Life Lists – 21 Things Before 21

It’s official – as of September 11, I am no longer a teenager. 20, I keep thinking, is the most pointless year of my life – I’m not technically a teenager but I’m not yet a “twenty-something” either. I can drive and buy cigarettes and I am legally considered an adult – things I’ve been able to do for two years now – but I still can’t drink.

Nevertheless, I found myself looking forward to my birthday with excitement (yay for not being a teenager!) and apprehension (oh shit, I’m not a teenager anymore…).

In reality, my birthday was the same as every other year. I spent most of my day at REI attempting to find the perfect backpack and shoes (done and done!),  got a bit of a makeover, and then went to the mall and dinner with a friend.

Then I made a list, mostly because I like making lists way too much and also because it felt like The Thing to Do as I sat there going “…now what?”

Most as pretty self-explanatory, though I’ve expanded on a few of them.

1.) Leave the country – happening January 7th!

2.) Visit every country in Central America – one of my goals for my trip next year, very likely to happen!

3.) Go to a multi-day music festival – not sure what festival as I won’t be in the States but I’m sure I’ll find something.

4.) Take a travel writing course – I’m hoping to (finally!) enroll in MatadorU’s course.

5.) Get a piece of writing published somewhere I do not currently write for. Working on this right now!

(photo credit)

(photo credit)

6.) Finish what I start – I have a baaad habit of not finishing 99% of the things I start and that’s a habit I really need to break!

7.) Become fluent (or at least hold everyday conversations) in Spanish – considering I’ll be traveling through Spanish-speaking countries for a year I am hopeful this will actually happen.

8.) Pay for someone else’s meal – random acts of kindness, just because.

9.) Celebrate a holiday abroad – again, almost definite considering my upcoming trip

10.) Finish writing a manuscript – I’ve been writing a lot of things lately but fiction has not been one of them. Definitely need to get back in the habit of writing every day!

11.) Ride a horse – preferably on the beach but anywhere will do!

12.) Learn about a religion – religion fascinates me and is something I’m truly interested in learning more about.

13.) Climb to the top of a volcano – see Things I Want to Do in Central America

14.) Spend the night on a beach – why? to say that I did, mostly.

15.) Visit and learn about Mayan Ruins – good thing there’s lots of ruins in Central America!

16.) Take an online class – I want to continue expanding my knowledge and learning about new things

17.) Learn a new skill while traveling – yoga? fire dancing? bread making? no idea but I want to take the time to learn something

18.) Get in the habit of handwriting letters – my friends and I used to write each other letters all the time but I am absolutely horrible at actually getting to the post office. I love writing letters, though, so I foresee lots of postcards in my future!

19.) Get another tattoo – ended up getting this a few days ago! One down, 20 to go!

"Wanderlove" tattoo

“Wanderlove” tattoo

20.) Launch a website – in the works!

21.) Relax, already! – Stressed has become my middle name. I am always worrying about something and always goinggoinggoing. I tell myself it’s all necessary to make this trip a possibility but I need to get a better handle on my time and learn how to breathe and just relax once in a while!

It looks like this is going to be a great year!

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Saving for Travel – September Edition

I meant to create a Saving for Travel post in August…then I realized that August was almost over so I may as well get a head start on September.

(Um, where did summer go? I am in denial that it’s already September.)

Below is an update of what I did in August as well as what I plan to do in September as far as saving and spending go.

August Recap

August was the first full month I had to save after making the decision to spend next year traveling. It’s still a little (lot) nerve-wracking to look at my bank account and then realize how soon I’m leaving to travel so I knew I had to step-up my game in August (and even more so in September!).

Luckily, August was also the first month I began receiving paychecks from my new job and my hours finally straightened out. Unfortunately, hours at my other job were unsteady which was frustrating at best. However, I arranged my bank accounts so that I have 2 paychecks depositing directly into my travel savings account and the other into my general checking. This means that I don’t see nor do I ever touch two of my paychecks – they may have been small paychecks this month but I know that, at the very least, some money will be deposited every two weeks.

I also began the process of selling my stuff by having a garage sale – I made over $400 in 3 days, which I thought was impressive considering most of my stuff was priced under $10. After the sale I took several bags of clothing to a local consignment shop that splits profits 50/50 – I have no idea how much I’ll end up making but it’s nice to have some money collecting in the background now and potentially continue as I travel.

I also started going through my book collection and sold a few boxes to Powell’s – it wasn’t a lot but it was more than I’d get for having the books on my shelf.

September Goals – Saving

With only 4 months left until my trip I have absolutely no choice (nor do I particularly want one) than to save every penny possible.

In addition to continuing with the things mentioned above, I plan on implementing a few new things to make sure I’m saving every penny.

1.) Set up my pay check to deposit everything over a certain amount into my travel account. As I mentioned above, 2 of my 3 paychecks deposit directly into my travel account. However, the biggest one does not. Though this is used mostly for necessary expenses like gas and insurance I know myself well enough to know that see money = spend money. Now is not the time to buy things I “need” so I intend on figuring out exactly how much I need each week, allowing that much to deposit into my general account, and then having everything else go straight into my travel account. Once it’s there I won’t touch it – the thought of watching that number go down is horrifying.

2.) Ditch the debit, switch to cash. As mentioned above, see money = spend money. But let’s be real – dropping $1 or $2 on silly things is much easier when you’re using a debit/credit card. I constantly find myself making minor purchases on my debit card that I wouldn’t consider if I only had, say, a $20 bill. So I’ll be leaving enough money to for my bills that autopay in my bank account, purchasing gas cards ahead of time, and switching everything else to cash.

Bonus – I’ll actually have change to put in my change jar!

3.) Keep selling my stuff! I got rid of a ton of stuff in August but I still have a ton more to go. This month I will be focusing on selling my books on Ebay.

4.) Add more side work. I was able to pick up two on-going freelance assignments last month. Neither pay a large amount but it’s money straight into my travel fund. This month I’m hoping to add at least one more.

5.) Expand my Lilla Rose business. I am a Lilla Rose consultant and I want to expand my business to help fund the trip. This means advertising, spreading the word, and hosting parties. Even just one or two parties will easily pay for a month of expenses in Nicaragua.

September Spending Goals

I know, I know – I just told you all the ways I’m not going to spend this month. But, well, I like shopping and since there’s only 4 months until my trip, I figured it might be time to start buying some things.

My birthday is this month so, in honor of that, I’ll be making my first big purchases for my trip. Right now that looks like – a backpack, hiking shoes, and sandals, though maybe not all at once. My plan for my birthday is to head to REI and try out some backpacks and shoes – hopefully I find the perfect for me!

Other September Goals

September is really going to be about saving, saving, saving. But, there are a few other things I want to prioritize as well – my health being #1. I’m working insane hours and I’m sure that’s why I keep getting sick. So the goal is to bring the focus back to my health, even if it means shifting my schedule a bit.

Beyond that, my only other goal is to stay on top of everything and stay motivated in everything I do.

What are your goals for September?

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5 Things I Want to Do in Central America

As I plan more of my trip and read posts from others who have traveled throughout the region my list of “must do’s” is growing – much faster than my wallet. The entire region is full of Fun Exciting Things – though this can probably be partially contributed to the fact this is my first major trip.

I know that I won’t be able to visit every region of every country or visit every single place I want – my main focus is volunteering and I will certainly be traveling on a shoestring budget. I absolutely plan on taking advantage of my surroundings and splurging on certain things – isn’t that what this trip is about?

Though my trip is still several months away I have already created a list of Things I Must See/Do. Here are five of those things:

1.) Take Spanish classes. The first question I’m asked when talking about my trip, usually following “don’t drink the water!”, is “Do you speak Spanish?”. When I shake my head and admit that no, I don’t speak Spanish, I get the “Are you crazy??!” look. How do I expect to travel through an entire region when I don’t speak the language?

They have a point – while I’m not completely starting from scratch my very limited Spanish knowledge will not get me far. I remember the very basics but I can certainly write it much better than I can speak it and to listen to someone else talk and comprehend? HA. Forget it!

I am working on improving my Spanish now (more on that later!) but I know my pronunciation will significantly improve when I have no choice but to talk and listen. I’ve been saying I’m going to learn Spanish for years now and it’s finally become a non-negotiable.

If I’m going to travel the region then I’m going to speak the language! This is why one of my first goals is to spend some time at a Spanish language school doing some Spanish immersion prior to the start of my volunteer placement.

2.) Ride a horse along the Caribbean. Guys, I have a confession. I have never, ever in my country girl life ridden a horse. I was the girl with the room full of every type of horse decoration, poster, and model possible but I’ve never actually had the opportunity to ride. It’s kind of pathetic, to be honest.

Like everyone else I have this romanticized idea of riding a horse along the Caribbean (or any beach, I won’t be too picky!) and I figure this trip will be my only chance for a while.

Not sure when or where this will happen but I was inspired by Alex’s experience riding in Puerto Viejo so that may very well be an option.

Mixco Viejo, Guatemala

Mixco Viejo, Guatemala

3.) Ruins, Ruins, and More Ruins. Perhaps the thing I’m most excited about on this trip is the opportunity to visit so many ruins. I am completely fascinated by the history and culture behind these things. It just completely amazes me to put into perspective the work and technology it took to create such massive empires that are at least still partially standing today and compare it to what we have now.

Beyond just visiting the ruins I want to take the time to learn more about the history of the Mayans and the ruins. I want to make this a cultural learning experience – not just me standing on some rocks taking selfies.

I’ve visited Mixco Viejo on my previous trips to Guatemala so I’m looking forward to visiting Tikal and Copan as well as other ruins on this trip.

4.) Volcanoes! (Or singular volcano?) Volcanoes seem to be another plentiful throughout the region. While I have seen a volcano or two from a distance (hey, Lake Atitlan!), I really want to see one up close, hopefully hiking to the top.

Why? I really have no idea – it’s just something I’ve developed an extreme desire to do. Which volcano? I also have no idea. Suggestions are appreciated!

The only volcano I've ever seen

The only volcano I’ve ever seen

5.) Spend at least one day/night in each country. My journey will be taking me from Costa Rica to Mexico so traveling through almost every country is a given. However, I want to make a point of spending a little time everywhere. While I don’t intend to spend as much time in each country as I will be spending in Nicaragua and Guatemala I am setting a goal to spend at least one day/night in every country in Central America, excluding Panama as I’ve already been there. Ideally I’d like to spend a few days everywhere but I don’t want to plan too much so we’ll start with one day/night everywhere.

Have you done any of these things? Any advice? I’d love tips or suggestions as to what ruins, volcanoes, or cities to visit!




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So This One Time I Bought a Plane Ticket….[Part Two]

Now that my heart beat has returned to normal, let me tell you the story behind the plane ticket.

About two weeks ago, I decided enough was enough. I was absolutely 100% sick of running my mouth about travel, making plans I half knew I wouldn’t be able to keep even as I made them, and standing still in the rest of my life as I continued to use “well, I plan on traveling so…” as an excuse to avoid adding any serious commitments to my life.

It was time to do something, anything. Go somewhere.

I pulled out my shiny new Hogwarts journal, grabbed a pen, and sat down to make some lists. I started a page for each of my options – teaching in Ghana, volunteering in Guatemala, au pair in Spain, AmeriCorp 2015 – and started by listing the who/when/where/what and broke down the costs (flight, visas, vaccinations, living expenses). But, let’s be real – all of those numbers just don’t do it for me.

So I started making a pro’s and con’s list, guided mostly by my heart – what did I truly WANT to do?

Financially speaking, AmeriCorp and Guatemala were my two best options. My heart has been calling me to Guatemala for years now but there was still something off with my plan to go for 3 months…

I realized that if I wanted to do this, if I was going to travel, then I was going to TRAVEL.

Without a deadline.

With Guatemala shouting my name and a love for Latin American culture, the decision to head straight to Central America was simple. I started looking at plane tickets and quickly realized that Mexico and Costa Rica, though not the cheapest countries to travel through, were the cheapest to fly into. (Yes, I know Mexico is not technically Central America.)

My next step, then, was to begin researching volunteer opportunities. I do not want to travel to sight-see and say “oh, I was there!” but rather to immerse myself in new cultures and I can think of no better way to do so than to volunteer. I intend to travel slowly and spend an extended amount of time (3 months minimum) at each volunteer placement because I believe that’s the most ethical way to volunteer (and it keeps costs down).

Using Grassroots Volunteering, I quickly stumbled upon a few organizations I felt fit in with my goals and intentions. The first was in Nicaragua and after doing some research to confirm it was a legitimate, worthwhile organization, my plans began to fall into place – I could fly in San Jose, spend a few days in Costa Rica, and take the bus over to Granada to spend a few months volunteering before making my way up to Mexico, stopping in several other countries (including Guatemala!) to volunteer along the way.

The plan was basic but it was enough of a plan (and, it seems, the right plan) for me to take action.

Two days later, I ran home from work, jumped on the computer, and booked a plane ticket.

Pittsburgh to San Jose, January 7.

Though I didn’t realize it then, January 7 is also the one year anniversary of my move to Pittsburgh. It looks like everything is finally coming full circle.



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So This One Time I Bought a Plane Ticket…

Exactly one week ago tonight I made the biggest decision of my life.

After 3 years of running my mouth about going here or there, I bought a plane ticket.

One way.

To Costa Rica.

January 7th.


Cue an overwhelming and conflicting “OH MY GOD I DID IT” and “…what the hell did I just do?”

So yeah. Plane ticket. Costa Rica. Less than 6 months.

Holy shit.

(To be continued…)

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