Ultimate Train Challenge = THE ultimate travel bucket list journey!

When you think of the ultimate travel bucket list, what comes to mind? I’m always thinking BIG: as in EPIC. 40-day overland Turkish delights trip (oh yes, as a solo female). 5 weeks hitchhiking and Couchsurfing throughout the Middle East. What about 31 days trying to get from Vietnam to Portugalexclusively traveling by rail? Such a journey has a name: it’s the Ultimate Train Challenge and this year’s race is ON!

Ultimate Train Challenge 2013 discount code

JOIN US on the Ultimate Train Challenge 2013! Enter the discount code MA13UTC in the “Referral” box of your registration form and get $30 off your entrance fee

Teams vs. the rails = the Ultimate Train Challenge

Are you adventurous enough to go across more than 15,000 miles (25,000 km), planning your own route, arranging your own visas, accommodation, and rail passes? This is no organized or guided tour. YOU pick your own countries, stops, cities, and overnights.  YOU get to create your own epic itinerary — one that hundreds of travelers may want to follow years from now.

And that’s not all: several other teams will be competing to get to the finish line before you. You may pick any of these routes: Saigon to Lisbon or Lisbon to Vietnam. Not only will great prices be awarded to the winning team either way, but the amazing memories and skills you develop this May will last a lifetime.

Write your own history! You think you got what it takes?!

Ultimate Train Challenge: fees and GRAND PRIZES

ultimate train challenge, rail travel photo

Rail travel by ad.hermann, Flickr

Yes, there is a registration fee: US $295 (or approx. £183 / €223) if you register by THIS Friday, Feb 15th. Afterward, registration will go up by a $100 and the fee to join this epic journey and competition will be US $395 (approx. £245 / €298) until April 30th.

HOWEVER: if you use the code MA13UTC you get US $30 off the registration fee! You may use this discount code anytime — all the way until April 30th.

If you still need some convincing to join, just check out the ~$10,000 worth of PRIZES and discounts for UTC13:

– Entry to the kick off party in both Lisbon and Saigon.

– Intrepid Travel is giving at away their 15-day Morocco tour to the faster person from Saigon to Lisbon and their 15-day Bangkok to Hanoi trip to the winner going the other direction.

– Eurail has donated a couple 10-day Global rail passes we will be raffling off to anyone that signs up before February 15th. They are also donating additional passes that we will be giving away for the best on-train photo taken on the trip and also one for the best video.

– Urban Adventures is offering 15% off any of their great day tours to all participants (valid for a time period yet that will be determined in the next couple weeks).

– HostelWorld will be providing 2 night’s free accommodation for everyone prior to departure, in addition to offering some prizes (various monetary coupons) for other contests along the way.

–  Real Russia, UK will be giving away two Trans-Manchurian train tickets and a discount on rail ticket purchase through them.

– Non-bloggers will be able to use our YWNR website to blog their trip and there will be a real-time map that everyone can use on the site, so that friends and family can track where they are on their journey.

Trip of a lifetime + fundraising for CHARITY

Still hesitating? What if we tell you that the Ultimate Train Challenge has a CHARITY component? Every participant is expected to raise at least $500 for the selected charity, Blue Dragon’s Children Foundation in Vietnam, in order to have this whole journey help out some needy children.

Moreover, UTC sponsor Intrepid Travel has agreed to match each contribution (dollar for dollar!) up to $10,000. So, in addition to having an adventure of a lifetime, we are all going to help make a small, but positive change in the world.

Ultimate Trail Challenge charity

Need another incentive? Trip planning assistance available, cost-FREE!

Please remember folks: you got nothing to worry about. You are not alone! The organizers of the Ultimate Train Challenge have put together a great trip planning and resources page in order to assist you with arrangements such as getting your visas, recommended rail passes, accommodation, stops, etc.

Got other concerns not addressed on this page? Shoot an email to the Ultimate Train Challenge team at contact@yourworldnorules.com if you have any other questions about this ultimate travel bucket list journey.

Now: are you READY for this? Take the plunge, explore your world, HELP A CHARITY! And don’t forget to use the code MA13UTC to get $30 off the registration fee 😉


The Ultimate Train Challenge is on my travel bucket list. What’s on YOURS?

A year in travel (and life): My 2012 roller coaster ride

Welcome to the roller coaster ride of my year in travel — and life. 2012 was full of not only travel bucket list adventures, but also several struggles and personal growth. In fact, it was one of my toughest years to date. Let’s take a look back and breath in the positive, breathe out the negative, learn from the mistakes, and most importantly: move forward!

year in travel, my first snowfall

There’s no rainbow without some…SNOW! 😉 My very first snowfall in Frisco, Texas

Local tourism: Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras and the Dalí Museum

As I currently live minutes away from downtown, I took part of the Gasparilla Parade (Tampa Bay’s Mardi Gras) on January 2012. “The Invasion” celebrates the legend of José Gaspar (better known as Gasparilla). Rumor has it that the Spanish pirate captain invaded Florida’s west coast between the late 18th – early 19th century. No evidence of such “attack” or even the capt. himself appears in writing until late 20th century though, which makes his existence dubious. But who cares? It is still a heck of a party!

year in travel, Tampa Bay Mardi Gras Gasparilla

“The Invasion”! (Christopher Hollis for Wdwic Pictures)

Also, I finally went to the new Dalí Museum in nearby St. Petersburg. It was an amazing experience see the works of my favorite painter, in addition to having some random fun by the Tree of Wishes in the courtyard!

Year in travel, Dali Museum Florida

By the courtyard and Tree of of Wishes of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida (Matthew Paulson, Flickr)

My first travel conference: The NY Times Travel Show

In March 2012, I went to the New York Times Travel Show for the first time. For being my very first travel conference period, I feel it was a success! I later contacted some of the media agents I connected with throughout the weekend — and even got some comped trips later in the year. The networking that ensued forced me to think about my brand, how I market myself, and where I want LatinAbroad to be. Professional and personal lessons.

Also, I finally got to meet some fellow travel bloggers! Including some of my “idols” 😀

year in travel, NY travel Show Expedia party

NY travel Show Expedia party with travel bloggers @CaptainandClark @MidlifeRoadTrip @live_for_travel

year in travel, New York Times travel show

Top: Woman travel session (with legendary @JourneyWoman, Evelyn!). Bottom: Asia section with lovely dancers from Sri Lanka (left) and Thai display (right)

Life after studying abroad: My post-travel depression

Around April, my life after studying abroad was starting to get to me. More often than not, I was quite sad, unable (or unwilling?) to accept my new life. This post-travel depression hit me hard. I started to fight a lot with my new beau. In fact, it was one of those fights that helped me see that I really had to improve my day by day.

While I still struggle from time to time,  I keep reminding myself that my long-term goals will allow me to travel for the rest of my life! I just have a wee-bit left to get done stateside 😉

year in travel, Tampa FL local tourism

Local tourism in Tampa! Part of my life after traveling the world

American work culture and illness: More struggles ahead

In May, even more hurdles were put on my path. I struggled with the difficult American work culture and a new illness: RSI/carpal tunnel. Due to not having health insurance, I have still not been officially diagnosed, but the pain in my hands and dainty fingers doesn’t lie. I found a way to move forward by buying voice recognition software and learning to relax. A journey, not a destination…

Year in travel, American work culture

Stressed.Out (Deborah Leigh, Flickr)

June: More domestic tourism, TBEX and my 1st Blogiversary

I define domestic tourism as traveling to states or provinces of the country you are living in. This summer, I saw more of America by visiting the number 1 beach in the USA and going to the West for the 1st time. Where to? Keystone, Colorado for TBEX!

Year in travel, Siesta Key Beach FL

Me at Siesta Key beach FL: Number 1 in the USA

While TBEX was my 2nd travel conference, it was my 1st (official) travel blogger trip. I got to meet even more of my travel blogging idols and long-time online friends face-to-face. Among them, the legendary Lola DiMarco, Jodi Ettenburg, Michael Tieso, and Stephanie Yoder. Furthermore, I got my first translation deals! They are still on the works (none have gone live), but I know 2013 will bless me in that department 😀 As a TBEX 1st timer, this meant a lot to me.

Year in travel, TBEX conference

Me (bottom) surrounded by some big names and travel bloggers! Guess who?

You know what else happened in June? It was LatinAbroad’s 1st anniversary! I can’t believe my baby travel blog is over a year old already. Thanks to YOU for all the support! This will keep going for years and years, I assure you 😉 I love it too much.

Year in travel, TBEX Colorado

Champagne and a view: Couldn’t ask for a better ride! (Photo: Jennifer Huber)

Puerto Rico gringo invasion — and partial media trip!

In July, I had the great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to my island, Puerto Rico. With my gringo in tow, we visited my family and other quirky attractions in the island. The highlights?

The sensual Hotel OK and Motel Villa Arco Iris:

Year in travel, sex Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK suite: Complete with stripper pole, heart-shaped Jacuzzi, and the mandatory ceiling mirrors over the bed and hot tub!

Year in travel, Puerto Rico sex Motel Villa Arco Iris

Our romantic suite at Motel Villa Arco Iris. And yup, that’s a ceiling mirror over the bed — and over the Jacuzzi as well!

Going down the tallest zip line in the world:

Small plane ride over the ocean from mainland Puerto Rico to Vieques:

Year in travel, Vieques plane ride

Gorgeous views of mainland Puerto Rico! This flight was courtesy of Vieques Air Link

Laid-back Vieques Island beaches:

Year in travel, Vieques Beach Playuela

Entrance to hidden gem Garcia Beach in Vieques, Puerto Rico

 …and my gringo trying to drive!

A Russian restaurant, the Olympics, and a patriot’s dilemma

The end of the summer brought an unexpected local outing. I got to travel through food and visit an authentic Russian restaurant in Florida. I drank some Soviet-era vodka and ate some interesting Eastern European food.

year in travel, Russian food

I ate the Eastern European lobster pierogi. It was an interesting cream sauce with caramelized onions, plus the perioges seemed to have been stuffed with crab too

Additionally, I got into some arguments around the Olympics due to my strong Puerto Rican patriotism and ignorant Americans’ inability to understand it.

year in travel, Puerto Rico patriotism

Who would have thought this moment would cause so much commotion — in a negative way!?

A new travel cooking series — and financial anorexia

October brought with it some exciting new plans — and some old struggles. Hostel Cooking recipes debuted thanks to my good friend Josh Snore; while the Black Dog showed its ugly face again. I even accepted I suffer from financial anorexia. However, I pulled through — and they won’t beat me!

Year in travel, hostel cooking

Never thought you could cook Moroccan chicken with couscous in a hostel, did you? Get the recipe here!

Playa Del Carmen, Mexico: My 2nd trip to the Yucatán Peninsula

In November, I had another great opportunity to go on a partial media trip to check out 2 of the boutique Xperience Hotels. This time, I would be heading to Mexico for the 2nd time to check out the laid-back beach town of Playa Del Carmen! I was beyond excited, as I could not see many attractions my 1st time around.

I sampled Mayan cuisine, went rappelling and tubing in a cenote, visited the lesser-known Ek Balam Mayan ruins, and even got a 70-minute beach massage for only USD $18! Oh, and sure thing, la gente esta muy LOCAAA in Playa Del Carmen nightlife (and I absolutely loved it).

year in travel, cenote rappelling

Cenote rappelling! Don’t I look excited?!

year in travel, cenote tubing

Our group tubing in a cenote. Of course, I’m the one posing pretty haha

year in travel, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ek Balam “Jaguar” Temple: Mayan carvings

Christmas in Texas — and MY FIRST SNOWFALL!

Last month, my partner surprised me with tickets to go see his family in Texas for Christmas. It was a pretty laid-back trip, but with some great highlights!

Right out of the airport, I was taken to sample some good ol’ Texan barbecue. Omg.

year in travel, Texas barbecue


year in travel, Texan BBQ

Texan brisket and sausage

The Downtown Frisco musical light show and surrounding homes brought out the kid in me. I squealed like a little girl, I was so happy! 😀

The next day it was all about the spanking-new Perot Museum of Science was so much fun — but extremely crowded. I recommend you be the first through the door and have fun at the bottom floors first, as they are the most interactive. My favorite sections were the oil drilling and minerals, in addition to the human anatomy floor. There, you could see the many wonders of the human body via some excellent experiments and quirky gadgets. It was so unreal —  perfect for kids, by the way.

Then, it was Max Donuts. And family banquets. Just SO. MUCH. FOOD.

Year in travel, Max Donuts TX

Max Donuts and other delicacies

Year in travel, veal sausage

Southern veal sausage: spicy, juicy, delicious

Year in travel, southern brisket

Southern brisket right out of the oven

Year in travel, Texan bacon cheeseburger

Just look at that sexy Texan bacon cheeseburger

Year in travel, Midwestern food

Midwestern food in Texas

Year in travel, Southern biscuits

Southern biscuits: garlic, cheese, herbs, and a lot of butter!

But nothing, I mean NOTHING this year could top this one off:


That’s right: up until Christmas 2012, I’d never seen snow fall from the sky. Ever. And yes, it snowed right on Christmas Day! It was so so perfect, I even teared up a little, especially as my partner stepped outside in order to kiss me under the snow 🙂

Year in travel, my first snowfall

It started to snow! It started to snow!

Year in travel, my first snow storm

This is what extreme happiness looks like. Very 1st snowfall in my life, I even teared up!

Indeed, happiness is an understatement here. So of course, I had to shoot not one, but 2 videos. It was freezing cold, but I was so overjoyed I couldn’t even feel it!

New Year’s in Tampa Bay

In comparison to other years, the last few hours of 2012 were very laid-back. However, I spent them among friends and, most importantly, the man I love. 2012 taught me that I could love again, even though travel and a broken heart had stripped hope.

year in travel, fireworks

A great start to 2013 <3

And so, with a kiss and embrace, we said goodbye to 2012 — all while watching a good ol’ firework show over Tampa Bay:

2012 resolutions: Moving back to Egypt, Arabic degree, Oceania — FAIL

Last, but definitely not least, are my failed 2012 resolutions. Last year, I wanted to not only improve my Arabic and even earn a Master of Professional Studies degree, but also move back to Egypt. Plan A didn’t happen, as the federal government stopped funding that program and the situation in Egypt deteriorated (so did my job prospects).

What about Plan B, to become a flight attendant and fly all over the world, or even Plan C,  which involved me moving to Australia and traveling all over Oceania? Well…

I started to take my finances so seriously that I set a plan to get rid of all my debt (about $50,000 of it) in 3 years or less. I just wanted to be free, be free of all Western world strengths and the flawed American work culture.

I decided I want to be a full-time nomadic translator, travel writer by 30.

And, most importantly: DEBT-FREE by then!

It might not be a perfect plan, but it didn’t matter in my head — it still ruled out Plan B. Then, I got a promotion in Florida and decided to stay put longer, as the new salary and benefits were in line with my new financial & other important long-term goals. There went Plan C

But was my toughest year yet ruined because of all these changes? As you could see throughout this post, definitely not. Yes, I struggled. Yes, I didn’t travel as much as I wanted to.

But I grew. I learned a lot.


So: Cheers to 2013! I’m ready to learn, to be amazed, and to be blessed once more. Shall this post be a reminder of John Lennon’s words:

Year in travel, John Lennon quote

A motto to remember

How was your year in travel (and life) in 2012? Share your milestones!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs: La gente esta muy LOCA…WTF?

Remember those sweet plans I had in mind, to swim with turtles in Akumal? Well, that travel bucket list item will have to wait. We can blame Playa Del Carmen nightclubs for that.

Seriously, they got me singing: “la gente esta muy LOCA…WTF?”

When I signed up for the Playa Crawl, I figured I would be out and about until 3 AM. Given the fact that I had gone on a tour the day before on 4 hours of sleep, plus the lengthy nap I had taken earlier that day, I thought I could party and make it to Akumal by 8 AM.

That didn’t happen.

I should have known beforehand. Not only am I a quarter of a century old, but I’m not a college student anymore. And after reading what the Playa Crawl entails… What was I thinking?!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, bar crawl

Best choice to get familiar with Playa Del Carmen nightclubs? Going on a bar crawl with Playa Crawl

You read right: Includes any cover charges, 5 hours of open bar, 3 different clubs, and unlimited bottle service on 2 of the venues. Furthermore, there’s no wait in line + you get a VIP booth at every club. And at the third club you don’t get bottle service? We got 3 rounds of SHOTS (in addition to the 2-3 rounds of drinks we got in-between).


For only US $69.99 per person, saying it is a bargain is an understatement. As a solo traveler, it was also a great way to meet other travelers. Our group consisted of 13 people (including our guide and Jorge). Our guide, Pepe, was a blast as well. He has been traveling the world, by getting instructor/guide seasonal gigs, for the past 10 years — he knows what he’s doing!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review: Playa Crawl group

Our PlayaCrawl group! I’m in the dead center, strapless black dress

So…I got home at 7:30 AM.

And by the time we left, the party was still going! Yes, we saw the freakin’ sunrise from the last club. That’s the best part of the tour by the way: You get to stay at your VIP seating area at the last stop of the crawl until that club closes. Granted, drinks will be on your tab by then, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be all good at that point.

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs and lounges: Which did you go to?

What I really liked about Playa Crawl is that it truly encompasses Playa Del Carmen nightlife. Every night there’s a bar crawl, the venue selection changes. This is tailored to the group and night of the week. For instance, if it’s an older crowd, the guide will skip the loud dance clubs and head to the chill beach clubs instead. From the get-go, Pepe saw that our group was full of partiers, and so we visited the following clubs:

Kartabar (hookah lounge): Calle 12 and 1st Ave. corner

Kartabar was the perfect warm-up: A hip hookah lounge playing oldies Americana music and even some good 90’s pop and hip-hop. We were there by 1045-11 PM and stayed for 1 hour and 20 min. (this is the duration of every stop of the bar crawl, by the way).

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, belly dancer

Belly dancer at Kartabar

During our stay, we were graced by the performance of a beautiful, talented belly dancer in 2 occasions. As far as drinks go, we got 3 rounds of shots: One of tequila and 2 of what seemed to be a Blue Curaçao concoction. Other travelers had about 2-3 rounds of drinks themselves, in addition to the shots. Yours truly simply had an additional margarita (in true lightweight fashion).

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Kartabar view

View of 12th Street from our table at Kartabar

Mandala (dance club): Calle 12 and 1st Ave. corner

Before entering this night club, our guide Pepe said: “party begins now.”

I absolutely loved Mandala: From the red lights, to the colorful dance floor, to the semi-outdoor set-up. The impressive Buddhas were a nice touch as well. Our group was escorted to the second-floor balcony, half of which is roofless. The DJ played American Top 40s, with some reggaetón tracks to spice up the mix. On the few trips to the bathroom, I listened to some of the music on the bottom floor — more of a local, Latin mix.

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Mandala interiors

Mandala’s bottom dance floor early in the evening

At Mandala, we had our first unlimited bottle service. While our waiter was mostly attentive, he kept forgetting about our pineapple juice. Once Pepe was firm about the request though, it was delivered right away. Also, even though we were in the VIP section, it felt somewhat crowded. Still, we had a blast!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Mandala's Buddha

one of Mandala’s Buddha at the 1st floor bar

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Mandala dancefloor

Facing where the stairs to the 2nd floor are located

Palazzo (dance club): Calle 12, between 5th and 10th Ave.

Another hotspot of Playa Del Carmen nightlife, Palazzo was extremely crowded by the time we got there (around 1 AM). It rivals any (small) club in Miami or Cancun: Huge chandelier, comfortable VIP balconies, great electronic music.

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Palazzo

Palazzo entrance

At first, we were placed in one of the lower VIP tables. But…they were too small for our group. After simply making a comment, Pepe went ahead and talked to the manager of the club, who swiftly moved us to the upper VIP balcony. Score!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review: Palazzo VIP balcony

Palazzo VIP balcony from the bottom floor

Service was superb. Here: We never ran out of bottles and even got a premium tequila bottle for shots. From here on…extremely LOCO!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Palazzo VIP balcony view

Palazzo VIP balcony view

Bonus – La Santanera: Calle 12 Mza 30 Loc 2, bet. 5th & 10th Ave.

If you are lucky enough to be hanging out with the owner or one of his family members that night? A 4th stop bonus! After Palazzo, our group was escorted to La Santanera. Owned and operated by the cousin of Playa Crawl’s Jorge, it is a breezy club where you will find more locals than foreigners. The music is outstanding (deep house + lounge upstairs). It is basically the place you go to party until the sun comes up.

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs, La Santanera bar

La Santanera bar. Loved the decor!

And I have nothing else to say about this hip club because… all I remember is dancing to great music, drinking from our vodka bottles at our VIP section until I saw the SUN come up. I didn’t get back to my hotel until 7-7:30 AM!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs, La Santanera VIP

With my favorite Aussie in the group! Sitting at La Santanera VIP section. Pretty sure this was close to sunrise!

Alternatives to Playa Del Carmen nightclubs

Personally, I had a blast at all the clubs visited during the Playa Crawl. However, Playa Del Carmen nightlife offers a plethora of other options. Throughout my vacation, I also found the following venues to be quite attractive and fun:

Coco Bongo Playa Del Carmen
Calle 10, M31 L5 221, Playa del Carmen 77710

Yes, Coco Bongo is also a dance club, but they put on an amazing show. I had the pleasure of going to the one in Cancun. Too much fun to describe in words. Pricey, but totally worth it!

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Coco Bongo

Coco Bongo Playa Del Carmen (Dan, Flickr)

Mamitas Beach Club
Calle 28 Norte Mza. 10 Lote 8 between Zona Federal Maritima and 5th Av.

Trendy, casual, and an amazing semi-outdoor experience. I personally love sipping cocktails and dancing while staring at crashing waves 😉 By the way, David Guetta will be here for New Years! The one night Mamitas will resemble one of the other nightclubs I mentioned (instead of its usual laid-back self).

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs alternative, Mamitas

Miss Spain contestants at Mamitas Beach Club (Noticaribe, Flickr)

Blue Parrot
12th St N & 1st Ave N | Blue Parrot Hotel

Laid-back beach bar that even has fire dancers. Watch the video below to sample of the some fun. The crazy fast dancing starts at 0:30!

Coco Maya Beach Club & Lounge
Calle 12 and Beach Front, Playa Del Carmen

Another casual club by the ocean, in the likes of Mamitas. It is BIG inside — loved the decor (swings by the BAR!), sand floor, and dancing space. There’s also a balcony to look at the waves 🙂 typical music played is hip-hop/R&B by the entrance; house by the beach.

Playa Del Carmen nightclubs review, Coco Maya dance floor

One of Coco Maya’s dance floors early in the evening

The drinking specials for ladies are even better: Every night, no cover and open bar until 1 AM! This includes tequila, vodka, and rum with respective non-premium (i.e. no Red Bull). I would say they still live up their “every night is a ladies night” motto 😉 Guys only pay US $35 for a bracelet that includes cover and similar open bar. Yes, Coco Maya can become more like a crowded dance club after midnight. Still, it is relatively laid-back in comparison to the other Playa Del Carmen nightclubs I went to.

Playa Del Carmen nightlife, Coco Maya Beach Club thatched ceiling

Coco Maya Beach Club’s thatched ceiling by 2nd dance floor

Playa Del Carmen nightlife review. Coco Maya

Coco Maya lounge area

Have you experienced Playa Del Carmen nightclubs? Tell us!

Special thanks to Jorge and Playa Crawl for the complimentary bar crawl. I was not paid for positive Playa Del Carmen nightclubs reviews, though. Comments are my honest opinion.

Middle East travel bucket list: Thanksgiving photo essay

Happy Thanksgiving! I know it is not until tomorrow, but by then my Playa Del Carmen adventures will be in full swing 😉 And so today, I want to be thankful for my world travels. This Thanksgiving #TravelBL special will be all about Middle East travel bucket list items I have crossed off already. More inspiration for you, fond memories to me.

But… why a Middle East travel bucket list?

You must be asking yourself this question. There are several reasons…

Middle East travel bucket list, Abu Simbel

Nefertari: we finally met! At Abu Simbel Temple, Egypt

When I was awarded a full $20,000 scholarship to study Arabic in Egypt for a year, it was a dream come true in so many levels. I had been obsessed with Nefertiti, Nefertari and all those majestic temples ever since I first saw them on a history book in elementary school.

My love for travel started this way.

After watching countless of documentaries on History and Discovery Channel, I wondered whether there were other civilizations like this in the world. How big (or small) is the world we live in, anyway? What other wonders are there to see? The more I learned, the more obsessed I became with traveling the world. I always say travel taught me English.

Basically, my wanderlust was ignited by Ancient Egypt and the Middle East.

Middle East travel bucket list, Medinet Habu

colorful wall at Medinet Habu temple – Luxor, Egypt

And since I’m being thankful for my world travels today, I want to pay tribute to this region, which has transformed me in so many levels. Also, most of my world travels were done while living in Egypt and Morocco, so they hold a special place in my heart..

Today, a toast for the Arab world with this Middle East travel bucket list!

Sailed down the Nile River — and on an ancient boat

What most people don’t know is that the felucca is not only a traditional sail boat in Egypt, but the Eastern Mediterranean, comprising the island of Malta — all the way to Iraq. What’s more: The felucca even made it to the Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, back in the 19th century! (Wikipedia, felucca article). It is said that the glorified version of the felucca, known as a dahabeya, was also used by pharaohs and even Napoleon himself.

Middle East travel bucket list, felucca trip

Our felucca trip crew! I’m the second on the right

I was lucky to spend a few days sleeping on board. I drifted on this simple beauty, so close to the historic Nile river. I still slap myself, thinking it was just a dream. And what a dream it was — I have never been so relaxed in my entire life. The most sublime experience though was getting to swim in the longest river in the world + actually stepping out of the felucca to visit ancient Egyptian temples. Just wow!

Middle East travel bucket list, swimming in the Nile River

Yes, the Nile River can be THAT clear! Your felucca captain will know where to stop for you to swim safely

Middle East travel bucket list, African sunset

Me and an African sunset from a felucca on the Nile

Spent my birthday in Philae temple, Egypt

While I had already visited the Giza pyramids several times (and they were a sandstorm of disappointments), Philae was the first ancient Egyptian temple I ever visited. And I got to see it on my 22nd birthday too — what a treat!

Middle East bucket list, Philae Temple from the Nile

The Philae temple complex was much bigger than expected. A portion of it may be seen from the Nile River — like right out of a movie!

Middle East travel bucket list, Philae Temple,

Me at Philae Temple — on my BIRTHDAY!

Saw The Treasury and Monastery in Petra, Jordan

While the Pyramids of Giza were a sandstorm of disappointments, the ancient city of Petra was a completely different story. I cried when I saw the Treasury. I remember vividly how I sat at its feet for at least 30 min., staring at its majesty. Even though it is an extremely touristy site, I visited early in the morning. While there were still some foreigners around, my experience was not tarnished — at all. To this day, I still wonder why Petra had such an impact on me. Just remembering the 2 days I spent there take my breath away…! Definitely a huge item off my Middle East travel bucket list.

Read more: The Treasury, Petra: A tear-jerking Kodak moment

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra Treasury

The Treasury, Petra by Bernard Gagnon

Middle East travel bucket list, Petra

Me contemplating The Treasury

The most surprising, unexpected part of my trip, though? I freaking climbed the monastery — like, to the VERY top. No harness, no equipment at all. I remember slipping once and thinking I was going to die. Still, making it to the top was priceless and worth every scary step!

Also read: How I Climbed the Petra Monastery with a Bedouin (photo essay)

Middle East travel bucket list, climbed Petra monastery

How to climb the Petra monastery: Looks easy, but it SO isn’t! The path looks deceivingly easy, when it is in fact extremely slippery and precarious

Middle East travel bucket list, climbing Petra monastery

Almost there! See that tiny Bedouin on the top right? I made it THERE!

Middle East travel bucket list, on top of Petra monastery

“I’m queen of the world! Wohoo woohoo WOOOOO!”

Old Jerusalem: Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher

This one was huge: I didn’t get to visit Old Jerusalem once, but twice. There are so many things to do in Jerusalem — I am so lucky I got to experience them at a relaxed pace, on 2 different visits. My first trip was with the group of study abroad students during Eid El Adha — an experience in itself. the second time around, I was embarking on my epic Solo Middle East road trip. Highlights included the Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Western Wall, and the Church of Mary Magdalene on Mount of Olives.

Middle East travel bucket list, Dome of the Rock Jerusalem

Me at Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem! CLICK on photo to ENLARGE

Middle East travel bucket list, Temple Mount in Jerusalem

Me at Temple Mount: Dome of the Rock on left; Al Aqsa Mosque right behind the arches (CLICK on photo to ENLARGE)

There are many other things from my travels that I am so thankful about. Unfortunately, not much space or time. I will leave you with a few other unforgettable experiences that I got to cross off my Middle East travel bucket list, though!

Experienced the desert — and a real oasis

Middle East travel bucket list, ride a camel


Middle East travel bucket list, visit an oasis

Baharyia Oasis panorama by fellow student Margaux de Borchgrave

Visited “The Athens of Africa” – Fes, Morocco

Fes Bab Bou Jeloud

Bab Bou Jeloud, Fes, Morocco by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen

Bathed in mud and floated on the Dead Sea

Middle East travel bucket list, float on the Dead Sea

Floating on the Dead Sea! I’m on the far left

Middle East travel bucket list, Dead Sea mud bath

My (muddy) kiss from the Dead Sea!

Want to learn about more about my epic world travels? Check out my lengthy solo female travel photo essay, where I outlined everywhere I went shortly before, during, and after my 16-month study abroad stint in Egypt and Morocco!

What are you thankful for?
What’s on your Middle East travel bucket list?

Travel bucket list destination: Komodo National Park, Indonesia

Welcome to another edition of Travel Bucket List Wednesday! This week’s travel bucket list destination is Komodo National Park. Located in Indonesia, it is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1986. The diving there is supposed to be unbelievable and I can’t wait to finally visit. Oh my dear Asia, you have escaped me for so many years! soon I’ll catch you, soon I’ll catch you…

Komodo National Park, travel bucket list destination

“Islands in Komodo National Park” (Nick Hobgood, Flickr)


The Komodo National Park stretches across a total of 29 volcanic islands. Naturally, the archipelago offers spectacular scenery and wildlife.

Komodo location

Flores, Indonesia: Where Komodo National Park is located (Sadalmelik,Wiki Commons)

Komodo, Padar & Rincah

The largest islands of this travel bucket list destination park are Komodo, Padar & Rincah. Besides excellent diving, they are mostly a popular place to watch the famous Komodo Dragon.

Indonesia Komodo Dragon

Komodo Dragon – Komodo, Indonesia (whl.travel, Flickr)

travel bucket list pink sand beach

Pink Beach of Komodo – Komodo, Indonesia (whl.travel, Flickr)

Diving Komodo National Park

Chromodoris joshi species, diving Komodo National Park (Nick Hobgood, Flickr)

Have you been to Komodo? Is it your travel bucket list destination?

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: A mischievous, sexy escapade in the tropics (photo essay)

Want to live out a secret affair fantasy? Want to feel like you’re a shady Puerto Rican government official? Want to order fried food naked? We have the hot spot for you: Puerto Rico MOTELS. Specifically, this Travel Bucket List Wednesday we share our Hotel OK Puerto Rico review, compliments of (mainly) Mr. B.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico entrance

Bright football-arena-like entrance sign of Hotel OK Puerto Rico

Hotel OK Puerto Rico rooms

Hotel OK Puerto Rico “suites” lined up. Openings are individual garages

To those who are uninitiated to the seedy underbelly of Puerto Rico motels: In essence, they are places to have sex and have no one know you were there. When it comes to the Hotel OK Puerto Rico, there’s a big bright sign for an entrance, like one of a football arena. But then, as soon as you turn in, the “roads” become dark alleys of Sin City.

As you pull in, you park in one of the many open garages inside each “suite.” When you get out of your vehicle, you feel a hush tone over the entire area. Besides the odd buzz of whizzing golf carts and packs of wild dogs, all you hear is silence. A man drives up, I hand him my credit card (he looked like a real straight shooter, right Maria?)…and he was off. Then, we were left to our devices at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico suite.

Inside the Hotel OK Puerto Rico Suite

Hotel OK Puerto Rico, VIllas Del Rey

Inside one of the Jacuzzi Suites at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico (named “VIllas Del Rey” or The King’s Villas)

Up the stairs, behind the mystery door: A mirrored playroom filled with a Jacuzzi, a stripper pole, disco lights, disco ball, a bar, and strange chair are unveiled.  The latter seemed to be used for confusing sexual positions (a love machine, I’m told). Upon entrance, I was WAY out of my comfort zone, so all I had was a goofy smile on my face. The area seems to be cleaned just enough to not gross me out. However, once I stepped into the bathroom, it seemed like no one had been there at all! There were broken tiles, awkward flushing toilets, no A/C to the bathroom. What was left was an open window, with men joking with one another in Spanish right below it. Since I didn’t know what they were saying, I’ll add lib: “What up Carlos, you here to have sex too?” Carlos: “Hey Sebastian, yeah you know what a kawinkadink LOL.” Sebastian: “Man, can’t wait to tweet this #motelaffair LMAO.”

When I went back into the room, Maria was looking over the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu (digitally shown on TV). Offerings included food, lube, condoms, dolls…but NO COMBO MEALS! I mean, if I order your fried combo platter, you might as well assume that I ain’t got a chick in here and throw the blow up for free…

The Romantic Hot Tub

Hotel OK Puerto Rico heart-shaped Jacuzzi

Bubbly inside the heart-shaped Jacuzzi

I turned the faucet on to start filling the Jacuzzi. As I waited for the red heart-shaped hot tub to fill up, I flipped the Hotel OK Puerto Rico menu channel onto “regular” TV programming. Then BAM: I’m b**ls deep in what looks like the most amateur porn I have ever seen. The women looked worn, the tracks in their arms fresh, and the camera seemed to be excited as it was constantly shaking. So after a short browse, I turned it off. By then, Maria had decided on what “sexy items” and alcohol we wanted, so we called room service.

Now onto what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico does right: There’s a hidden little wooden door, where room orders are placed. This was built so that no one can actually see each other when “transactions” take place. I could be naked, clothed and/or still in a comprising position–it does not matter. I felt this was genius and all hotels should have this method of room service:

The masked man handed me the food and my card (glad it made it back). At this point, we sat down in the heart-shaped Jacuzzi; jets on and bubbles flowing. I can’t lie: this has been on my travel bucket list since Dumb and Dumber came out. To have it finally checked off with alcohol and fried Puerto Rican food was definitely a highlight. I don’t even think Alzheimer’s will ever take that away.

Sexy Time Calling. And…

Hotel OK Puerto Rico ceiling mirror

Ceiling mirror over bed

After fueling up, we decided to use what the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was made for. So we ****** on *** ******* for about 10-15 minutes, then we ****** in ** ********* which I think are illegal in my home state of Texas if I’m honest. After are some cuddles, Maria and I fell asleep. Now, this is when it got weird…

I woke to someone serenading their mate with “I’m on a payphone” by whatever that band is named (you know, with the dude in the bank robbery music video?).  After the serenade finally stopped, I heard the yip of what I assumed was a woman…but she sounded more like a small dog. When Maria finally woke up and stated that “those cleaning ladies need to stop singing so loud,” I just laughed. Hard.

8 Hours of Fantasy

Around 6 AM, the honeymoon at the Hotel OK Puerto Rico was finally over–we were off to the hustle-and-bustle of Puerto Rican life. We snuck back into her parents’ house early and enjoyed a great breakfast feast from the madre. The great thing about this was the little mischievous smiles we shared for the rest of the day. It was our little secret: we snuck out to have a romantic evening together. It was ours only ours. We were able to wink and hold hands as if we were high school sweethearts that “got away with it.”

TLDR: Get a partner, go to a sexy Puerto Rico motel, and have fun.

Hotel OK Puerto Rico sign

Hotel OK Puerto Rico: No additional caption needed

Next: We step it up & visit a luxurious, cleaner sexy motel

Would you go to Hotel OK Puerto Rico for a sexy fantasy night?

El Morro photos and history: Puerto Rico Travel Bucket List Wednesday

Welcome to another edition of Travel Bucket List Wednesday! Get inspired to wander thanks to readers’ submissions and my travel adventures. This week I uncover more of the beauties of my island, Puerto Rico. Hope you enjoy these El Morro photos and short historical overview!

To participate in Travel Bucket List  Wednesday inspirational series:

1. Submit a link joint article about your travel bucket list experience(s) via Mr. Linky below. It can be any type of travel inspiration, such as a blog post, Pinterest board, photo essay, etc.

2. Leave a comment on this post, describing your travel bucket list link and/or why it should be on our list, too.

3. Tweet all your travel bucket list items with #TravelBLI promise to RT!

Sounds good? Onto showing you some mighty El Morro photos!

El Morro photos, viewpoint

One of many viewpoints at El Morro. Old San Juan in the background

El Morro: The ultimate protector?

Due to its strategic, geographically-desirable position, Puerto Rico had been lusted after by every world power in colonial times. Since its discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492, La Isla Del Encanto has been the subject of attacks by other colonial powers (such as the English). For this reason, the Spanish conquistadors were compelled to come up with a strategy in order to protect the island.

In 1539, construction of the Castillo San Felipe Del Morro begun under the rule of King Charles V of Spain. The massive fortress and collection of 44-meter (145 ft) high, 5.5-meter (18 ft) thick walls we see today were not completed until late 18th century, though!

El Morro photos, view from the sea

El Morro: As seen from an arriving cruise ship (Photo: Jorge Quinteros, Flickr)

Fortress El Morro photos

View from one of El Morro’s upper levels

Despite fortification, Old San Juan was attacked by the Dutch, English, and even pirates (such as Sir Francis Drake)! the last attack? By US forces during the Spanish-American war. We know the outcome 😉

Learn more: Puerto Rico: The U.S. territory’s dilemma

Another interesting fact about this UNESCO World Heritage Site? Even though the entire fortress is known as El Morro, this is actually the name of the Port San Juan Light, which was built on top the Castillo San Felipe in 1843. Sixty-five years later, the U.S. military replaced the Port Light with the lighthouse that stands today.

El Morro photos, lighthouse

El Morro lighthouse (Photo: Marius Strom, Flickr)

El Morro photos, lighthouse views

Postcard views inside the lighthouse

While these El Morro photos were taken during my Puerto Rico press trip this past July, I have visited this site several times. As many of you already know, I was born and lived in Puerto Rico for 18 years. You can say I didn’t even have time to add this to my travel bucket list, as my first time there was early in my childhood! 🙂

El Morro photos, Garita watch post

Entrance to one of the infamous “garitas,” used as watch posts                   (Photo: Matt & Becky, Flickr)

Are these El Morro photos enough to convince you to visit? 😉

What other sites are on your travel bucket list?

Travel bucket list photos: Get inspired by delicious food and gorgeous views!

And we are BACK! It’s Travel Bucket List Wednesday and I can finally put together a post. SO! I’ll go straight to some gorgeous travel bucket list photos, yah?

San Blas Islands Panama, travel bucket list photos

Visit gorgeous uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea? Check! (San Blas, Panama)

Vietnam: Food Obsession!

While I have been obsessed with traveling to Vietnam for its gorgeous landscapes for quite some time, my deepest love affair is with Vietnamese food. I have been lucky enough to travel through food and enjoy real, traditional Vietnamese curries while living in Tampa, Florida. I can attest to this by comparing the great dishes I have eaten here with those of travel bloggers who have traveled to that country.

However, not all great dishes that comprise traditional Vietnamese cuisine are offered at my favorite Tampa restaurant. And after seeing some amazing dishes such as fried pork on lemongrass stick on Runaway Juno’s travel blog, I must go there ASAP!

Vietnamese curry, travel bucket list photos

Vietnamese curry or Cà Ri Gà: My favorite Vietnamese dish (so far!)

pork on lemongrass, travel bucket list photos

Nem lui: Vietnamese fried pork on lemongrass sticks (RunawayJuno, Flickr)

Aren’t these travel bucket list photos absolutely delicious? For more Asian food porn, checkout my Asian curries photo essay. That post makes me want to eat my computer screen…

Iceland: Expansive, foreign landscapes

I’ve only crossed off Iceland halfway: I still have yet to witness Icelandic summer landscapes. What did I see, then? The gorgeous Northern lights and volcanic landscapes, covered by white blankets, back in December 2010. Moreover, I experienced Iceland Couchsurfing at its best! Definitely something I recommend to every traveler I meet. Just see for yourself:

Icelandic landscape, travel bucket list photos

amazing love rock formation at an Icelandic beach in Vik, South Coast

Icelandic summer, travel bucket list photos

Icelandic summer landscape (opalpeterliu, Flickr)

Iceland Blue Lagoon summer, travel bucket list photos

Iceland’s Blue Lagoon (opalpeterliu, Flickr)

What I love the most about this country by the Arctic? Its rough beauty. See more photos of Iceland landscapes here.

Other incredible landscapes around the world

Dongchuan Red Land, travel bucket list photos

Dongchuan Red Land, southern China (JiKang Lee, Flickr)

Lençóis Maranhenses, travel bucket list photos

Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil (Iain and Sarah, Flickr)

Winter in Cappadocia, Turkey (SteFou!, Flickr)

Enough said. Really.

Got more travel bucket list photos? Share them with us on a comment below!

Travel inspiration Wednesday: Who, What, When and Where

Welcome to Travel Bucket List Wednesday! Today’s article will be quite different. Yet, somehow, more inspirational. It’ll describe Who, What, When, Where has defined my travel inspiration throughout the years. These places, people, and circumstances have shaped my own travel bucket list, so they merit a mention on this week’s #TravelBL post. I hope that these personal tales and stories of my struggles will push you to pursue your own dreams, overcome your own fears, and understand that life’s circumstances truly work out on our favor–if we have the right attitude.

While EasyJet’s “Inspiration Initiative” competition is now closed, I still wanted to share my stories…

My Travel Inspiration: Who to blame?

While we could blame Nefertiti (more on that later), I must say that who truly made me take action was James (*pseudonym used). Yes…the protagonist of my Travel and a Broken Heart open letter.

Theories about why he broke up with me have morphed and are still somewhat of a mystery to me. Yet, one thing is certain: James is who ultimately pushed me to pursue my dreams and, most importantly, to travel. It was him who first talked to me about teaching English abroad while being able to save money and travel the world. It was him who made me believe I had it in me to someday travel indefinitely. It was him who gave wings to my wildest travel inspiration and told me those dreams were more than attainable…

Travel inspiration, James

“James” : Thank you…

What kick-started my wanderlust?

James’ love, and the broken he left behind, pushed me to travel–immediately. However,  my travel inspiration, that persistent little bug, had been in me for years before I moved to the U.S. to go to college.

In fact, my interest to learn English at a young age made me flip through foreign TV channels. That habit, eventually, led me to National Geographic, Discovery Kids, and History Channel. Soon, I was intrigued: where are these beautiful places and impressive creatures? How can I see them? What do I have to do to get the money to do so?

Those, my friends, are the things that created this travel monster: Learning English and travel/history channels.

History Channel travel inspiration

History Channel sign in NYC (Kevin Dooley, Flickr)

When did I feel the strongest urge to see the world, though?

Sooner than you may think. In fact, that day, the exact moment that fire was ignited, is still vivid in my mind…

It was the summer before I started 4th grade.

Mom had just purchased my textbooks for the new school year. As usual, I quickly unwrapped each and one of them to start reading. Flipping through the pages of the turquoise “Historia del Mundo Antiguo” (History of the Ancient World), a photo caught my eye: Nefertiti. I loved her golden jewelry and black eyeliner. For the next couple of days, I would be devouring every single page depicting Ancient Egypt.

I must go there. Someday. I must see these temples with my own eyes.

And just like that, I finally made it happen in 2008. For a full year I was living in Egypt, learning Arabic thanks to a full-ride academic scholarship. For a year before that, I prepped intensely, fueled by the passion ignited in me that summer of 1996. After that year in the Middle East, I embarked to Morocco to study some more and, 7 months later, my country counter clicked past 20.

Nefertiti bust, my travel inspiration

it’s your fault, Nefertiti! [Photo by Lwp Kommunikáció, Flickr]

Where did I draw most of my travel inspiration from?

While many places inspired me to travel, Cairo, Egypt was quite defining in my life. I was traveling with a broken heart back then…and I felt quite defiant toward life in general. The emotions this huge city got out of me were intense. Some days I was head over heels for it; while on others, I absolutely hated it.

On the ups, I was deeply interested in interacting with the locals, practicing my Arabic, and getting to know Egypt deeply. I visited the Pyramids of Giza 4 times, found my my favorite place on Earth in Dahab, sailed down the Nile on a felucca, and came across dozens of Ancient Egyptian temples.

The downs made me scream in the middle of a dusty room and want to get out of the country ASAP. It happens…and it so also happens that Egypt is close to Israel, Palestine, and Jordan. So when I had enough, I simply embarked on an epic solo Middle East road trip, hitchhiking and Couchsurfing through historical lands.

Furthermore, after my study abroad program in Egypt, I had to stay abroad. Where did I end up? In another study abroad program in Morocco! From there, I visited Europe several times. Then, in 2010, I came back to the U.S. to face post-travel depression and learned that a digital nomad career was the only option for me.

Thanks for all the lessons and travel inspiration, Egypt!

travel inspiration, Islamic Cairo

Me in Islamic Cairo, Egypt

Who, what, when, and where can you blame for your travel inspiration?