The places I’ve been

I’m feeling more motivated with my debt repayment, and starting to really enjoy Portland. I realized a lot of my disdain for this city was my projections of my failed career life. Now that I have an awesome job I love and am learning, growing and connecting, it doesn’t seem so bad. There are some really amazing things about this place and I want to cherish every minute of it. I do still have a case of severe wanderlust though.

I’m a dreamer and love to imagine all the places I want to go, sites I want to see, adventures that can only be held in my memory and never properly transcribed to words.

Paying off my debt is both my biggest deterrent to following my dreams of travel, while also the most motivating to actually get out of debt. Isn’t that interesting how that happens? I really want to go to Istanbul, Paris, Cairo, Tokyo, Edinburgh, Bangkok, Santiago and more. Here in the states I want to go to Chicago, Austin, and New Orleans. I want to back to Lansing and visit my grandpa. I love the feeling of adventure and getting away. The feeling that time doesn’t matter and that every moment that you have experiencing something new is an absolute treasure. A story that you will replay in times of sadness, or fear to remember that your life, at times, has been magical. For now, I’d like to reminisce about the places I’ve been.

Madrid, Spain: Madrid was my very first abroad experience when I was 21 (7 years ago!). I had saved up almost a years worth of my minimum wage salary to go study Spanish in Madrid and other Spanish cities for 5 weeks. Although, I talk a lot about my student loans here, this part of my education I do not regret one bit. Although I could have thrown this amount of money at my standing student loan debt, I am glad I didn’t. Studying abroad changed my life forever. It helped me become (almost) fluent in Spanish, get jobs because of my new language skills, open up jobs in study abroad, and ignite a new, fiery passion for travel. I remember leaving home and arriving in Madrid tired and exhausted. I had studied Spanish for over three years and was regarded as one of the best in my class. I went to Spain and couldn’t understand a word. The accent was different and everyone spoke so quickly, I couldn’t keep up. I experienced first hand the real pangs of culture shock. Also, I don’t eat pork and there was ham hanging from every restaurant window. I called home to my mom, crying and telling her I didn’t know what I was doing. She encouraged me to stick it out and boy am I glad I did. My Spanish got way better, I got to try new foods, live with a host family, and travel to other parts of Spain. It was the first time I had been a way from home and I matured so much.

Amsterdam and Dordrecht, Netherlands: After a really crappy year in 2007, 2008 was starting to shed some sunlight. Things were starting to turn around for me. I had been living in a series of bad experiences, bad timing and bad luck (I am really amazed at the power of human resiliency). In 2008, I got a generous offer from friends to go to the Netherlands. I went to Dordrecht and Amsterdam for about a week and it was just the sort of reprieve I needed. I got to meet new and old friends, explore the canals, drink beer and watch curiously at those engaged in the “coffee shops” and red light district.  My mindset and confidence shifted with this trip.

Buenos Aires, Argentina: In early 2008, when the fog of my crappy year was starting to disappear, I wanted to do something crazy. Something that I would do by myself, something I would remember forever; an adventure. I had always wanted to go to Buenos Aires, so I waited to find the cheapest price and booked it. I imagined meeting cute Argentinean guys, getting lost, practicing my Spanish, dancing tango and more. Three months before my trip, I met my current boyfriend. All of a sudden my image of my Eat, Pray, Love (book is better than the movie, the movie sucks) vacation was disintegrating. But for those who care to know, my boyfriend and I said ‘I love you’ after three weeks and things moved very quickly! I told him I had planned to go on this trip, a journey really, but now it was different. I wanted him to come, but it was too quick, too much money. So I went on the trip myself, missing my newfound love. I arrived in BA, the air filled with music, tango, flavor and life. I checked into my hostel and was immediately greeted by a Brazilian named Luis. He wanted to show me around. Me, being naïve and dense, said of course. The long and short of it is that by the end of the trip my new Brazilian friend was promising me marriage, kids, and a life in Mexico. I don’t want the first two things, but he promised me I would never have to work again.  My partner and I laughed it off when I came home. The sites, the sounds, the color, movement and emotion in Buenos Aires really moved me. Also, please look up Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo

Colonia, Uruguay: I only spent a day here as I took the ferry over from Buenos Aires. It was a nice, sleepy, coastal town. I remember walking aimlessly, sleeping on the beach and just taking everything in. It’s these moments of nothingness and contemplation that make me feel really live.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: You should know that even though I can’t afford it, I look up flight prices to various locations weekly. It’s a torturous game I play with myself, and sometimes I’ve been really lucky. Like in 2009. Do you remember that horrific airplane crash from Rio to Paris that disappeared into thin air, with weird flashing lights and they never found the black box? Yeah, scary business. Well, I happened to be looking at flights from LA to Rio a week after that happened, and I found round trip tickets for $438. I could hardly believe my eyes. I couldn’t believe it, so I just kept going through with the process, until I bought two tickets for my partner and me (sad advantage to a terrible tragedy). Ooops, I guess we are going to Brazil! Brazil was enlightening, magical, and wondrous. The people are so gregarious and loving, given the country’s very sordid political history. The music is booty shaking, and those caipirinhas are downright dangerous. The beaches are incredible and the geography is wonderfully diverse. It’s also a place of extreme wealth and poverty. We went on a favela tour, which I had mixed feelings about. I definitely felt like the rich, privileged outsider going into a poor neighborhood to see how they lived. We felt better after finding out the tours were by locals and the money went back into the neighborhoods. We took motorcycles up very steep, and windy roads, without seatbelts. It was one of the first times I ever though I could actually die. The favela (I went to Rocinha) was complex, beautiful, functional and very interesting. Everyone was friendly.  They had their own security carrying Ak-47’s. It was a once in a lifetime experience, which left me thinking about things very differently. I stayed in a hostel with 7 other guys in the room, so there was little romance for my partner and I. The owner of the hostel suggested we go to a ‘love hotel’. She said they were pretty common, as Brazilians don’t typically move out until they marry.  There was a love hotel involved, and that is another hilarious story that should be kept private 🙂 I desperately want to go back to Brazil as my visa expires this year, but with what is going on with the Olympics, World Cup and tourism, I don’t know if it’s the right time. Oh and I have 50k left in debt, but you know that will go away eventually.

Chiapas, Mexico: As part of my graduate school program, we had a class in Chiapas, Mexico! Yes, that is right! It was probably one of the coolest things I have ever done. I spent three weeks in Chiapas, practicing Spanish, creating theatre, learning about the history and more. The divide between rich and poor became larger and I started to question the role of the traveler. Chiapas is beautiful geographically, but wrought with poverty. It’s a hard dichotomy to accept and I still ask myself how can we make this gap smaller? The trip was also life changing and unforgettable.

Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver, Canada: In 2011, after I had 19 interviews and still no job, I was starting to have an identity crisis. I wasn’t sure if I should move from NYC, and I wasn’t clear on the direction my life was taking. I decided to take a 5-day trip to Montreal. I took the train from NYC to Montreal and it was absolutely gorgeous. 12 hours of time standing still, greenery and friendly faces. Montreal was fun. I went alone and was already fairly depressed, so unfortunately the trip wasn’t great. I realize that even if you are doing something fun and amazing, if you are not in a great mood, your mood won’t magically change. I was questioning lots of things and in the thick of making another life changing decision (moving to PDX). I was about to head home just as Hurricane Irene hit and my train was canceled. I had to re-route. I re-routed to Toronto and spent two days there before going back to NYC. Toronto was lovely. Any Toronto peeps go to Jet Fuel Coffee? Badass. This past Thanksgiving, my partner and I went to Vancouver and spent time on the beach, Granville Island and more. I wish I would have been a blogger at that point so I could meet Girl Meets Debt and other pf bloggers!

Reykjavik, Iceland: Are you signed up with Travelzoo’s top 20? If not, do it now and thank me later. I’ve been to NYC from PDX rt $122 and found this crazy deal to Iceland this past January. $600 for RT flight, hotel, bus and breakfast WHAT? For your edification, Iceland is crazy expensive. As in, we had fish and chips and 1 beer for dinner each and it was $50. OUCH! Overall, the geography, nightlife, politics, people, and lifestyle really impressed me. The landscapes were surreal. We rented a car and went around to see waterfalls, mountains, birds, hot springs and more.

In the end, I haven’t regretted one of my trips. Yes, I have carried debt with them all and it doesn’t matter to me. I have lessened the expense by using miles, finding deals, staying in hostels, filling up on continental breakfast and enjoying free activities.  Aside from the Spain trip, most of my trips have cost between 1k- 1.8k for everything.

While I am still dreaming, tell me about your favorite places? Or what places are you dreaming of going to?


18 responses to “The places I’ve been

  1. Wow you’ve already been to so many cool places! I’ve never had the chance to really travel yet. I’ve just gone to Mexico earlier this year but I dream about Europe all the time! Especially Italy and Greece. I didn’t know you’ve been to Vancouver before!!! Isn’t it gorgeous? 🙂

    • I want to go to Greece so bad!! Santorini and Athens. Vancouver was nice. I loved Stanley Park and going to Blenz! Wish I knew you then. I hate putting essentially the price of one of my trips towards debt each month, but I know it will be nice to get out of debt early. I don’t know if I can wait 4+ years to travel again, so I just make debt a priority and see if I find any deals.

  2. Wow you’ve been to a lot of great places!! That’s crazy what the airfare was to Brazil!!! I don’t regret any of my trips as well, well except for the time I went to Russia on a work trip, but that’s another story. You’ve been to a lot of places I want to go, like Argentina. Next on my list (aside from some domestic trips I’m taking) is Croatia/Slovenia. I really want to go next year. The cool thing is I know people now from all over the world thanks to blogging/volleyball and other online things. That could save me a lot of money if I took advantage of that.

    • It was a total fluke with the Brazil trip, I actually felt kind of guilty. OMG you went to Russia for a work trip. Blog post please! Argentina is so lovely, I highly recommend it. I really want to go back! I didn’t know much about Croatia, but apparently it’s becoming the next big thing. The coast looks amazing. The Croatian Cost episode of No Reservations really sold me. You should definitely take advantage of having friends everywhere. It gives you an excuse to travel and usually a place to stay. And an insider’s scoop too!

  3. Pingback: The Worst Trip I've Ever Taken | Budget and the Beach·

  4. It seems we both share two passions – travelling and the desire to get out of debt! 😉 This is a great list you’ve for there! Personally, I did not think much of Madrid, I prefer Barcelona where I’ve been a number of times and would definitely return. I loved Amsterdam though! I am planning a trip to South America in the beginning of next year and will visit Brazil and Argentina, so thank you for sharing your experiences of visiting both countries. Like you I do not regret travelling while being in debt and I will still travel occasionally while paying it down, I’ve met some amazing people during my travels and created beautiful memories along the way, and I am happy I did! Here’s to travelling and getting out of debt! 😉

    • Yes, get out of debt and travel! Glad we share those two passions. Madrid was nice but I have a feeling I will like Barcelona better as well. The trip was structured as it was with school and I couldn’t afford to go to Barcelona at the time. There is so much of Spain I still want to see. Amsterdam is lovely and I think you will enjoy Brazil and Argentina.

  5. Iceland is so easy/cheap to get to via free layovers but apparently pricey while there ( we are spending two days there soon). Still on my bucket list: Spain, Japan, Hing Kong, vanouver, Seattle, Portland.

    • Nice bucket list! Let us know when you come this way 🙂 I hope you are enjoying all your travels now. I love reading your posts about your adventures.

  6. I love all the travels you’ve been on!! I’m in love with South America, and hope we can go to a couple of countries there for our honeymoon! I LOVED your BA story – what an adventurous life you’ve led, you little heart breaker, you. 😉

    • You should go to South America for your honeymoon! Haha, it’s not that adventurous. Turns out that guy had hit on every girl at the hostel, I was just the most dense.

  7. The world is such a big old place, there’s so many places I want to see too. I love traveling but haven’t had the opportunity to travel much for the last few years – but I will make up for it when the debts are paid off! I know what you mean about magical memories when traveling, for me Venice, Australia and Thailand were amazing holidays. I’d love to go backpacking around the world one day – I’m not sure if that will happen now I’ve got my little girl to think about! But the day will come when you can jet off on your travels again sooner than you think. 🙂

    • The world is huge and there is so much to see. I sure hope I can travel more after debt! Ideally, I’d love to live abroad for a year at some point.

  8. Other than charging a few of my trips-I regret NOTHING!! I am a much more worldly, happy, and fulfilled person because I’ve travelled. One of the main reasons why I want to get rid of the debt is so that I can live abroad for a year or two! I’m all about South America right now.

  9. Your adventures sound amazing! I haven’t done as much traveling as I would like, student loans and debt have gotten in my way over and over again. I’m hoping to change that soon and I’m learning a lot about what I want to do when I’m debt free – thanks for sharing!

    • I dream everyday of what it will feel like to be free of my student loans–and how much easier it will be to travel once they are done! You’ll get there!

  10. First, love this post because I’m a true travel junkie! Second, TravelZoo’s Top 20 is insane–I finally had to unsubscribe from the emails because I was having a hard time avoiding the temptation to book all those incredible deals…haha

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