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

Suicidal thoughts: we all get them sometimes, no…?

“Suicidal thoughts: we all get them sometimes, no?”

He said it with such assurance, so matter-of-factly that it scared me a bit.

But just a bit:

“I guess that’s true… Although I probably get them more often than most.”

“…especially when stuck in a place I don’t want to be. And so why we travel…”

Then, we began telling each other stories: How we went from suicidal thoughts to life thoughts…

Basically, how travel changed our lives forever.

suicidal thoughts, over the cliff

Suicidal thoughts by epSos.de

You’ve read mine: let’s see how he overcame suicidal thoughts. Take it…

It was the summer of 2006. I was fresh out of high school and my family decided a just reward would be…A cruise through the Caribbean. Yet, I was just depressed, tired, and pretty f***ing hopeless.

To get away from the fake smiles of the employees and disco inferno on the party deck, I went to our cabin, then out on our private balcony to look at the stars. As I was standing there, I began to lean over the edge.

First just my head, then my chest and, before I knew it, I was up on the rail: my hip on the bar a mere 20 degrees from losing the center of gravity, keeping me on this rusty bucket…

As I do this pre-fad planking I began to realize that the fear was NOT of accidentally falling, but rather, of actually letting go. I mean f*ck, I am in the middle of the Caribbean, no other boat travelling at least 20 knots in sight.

Basically, no shot in hell of these people hearing me scream over the diesel engines — let alone circling back fast enough to pick me up in time.

suicidal thoughts, falling

martinak15, Flickr

My heart was beating at the pace of a championship race; my eyes were tearing up. I mean f***ing hell, my life has been terrible: I trained 6 hours A DAY in a sport that most people in my town called GAY. My dad is never around, my mom is always drunk — all while my sister is on another planet. No friends, no money to my name…

Just a cold swimsuit, a shitty Mazda, and a broken pair of glasses.

I leaned a couple inches more: now my feet are way off and the only things stopping me from falling into the deep blue abyss are two sweaty palms on a beautifully-waxed wooden railing. Then — among all the suicidal thoughts — a glimmer of a strange, yet familiar thought came flying out of the corner of my head:

Do you really want to DIE here?

Think about it: you trained your ass off for a REALLY long time to go to college and here, right before the liquor, the ladies and, most importantly, the freedom away from that God-forsaken town you want to throw it all away; exchange it for a horribly-ironic newspaper headline, going something like this: “Record-holding Swimmer Drowns”?

suicidal thoughts, drowning

Richard Urban, Flickr

Nah, man: NOT TODAY. Because today, I am getting ready.

Finally, I started to slide away from the railing. When my feet hit the ground, my hands were shaking with such force I didn’t realize how long they were truly holding me back. I sat down and looked back at the railing.

I stared at the railing for 3 days straight, trying to figure out what held me back.

Then, I realized that giving it all up after the f*** ton of sh** I had already gone through was, in all honesty, not worth it. So yeah…F*** THAT; I gotta at least try to go to college.

And so, I returned from that trip a changed man.

I realized: must try one more day, somewhere else, before giving up.

Fast-forward to fall 2006 and I am in college in sunny Florida…yet? Everything is tough — again. So, when I least expected it, the demon would come out, trying to take out all the wind from my sails and have me just let it all go. So after about a month of him (a.k.a. suicidal thoughts) showing up again, I said:

“Alright demon you want me to die? Want me in hell? Well then: time to FACE it!”

I found a friend of mine in Texas who worked at a shitty skydiving shop in the middle of nowhere and told him to pack a chute this winter. For Christmas.

We drove up, past a shooting range, up a dirt road to a little place where a man was yelling at my buddy not to kill the customers — as he was drinking a beer & blaring southern rock himself. My mother, who insisted on coming, was naturally losing her mind. I told her not to worry (while secretly having my own crusade).

That demon was surly smiling and man was I ready to face him.

I walked in, put all my savings on the table, signed a form and, before I could say howdy, I was in a tiny kite climbing in altitude — strapped to an old man who seemed to have had about the same attitude as I did that day.

And suddenly, as I lay on my stomach, the door flies open next to me…

…and the demon slowly gets quiet.

What!? What’s the matter demon, didn’t you want this? You had no problem in high school f***ing with me, no problem with swimming practice, while I am asleep, while I’m running to attack me. YET, when I all of sudden charge out the trenches, teeth snarling to face you, you’re shutting the f**k up huh? Well, it’s too late now!

…and foosh: the sound, as I see the plane slowly flying away from me.

suicidal thoughts, jumping off a plane

aJ Gazmen, Flickr

What the…where is the strap?! S**t, no strap. Ok OK where is the rope that has me attached to something? Where the f**k is the DISNEY SAFETY (I really did think this) and nope nope and nope it’s all gone.

What’s left? Stranger on my back (supposedly knowing what to do) & my mind.

As I stared at the ground, realizing that death could be here and I wouldn’t feel a thing, I felt this calm come over me. And right then, immediately after suicidal thoughts dissipated, I realized I didn’t want to die. Because of that calmness that came with adrenaline, with the challenge

I realized that death was not what I wanted. I simply missed feeling alive.

Sure, if it all went cocks up and I died there that day, I could have been cool with that. BUT if I had 1 more day to play one hour of video games, ride a motorcycle or have some money… that would be awesome, too.

I realized in that brief moment — between life and death, adrenaline and calmness — that the demon was just fear, and if I charged that fear instead of running away from it, I could actually make it to 40. Or 80.

The suicidal thoughts don’t follow me now; rather, a stench of motivation to at least try and get into a little bit more trouble before I — or must I say, somebody else — decides I have to go.

suicidal thoughts, roller coaster ride

Life is a roller coaster: RIDE IT accordingly [Dave, Flickr]

Sure, I still got my bad days (who doesn’t?), but all I have to do is remind myself of the reason why I did not end it all back in high school. Back in the Caribbean Sea. As I fell down the skies:

The experience of going somewhere new. How it feels to be truly alive.

I want to travel. I want to get out there and experience weird s**t. I want to be terrified — but because I’m drinking with a bunch of men with AK-47s. I want to ride a motorcycle on dangerous roads.

Now I know what you might be thinking: WHAT THE F**K IS THIS GUY ON AND WHERE IS HIS DEALER. But trust me: I’m sober, except for the high that suicidal thoughts and the fear of taking my own life brought me.

Now if fate has decided that a cancer the size of a ceiling fan wanted to pop on my left ventricle and take me out of the game: so be it. But simply knowing that I still have a choice, a chance, the gift to walk on the earth one more day…

Then I’m really going to try get some really cool s**t done.

Any step counts — and I do mean any step forward.

I don’t care if it’s just a baby step or if I’m just fu***ng hop scotching: I’m going to look forward instead of backwards and actually achieve s**t that no one thought could be done! That’s what makes me — could make YOU — feel alive and finally see that life is a gift not to be wasted.

suicidal thoughts, it's worth the wait

QueenNeveen, Flickr

It’s been 4 years since that fateful day — hanging from a cruise balcony rail, over the Caribbean Sea — and I am on my way. I have found an amazing business partner, an amazing woman, and even more amazing experiences. I am less than 4 years away from traveling the world indefinitely, with a steady passive income coming my way, plus a motorcycle — just the possibilities get me stoked every morning I I’m lucky enough to wake up and see the sunshine again.

If it were easy EVERYONE would do it. So don’t choose the ‘less exciting’ way.

I don’t know if my story will help someone out there, but please remember: you can do WHATEVER YOU WANT. The key is to NOT expect anyone to like it or back you up to do it. What’s crazy is that, most of the time…?

They are just jealous of what they never had the balls to accomplish.

If you travel already, good. If you don’t yet, good, too. It does not matter what path you choose in life, the point is to choose one — and the one that YOU want, for that matter. Because in the end, only YOU will have to come to terms with YOUR own decisions.

Yes, you’ll fuck up. Yes, you’ll go down paths that are less than pleasant at times. Just remember to dwell on the excitement of the unknown instead of listening to the coward demons that want you to take the boring way out.

Personally, I’ve gotten to experience many incredible moments and, if I live a little longer, I can go even bigger. I didn’t know this back when I was tormented by suicidal thoughts every second; back when I was about to jump off that cruise’s balcony. BUT…

I’m glad some Angel did know, pulled me back, and pushed me forward.

suicidal thoughts, quote to live by

Make a 5-year goal, yearly goal, monthly goal, weekly goal, daily goal. Adapt and always, and I do mean ALWAYS, move forward. Celebrate any step (or baby hop) in that direction because man, every inch is a mile in this game of life.

Have you had suicidal thoughts? How did you overcome them?

When your dream job gets BETTER…is disappointment even worse?

I don’t say this too often, but I’m scared. I’m terrified of failing. Failing at scoring my dream job, that is.

I know–who the hell is the chick typing this blog post in lieu of Maria Alexandra?! But it’s really me, unfortunately…

WHAT?

Somehow, I’m already thinking about the broken heart. And no, this one won’t be caused by love…but rather, the disappointment of seeing your biggest life dream fall between your fingers, fly away from your hands.

dream job, terrified doll

Terrified while holding my dreams… [PHOTO: giveawayboy, Flickr]

Dream job deja vu: disappointment hits me hard

When I participated on #myBBB competition, I didn’t think that not making it into the final 10 would hit me so hard. My reaction really shocked me. So much that I even hesitated to jump at this other opportunity…

I still did it though. Yay.

You see, I’ve applied for YET another dream gig. It didn’t involve such an elaborate travel video like last time, but just 60 SECONDS to tell Jauntaroo why I deserve to be chosen as their Chief World Explorer, traveling and volunteering around the world for A FULL YEAR with a $100,000 salary:

PLEASE CLICK HERE and push the ‘like’ button to VOTE for me every 24 hours until September 15. It would mean the world to me, really. And even though I’m TERRIFIED of failing, falling hard on my face YET AGAIN

I’ll never land my dream job if I don’t keep trying, right?! Dreams are HARD!

My depression, summer travel plans, awesome photos + other updates

The past 12 months have been seriously tough on me… But I’ll talk about my summer travel plans first before I lose my inspiration altogether.

summer travel plans, Canadian poutine

Canadian poutine: yes, PLEASE (The Kozy Shack, Flickr)

My summer travel plans: Ontario & Québec, Canada!

After my dreams were crushed last month, I knew I had to come up with some quick summer travel plans. And while I was so paralyzed I couldn’t even think of a destination for days, I was finally reminded of TBEX Toronto. This meant… 2 weeks in Canada because flights were cheap on those dates! 😛

On May 18th, I have an overnight layover in Toronto before flying out the 19th to Montréal. I’ll meet with fellow blogger Karla and hopefully do a week-long road trip, including Ottawa and Québec City. I can’t wait to finally try poutine, eat in the dark at O.NOIR, and experience French culture. Oh by the way, believe it or not, I haven’t been to France yet! So this road trip should be fun…

summer travel plans, Québec

Old Québec City by Andre Mondou, Flickr

A week later, I’ll head out to Toronto and stay there until June 4th. I plan to go Couchsurfing and hang out with locals most of my stay, not doing tours until the conference weekend. That means no-plans Toronto, woo hoo! Except for a couple of restaurants I want to check out from this list and…

A Niagara Falls and winery tour on May 30th! I got invited by a Canadian operator to take part of such day trip with Karla — really looking forward to it. More details to come.

Then it’s TBEX time: agenda packed as always. Weekend will include:

* A First-Timer’s Special: All About Toronto tour for 3 hours the morning of Friday, May 31st. Then, after lunch, it’ll be time to hit the kaleidoscope of international neighborhoods  this Canadian city has to offer with the Toronto: The World in a City tour! Best of all? Both outings were included with my conference ticket 😀

* June 1-2nd = all-day conference sessions + pitching attendants. Parties TBA!

summer travel plans, Toronto

Toronto’s Little Portugal? (Robyn Lee, Flickr)

* Was planning on taking part of some TBEX tours that Monday after the sessions. Unfortunately, they were all full, so it seems like I’ll be couchsurfing once more from June 3-4th!

Rest of my summer travel plans: road tripping Puerto Rico

As you know, I moved back with my parents in Puerto Rico on April. While I haven’t been getting as much sun is I would like, I do plan to do lots of day trips soon as I get back from Canada. I even bought some surfing lessons on the West Coast! That’s, of course, assuming my friend actually gets the travel bug…

Either way, my boyfriend is finally visiting from June 23 – July 9 and we got some exciting plans then! Here are some photos I’ve taken the past month to get you excited:

summer travel plans, caving

I’ll take you caving…

summer travel plans, Puerto Rico cave

yes, REALLY!

summer travel plans, Cueva Ventana

We’ll take in gorgeous vistas…

summer travel plans, culinary adventures

…among other adventures!

What about my depression? Not doing too well…

Now on to the sad news: I haven’t been doing too well. In fact, I’ve been doing horrible. You have no idea the amount of will power it took me to write about my summer travel plans all happy-go-lucky. Truth of the matter is, I’ve lost control of most of my life. This type A individual is going absolutely nuts because:

  • No news from workers comp insurance about new orthopedic doctor
  • I’m in pain, even though I’ve been using voice recognition software + minimal work
  • Not being able to drive nor work online much, I have nothing to do during the day
  • I’m not close to the beach or anything truly exciting
  • Did I mention I haven’t seen a fucking doctor in over a month?!

I don’t fucking know where I’m going. Heck, besides my summer travel plans & paying off my debt with my disability checks, I have NO IDEA what the fuck is going to happen to my life. My career. To everything. The fact I can’t keep myself busy with work or hang out with friends because THEY are working is not helping me deal with my demons. Not at all. It’s actually FEEDING them. It’s quite scary.

dealing with depression

Feeding The Black Dog by Michelle Robinson, Flickr

The reason why I’m letting you know? So you keep tabs on me.

Sorry, but you can’t tell a person suffering from depression to please think of their blessings, etc. I KNOW THAT. I’M KNOW I’m lucky. Believe it or not, I send a thanksgiving prayer to the heavens every night. Still, that doesn’t help me cope during the day. That doesn’t help me quiet the big loud Black Dog. Honestly, all I can think of is ways to hurt myself. I’m surprised I haven’t done it yet…

Right now, I’m really holding back from throwing every object in my room.

This is worse than prison! If I only had time to spend with my family during the day, that would make it all better. But I don’t. They are working, working too hard because of this American Dream mirage. I only get to truly hang out with them on weekends. I then thought about going housesitting abroad or something. But I can’t. Why?

I can’t fucking move until they find me a fucking orthopedic doctor!

If I move and don’t see a doctor, they suspend the disability checks that are actually paying for my debt. I have to stay put. It’s the stupidest fucking situation…

I called my lawyer to try to speed things up, but nothing has happened in about a month. Thank goodness I’m going to Canada in less than 2 weeks or else…

*sighs* making my blog a bit more personal. Hope I didn’t scare you…

I know: depression doesn’t make sense to onlookers or even my own self.

dealing with depression, waiting for better day

Waiting for a better day…

Do you have any exciting summer travel plans? Share them with us below

When dreams are crushed…What’s next?

I didn’t make it. My biggest dreams for this year have been crushed.

My first reaction was weird. At first glance of the Top 10 list without my name on it, I felt empty. It was as if my soul was sucked out of me. All of a sudden, there was a huge void within me. My face was blank. I couldn’t express any emotions. My dreams were gone.

I texted my closest friends with the bad news. My phone didn’t stop ringing for the next 10 minutes. The replies were all the same — the blah blah blah dreams haven’t really been crushed, that I will get to travel the world eventually no matter what. That I never give up on my dreams. More blah blah blah ensued.

When dreams are crushed, bipolar

Bipolar art by Pachakutik, Flickr

As my friend and I looked through the videos of the finalists, I found the deal-breaker to the judges: the fact that I didn’t mention transportation. I felt like such an idiot. I broke down in tears.

Then I got angry. So angry I wanted to hurt myself, throw  everything in sight.

It was a scary, scary feeling. “I should drink,” I thought. But that would be a terrible, terrible idea.

My whole life started to play out in my head again. It will take me 3 or more years to pay off the rest of my debt. It will take me even longer to go on an extended around the world trip. I was starting to drive myself crazy.

I started to hyperventilate. I got worried. Post-travel depression was peaking its ugly face again in the weirdest scenario. I told my friend to take me home…

When dreams are crushed, depressed

Toni Birrer, Flickr

This all happened Monday morning. I couldn’t write. I couldn’t look for any freelance work. Not only were my dreams crushed, but also my inspiration and determination.

I was paralyzed.

Then, I got the weirdest news today: an old friend of mine died in a car accident. The good friend I stayed with Sunday night? She had dated him and really liked him. She couldn’t stop crying. He was about a year or two older than us. No older than 28. I couldn’t believe it. Life can also be sucked out of us in the blink of an eye…

But I’m still alive—bitching because I didn’t win a stupid contest…?

Knock knock Maria Alexandra? That’s right. That’s a slap I needed. And so, I wrote down a to-do list:

  • Buy a TBEX ticket. Sign up for all pre and post-TBEX trips.
  • Buy Puerto Rico-Toronto flight. May 25-June 8!
  • Canada for 2 weeks. Contact tourism boards, come up with an itinerary.
  • Kickstart my Spanish travel blog, have some blog posts ready by June 1.
  • Take min. 5 interisland (Puerto Rico) trips before Canada tour.
  • Start recording mini travel shows from every day trip I take.
  • Be on the lookout for Spanish translator gigs.

That shall keep me busy until mid-June. I’m also going to prep well for the TBEX speed dating and see if I can score some press trips and/or translation gigs for the rest of the year 🙂

Being alive and dreams quoteI’m happy to be alive! Those travel dreams can wait…

PS: Don’t ask me anything about the contest though. I’m done talking about it…

My life dream is so close, I can’t sleep!

It’s 3 AM. My life dream is so close, I can’t sleep.

Heck, I can barely write. I’ll try my best though, as I need a medium to channel this bipolar energy. Round and round, it wanders aimlessly through my body and my mind, keeping me awake with the tremendous amount of, and lack thereof, possibilities.

My life dream, possibilities

Do possibilities have a price? Wade M, Flickr

Possibilities? Dreams? I recently found myself without a job… and without a Plan B. All I got are a couple of freelance gigs, my blogs, my savings, and this contest. Oh! And because rent can’t really be afforded for long without a steady job, I’m moving back to my rents’ house in Puerto Rico starting in April.

 For Type A individual like myself, this is a crisis.

Ironically though, I have been able to easily shut down the fact that my life has been put on hold. Everything around me seems to have stopped in some parallel universe, giving me the opportunity to pursue the dream of my lifetime. Seriously, the, I mean MY life dream.

Did I tell you that I planned, I mean have, 2 full itineraries as if I already earned this travel presenter gig? As of, 6 months worth of traveling planned to the date.

My life dream, RTW itinerary option

One of my RTW itineraries: NOT included are my 2 weeks around Eastern Europe via low-cost airlines, Burma via Thailand, Papua New Guinea + the 60-Day Silk Road Overland tour I’ll be joining, covering most of the ‘Stans! 😀

Yeah, 2 of those! But that’s not the only reason why I know that this is not just a dream, but my calling…

Whenever I think of traveling the world, whenever I think of volunteering abroad, whenever I share a travel tale of mine…my breathing gets heavy. My blood vessels swell. Sometimes, I even get teary-eyed. Then, almost instantly, my inner Energizer Bunny jumps out like a powerful water stream rushing out of a broken dam. Even though I’ve been to over 20 different countries…

It’s still like love at first sight. Like meeting The One over & over again.

Even if you’ve never been in love, we’ve all had that one crush, that one person that has this supernatural power over us, able to stop everything around us, cutting our oxygen supplies short, and giving us an intoxicating, dizzying feeling that not even a few shots of top shelf tequila could match.

That’s the rush I get every time I think of traveling & helping others.

And as I find myself at this crossroad, without a job and without any offers on the table, I stand dazed and confused. But why? Is it because we are institutionalized, taught to be like obedient sheep in a mechanized society?

I should be excited! I have no kids, no marriage, no strings attached. It’s the perfect time to work hard toward my life dream!

But hey, I’m only human. Thus, I’m freaking out because my only possibility of reaching this life dream of mine lies on this freaking contest at the moment. Heck, that’s my ONLY shot / possible route for my life to take the rest of 2013.

And I can’t. stop. thinking. about it

Sure, I could join Peace Corps & even defer these student loans. But nah, that’s just not the same. Besides stressing out about interest piling up while I’m  away, why do I feel this way?

My life dream, Peace Corps meh

Ken Murphy, Flickr

Having the freedom to prepare my own itinerary, record videos, write my own articles in several languages (in addition to learning new ones!), and help charities I personally believe in — that combo hits my heart like a powerful water stream rushing out of a broken dam.

This is why I’m pushing through to pay off my student loans as soon as possible. This is why I want to become a digital nomad.

And this contest would allow me to do ALL this in 2013. THIS.FREAKIN’.YEAR

Being in front of the camera also brings me tremendous joy. I can’t explain it — I’ve been posing for pictures even before my first birthday. And I love to talk. I mean seriously, I can ramble on and on about the things I love for days.

My life dream, smiling and traveling

😀

Which is what I’ve pretty much been doing this entire blog post. Oops.

I guess what I’m trying to say is…

 My life dream is to become a travel host, nomadic translator & volunteer.

I want to travel the world indefinitely…after I pay off these student loans!

Let’s hope My Destination judges think this is my calling as well. Until then, I probably won’t be getting much sleep.

Win it all!

That’s my life dream + top item on my travel bucket list! What’s yours?

_________________________________________________________________

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Vote for me

If I’m selected, I’ll be a travel host for the company My Destination, reporting to YOU from dozens of countries around the world, in all continents, for 6 months!

Thanks for helping me make my dream come true 🙂

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

O.M.G.

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:

MY VERY FIRST SNOWFALL!

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.

(AND I SAW SNOW. AND LOVE)

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!

My student loan debt: desperation, coping and solutions

I am trying so hard not to cry right now. In fact, I’m about to throw a fit. I’m jittery, borderline hyperventilating. I just want to kick my legs so hard, like a five-year-old on a tantrum. Student loan debt depression? Sh*t, I didn’t even know it existed.

What have I come to?

You see, I was about to write a cheery post on this Travel Bucket List Wednesday, continuing to tell you about about my teen Europe trip and how it was such a dream come true. However, as I looked over my 2005 travel journal, my mind was blurred.

student loan debt depression, financial anorexia

“Get rid of debt … rid of debt… RID OF DEBT!” (blentley, Flickr)

All I could think about was my Out of Debt spreadsheet.

Over and over again, I calculate and recalculate all its numbers. All the deadlines and financial goals I have set. If I remain on schedule, I’ll pay over $50,000 in debt in 3 years. And no, I don’t have a six figure job or anything close to it. I earn less than $40,000 a year before taxes, live in the Expensive States of America, and live very frugally in order to pay way more than the minimums each month. If I have everything set in stone, clear goals, and I’m on track…what’s up with this f****ing student loan debt depression?

Why am I so desperate? Why am I so obsessed all over this?

As I’m typing, I’m crying. I can’t help it. I look at my balance sheet (currently $36,000 approx.) and can’t help but have mini panic attacks. I feel so trapped. I see no light at the end of the tunnel, even though a huge flashlight is being shoved all over my face, with someone yelling:

HELLO! You’ll be DONE in 2015! You will be able to do everything you want then! You will be FREE! Never again! We’ll leave this shitty hyper consumerism and truly LIVE LIFE!

But I can’t internalize it. This student loan debt depression is very real

I look at myself in the mirror and keep seeing myself fat, even though I’m thin. Some call it insanity. I have begun to call it financial anorexia (I found out that’s an actual term today). I feel worse than a person that can’t make their minimum payments, even though I have a clear plan (and SOLUTION!) to ALL my financial problems, including my student loan debt.

student loan debt depression, dreaming of recovery

Dreaming the dream…dreaming of recovery… (Mohammed Buqurais, Flickr)

I guess I just don’t have much patience, eh?

I read all your travel blogs and wish I could be in Indonesia or Thailand right now. Living off $300-$500 a month. Walking everyday. Enjoying the sunshine. Exploring ancient temples. Diving with whale sharks. Instead, I’m stuck in a gloomy warehouse, typing inside an office under artificial lighting 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.

And my job isn’t even that bad. Gee, I even have the best boss in the world

I know I should count my blessings. Trust me, I do. I pray every day and thank God and the universe for everything that I have. A wonderful management position by 25, a college education, several degrees, friends, a loving boyfriend, wonderful family, etc. How many college graduates can say that nowadays?!

I guess the root of my student loan debt depression is that I know what I want to do, but I can’t do it right now. I’m simply not happy in my current situation. I have to get rid of this stupid debt first. I barely enjoy life, barely live, as any disposable income that gets in my hands I put straight into my debt. If I didn’t have a travel blog and went on the occasional trip on holidays, I wouldn’t even eat out every once in a while…

student loan debt depression, desperation

Max Boschini, Flickr

Financial anorexia. Yup.

I deeply apologize for this rant/venting session. But… I really needed it. I’ve been keeping all these emotions, desperation, frustration deep inside me for so long now. It’s been killing me. I mean, have you read my posts for the last month or two? They sound like crap. I’m writing like crap. I barely feel inspired anymore. No, I’m not trying to find a scapegoat. I’m just saying that I can’t even enjoy blogging (or anything I do in my life for that matter) anymore because of this student loan debt depression. I’m coping, but some days are better than others…

And today isn’t a good day.

Taxi cab driver story: The day a Haitian made me cry

I always take the bus. However, today was raining like crazy, so I had no choice but to splurge on a cab ride. This is the taxi cab driver story that developed.

Taxi cab driver story rainy day

Taxi cab driver story begins (Flickr Photo: Clint)

My alarm went off at 6 AM. I hit the snooze button…so many times that I had to jump out of bed like a possessed soul at 7:30 AM. Ten minutes ’til the bus, phew! Then I looked out my window.

Torrential rain. Damn. I guess I can’t walk to the freakin’ bus after all.

Knowing how cabbies take forever in this city, I quickly called one in, hoping it would arrive just in time to make it to work early. I took a shower, came out, and ACK! My cabbie was 3 miles away, TEN minutes ago! I ran out of the bathroom and almost fell flat on my tile floor. I looked out the window but no one was there. So I called the company…apparently, cab 475 was nowhere to be found. Operator dialed and dialed.

No answer.

“Cab driver will be seriously reprimanded, I am so sorry m’am. I’m calling a different cab your way right now.”

Le sigh. Late to work. On first day of the month. As a marketing manager. Didn’t look like a bright Friday.

Surprisingly, as I looked out of my window in frustration, I see cabbie 475 – YAY! I ran out in the rain and asked him to please wait, I’m here, let me get my purse!” Five mins. later, we were on our way.

Where the taxi cab driver story took a sharp turn

As I hopped in, Charlie quickly apologized: “sorry for the wait, m’am!” I then went to tell him the ordeal, and Charlie lamented that his phone broke down and hasn’t been able to answer some calls. This has happened all week and he’s about to lose his job, even though he’s right there to pick up customers a few mins. after the assigned time.

At this point, I call the cab company and tell them about cab 475’s technical issues, to please not reprimand him, that he made it despite the rain, and was very professional and courteous.

Taxi cab driver story tear

Photo: smilla4, Flickr

My cab driver teared up: “I can’t believe you just did that. That call just saved my job. That’s the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a while”

Naturally, given how much of a softie I am, I teared up too. “But it’s simply the right thing to do. Who wouldn’t do that?” Charlie responded: “Two other customers I had today were in your same exact situation, but didn’t even bother to call my boss to say everything was OK. Instead, they complained the whole way and told me how I needed to hurry the hell up, that they were late as it was because of the rain”

Wow.

Charlie went on: “I just can’t believe you did that. I know you must also be late for work, yet you have been so nice to me. You saved my job. You are such a good person. It is so hard to find people with such a kind heart as yours nowadays.”

Yep, you guessed it: I teared up again. Just yesterday I had the most horrible day, deep within my life after travel depression, even yelled “I just fucking hate this country!” while sobbing in my gringo boyfriend’s arms last night. And then…I find a beautiful soul that makes my day (besides my boyfriend). But this not it for this taxi cab driver story.

Where this taxi cab driver story got funny

Charlie started asking where I’m from and if I’m a Christian. I say Puerto Rico and that yes, I’m a Christ follower. We started going about how we’re both just trying to follow Jesus footsteps and hoping that spreading our kindness however we can may hopefully transform some lives daily. We then went off about how hospitable Caribbean people are, how we rejoice on daily life and are not so sucked up on material things, like the new American Dream trap and such. I digressed, saying not many Puerto Ricans are like that, but we laughed it off. Live day by day. “Live that your memories will be part of your happiness.” That sort of thing.

Then he told me a funny Haitian tale and my top taxi cab driver story:

Back in Haiti, there was this good old man with 4 sons: Three were rich, one was very poor. One fine day the good old man dies. At his funeral, his 3 rich sons dropped $20,000 cash, EACH, inside the good old man’s coffin, so he could take riches to heaven. Can you believe that?! All that cash! Haitian beliefs and materialism, bad bad mix most times. Anyway! All that cash is in, then the 4th son of the good old man, the very poor one, goes by the coffin, writes a $100,000 check and tells his good old man: “Father, God doesn’t accept that much cash in heaven. I’ll take the $60,000 — here’s a $100,000 check, with $40,000 just from me, because I love you so.” Then the poor son walked away rich, with $60,000 … whilst his bank account had NO FUNDS!
But hey, there’s no cash and no banks in heaven either, are there? 😉

Lol! I died! We both laughed so hard! Charlie continued:

“You see, many times, many rich people not so smart, but many poor people very smart too. Depends where you go. But I see it here in the USA too: People with so much money, buy so many cars and big houses, put away so much money, work so so so many hours, barely live until just a few years before they die. Then they die and where does all that money go!? WASTED! Most true rich people, rich people in the heart, live instead of exist. Live much happier life. Enjoy much more life. Not saying being rich is bad, but it is like Jesus said: ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ Only the humble in the heart will enter heaven. To me, only the humble in the heart, too, have true heaven on Earth.”

I nodded and teared up a bit again as we rolled into my company’s building. I said farewell, took his card, and went into my office. I know who I’m calling on another rainy day.

Taxi cab driver story

Got a taxi cab driver story? (Photo: presta, Flick)

Do you have a good taxi cab driver story? Share it below!