitting still right away when I get to the States, but I’ll be fulfilling a travel dream that I didn’t get to realize last fall: a getaway to a cabin upstate, to take in the fall foliage before the leaves are gone for this year, and I am looking at a weekend getaway in late November as a treat for my birthday.fall in New York

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