Travel Blogging Challenge – Week 2 (Little Known Travel Tips)

Over the years, I’ve learned so many things from trial and error. I’ve slept on the border, I’ve fallen from a motorbike, I’ve almost drowned while scuba diving, I’ve lost some of my most prized possessions, I’ve almost fallen from a coconut tree, and many more which I can tell you about in Travel Challenge Week 4 (Misadventures). This week, I want to tell you what mistakes I’ve seen people make (including myself).


Little Known Travel Tips, by order of importance

For an authentic experience, skip the tourist destinations, do what the locals do. … I know right? Easier said than done. But from my experience, touristy landmarks are always crowded, commercialized, and expensive. They are almost always full of street sellers, all up in your face.

On the other hand, I’ve done some really cool things and met awesome locals through Couchsurfing, an excellent resource for meeting locals and have a free place to stay. Talking to other travelers also help in my decision for the next destination! Here are some awesome experiences I’ve had, off the beaten track.

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Semana Santa (Easter) floral carpet on the streets

To get the most authentic things to do, I turn on my creep mode, and start watching the locals. I steer clear of tourists, and follow the locals to the best spots in town. For example…

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Found this wonderful indoor market while wandering around the village.

Food is a big part of my travels. I always seek local foods while walking about. Here are some platos tipicos from Couchsurf hosts and local markets! Delicious~~ <3

Don’t plan everything. I know it’s really hard to do when you only have a week of vacation. I’ve met people who visit New York City with their every hour scheduled out. It becomes more of a chore than a vacation. You’ll start stressing out when things don’t work out as planned… and altogether unpleasant.

I like to put in an extra free day or week so that I can just wander around serendipitously. My partner and I always travel slower than we planned out. When we moved to New York, we had only intended to stay for 3 months. We ended up staying for almost a year!

Don’t be too stingy. I am so guilty of this. Spending, especially in a foreign country where the money value is lower than the United States, can be tricky sometimes. I have once slept in a tent outside someone’s house (with permission) in the rain instead of paying $15 to get a motel room. Yeah, I know. It’s crazy that I didn’t do it. But $15 was considered a lot of money in Honduras!! Another time, I rode on a rickety bus for $1 instead of paying $20 for a shared private van. There, I got my brand new cellphone stolen.

Phew! So be it whether I missed out on experience or end up losing things, I have made it a goal to learn when to spend and when to save. Being too thrifty can hurt.

It’s okay to travel alone. I’ve felt the most freedom and met some of the coolest people while traveling solo. I loved it because I was free to do anything I wanted. I traveled on my own on some days, but more than often, I met dozens of people at random hostels and traveled together.  Spontaneity is 80% of the fun. After I met my partner, I experienced the joy of sharing my experiences with a significant other. I appreciate and love both travel styles. Don’t be the one who is scared of traveling alone!

Working while traveling is a wonderful substitution for a 9-5 job. In today’s digital age, people can now work with flexibility. I teach English as a Second Language, earning $22+ an hour. Learn more about my post on it here!

Invest a little bit in the right gear. For a year, I lived out of my backpack. That means a few things. All the clothes I wear needs to be hand picked carefully. I’ll admit, most my clothes are cheap, mostly from thrift stores. However, I want to stress the importance of travel gear.

Because I carry so much stuff on my back, I decided to buy a backpack with a suspension system. This was my best decision ever. I chose a 40L bag to easily fit the bag as a carry on on a plane. It fit everything, including my tent, tent poles, and clothes. On my back, with straps on correctly, I hardly felt any weight!

Check out prices on Amazon!

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Hiked 13,000 feet up a volcano with my awesome backpack!

I would say my backpack was the most expensive thing I owned. I would also invest in down feather jackets for its warmth and light weight, a lightweight backpacker tent, and an ultra light inflatable sleeping pad. Clothes were cheap where we traveled, and I knew I would be shopping, so I didn’t bring that many. My shoes were just from Walmart. So take my advice with a grain of salt. 😉

Immerse in the travels, get off your phone. When I lost my phone (pick-pocketed in Guatemala), I thought my world had ended. Then I began to realize how much my phone had controlled me. I began to see independently, outside of my selfies. The freedom was eye-opening. I suggest everyone try it. Instagram can wait!


That’s all folks!

Thanks for reading! This is a response to the 21 Weeks of Travel Blogging Challenge!

Read more of my posts from the Travel Blogging Challenge:

Week 1:  A favorite travel photo of you and intro
Week 2: Little known tips
Week 3: Funny story
Week 4: Misadventures
Week 5: Top three cultural foods
Week 6: Unusual travel activities/photos
Week 7: Inspiration for traveling
Week 8: Five favorite travel blogs
Week 9: Gross/disgusting stories
Week 10: Best adventures while traveling
Week 11: What’s in your backpack?
Week 12: Happy and sad stories
Week 13: Unique cultures encountered
Week 14: Top three favorite destinations
Week 15: Travel regrets
Week 16: Scary and cool travel stories
Week 17: Things to purge
Week 18: Humbling things learned from traveling
Week 19: Confessions
Week 20: Travel bucket list (countries/activities)
Week 21: Your challenge post highlights and what you’ve learned during this challenge

This challenge showcases your experience through travel stories, cultures, foods, advise, lessons, and more. You don’t need to be a world traveler to join. I encourage everyone to write and share your cool experiences, near and far! You can check out the entire challenge in the original post here! Please also visit Julie and Vikkilawman as they will be with me in this blogging journey!

 

Couchsurfing: Stay with Locals and Meet Travelers for Free!

People often ask me how I can afford traveling to so many places. Truth is, traveling doesn’t need to be expensive. In my recent post, I wrote about ways to travel cheaply. In this post, I would like to elaborate on Couchsurfing, and how it changed my life.

Couchsurfing a worldwide cultural exchange program that brings together millions of hosts and travelers. It is popular with budget travelers and backpackers, and the best way to connect with locals and experience culture. Best of all, it’s a free service for all! Especially in expensive cities where hotels costs over $100/night, Couchsurfing is a lifesaver.

I have been using Couchsurfing since 2014. My first host was an expat living in Hong Kong. He lived right by the beach, where he took us on a walk to see the sunset. We had long conversations about everything. He also gave us very helpful advice while exploring Hong Kong. I felt very safe and welcomed in his home, my only regret being that I wish we could have spent more time with him! Since then I have couchsurfed in Washington, DC, Chicago, Asheville, Honduras, Guatemala, New York, Mexico, Nicaragua, Belize, El Salvador, and more!

My Awesome Experiences with Couchsurfing: 

Authentic Culture and Traditions. Living with locals is the most immersive way to experience culture. We share a house with the host, sometimes with their family and pet, too! Once we’re in the house, we’re practically family.

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Here’s a photo of my Couchsurfing family in Bacalar, Mexico

Depending on the host, we sometimes also get an opportunity to meet other couchsurfers, too! Hosts often take surfers to local hangout spots (which are especially fun on national holidays) that we would never have found on our own.

Couchsurf hosts live a very interesting lifestyles. Some have traveled all over the world, some choose to live off-the-grid, and some who love meet and talk to people from all over the world. They love sharing their local culture, history, and traditions. There is always so much to learn.

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Staying at a Couchsurfing off-the-grid cabin powered by solar panels in the Big Island, Hawaii.

In Hawaii, we had the opportunity to stay with a wonderful host at an off-the-grid log cabin in a tropical jungle. We were surrounded by fruit trees on all sides. We were able to walk around and pick passion fruits, jackfruits, coconuts, and other fruits to eat (for free)! We did not have access to the internet, which gave us an opportunity to write on our journals.

Food. I’ve eaten the most authentic foods while Couchsurfing. They are usually foods that locals would eat every day, and are incredibly tasty. In return, we would share our own traditional Vietnamese/American foods!

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An El Salvadorian dish prepared for us by our host’s mom.

Contributing. Unlike hotels and Airbnbs, Couchsurfing is a community. Once you stay with them, you’re like family. That means you do dishes, chores, and cooking. One important principle of being a surfer that a host once taught me, “Carry your own weight.” Contribute and don’t be a free loader!

Things to Know:

  • Read the hosts’ profile. Do not copy and paste your request to all hosts. Most host will ignore your request if your message is not personalized. They will usually include something in their description page saying, “Please include ___ in your request or I will ignore it.” It is their way of telling whether or not you’ve visited their page.
  • Be careful when sending Couchsurf requests to stay. It is important to check the hosts’ previous references and description page. Not all hosts are good people. We’ve met a host with strange behaviors and opted to leave the same night. That said, 99.9% of hosts are fantastic people. I like to see a full profile, complete with photos and hobbies so that I know more about the host before staying.
  • Each hosts’ preference is different. I’ve seen hosts who only host single travelers. I’ve seen hosts who live the nudist lifestyle (and will be walking around naked in the house). These information are written in their host profile upfront.
  • You may be sleeping on the couch, floor, bed, or tent. Over the years, I’ve met hosts who literally just have a space to set up on the floor.
  • Hosts may not spend time with you. Hosts have busy lives. They might not be there during work hours. In these cases, I like to spare my nights to spend time with hosts and get to know them.

Planning a trip and want to try Couchsurfing? Check out this article on 16 Places to Couchsurf in 2017.

What’s on your travel list this year? Please leave questions/comments below and let’s exchange!

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