10 years living, traveling solo around the world: 30+countries, 4 continents, a baby & a life-altering diagnosis [pt 1]

Happy New DECADE! Hola hola, I’m BACK—and with a crazy, exciting, emotional series of photo essays summarizing my past 10 years living and traveling solo around the world. It will also explain why I kind of “ghosted” y’all (sorry about that). I’m proud to announce I’ve made it to the other end of the tunnel after MANY sharp turns and (mis)adventures—so excited to start off a new decade finally able to share them with YOU again.

Off we go!

A decade of living and traveling solo around the world (part 1!)

2009-2010

Lived in Egypt, Morocco, and Florida; also explored Spain, Italy, Iceland, Panama, Mexico, NYC

I ended the previous decade – which officially started my solo adventures traveling around the world – with a year studying abroad in Egypt, a summer traveling the Middle East, and 4 months in Morocco.

female traveling to Pyramids of Giza Egypt

traveled to the Great Pyramids of Giza, Egypt at age 20

traveling solo around the world Red Sea camel riding

Riding camels through a natural reserve bordering the Red Sea. 2009

ancient Egypt temples, Abu Simbel

Ramses II, your ego is truly heavy (me at Abu Simbel Temple, summer 2009)

female travel to Bahariya Oasis Egypt

Bahariya Oasis, Western Desert, Egypt! Visited in 2009 (Photo: Fellow student M. Begault)

And it was among the great contrasts of the barren desert of the Sinai Peninsula and one of the bodies of water with the most abundant marine life in the world that I got certified as a SCUBA diver, all the way to advanced. I even got to explore one of the top 10 ship wreck dives in the world, the SS Thistlegorm.

solo traveling around the world, scuba diving in Egypt

descent for DEEP dive for my PADI advanced open water certification in the Red Sea, Egypt

traveling the Sinai Peninsula solo, Egypt

seemingly barren of life on the surface, teeming with life underwater! That’s the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt

“Oh, and a few quick trips to Europe!

first trip to Rome:

solo travel around the world Rome Italy

My 1st trip to Rome was possible thanks to Couchsurfing. Fall 2009

That December, I finished a magical semester living in Morocco (which I road tripped with fellow exchange students over the weekends!)

study abroad in Morocco

me in Essaouira, Morocco with one of the local kids we took in for lunch

beach in Morocco road trip

Hidden beach found during a road trip through Morocco, fall 2009

Morocco is where I flew out to the UK and onto a sick 6-day stopover trip to ICELAND! Crazy that it was cheaper for me to do this free side trip with Icelandair on my way back home to Puerto Rico than to book a more direct flight, haha! That was my first time in Iceland and, 10 years later, it still tops my list of most favorite countries in the world – it’s like visiting a different PLANET:

Iceland travel tour blue lagoon

Me with silica mud mask at the Blue Lagoon, Iceland. December 2009

Iceland waterfalls photos frozen Skogafoss

In front of one of the many majestic waterfalls of Iceland. December 2009

I even got to see the northern lights! I CRIED, their beauty overwhelmed me:

Iceland northern lights aurora borealis

HD cameras/smartphones were not as affordable back then (2009!), so my pictures don’t do them justice!

After spending the Puerto Rican holidays with my family, I went back to the continental U.S. in January 2010 and got to swim with manatees in Florida. It was my 1st encounter with animals in the wild!

adventures around the world swimming with manatees

swimming with manatees in Florida THIS close is one of the top highlights of my whole LIFE

student swimming with manatees

I couldn’t stop smiling!

I was still a full time college student, so after the Spring 2010 semester kicked off, I took advantage of my very last official Spring Break to sail the San Blas Islands, Panama and to party on an overwater hostel in Bocas Del Toro:

Panama Bocas Del Toro hostel

Solo travel around the world = many friends made! From left: American, Puerto Rican (me!), Australian, American, and Israeli at over-water hostel

solo female traveling San Blas Islands Panama

One of the many isolated, pristine San Blas Islands, Panama. Spring 2010

GRADUATION!

After working my butt off holding several jobs/writing essays for study abroad scholarships to pay for university plus travel the world while studying full time, I finally graduated with honors distinction from college in December 2010. Took me 5 and a 1/2 years (2 degrees, 11 countries, and a 3rd language later) but hey, gotta work hard and play hard.

graduating after traveling the world

me graduating with 2 degrees from University after traveling the world!

BUT! Before hitting the real world? A BACKSTREET BOYS CRUISE!

solo travel around the world, Backstreet Boys cruise

Me at the bottom (blue/white dress) holding Brian and the rest of the BACKSTREET BOYS! Only Kevin missing 🙁

Limbo dancing on stage with the Backstreet Boys at a beach party in Cozumel. One of these photos of me actually made it to be the cover photo of the official Backstreet Boys Facebook page after the cruise. EPIC!

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After an epic celebrity party cruise and graduation,  I said good bye to 2010 and hello to 2011 by watching the ball drop NYE in Times Square, New York City from the VIP lane! Click on that pink text link to read the full story on how I pulled this off (it involves NYPD officers…lol)

solo female travel NYC New Year's Ball drop Times Square

New Years in Times Square, NYC – memories like this one will always be part of my daily happiness!

2011-2012

From solo traveling around the world to a wedding, a baby, and other surprises

Little did I know this year we would have a very Puerto Rican wedding and I would find out I was going to be an AUNTIE. My little sis is all grown up!
<3

Puerto Rican wedding family photo

little did I know this would be one of our last happy family portraits…

from traveling around the world to a baby

from solo traveling around the world to my very first BABY NEPHEW! Born in 2012

Another pivotal chapter of my life also began in 2011: TRAVEL BLOGGING!

That’s the summer LatinAbroad was born!

And this would be the year I’d meet “The One” for me.

from traveling around the world to Tampa Florida

Mr. B and me on the far left in our base camp, Tampa Bay, Florida

Shortly after, I traveled without a plan to Curacao. From ending up in a guesthouse recommended by the very taxi driver that had just picked me up at the airport to Couchsurfing and hitchhiking with strangers around the island, this is been one of my funnest trips to date!

best beaches of Curacao, Kenepa Grandi

me at one of the best beaches of Curacao, Kenepa Grandi

travel without a plan, Curacao Nov 2011

what I love about traveling the world: Locals like him

2012 was mostly about professional growth and exploring the Americas for me. I got promoted to marketing and translation manager after working for a year and a 1/2 with a company and was gaining experience so I could eventually spend more (and do more) while traveling around the world–no more financial restraints or limits!

I still had a handful of adventures that year though, including my first travel conferences in NYC and Keystone, Colorado; my first press trips, sponsored hotel stays and tours in Puerto Rico and Playa Del Carmen; and even my first-ever SNOWFALL in Texas!

Cenote by Mayan ruins in the Yucatan

Me rappelling into a cenote by Mayan ruins in the Yucatan during my first sponsored press trip

Zip line videos Toro Verde Puerto Rico

Me in the middle of The Beast zip line in Puerto Rico: Among Top 2 Highest ones in the world!

 

2013 – when life and dreams crumbled…

This was the year things turned awry – my health went from perfect to terrifying…I got chronically ill (took 2 years to get an official diagnosis for) and was never able to use my hands the same way again. I couldn’t type nor mouse click. I spent up to 14 hours bedridden. I could barely blog, even with aids and voice recognition software. I was discriminated against and unfairly fired from a job I loved. I tried to sue but had to settle for a crap amount because hey, Florida is a “right to work” state and fibromyalgia is a “suspect condition.”

BUT! The irony is that because of this sharp turn in my path I reached the lifestyle I always dreamed of having – and MORE (keep reading this series to find out HOW!).

partying in Tampa Florida

Me (far left, in red) unsuspecting that, in a mere few days, my life (and health) would never be the same…

PART 2 of 10 years traveling around the world series coming up soon!

 

Things to do in Myanmar: My 2-week itinerary including top Burma tourist attractions

Things To Do in Myanmar: Top Tourist Attractions and Itinerary Ideas was first published on WanderingTrader.com on November 2016. However, ALL these Burma attractions will always be relevant! Unfortunately, the Government is currently persecuting the Muslim Rohingya…so practice responsible tourism.

2-week Myanmar itinerary, Bagan

2-week Myanmar itinerary: Bagan, a must-see in Burma!

Under iron-fist military rule for almost 50 years, Myanmar opened up to significant democratic reforms between 2011 and 2012.

Since then, tourism has boomed in the former hermit land, with an outstanding 60% growth expected this year (as of 2016).

Thankfully, it’s not too late to visit. Myanmar is still unspoiled by Southeast Asia standards.

It is truly a breath of fresh air!

From its genuine people to its virgin landscapes, I suggest you immerse yourself into this newly-opened country ASAP.

Below, the top things to do in Myanmar and tourist attractions that were part of my 2-week Burma itinerary.

Things To Do in Myanmar: Top Attractions and Burma Itinerary Ideas

top tourist attractions in Myanmar

Top Tourist Attractions in Myanmar: Indein

Yangon, The Old Capital of Burma: 1-2 Days

Many people think about skipping Yangon, Myanmar’s old capital.

Please don’t!

If you’ve been to any major city in the world, you’ll feel a change of dynamics and energy right away.

Another reason Yangon is definitely worth a stop is to marvel at the Shwedagon Pagoda and its 325-foot golden stupa.

The sight’s aura will captivate you, for it is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country and an important pilgrimage site.

To me, there’s something deeper, inexplicably addicting about Yangon though–hiding somewhere between its feeble early 1900s baroque buildings, its people, colorful longyis (sarongs), and of course Shan noodles!

Many locals I met throughout my journey confirm the old Burmese capital is the best place to savor the traditional Burmese dish by the way.

So listen up foodies! I recommend you get lost and go on a scavenger hunt to find the country’s best Shan noodles during their visit.

Burma tourist attractions

Burma Tourist Attractions: Shwedagon Pagoda

Inle Lake: 3 Days

Nothing like the second-largest lake in Myanmar after a fast-paced introduction to the country in Yangon.

Home to several endangered species and other unique flora and fauna, Inle Lake became the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the country in June 2015.

It is a fascinating wetland ecosystem, sprinkled with entire villages built on stilts; farmers practicing floating island agriculture; and fishermen with a distinctive one-legged rowing style.

Allow yourself at least 3 days to soak in its unique culture, naturally-clean air, water, and cooler mountain climate.

My friends and I booked a reasonably-priced local private guide and boat for a few days through One-Stop Travel Myanmar to explore hundreds of pagodas and vibrant markets at the Maing Thauk and Indein water villages.

We didn’t see one other tourist in the low season (June).

Amazing.

On our free day, we rented some bikes and cycled to the Red Mountain Estate, a winery and restaurant with a spectacular viewpoint.

best things to do in Myanmar

Best Things to Do in Myanmar: Red Mountain Winery

Pindaya: Burma Day Trip from Inle Lake

My day trip to the Pindaya Caves was, hands down, one of my favorite Myanmar attractions. Just imagine more than 8,000 Buddha statues and altars, sheltered inside a mysterious system of caves.

Throw in a spectacular viewpoint before you even step foot into the attraction itself and…

Awestruck.

From solid gold to jade and marble, each Buddha has been donated by a family in the hopes of harvesting blessings.

unique things to do in Myanmar

Unique Things to Do in Myanmar: Pindaya Caves

Bagan: 4 Full Days

Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which ultimately united all regions that make up modern-day Myanmar.

From the over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries erected during the kingdom’s height, about 2,200 survive today.

As such, this fascinating archaeological zone is Myanmar’s equivalent to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat–so you can’t miss it.

In 4 days, we were able to see all major attractions, in addition to several minor, yet still impressive sights, at a relatively-leisurely pace.

Again, our wonderful private local guide and driver booked through One-Stop Myanmar ensured we saw as much as we could, but without exhausting ourselves, on a comfortable air-conditioned van.

things to see in Myanmar

Things to See in Myanmar: Inside Pindaya Caves

One of the days we explored Bagan independently, however, in order to rent bikes and see the ancient city from a different perspective.

It was extremely hot, exhausting, and dusty by the end of June–albeit rewarding.

We couldn’t have cycled for more than a day though! You just can’t cover as much ground.

Some of our favorite Bagan attractions and temples include:

  • Ananda Phaya
  • Dhammayangyi
  • Gawdawpalin
  • Gubyaukgyi
  • Shwegugyi
  • Sulamani
  • That Byin Nyu

Myanmar tourist attractions

Myanmar Tourist Attractions: Bagan

Mount Popa: Day Trip from Bagan

Mount Popa is a popular day trip from Bagan, included in most Myanmar itineraries.

However, I can’t really recommend this attraction for 2 weeks in Burma.

If it’s on your plans, I suggest you scratch it off.

Why?

Sure, Popa looks cool and special from a distance.

Yet, once you climb to the top, you quickly notice there are many other sites throughout the country that showcase more impressive architecture–and better viewpoints.

I can attest to this from personal experience.

Given the choice, I would opt for an extra day in Bagan or even Inle Lake instead.

top tourist attractions in Burma

Top Tourist Attractions in Burma: Mount Popa

Phoe Win Taung and Monywa: 2 Full Days, 1 Night

On our road trip from Bagan to Mandalay, we visited several off-the-beaten-path Myanmar attractions that blew us away.

First was Phoe Win Taung Hill, with its fascinating labyrinth of caves, filled with incredibly-well-preserved murals, frescoes, and Buddha statues.

Second stop was Bodhi Tataung, or Buddha ‘the Redeemer statue’ (as like I like to call it!), in the outskirts of Monywa.

Soaring at 424 feet (129 meters), it is the second-largest statue in the world!

Speaking of Monywa, both the city itself and the vicinity were surprisingly interesting.

We stayed at the Hotel Chindwin, which proved to be a brilliant choice as it has outstanding rooms. Better yet, it is a short walking distance from Monywa’s night market, full of cheap local street food to sample.

Another unique Burma attraction that stunned me was the unique design of Thanboddhay Paya.

According to locals, its design was conceived by a globetrotting monk who explained each of the paya’s Buddhas represented men who became enlightened thanks to him–over half a million or so.

Wow!

The paya might only be 80 years old, but its history, bright Candyland-like colors, and 500,000+ Buddha images make it worth visit.

best things to do in Burma

Best Things to Do in Burma: Bodhi Tataung

Bagan-Mandalay by Boat

Need more downtime or ideas for unique things to do in Myanmar? Another option is to take a 10-hour day cruise between Bagan and Mandalay.

While no stops are offered at sites of interest, you get to see hundreds of glimmering pagodas, village people, and brightly-robed monks from the historic Irrawaddy River.

If you opt for a boat trip transfer, however, you must ensure you visit in the right season or river levels can adversely affect your Myanmar holiday.

When to go down the Irrawaddy, then? Right after the rainy season, between October and January. During these months, river levels are high, storms are unlikely, and the sun is not that hot yet.

Keep in mind, though: dry season also coincides with high season. In turn, you will encounter a larger volume of travelers and more crowded tourist attractions in Myanmar.

things to do in Burma

Things to Do in Burma: Boat Ride

Mandalay: 3 Full Days

The last royal capital of Burma is a fantastic base to explore several top attractions in the central region.

From Mandalay, you can see Amarapura, Sagaing, and Inwa in one full day; while you can pay a visit to Mingun in a leisure morning.

Again, I recommend enlisting the help of a local guide and driver will ensure good time management and a wealth of historical fun facts.

What about Mandalay itself? You can hit all significant sights in just one day.

things to see in Burma

Things to See in Burma: Mandalay

Some must-see attractions in Mandalay area include:

  • Myatheindan Pagoda, Myanmar’s Taj Mahal equivalent as it was built for love
  • Kuthodaw Pagoda and The World’s Biggest Book; Kyauktawgyi Temple and its big Buddha, carved from a single block of marble
  • Mandalay Hill, its bedazzled temple and ritualistic sunset chats with local monks
  • U Bein Bridge, the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world
  • Shwenandaw Monastery, a converted teakwood royal palace, gilt with gold and filled with exquisite carvings

Have you been or wish to travel to Myanmar? Let me know below!

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2-week Myanmar itinerary, Burma attractions

Batu paragliding: My life as a Darmasiswa scholar in Malang, Indonesia

September, 2014. The bottomless pit of heartbreak and the high, limitless skies. Dizzying jet lag and altitude change. Intense pain and adrenaline. A Batu paragliding day trip is definitely not what my ailing body and mind were expecting.

paragliding in Batu, Malang, Indonesia

flying over Batu, Malang, Indonesia

My long-time boyfriend had broken up with me and told me to never speak to him again 2 days earlier. I was still jetlagged from flying all the way from Tampa, Florida to Malang, Indonesia that same week. Back-to-back fibromyalgia flareups were drilling me with unrelenting chronic pain. Going up the mountain on the rickety van further intensified the lightheadedness and nausea I was experiencing from both the altitude swings and the dramatic 12-hour time zone change.

“Batu Paragliding: one of the best things to do in Malang! Want to do it?!”

Huh?!

We Darmasiswa scholars were told one of our first local East Java day trips was going to be a relaxing getaway to the rural Kota Batu. This mountainside resort in the Malang regency is a popular destination for agri-tourism and promised to be a refreshing break from the scalding hot Malang City center, where our study abroad university was located.

Mountainside villages! Lots of greenery! Fresh air! It’s going to be great!

The rickety van, outfitted with ill-padded benches (instead of seats) and sans-safety belts, should have been the first sign.

I’m tiny, okay?! I have always been under 120 pounds. 5’4″ at most. Throw me into a tiny bench, no seatbelt, up winding roads with no barricades is nerve-racking on a good day. Let alone while trying to get over a heartbreak, jet lag, fibromyalgia chronic pain, altitude sickness, motion illness, and now culture shock…

I kept banging my head against the roof and being thrown from side to side to the amusement of my classmates. They created a human shield for me and everything (at least they had a heart).

Then you tell me you want to take me paragliding in Batu?

I thought we were going to have a picnic on top of the roof of a villager’s house while looking at the stunning rolling hills, rice paddies, and fog. We did that under the stars in an oasis in the middle of the desert when I was studying abroad in Egypt and that’s cool. What’s totally not cool is all the aforementioned circumstances, including the scary little van, with the fog, mixed with extreme sports now.

Let’s do it. Let’s f***ing go Batu paragliding, biatches.

Think of the van as a torturing machine that slowly broke me down until I had no choice but to succumb to my death. “This is a pretty badass way to go,” I rationed. “Jumping off a mountain as if I were an X-gamer somewhere exotic and gorgeous.”

Morale of my day paragliding in Batu:

it isn’t about the fall, but whether you get UP

That Batu paragliding day trip was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. I’m so happy I just got tired of having such a tough first week in Indonesia that I simply went for it. I finally made the decision to stop beating myself up for everything that had gone wrong lately. In the process, I learned that fear and adrenaline are what we need sometimes to move forward.

We can be pretty damn dramatic after we just had our heart broken. And after an episode of fibromyalgia. And after jet lag. And motion sickness. And and and. We always seem to come up with excuses: some more valid than others. Regardless, instead of focusing so much on the fall, we should look up instead of down. Scheming getting up instead of pitying being down.

The fall is all about how you get up. Learn from your mistake, but don’t beat yourself up so much for it. Don’t waste time crying over spilled milk.Focus your attention on how to move forward.

PS. People have asked me what paragliding feels like…

Feels like a pretty damn good punch in the stomach at first. But afterwards? It’s like you died and came back to life. A huge pump of fresh air pushed into your lungs. Like CPR for your mind, for your heart. Just what I needed to start my year studying in Indonesia with the right mindset.

One more tip: you can also go zip lining down  “flying fox” for about US $2.00!

zip lining and paragliding in Batu

Batu paragliding details:

Cost: 300,000 Indonesian rupiah as of 2015

Transportation: either private taxi or hire a van and divide the cost between a couple of students.

Darmasiswa students note: ask your program contact whether this Malang day trip is included as one of your activities from UMM or other colleges from Kota Malang!

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Paragliding in Malang, Indonesia

An Ugly Day in Koh Tao Island: My Motorcycle Road Trip [VIDEO]

It was bound to be an ugly day in Koh Tao for me, even despite the fact that ​I was closing off an incredible year in Asia. I learned a new language after being awarded a full-ride scholarship to study in Malang, Indonesia. I had already enjoyed several days of incredible diving in Thailand. Yet… The stormy clouds above me were bringing back the demons of my struggle with chronic fibro pain. I could feel them, bone-deep, as invisible knives began to slash all over my body, cutting my freshly-healed hope open.

But the wonderful staff at Crystal Dive, Crystal Images, and Koh Tao Regal Resort fought back.

THEY TOOK ME ON A MOTORCYCLE ROAD TRIP AROUND KOH TAO!

Is that what an ugly day in Koh Tao Thailand looks like? What it’s like to ride around the island in a motorcycle, while graced by gray skies, stray dogs, exploring rock climbing spots, hiking up viewpoints, jungle fitness courses, etc.?

Yep. Although it was a radically-different experience to me than what it seems…

I couldn’t dive that day. I was having another flare of my chronic, painful condition. Getting out of bed, getting out there, was so hard to do given how stiff and painful every limb of my body typically feels on a rainy day. Add to that that heck, I already knew how bad the roads could be when wet!

only day in Koh Tao motorcycle road trip

So yes, it began as an ugly day in Koh Tao for me.

But wow, what can the brain not do?

Once I took that first step, that first arm swing to brush my teeth, to clothe, to go outside, to breathe deeply… To really open my eyes and be thankful I could still see a sky, however gray it may be… To be grateful to be surrounded by people who want to make it all better for me…

The pain slowly faded into the back of my mind.

Don’t get me wrong: the pain was still there. I was still hurting despite all the smiles, climbing up and down, grabbing the camera and clicking the shutter. Gee, you have no idea how badly my index finger can hurt sometimes just by taking a few shots…

But that doesn’t stop me from continuing to take shots.

I focused on all the beautiful landscapes right in front of me that day — the day that was supposed to be an ugly day in Koh Tao and yet another painful day in my medical history. I didn’t allow the gray skies, both physical and metaphorical, cloud my perspective.

I didn’t allow the pain to take the spotlight.

I persevered by pushing it off, brushing it off, depriving it of any attention. It’s incredible how fast the rest of our body starts changing as soon as we start to shift our attention to other than the pain.

Some days are better than others – ​you don’t always get to spend ​an ugly day in Koh Tao – but keep fighting.

ugly day in Koh Tao Road trip bikini selfie

You may think I’m just lucky because I’m the travel blogger. Of course if the worst you seem to experience is in an exotic land – easy for you to say!

Chronic pain doesn’t care about your perceived “worldly privilege,” I’m afraid.

I’m in chilly Washington DC now — but I continue to seek and find beauty in different ways. I continue to find reasons to keep on wanting to push that huge wall that tells me I’m sick as I wake each morning.

I get my a** up, as hard as it may be, mind-fogging fatigue and stabbing pain overwhelming me and all.

Whether my bed has an ocean view or just another wall and a window facing even more walls…

Look around you – we are all surrounded by beauty, we just need to train our eyes to see it.

You’re stronger than you think. Please don’t give up. Keep on fighting in this world with me. Thanks for following – I am back 😉

Full 2017 travel recap AND 2018 travel plans coming up soon! <3

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A Day in Koh Tao ROAD TRIP VIDEO

Want more Koh Tao? Click here for my top things to do in Koh Tao

This ugly day in Koh Tao was sponsored by Crystal Dive, Crystal Images, and Koh Tao Regal Resort. Thank you so much for your hospitality — you went way above and beyond than my proposal! You have hearts of gold! Can’t wait to see y’all again

8 Cheap Things to Do in Vegas

This post is originally published on Hipmunk’s Tailwind blog by Todd Herschberg, on March 29, 2017

things to do in vegas

1. Get a Cheap Hotel Room

Sure, you can live like a king and spend your life’s savings on a deluxe high-roller suite–but you don’t have to. Depending on when you go and where you stay, you can usually get a cheap hotel room in Las Vegas. After all, it’s Sin City. How much time do you actually plan on spending in the room?

cheap things to do in vegas

2. Have a Low-priced Drink (or 12)

If you hang out at the slots and/or gaming tables long enough (and gamble), eventually they’ll bring you free drinks. You’ll still want to tip at least a buck or two per drink, though (Pro advice: If you tip more, you’ll find that your drinks come a bit more often). Not a gambler? Check out some of the Downtown bars near the Golden Gate Hotel–you’ll find they’re a bit cheaper.

cheap things to do in vegas

3. Check Out Some Free Circus Acts

Gotten your drink on and feel like being a kid again? Head on over to Circus Circus for their free show every half hour from 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.  The show only runs about 10 minutes, but hey, it’s free!

cheap things to do in vegas

4. Shape the Future of Television

Seriously, though: wander over to the MGM Grand and check out the CBS Television Research Center. You’ll get the opportunity to be part of a focus group for new TV shows. What’s really cool? Being part of the focus group and then seeing the same episode on TV a few months later–but with changes based on the feedback that you provided.

cheap things to do in vegas

5. Fill Up at a Budget Buffet

Gone are the days when you could gorge yourself on all-you-can-eat shrimp for under a buck; however, there are still a few buffets around for less than $10. Check out the Feast Buffet over at Palace Station–it’s only $8.99 for an all-you-can-eat meal of a fairly decent quality.

cheap things to do in vegas

6. Get a Massage for $20

Las Vegas is more than just the Strip. Head over to Chinatown (on and around Spring Mountain Road) and you’ll find a huge number of foot massage places where you can get a reflexology massage for about $20 an hour. After spending a day walking all over Vegas, you’ll be glad you did!

cheap things to do in vegas

7. Check Out the Free, Secret Light Show

OK, so it won’t be a secret much longer. Inside City Center, there is a shopping center. Inside that shopping center, there is a Louis Vuitton store. Inside the Louis Vuitton store, there is a fourth floor. On the fourth floor, there is a back room. In the back room, there is a permanent art installation by James Turrell called “Akhob”–an amazing light show. Absolutely free-of-charge, it’s effectively a private show: they only allow four people at a time. The tricky part? They require reservations about a month in advance and are only open 11:30 a.m. – 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Monday. Call Louis Vuitton for a reservation.

cheap things to do in vegas

8. People-watch

One great spot to people-watch is the EastSide Lounge at the Encore at Wynn. If you stick around late enough, you’ll get to see all of the young, amazingly-drunk folks spilling out of the nightclub at closing–always good for an entertaining hour or so. Otherwise, plunk yourself down just about anywhere in Vegas on any given night, sit back, and watch the show.

Visiting Singapore – A City Guide

Visiting Singapore – A City Guide was originally published as Singapore Guide on IHG

visiting Singapore, Gardens by the Bay

Visiting Singapore? Gardens by the Bay is one of the top attractions

Modern, prosperous and dynamic, Singapore is a global hub for finance, high-tech industry and international trade. If you’re visiting on holiday, it’s a shopper’s haven and a foodie’s dream, with gleaming malls and a legendary food scene that takes in everything from Chinese, Malay and Indian street food to sophisticated fine-dining restaurants.

If you’ve an urge to explore, you can discover the island’s multicultural heritage in Chinatown, Little India, Kampong Glam and the grand colonial buildings of the Civic District. You’ll also find plenty of beachside activities, rainforest parks, a thriving arts scene and 21st-century attractions like Gardens By The Bay.

Visiting Singapore: city layout

Shaped like a diamond, Singapore combines towering skyscrapers, traditional communities and modern waterfront developments.

Restored 19th-century colonial buildings are clustered in the city and Civic District near the Singapore River, with Chinatown close by. Little India and Kampong Glam are found to the north of the city and head east for the popular local suburbs of Geylang and Joo Chiat.

There’s an extensive network of nature reserves and parks throughout the island. Holidaymakers are drawn to islands such as Pulau Ubin for nature trails and bike tracks as well as Sentosa island, connected to central Singapore via a bridge, for seaside entertainment and theme parks.

Top attractions in Singapore

The beautifully landscaped Gardens By The Bay is home to the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome greenhouses, filled with blooms from across the world. Don’t miss the OCBC Skyway, a walkway set among 18 ‘supertree’ sculptures, which comes alive after dark with a magical light display.

For a relaxing day out, head to Sentosa island to soak up the sun on the beach, enjoy a leisurely round of golf or brave the thrilling rides at the Universal Studios Singapore theme park.

Singapore Zoo is home to white tigers, honey-loving sun bears and African lions. You can spot the giant pandas, Kai Kai and Jia Jia, at the River Safari, or nocturnal leopards on the Night Safari.

For a bird’s eye view of Singapore head to the Singapore Flyer, a 165-metre observation wheel with 360-degree views of the island.

The concierge recommends…

  • A walk around Marina Bay to enjoy the city’s night lights.
  • A stroll through the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site housing lush themed gardens with more than 1,000 species of orchid.
  • food tour through the well-loved haunts in Chinatown, Geylang Serai, Joo Chiat or Kampong Glam.
  • A visit to Pulau Ubin, a kampong (traditional) village off the coast near Changi Airport.
  • Booking tickets for a traditional dance performance, a play or a concert at the iconic Esplanade arts centre.

Hotels in Singapore

For your stay in Singapore there are hotels that will suit every budget and travel need. The city’s efficient transport system makes travelling around a breeze, and it’s easy to find hotels within walking distance of a train station.

If you want to be in the thick of the action, pick a central location like Orchard Road, Singapore’s most famous shopping street, or close to the energetic nightlife hubs around Clarke Quay, Robertson Quay or Club Street. For a budget hotel in Singapore you’ll find good choices in Little India and Kampong Glam.

Singapore hotels in the central business district (CBD) or at Bugis, Outram Road and North Bridge Road are good for business travellers, with plenty of entertainment nearby.

Families might appreciate the quieter residential areas with easy access to the centre, like Tiong Bahru and River Valley, or a beachside retreat on Sentosa.

Eating Out in Singapore

Katong Laksa, Singapore Cuisine

Singapore Katong Laksa by Jpatokal, wiki Commons

Singapore’s culinary scene lies at the heart of local life. Choices range from Chinese, Indian and Asian street food at budget-friendly hawker centres in Maxwell Road, Lau Pa Sat and Tiong Bahru Market to award winning fine-dining restaurants like Restaurant Andre or Tippling Club.

For a special night out, try a rooftop restaurant such as Stellar at 1-Altitude to enjoy panoramic city views while you feast on modern European or Asian fare.

If you’re looking for an authentic Singaporean experience, BonAppetour organises trips to local families’ homes for a traditional meal, as well as gourmet cooking classes.

The chef recommends…

  • Chilli Crab: Sweet, savoury and spicy, this dish is prepared by stir-frying crabs in tomato and chilli sauce. Best eaten with fried mantous (Chinese buns).
  • Hainanese Chicken Rice: Steamed chicken, rice cooked in rich chicken broth and cucumber slices make up this beloved national dish. Spicy chilli and ginger paste is the perfect accompaniment.
  • Laksa: This delicious Peranakan soup consists of rice noodles, spices and seafood cooked in creamy coconut milk.
  • Bah Kut Teh or “meat bone tea”, prepared by simmering pork ribs in broth filled with herbs and spices.

Shopping in Singapore

Singapore’s vibrant local shopping streets and glitzy international malls should satisfy even the most demanding of shoppers.

Around Orchard Road you’ll find glamorous malls like TakashimayaParagon and Ngee Ann City, filled with high-end boutiques, luxury labels and gourmet food products. For popular local brands try exploring central malls like Marina SquareMillenia Walk or Raffles City Complex.

If you’re on the lookout for souvenirs, you can pick up Asian antiques, artworks and colourful fabrics along the quirky streets of Little India, Chinatown and Kampong Glam.

Local shopping in Singapore:

  • Ann Siang Hill: The historic streets around Ann Siang Hill and Telok Ayer are lined with independent boutiques selling unique clothing, fashion accessories and home ornaments.
  • Haji Lane: Designer boutiques selling modern and vintage fashion and lifestyle accessories have transformed this narrow alley in Kampong Glam.
  • Bugis Village: Its crowded lanes are home to a labyrinth of stores in restored shophouses, selling everything from fashion to food and electronics. Ideal for shoppers on a budget.

Culture & Nightlife in Singapore

Singapore’s cultural scene reflects its unique racial mix. The streets of Chinatown, Kampong Glam and Little India are filled with traditional shophouses and temples. A trip to the Buddha Tooth Relic TempleSri Mariamman Temple or Sultan Mosque provides a glimpse into the religious traditions of the local Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim communities. You’ll find throngs of devotees in traditional garments playing musical instruments at Sri Mariamman’s frequent temple processions.

You can trace Singapore’s history through the art, artefacts and multimedia displays at the National Museum of Singapore. Traditional Chinese beadwork, porcelain and sarong kebaya dresses are on display at the Peranakan Museum.

Singapore nightlife takes in everything from sleek rooftop bars to chic beachside hangouts and stylish nightclubs. For an evening of feasting and late-night revelry head to Clarke Quay or ClubStreet. The vibe is quieter at Robertson Quay, or at Dempsey Hill, where a relaxed evening can be enjoyed.

Live music venues in Singapore:

  • Blu Jaz Cafe: Jazz lovers flock to this funky bar for its live music, as well as R&B, hip-hop and Latin dance parties.
  • Timbre: There are three Timbre venues in Singapore, with regular performances by local and international bands.
  • Catch a free concert from the Singapore Symphony Orchestra, held at venues such as the Botanic Gardens.

Leisure in Singapore

Lovers of the outdoors can find plenty to please in Singapore’s parks. You can rent a bike and follow the island-wide park connector network. You’ll enjoy coastal views, tropical greenery and cooling breezes on a ride from East Coast Park to the popular Changi Village Food Centre, which dishes up some of the best nasi lemak (coconut rice) on the island.

Nature lovers can take a treetop walk on the suspension bridge at MacRitchie Reservoir, a leisurely stroll around the hilltop at Fort Canning Park or enjoy panoramic views of the city from the Southern Ridges.

For families, the landscaped roof of the Marina Barrage, looking out over the city and Marina Bay, is a popular spot for picnics and kite flying. Ride the Singapore Cable Car over to Sentosa resort for beach watersports, golf, theme parks and views of the harbour from the Imbiah lookout.

Thrill seekers can try indoor skydiving at iFly Singapore on Sentosa or hurtle through the air in a reverse bungy or GX-5 extreme swing at Clarke Quay. Get closer to nature in the Bedok Reservoir and tackle the family friendly treetop ziplines at the Forest Adventure.

Singapore Hokkien Mee

Singaporean Hokkien Mee by Nicholas Chia, Flickr

To eat as the Singaporeans do, head to a local cafe for a breakfast of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs. For a Sunday treat, try one of Singapore’s famous Champagne brunches at Garibaldi or Catalunya.

Best Eats in Singapore:

  • Tong Ah Eating House: This cafe serves up slices of crispy kaya toast and cups of smooth, fragrant kopi (traditional coffee).
  • Chinatown Food Street: Great for street-side dining on local delicacies like hokkien mee and roti prata.
  • Kok Sen Restaurant: This old-school dining establishment turns out some of the tastiest Cantonese wok-fried dishes on the island.
  • Din Tai Fung: This Taiwanese dumpling house has taken Singapore by storm with branches throughout the island.

Things to See in Brooklyn: Special New York City Guide

This post was originally published as “Brooklyn Travel Guide” by IHG.

things to see in Brooklyn, New York City

The distinct culture, deep-rooted history and magnetic energy of Brooklyn make it one of the most beloved and revered destinations in America. Celebrated around the world for its big-city excitement and unique brand of authenticity, this buzzing New York City borough–the city’s most populous–constantly attracts visitors from around the globe, and you’ll find amazing hotels in Brooklyn to fit your travel needs.

Things to See in Brooklyn 

You should have no problem finding things to do in Brooklyn, an iconic destination that has inspired many of the world’s most famous citizens. As soon as you cross the East River on the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, you’ll immediately know you’ve arrived in one of the world’s great cultural epicenters. This National Historic Landmark connects Brooklyn to Manhattan, and has been heralded in film, television and literature for generations. Visit the 85-acre Brooklyn Bridge Park for great Manhattan skyline views, public art installations, athletic fields and playgrounds for children and adults alike, and even a restored 1920s-era merry-go-round called “Jane’s Carousel.” For local history, see the four-story Brooklyn Historical Society building, where you can peruse archives of photography, newspapers and a large library of research from borough’s past. Other museums and family-friendly places to put on your must-see list include Prospect Park Zoo, New York Transit Museum, Waterfront Museum and Showboat Barge, Brooklyn Children’s Museum, and the Coney Island Cyclone historic wooden roller coaster.

Ride an East River Ferry to get off your feet for awhile and see the city from the water. Or, head to Brighton Beach for a day in the sun and the chance to walk along the picturesque boardwalk. Nearby, Russian restaurants and bakeries serve up delicacies you’ll savor to the last bite. More delicious eats can be found on Smith Street, a hotspot for foodies and grumbling stomachs across the city.

Coney Island is another beach destination you won’t want to miss; it’s the widest beach in the area and boasts amusement rides and entertainment that will bring smiles to the young and the young at heart. Hear the soaring chorus of voices at the famous Brooklyn Tabernacle. Stroll the rolling hills of Green-Wood Cemetery, where you’ll find monuments and tombstones of a surprising number of famous figures.

For a full day of outdoor and cultural activity, head to Prospect Park where the Zoo, Museum of Art and Botanical Gardens all offer great ways to spend a few hours. The Brooklyn Museum is the second largest in New York and features artifacts that stretch from ancient Egyptians to modern day, while the Transit Museum, housed in a 1930’s subway station, has interesting displays all its own.

Brooklyn is also a hotspot for new residents of New York City. The neighborhood of Williamsburg has attracted an impressive array of new restaurants ranging from casual to fine dining, and varying in cultural diversity. There are also many bars, lounges and performance venues where you can make unique discoveries to make your visit unforgettable.

Find the Best Hotels in Brooklyn

Your choices for Brooklyn Hotels range from rooms between culturally rich and trending neighborhoods to business-friendly establishments that put you close to downtown Manhattan, and many of the area’s central locations for business and government. You can expect around-the-clock amenities and services at many Brooklyn hotels, including 24-hour restaurants and room service, as well as all-day business center access.

Where to Stay in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Heights, the area’s oldest neighborhood, and downtown Brooklyn are usually preferred locations for business travelers looking to stay near Manhattan. Diverse neighborhoods like Fort Greene offer amazing architecture, reputable cafes, arts, entertainment and cultural experiences that put New York City’s reputation as a cultural melting pot on display.

The neighborhoods of Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights both offer boutiques and cafes, while Cobble Hill is worth walking through for the houses and neighborhood buzz alone. Williamsburg is the city’s creative hub, home to some of the best restaurants and most talented live entertainment. The nightlife here needs no introduction and party-goers won’t have to look far to find a cold drink and a bumping bass line.

How to Get to Brooklyn

The New York City metropolitan area is served by three key airports: John F. Kennedy International Airport, LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.  JFK, at just 11 miles distance, is the closest airport to Brooklyn. It offers convenient service to Clinton Hill, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Williamsburg and Bushwick via Air Train, with less than an hour of travel time. LaGuardia Airport (LGA) is 16 miles away from central Brooklyn. Taxi or private transportation services are advised to and from LaGuardia, as there is no direct public transportation into Brooklyn. Newark Liberty is 21 miles from Brooklyn, with arrival times usually within an hour using the Air Train, then the Path train or NJ Transit to either Penn Station, the World Trade Center or Manhattan’s 33rd Street. Another option is the Airport Express Bus which goes to subway-connected Manhattan locations like Grand Central Station, Bryant Park and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Medellin Colombia this Christmas

Long gone are the Pablo Escobar days on the lush mountainous capital of the Antioquia province of Colombia. Extreme poverty has decreased by 66%; while homicide rates have dropped 95% since then. Medellin has become not only one of the safest cities in South America, but also one of the most prosperous. There are more special reasons why you should visit Medellin this Christmas though.

visit Medellín this Christmas

Medellín’s famous Alumbrado

Over 31 million LED lights, 950 km of LED light hose, 42,000 festive figures, more than 500 different activities and 80 events scheduled. I could say those are the top 5 reasons why you should fly down to Colombia this December…

Yet, those only fall into one category!

See why Medellin’s world-renowned Christmas Alumbrado, traditional gastronomy, temperate weather, and one of the longest holiday seasons in the hemisphere make it the perfect winter destination.

Alumbrado, visit Medellin Colombia

Floating Alumbrado displays by the river

1. One of the most impressive Christmas light shows in the world

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Selected as one of the top 10 places to see holiday lights in the world by National Geographic, Antioquia’s impressive 2550-meter-long “Alumbrado Navideño” is the number one reason why you should visit Medellin this Christmas.

The impressive outdoor show will stretch along 14 different municipalities, with Medellin’s central hub in Carabobo Norte shining the brightest. Expect over 31 million colorful, eco-friendly LED lights (which reduce energy consumption by 40%), scores of local food vendors, lively crowds and music.

While the official lighting of the Alumbrado will be held on Wednesday, November 30th at 6:30 pm (free admission), the lights won’t be lit daily until the official event dates – December 3, 2016 to January 9, 2017 between 6 PM and midnight.

traditional Colombian food for Christmas

Crispy chicharron: one of the most traditional Colombian dishes during Christmas

2. Traditional food is an attraction in itself in Medellin

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A destination is more authentically experienced by eating its food–another reason why foreigners should visit Medellin during Christmas. Delicacies such as sabajón (aguardiente eggnog), chicharron (crispy pork rinds), buñuelos (deep-fried cassava or tapioca dumplings stuffed with fresh, salty cheese), and natilla (Colombian-style pudding) are among the traditional Christmas foods you must try.

You will likely find many of these traditional dishes, drinks, and desserts being sold by the food vendors sprinkled throughout the Christmas Alumbrados.

Christmas in Medellín

Medellin’s long Christmas season will blow your mind

3. Christmas lasts an entire month, not just a few days

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This is not only a Medellin tradition, but a Latin American one: Christmas lasts the entire month of December, usually extending for another week in January! So that is approximately five weeks of traditional food, bright lights, and lively spirits to enjoy.

Medellin weather in Christmas

Weather in Medellin is always pleasant

4. The weather is perfect

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Despite its close proximity to the equator, Medellin’s high elevation (4905 feet above sea level) equals mild, temperate weather year-round. No wonder this mountainous capital is also known as the City of the Eternal Spring!

Temperatures typically hover between 60 and 85°F, meaning a subtropical weather that allows you to take full advantage of its more than 100 parks and public spaces.

Medellin parks

one of many Medellin’s many parks

5. Free entrance to museums and parks

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Speaking of public spaces: parks and museums offer free admission to children under 12 during Christmas.

Christmas in Medellin is all about the preservation of traditions and family unity–woven together by an outstanding light show, delicious cuisine, inviting weather, and a long holiday season.

Why would you not want to visit Medellin this Christmas?!

This was a sponsored post. Photos provided by Medellin.Travel and Medellin Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Unique Miami Brunches: My Top 5 Spots

On my last trip to Miami, I wanted to avoid Cuban cuisine. Nothing against my fellow Caribbean people, but I craved inventive food. Being the busy bees we are, my friend and I made it a point that weekend to find the most unique Miami brunches. So next time you plan a trip, head down to a Miami, Florida hotel, take in the sights, and explore the various food options the city has to offer. Take a look at our top five brunches in Miami with a twist.

Unique Miami Brunches Guide

Yardbird Southern Table

1600 Lenox Ave.

Yardbird’s brunch may seem traditional on the surface, but once you dig in, it’s a different story. Case in point: strawberry waffles with dulce de leche. Butter-and-honey biscuits with pepper jelly and 27-hour-brined crispy chicken, dredged in spices and flour. Thick house-cured, smoked pork belly bacon. Dozens of whiskey and bourbon pairings to choose from.

Chef Todd Harrington’s Southern menu is best sampled tapas-style, so pick several dishes for the table and enjoy. Brunch hours are Saturdays and Sundays, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

GK Bistronomie

218 NW 25th St.

A unique Miami brunch affair awaits at this Peruvian bistro in Wynwood. GKB, as it is affectionately known, is the perfect spot for lengthy girl talks thanks to the unlimited $24 Billette Rosé from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. every Sunday. Other items that stand out from the new à la carte brunch include pulled pork quinoa with fried egg, softshell crab Benedict, and guava-mascarpone-stuffed French toast.

Hakkasan

Inside Fontainebleau Resort, 4441 Collins Ave.

Brunch at this four-diamond award-winning Miami Beach spot is more of a huge lunch than a breakfast. I guess it depends on who you ask.

Western meal classifications aside, Hakkasan’s weekend prix fixe is a steal at $28 per person. Available between 12 and 2:45 p.m., it includes two dim sum baskets (crisp and steamed), choice of an entrée, a vegetable, a plate of either rice or noodles, and dessert. You’ll feel like a dumpling yourself once you happily roll out of there.

Unique Brunches in Miami Guide

Batch Gastropub

30 SW 12th St.

One of the most casual brunches in Miami does not veer far from the traditional, but some of its dishes are unique enough to make it to my list. Batch’s crown jewel in my book is the Mac Attack ($12), delicate gnocchi smothered in aged Gruyère cheese and sprinkled with “Dorito dust.” The list of add-ons for this unique macaroni and cheese dish is equally impressive. Pick from grilled or fried chicken, hanger steak, pulled pork, shrimp, pecanwood-smoked bacon, pork belly, whiskey caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms, a farm egg, corn, rosemary fries, and truffle oil.

Midtown Oyster Bar

3301 NE 1st Ave., Suite 103-1

This Midtown Miami brunch is all about the Benedicts. Midtown Oyster Bar has three kinds, including buttery Maine lobster, Norwegian smoked salmon with capers, and Alaskan crab meat with asparagus. All arrive paired with spongy English muffins, runny poached eggs, and that thick hollandaise sauce to create the epitome of a good ol’ brunch.

Not a Benedict lover? Then their $25 bottomless mimosas and sparkling rosé may do the trick for you.

Whether your ideal brunch includes unlimited mimosas or hearty food, none of these unique Miami brunches will disappoint you. Plan your Sunshine State getaway today!

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Unique Miami Brunches Guide