Travel Hacks: Next Vacay

Ok, first, this post is 100% not sponsored. I just wanted to really quickly share with you guys one of my newfound loves when it comes to travelling.

Often, the most expensive part of traveling (especially internationally) is the cost of the flight. Next Vacay is a site that scours the internet for amazing flights and sends them to your inbox daily. I live next to a smaller airport so a lot of the flights I get are out of Phoenix or LAX, but the deals are AMAZING and 100% worth the drive. My upcoming trip to Cartagena (over a holiday break) was only 535 roundtrip. Today in my email I got a ticket to Hawaii for 475 roundtrip and a ticket to Bali for 635 roundtrip. You pay 25 dollars a year and whenever they find a good ticket, Next Vacay will send you the link to your inbox and then it’s up to you whether or not you’ll be taking an impromptu vacation. Most of the flights are international but I have gotten flights to Hawaii and one to NYC before.

While getting daily cheap flights in your inbox may just increase your wanderlust it’s a good way to catch an amazing deal on flights and inspire a bit of spontaneity.

Xo, Kait

How I’ve Traveled in My Life

lot of times you see articles on Facebook and Pinterest on how to travel as a student, travel cheap, or even travel for free. You click on them excitedly, hoping you’ll get some guidance on how to indulge your wanderlust without ruining your savings and it seems the answer is always the same; stay in hostels, be a pain blogger, have parents who paid for your education so you’re debt free, quit your amazing job that allowed you to save 10,000+ a year and finally use those savings, and skip out an all expensive activities and food.

I hated reading those articles, they always depressed me and made me feel like travel was unattainable. Here I am, an unpaid blogger and graduate student, working full time, in student debt, saving as much as I can yet realizing it’s not too much, having expensive taste, and definitely not being a hostel person.

I want to see the world and I want to see it on my terms, I don’t want to skip out on some once-in-a-lifetime travel opportunity because I’m too poor or not sample amazing local cuisine because I only have money for microwave ramen. I also have pretty bad anxiety, which does not lend itself to a hostel experience ( I hate sharing bathrooms, and my personal space, and like having to be constantly “on” with people). So how I have I managed to travel to places I have? Well a bit of it is luck, family, and old-fashioned patience.

I’ve traveled all over the US for the simple reason that I’ve lived all over the US. Growing up my family never lived somewhere longer than 5 years, and because of my stepdad’s job we often moved to big cities. By the time I graduated High School I’d lived in L.A., Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas, and Miami. My mom and stepdad currently live in Dallas and my dad and stepmom live in LA. Every time we all played tourist in our new home, my mom wanted us to see everything that made where we lived unique – from all the kitschy side-shows in Vegas to the beautiful keys of Florida. With my parents living in two different cities now I get to visit often and have quite an affinity for both LA and Dallas an always try to do something new when I visit (essential guides for those cities coming soon). Family is also what allowed me to see Belize and Guatemala, my mom spent several years saving for her 40th birthday vacation and the end result was an amazing trip!

Another way I’ve seen the states is through school, I didn’t stay at home for college and spent my undergrad in Southern Utah (cue a guide to Zion) and am now located in Tucson, AZ for grad school. School is also what allowed me to go to Spain. I studied abroad between my undergrad and grad and used scholarships, graduation gift, savings from my part-time job, and gifts from my parents (in the form of a passport and plane ticket) to get myself there. A school trip in Spain is how I got to see Morocco.  

For my upcoming trip to Colombia I’m partially paying with graduation gifts (yay to getting my MA) and the rest comes from money I’ve been saving for the past year from my full-time job. While working and going to school full-time is hard (especially as a graduate student), my job allows me to save money and because I work on campus I get a discount on tuition. And it took me awhile to save up enough money to travel and I will be saving up until my trip and then immediately afterwards I’ll start preparing for the next one.

So if you stuck through here are my answers to the conundrum of traveling. It is possible. Even without parents and school. Even when my trip for Belize was paid for by my parents I still worked as much as possible to save up extra money. My trip to Spain I spent three years saving up. There is no easy way to travel, no instant pinterest hack. Being able to travel at a young age takes patience, hard work, savings, and a lot of research. However it’s always worth it.

I plan on posting about different tricks and hacks I use to save and keep my costs down but before I did that I wanted to give y’all a bit of background on me and have full disclosure.

Xo, Kait

A Day in Guatemala

So alternatively this guide could be called “Tikal in 24 Hours” because really, nearly the entirety of our time in Guatemala was spent in Tikal. The site is so close to where we were staying in San Ignacio that there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to see it. If you’re like us and deciding to take a excursion from your Belize vacation to Guatemala here are a few things to remember. First, Water is a lot better quality in Belize. This won’t be an issue wherever you’re staying but something to keep in mind if/when purchasing street food and drinks. Second, Belize speaks English but remember that Guatemala speaks Spanish. English isn’t widely spoken at all. Lastly, economic conditions are harsher in Guatemala than Belize resulting in a bit more crime. We didn’t have any issues minus a few police stops/reroutes but it’s just something to keep in mind. I really, really loved visiting Tikal so don’t let the above info keep you from going, just keep it at the back of your mind so you’re prepared and know what to expect! So, if you’re going to Tikal here are a few of my recommendations.

 

  1. Tikal

Obviously, go visit Tikal. I would also recommend going with a guide. There is so much history that we’re arely taught about in Western Education so having a guide really helps you learn as much as you can about the site. It’s also nice having someone on hand to answer your never-ending questions if you’re like me and really into art and cultural heritage. Obviously climb up the main temples, but take time to explore some of the other ruins, we wandered through an old dormitory that was completely devoid of tourists and it was so nice to explore the ruins just us. With that said, Tikal wasn’t super crowded and even the most popular temples had plenty of space a top them.

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2. Stay in Tikal

Inside the park there is an absolutely amazing Ecolodge. If you have the chance to stay there then take it. We didn’t know what to expect when we got to the Lodge. To be honest, were kind of expecting a bit of a rougher experience, but instead this ecolodge turned out to be the nicest place we stayed! The little casitas were cozy and clean with minimalist furnishing and a gorgeous modern bathroom all in marble. The rainhead shower was my favorite. The water pressure was actually as strong as it is here in a america (I think that’s what I missed most about while in Belize). Now, this is an ecolodge so there was no ac and no electricity from 10pm -6 am, but the fans kept the room cool until it cooled off in the evening and we had flashlights in case we needed to get up at night.

eco

3. Tortillas

We found the best tortillas while in Guatemala, there are countless roadsides stands that sell them and they’re so good as a snack when they’re hot off the stone. If you’ve never had homemade tortillas these will change your life. I’m lucky enough to have an abuela that makes me tortillas all the time so I’m picky when it comes to them, so trust me when I say these were delicious!

tortilla

4. Mask Workshop

Guatemala has a long tradition of mask-making, the art form has been featured in museums across the world. Around Tikal there are several mask workshops you can visit. They can be a little tourist-y but so are most things in the area. It’s still a really cool opportunity to watch an artisan at his craft.

mask

Are you going to Tikal soon? What are you most excited to see?

xo, Kait

Placencia, Belize: Essential Guide

“Just Breathe”

Ok, so I am not particularly a resort person. I am not against resorts. In fact, I think adding a day or two in a resort at the end of the trip can really help you decompress. In Placencia we spent just under a week at a resort though and we found ourselves wishing we had spent a few more days in San Ignacio and cut down our resort stay to 3 days. With that said, Placencia really was lovely and provided the perfect change to recharge. Below are some of my favorite aspects of the town. 

 

  1. Relax

Part of the main appeal to staying in a resort in my opinion is that you don’t have to really ever lift a finger. Meals, activities, and anything else is already planned out for you. Make the most of this and really use your time in Placencia to relax, take a little vacation from your vacation.

relax
2. Swim

Placencia has beautiful, sandy beaches. Many parts of Belize, like Caye Caulker, have rockier beaches with a lot of plant life. Placencia, on the other hand, is famous for it’s sugar-white beaches. I loved relaxing on the beach and going for a swim off the dock at our resort. There’s also a beautiful strip of beach right outside of the main town area.

swim

3. Gelato

There’s a really cute and very delicious Gelato shop along the main street, we went there several times during our time in Placencia and it’s the perfect late afternoon treat. There are usually about 8-12 flavors and they all taste super fresh. My favorite was Kinder Bueno, a flavor I fell in love with in Spain and hadn’t gotten to have since returning to America. It was a good dose of nostalgia along with hazelnut chocolate.

gelato

4. Kayak

Most resorts in Placencia will have windsurfers, kayaks and paddleboats that you can take out on the water. This is a great way to explore a bit more of the coast- or if you’re like me and my siblings you can just race around in circles and throw each other off course with your paddle. Either way, it’s fun.

kayak

5. Habaneros

So our favorite restaurant on Placencia was actually Mexican food, strange right!? Italian in Caye Caulker and now Mexican in Placencia. The restaurant is pretty reasonably priced, delicious, and has a beautiful view of the sunset off the lagoon.

habaneros

6. Beach Side Massage

I literally have not been able to get a massage since I’ve gotten back from Belize because I’ve idolized this one so much. I mean seriously, a massage in a cabana on the beach with white gauze curtains shimmering in the wind and the sound of the ocean soothing your mind? Nothing can ever live up to that.

banner

Are you a resort person? An adventure type? Or somewhere in between?

xo, Kait

San Ignacio, Belize; Essential Guide

“It’s not the Destination, It’s the Journey. And in Belize, It’s both”

San Ignacio in Belize is really the gateway to an adventurous vacation. Within a few hours from the city lie some of Belize’s most famous jungle adventures. I spent about a week in San Ignacio with my family and by the end of it we were wishing we had more time. So if you’re looking for a place to spend the majority of your time in, San Ignacio is it. San Ignacio is just a wonderful place that captures a blend of cultures that makes the city so perfectly Belizean. So as follows are my favorite parts about my week in San Ignacio.

  1. Stay at an EcoLodge

We stayed at an ecolodge maybe 30 minutes outside the city called Duplooy’s Jungle Lodge and it was absolutely amazing! I really cannot rave enough about this place. We rented the main house and it was gorgeous and spacious. There is no AC and electricity shuts off late at night for a few hours to conserve power, which can sound scary if you’re more of a luxury traveler but I promise it’s not. This place was one of the nicest places I’ve ever stayed at. You get three meals included in your stay and everything was super delicious. The fruit was amazing and the Belizean Breakfast was my go-to for a busy day of exploring. Basically, If you’re going to San Ignacio, stay here. They also help arrange all your excursions and the guides are amazing! Even if you just want to relax this place is so peaceful, I spent one day just lounging around the house and tubing down the river and it was so nice and really refreshing after a few days of adventuring.

2. San Ignacio Saturday Market

On our way from Caye Caulker to San Ignacio we stopped here and got a bunch of amazing fresh produce to take with us to our house at Duplooys for snacks. We also got lunch at this Quesadilla stand that had delicious, fresh watermelon juice. It was so fun to wander through all the stalls and sample the delicious fruits and vegetables. Every stall was piled high with produce and there were so many cool fruits and vegetables I wanted to try. 

2. Cave Tubing

So New Zealand and Belize are actually the only two places in the world where you can tube through an entire cave system (a lot of other experiences you get out and walk for intervals). The trek up to the cave system is maybe a mile and it’s a pretty easy walk, once you’re of the caves you can also jump into the river for an afternoon swim. The cave itself is so cool, for a part of it we were completely silent, just floating through the water and the shadows on the wall combined with the sound of running water was entrancing. This cave was also once used for religious sacrifices and there are rock formations said to represent different gods within the Mayan tradition. 

3. Ziplining

Okay, do I really need to say why ziplining through the jungle is amazing? It just is so go do it! Seriously! It’s a bit of a treck up to some of the ropes (ok, I was out of breath sometimes) but it was so fun and the views were amazing.

zipline

4. Ride horseback through the jungle

After a 2.5 hour horseback ride to the Xanatunich Ruins (next item on the list) you will be sore if you’re not used to riding but it’s so much fun and the scenery is just beautiful. I will admit I had never ridden a horse before and the guide definitely good-naturedly made fun of my fear, but I did it and it was so fun. 

horses

5. Xanatunich

Ok, these ruins are so cool! It’s a short .5 mile (at most, probably closer to .25) walk up to the complex. Currently there are even more structures and art being uncovered which is so cool! The climb up the main temple isn’t too hard at all, just a little slippery at times so go at your own pace and hold onto things, and the view is definitely worth the trek. You can even see into Guatemala. There’s several structures you can explore as well as a small but mighty museum about the site, including how it got its name and the legend of the Stone Lady who haunts the site.

6. ATM Cave

Ok so full disclosure, I didn’t go to the ATM cave because I was sick but I kinda, really regret it. My family went and had an ah-mazing time. You have to register early and go with a guide, only a certain amount of tourists are allowed in each year. There are the remains of sacrifices that have crystallized over time (this cave was thought to be the entrance of the underworld. So wear thick socks because you have to take of your shoes and no cameras are allowed.

7. Blue Hole

The Blue Hole isn’t quit in San Ignacio, it’s more on the way from San Ignacio to Placencia. Unfortunately we went right after a rainstorm so the water wasn’t as clear as it usually is but it was still beautiful and worth the stop.

blue

Caye Caulker, Belize; Essential Guide

Go Slow

When most people go to the Belize Cayes, they go to Caye Ambergris. Instead of following the crowd to a touristy, crowded and expensive Island, go to Caye Caulker. Trust me on this one. I spent just under a week on the caye and explored every inch. Literally. Caye Caulker is about five miles long and under a mile wide, when you stand in the middle of the island you can see the water on both sides. With Island’s motto is “Go Slow” and the plethora of watersports/activities available, Caye Caulker offers the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure. When I stayed on the Island my sisters and I shared a small apartment our family rented, but there are plenty of hotels and hostels to choose from within a wide range of prices. Fresh produce is a bit more expensive on the island (it’s all imported from the mainland), but seafood is plenty! As follows are my recommendations for having the quintessential Caye Caulker experience.

  1. Find a Rooftop Hammock

My favorite part about the apartments we stayed in was the rooftop hammocks. Swaying in the ocean breeze with a great view of the ocean really is the perfect way to spend the afternoon.

     2. Go Snorkeling

Caye Caulker is right next to the second largest barrier reef in the world, making it a perfect place for snorkeling and scuba diving. There are several local snorkeling tours that will take you out for the day to explore the beautiful blue waters.

snorkeling

  1. Fryjacks

Errolyns House of Fryjacks sells the best Fryjacks on the Island. Fryjacks are a delicious on-the-go breakfast; its a flaky fried pastry that has been stuffed with meat, cheese, eggs…pretty much anything you desire! We would get to this place right when they opened, grab a few to go and wander around the still-empty streets.

  1. Il Pelicano

The only really high-end place on the island, Il Pelicano delivers big on both food and atmosphere. We got there a little early and spent the sunset eating absolutely scrumptious italian food. Who would have thought?

il pelicano

  1. Hang Out at the Split

When a hurricane literally split the island in two, locals decided to make it an attraction over a detriment. The split is home to a really cool bar and some of the brightest blue waters. You can go relax on the little beach or you’re adventurous, swim the entire split. We did both and it was awesome.

splot

  1. Fresh Smoothies

Paradiso cafe is the best breakfast spot to get amazingly fresh smoothies- from guava to banana these smoothies are a great way to start the day. My go-to was the mango smoothie. They’re a little pricey for the island but super yummy

paradiso

  1. The Bread Man

So there’s this guy who rides a red bike with a yellow umbrella around and sells bread his wife bakes. He has banana, dulce de leche, and pineapple bread. They’re all amazing, so if you see him riding by, be sure to stop him and grab a few.

bread

  1. Terry’s Grill

A bit of a dive, this is one of my favorite places we ate at in Caye Caulker. Terry is hilarious and the seafood is super fresh and simple; it really focuses on the natural flavors of the fish. This place is also very budget friendly so if you are craving lobster but don’t want to blow your budget, this is a perfect place.

terrys.jpg

8. Relax on the Beach

If you don’t spend at least one day primarily just relaxing on the beach you’re not doing it right. Just take your towel down to the  coast line a pick out a palm tree to relax under. Or sunbathe on one of the docks or concrete walkways by the water.

beach

  1. Take in the Nightlife

The Island has a totally different vibe at night and it’s fun to walk around and take it all in. Almost every street food vendor is selling cotton candy, deep fried desserts and beer. Reggae and reggaeton is playing on every corner, people walking through the streets lazily, the  sounds of the water lapping, the island at night is like one giant, chill kickback.

  1. See the Island Empty

At least one day of your time in Caye Caulker, try to wake up at sunrise. The entire Island is quiet and all the streets are empty. It’s a very surreal experience, and a good time to get some cool photos sans people.

morning.jpg

New York City, Weekend Guide

One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.

-Tom Wolf

Hey it’s my first stateside post! Anyway,

If you’re in New York for a long weekend prepare to forego sleep. I spent 4 days in the city and probably slept 4-5 hours a night before getting right back at it. However, even with such little sleep it’s nice to splurge a bit on where you stay. My friend and I stayed in The Westhouse, a beautiful 5 star boutique hotel, and it’s central location made it so much easier to see all I wanted to see. I hit up all the necessary tourist sites but also scheduled myself one night of exploring. So here’s quick look at my favorite parts about my weekend in New York City.

1. Central Park

My flight arrived Saturday morning at 4 am, so after checking into the hotel and a quick 45 min power nap I immediately got started exploring with a coffee and a morning walk through central park. I loved seeing the park in the wee hours, it’s a little less touristy and super peaceful.

2. The Met

I study Art History so The Met was an essential stop on the trip. I only had a few hours to see my favorite sections, but if you’re in New York for more time I would say give yourself the majority of the day to see it.

 

3. The Guggenheim

The building itself is almost as impressive as the beautiful art it houses. Even if you’re not an art person I would recommend a visit to the Guggenheim for the architecture alone.

 

4. Big Daddy’s

While Instagram is being taken over by extravagant looking shakes Big Daddy’s is an excellent homey diner famous for its unique shake flavors. I had truffle fries and a Key Lime Pie shake and it was so good, tasted just like a Key Lime Pie!

bg shake

5. Grand Central Station

Undoubtedly some of your exploring via subways will take you through Grand Central, I recommend hopping off your train and checking out the station a bit if you have time. While a lot of the beautiful murals are in need of conservation work, it’s still an amazing sight to see. Can you imagine it during the station’s golden age?

gc

6. Artichoke Pizza

Probably my favorite pizza I had on the trip, this place is super cheap AND super good (aka a win for all broke student travelers like me). If you don’t get the namesake pizza  you’re definitely missing out.

pizza

7. Empire State Building

Probably the most touristy thing I did, but hey, I love cool vistas so no regrets. It’s kind of expensive though and very crowded so if you’re not into vista views or pano shots I would totally skip this.

8. 9/11 Memorial

This space was so profound and beautiful, I came too late to go into the museum but the evening lights against the water was stunning.

9. Battery Park

I actually didn’t really want to go see the Statue of Liberty so instead I caught it at sunset in battery park. The park was super empty and I enjoyed a moment away from the sites & sounds of the city.

10. Corner Cafes

They are literally all over NYC, are all open 24 hours, and all have vaguely similar names. If you’re running all day and all night these places are a lifesaver. Where else can you get pretty decent lasagna and cheesecake at 1 am for a second dinner?

11. Bouchon Bakery

Right next to Radio City Music Hall and a few blocks from MOMA, this was such a nice place to grab a quick breakfast.

12. MOMA

Again, I’m an art person. If you don’t like Modern Art I would skip this but if you’re into art then there’s no way you can skip seeing some of the most iconic pieces of the 21st century.

13. Ladurée

If you aren’t going to Paris anytime soon hit up Ladurée in NYC, the macaroons and other pastries are gorgeous and delicious- what could be more inst-worthy?

14. Dylan’s Candy Bar

I like sugar, and I was passing by and the place is super cute! With that being said I would only hit this place up if you stumble upon it during your wanderings.

15. EXPLORE!

As with every place I’ve been, I love to give myself time to wander free of guidebook and pinterest post restrictions. My last night in NYC I met up with a friend of a friend and we went to this awesome japanese place in the university area and then spent the night bar-hopping to find cool bands to listen too. It was one of my favorite nights in NYC and completely off the beaten path.

 

 

Always give yourself time to explore! Is NYC on your wishlist? What are you most looking forward too?

 

xo, Kait