Tag Archives: guatemala

Central America aka The Gringo Trail

My experience on backpacking the Gringo Trail in Central America can’t really be described in a couple of words. I was a first time solo traveler and had no idea what I was doing. Which, in hind sight, was probably the best way to go into it.

Central America constitutes more than just the countries listed below – Belize, Honduras and Mexico are left out because I didn’t visit them.

Guatemala 

My first stop in Central America was Guatemala. I landed in Guatemala City, a city with a lot of crime and not many options for tourists.

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After the scariest bus ride of my life, I arrived in Lake Atitlan. Situated around the lake are several little villages, each with their own vibe. Boats run across the lake daily and you can grab one for few dollars to visit each of the towns, since there is no road connecting all of them.  I stayed here for a month working on a farm in San Marcos La Laguna, the hippy-est of them all, attracting a ton of new-agers.

Highlights of Lake Atilian were going to the Butterfly Sanctuary in Panajachel, the Women’s Weaving Cooperative in San Juan La Laguna and camping at Indians Nose overnight to see the sunrise in the morning.

Next stop was Antigua and OMG DID I LOVE ME SOME ANTIGUA. I don’t know if it was because I stayed in sleepy San Marcos for a month or what, but everything about this place just felt right. Here I stayed at a home stay with some other backpackers who were also learning spanish. Well, they were learning Spanish. I was trying to and failing.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-7-23-03-pmHighlights of Antigua include a night out of care free dancing, a ten-hour round-trip overnight hike up Acatenango Volcano to see the sunrise and El Fuego booming and a local soccer game featuring a very animated hype squad / drum line.

El Salvador

Initially, I did not plan on going to El Salvador at all. It’s pretty dangerous and over run by gangs. The kind of gangs that have such control of the country that buses stop running after sun down. But, plans change, especially when traveling and, in this case, I’m so glad it did.

Highlights include Edward (the one-winged Pelican of La Tortuga Verde), the locals in Juyaya who told us that if we go to the store and buy a frog they’ll cook it for us, getting stuck in Rivas overnight because there were no more buses running.

I guess some of these memories don’t really sound pleasant from an outsider’s perspective, but El Salvador ended up being one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Nicaragua

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By this point in the trip I had been going for about two months and had met enough people to start a small village. I had already booked the Pullmantur Cruise and knew I was going to Europe after, so I was a little tired and not wanting to spend a ton of money. Hence, I mostly remember Nica as a place where I relaxed, swam, and read.

Still, I had a lot of fun. Highlights include the Tortuga Boolada Hostel in Leon. That place was so relaxed and everyone was really friendly over breakfast. Surfing at Playa Popopyo, where they held the World Surf Championships a few years back, was a lot of fun. I nearly died, but still, good times. I’ll also never forget exploring Ometepe and the clean waters of Ojo de Agua.

Costa Rica

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Since it’s the most expensive country in Central America, I barely spent any time in Costa Rica. The time that I did spend here, two weeks, was spent teaching Yoga at Tico Lingo, a Spanish School in Heredia. It was a chill two weeks spent doing a whole lot of nothing with the other volunteers and teaching small classes to the owner of the school and some of the students. I found this program through Workaway.info.

Panama

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Oh Panama, the last stop on my trip before taking a 14 day cruise to Portugal. I think I only spent a day or two here and it rained a lot, but it was a fun couple days as I stayed in this beautiful colonial mansion-turned-hostel called Luna’s Castle in Panama City. There I had the pleasure of meeting a fun group of people traveling together and we all went out and danced to Rihanna’s “Work” for what was probably the 1231st time that month.

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How Do You Afford to Travel so Much?

A lot of people have been asking me this, so here it goes. This is very base level stuff for people who’ve never traveled long-term before.

Experiences, not things. 

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Miss You Always Butterfly Shirt

I moved out of my parent’s house when I was 21 and haven’t really stopped moving since (eight times and counting). Because of this, I’ve learned how to not get too attached to things. I don’t own a ton of stuff, but the things I do own, I adore. And, with the exception of an amazing butterfly t-shirt that I used to wear to concerts, I don’t miss a single thing that I’ve thrown out. Just think, if you get rid of all the crap you don’t want and only buy things you really love – you’ll forever be surrounded by only the things you love.

I’m not talking about being a hippie and casting away all your worldly possessions. I like nice things.  We all deserve to have a bit of luxury in our lives, but the trick is learning to spend money on the things that are actually providing you that.

So yeah, in short, don’t buy crap. Don’t own crap. Drop cash on nice things that last and forget the rest. It’s a hard habit to adopt in our consumer-driven culture, but so so worth it.

I could write a whole book about this, but it turns out someone else already has. Highly recommend: The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Mr. Money Mustache’s blog for more info on frugality.

Travel and Work

Many options here: teaching english (TEFL), WOOFing, teaching yoga, babysitting, working at a hostel. The options are endless. It’s really easy to extend your travels by working abroad. Some jobs pay (especially TEFL), while others exchange room and board.

For more info try:

Workaway.info  – This site has a lot of farm work and hostel jobs. I worked on a farm in Guatamala and taught yoga in Costa Rica, both of which were really positive experiences. I also was going to teach yoga at a hostel in Nicaragua, but left after two days because the culture of the hostel (ie: drinking until you blackout before breakfast) wasn’t for me. So, it’s important to have back up funds in case you really don’t like the set up.

Stay with Friends

I’m #blessed to have done Air BnB in my home for over a year when I lived in Brooklyn. Through this, I met a ton of people and gained an enormous amount of insight on the benefits of experiencing other places through the lens of someone who already lives there.

When traveling or just living life in general, you’ll come across a lot of people who will invite you to come stay with them during your travels. Take them up on it. Bring a gift. Don’t overstay your welcome. Cook a meal or two.

Couchsurfing is also an option. I can’t personally recommend it, as I’ve never actually done it, but I’ve heard good things. I’ve also heard a lot of bad things, so I think it’s important to have a back up plan.

Save Money on Dem Flights and/or Boatsimg_1888

Google Flights, Travel Pirates and Secret Flying are my favorites. It’s helpful to be flexible on dates and
not buy any round trip tickets if you’re doing long-term travel.

It’s also super important to be flexible on your preferred method of transportation. I actually saved money by taking a ship to Europe, instead of a plane. Specifically, a cruise ship. Definitely not conventional. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip.

Travel in Countries That Aren’t Expensive 

Costs of living per day are not that high in places like Central America, South America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. You’ll spend way less then you would just living at home and paying rent.

Do Your Research

Considering how many people fund their travels by blogging about it, the internet is an endless resource for money saving tips. My favorites are just plain old Reddit and Youtube.

Get Thrifty

I’ve made money in some seriously weird ways. As mentioned, Air BnB is one way to make money on the side. Others have included, BIZARRE jobs found on craigslist, non-bizarre jobs found on craigslist (thank you Sangha Yoga Shala for being so incredible), helping friends with random side gigs and my job as a health educator for insurance companies.

Believe You Can Do It…

I wanted to travel for so long, but never did it, because I thought I couldn’t afford it and/or it just wasn’t the right time. Then I just booked a ticket to literally the cheapest country I could find, Guatemala, and decided I’d figure it out a long the way.  And I did.

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