Saturday, December 22, 2012

Inspiring Travelers: Megan from USA

Inspiring travelers: Megan from Colorado knows how it's done.

I catch up with Megan from Colorado and she shares some thoughts about her travels and fun experiences around the globe. We met at the university, where we were both working at the Outdoor program, and where we both got our first tastes in international travel, on trips with the school, led by Professor Chad. She is an easy choice when looking to interview inspiring travelers, especially for woman travelers, traveling solo or other wise.

Hello Megan. Tell us a little about yourself. 

I'm Megan McGrath. I am a 5th year senior at CMU studying to be a Paramedic. I am currently in Colorado (the best state of the 50), but I have been to 8 countries and Ecuador twice. First trip- Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Turkey for 2 months; Second trip- Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile 2 months; Third trip- Ecuador (Cosanga mostly) 4 months

So how do you afford to take these trips? Are your parents rich or something?


No. The last trip was really inexpensive for me because I volunteered with a Grand Junction based program called Sustainable Roots. Room and board was completely paid for when I arrived. The trip before that I worked a lot in order to save, but traveling is a lot cheaper than most people make it out to be.

Were you nervous leaving for your first trip, or any others for that matter?

I guess I was a little nervous on my first trip, but I got the experience to do my very first trip outside of this country with the Outdoor Program at Mesa. Once I learned from the best (Professor Chad Thatcher), I never hesitated to start my own new adventures since then.

So can you tell us how you keep on budget when traveling?

In order to stay on budget I calculate out how much I am "allowed" to spend per day depending on how much I have from the beginning. I can settle for a cheaper hostel to do something really cool one day. Also, shopping at markets for things like bread and cheese is an easy meal that is always very cheap.

Do you have any advice or tips for anyone who wants to travel but doesn't think they can?

Decide where you want to go, and just do it already.

What have you been surprised about the most while traveling?

I was surprised at the small amount of crime I have found in foreign countries. People seem to think leaving the US is so dangerous, but getting your wallet stolen is just as likely to happen in the states as it is in a foreign country. People from different countries can be very friendly, giving, helpful, and interesting.

What's the coolest thing you've done?

The coolest thing I have done was go to Machu Picchu... or maybe the pyramids. It is so awesome to tell people you have been to places that are constantly on a bucket list or a "must-see" travel list.

Do you have a favorite place in the World?

My favorite place in the world is Cosanga, Ecuador. I made so many friends and really made connections with the people there. My favorite country in the world is Egypt. 

Thanks Megan. So what's next for you?

Next on the list is going to have to be once I graduate in December (my mom grounded me to the states until I finish my degree.) But I want it to be the longest trip yet. I will probably start in Australia and move up through Indonesia, southeast Asia, ending in India.. or Nepal... or maybe China. Who knows? I will probably spend about 8-10 months doing this trip. Better start saving!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Peru, Part One: Mancora

On the long ride to the border, i had the misfortune o getting sat next to the only other foreigners on the bus; missionaries from Utah. I spent hours hearing about how i shouldn't be alone in such dangerous countries and how I was sure to die. He seemed to think since i had never been to Peru, I had never been ANYWHERE. In between listening to the missionary’s second-hand stories of an evil Peru, I spent hours on my iPhone writing my book. This is how my book came to be; by me writing all my stories into the notes section of my phone. After a while I had so many stories of my travels that someone said I should write a book. Since my whole journey seems to be one long adventure, it was easy to fill in the blanks between all the stories in the time line. Eventually, about a year after starting the book in South America, my few stories in the note section turned into my 100k word book. All written on boring bus, train and plane rides. And all on my iPhone.    

Writing my book got it's start on this stretch of highway in Ecuador, but a few hours later it almost came to an abrupt end. We were chugging along up a steep hill when two guys ran out and jumped onto our slow moving bus. I had luckily been paying attention and saw the whole thing from the beginning. I was just writing about my first trip to Costa Rica when I saw the masked men hop on, and I instantly knew what was happening. 

While the men were still in the separate driver’s compartment, I hurriedly shoved my phone and my passport holder, that also held most of my money and ATM cards, into the head-rest cover on the seat in front of me. It was just a cloth with Velcro attaching it to the back of the seat, and not a pocket, so no one would look there. Then I took my carry-on and shoved it under the seat and up toward the front of the bus near an old lady that no possessions. 

I did all this in about 5 seconds and had just started to warn the other foreigners when the door burst open and the masked man walked in pointing a hand gun at us. The other bandit was holding his gun to the drivers head and telling him where to pull over. His friend had a plastic garbage bag and started at the front of the bus, yelling in Spanish for people to give him their valuables. I don’t speak Spanish, but it wasn’t really required. 

The thief was making his way towards me, taking anything he could get from people along the way. One of those traveling sales men had the misfortune of being on board, and lost all of his sales money. I was relieved when the thief didn't notice my bag under the old lady and moved on. When the guy got to me and was swinging his gun between me and the missionary couple, the husband translated for me to give him my wallet and anything else I had and that it wasn't worth my life. 

I shrugged and gave him what I call my decoy wallet. It was a little pouch with about $6 in American singles and a wad of Colombian money that probably equaled $10. There was also two old library cards, an expired credit card that I had found and a Starbucks card. If I was ever robbed I planned on giving the thief this wallet and hope he thought he had a good score. It worked like a charm. The thief looked in the pouch, saw a wad of money and what he figured were a rich American’s credit cards and was satisfied. He searched my pockets for anything else. He asked where my bag was and I pointed to a pile of bags I had seen him already go through where he had gotten cameras and whatever else. He must have been satisfied that he had gotten everything I had and moved on. I was feeling pretty damn relieved and sure of myself. 

After what seemed a long wait they were gone. There was crying and wailing, and I felt sorry for these people. I didn't know what I would do if I had lost anything. It might be a common thing in these people’s lives, but it didn’t make it any more pleasant.

"Now you know why they take our finger prints at the beginning of the ride. It's because sometimes people get kidnapped as well." said the missionary, breaking the trance I was in. 

We were close enough to the border that we didn't wait for the police. They were waiting for us when we got there. I almost felt guilty being the only one leaving the bus with something of value, so I did so quickly and quietly, and made my way to immigration to get a stamp out of Ecuador. 

"Don't you want to report what they got from you sir?" asked the man.  

"I didn't actually lose anything. I gave him an empty wallet and hid everything else."

 He had never heard of a decoy wallet but thought it ingenious. Him and his wife had lost more than $1000 between them and their passports. They looked at me longingly as I waltzed across the border that they could not now cross. I thought it kind of sad that this incident wouldn’t be making the missionaries view of Peru any less damnable. Oh well.

Immigration for both sides was pretty pain-free. From there I took a bus south. I bought a ticket to Trujillo, which was half way to Lima. I knew Lima was too far for me to go and I would be way too tired and sore. On the bus I met a cool guy from New York who was traveling around by himself as well. He was only going to Mancora, a few hours from the border. He said it was a good surf spot with many backpackers. We talked the miles away, and by the time we arrived in Mancora I had decided to join him. 

He was meeting some other Americans he had met in Colombia in Mancora, at a hostel I would get to know well: Loki. We got off in mancora, which is a small surfers paradise. There's sand dunes and cliffs to the east, and a nice beach to the west that the town is situated along. There were a lot of cool little souvenir shops along the main street, that we walked by
 on our way to Loki. The town is tiny, and it’s easy to find Loki, as everyone knows where it is. 

The bus to the Peruvian border was much older and dirtier than the others I had taken so far. For some reason they copied all of my passport information and took my finger print. They did the same for all the passengers and I didn't know what for, but it made me a little nervous. When I got to my assigned seat I had the miss-fortune of being next to the only other foreigners on the bus. I say miss-fortune because they were the old missionary types who would not shut up. Since I told the husband that it was my first time in Peru, and that I was alone, he took it to mean I was a newbie of a traveler and needed guidance. 

The whole trip he kept saying things to scare me like, "I hope you locked you bag underneath the bus", or "Lima is too dangerous for a lone foreigner, you can stay at our mission" or "don't look people in the eye, they might stab you". I spent the first part of the journey trying to be polite and attentive.  

Loki. Awesome hostel

I have mixed feeling about the Loki hostel in Mancora. On one hand, it turned out to be one of, if not the best hostel I've ever stayed at. But on the other hand it was a major party hostel and not too relaxing. Another downer about the place is that it is basically a big compound. It is surrounded by high walls, and almost no one leaves the compound until they are catching the bus out of town. There is a restaurant and bar and pool and a gate to the beach and pretty much everything you would need so you don have to leave. They even tell you at checkout that its to dangerous to leave the hostel and wander the town. So besides me and a few others, no one really did leave. I didn’t really see the point in even coming to Peru, just to stay in a single, closed off area. But to each their own I guess.

Despite any dislike I may have had, Loki provided me with a way to travel indefinitely with little money. Nearly every member of the staff was volunteers working for their accommodation, food and half off of their bar tab. On my second day I took a job in the bar right along side of the others. I say Loki showed me the way, because they also had 3 other hostels along the route I was taking toward Brazil. Not only that, but now I realized that working or volunteering at hostels was a possibility, and that just opened up so many more doors and possibilities. Since then I've worked at many more hostels around the world, saving a lot of travel money.  

The hostel was so nice though, that I once again ended up staying much longer than intended. I needed to keep moving south towards Rio, but it was hard to get motivation to leave the nice pool and beach, to go on a 20 hour bus ride to Lima. One day however, with my schedule always on my mind, some of the staff came up and asked if I wanted to go to Lima for a Pearl Jam concert. The plan was to head there and start working at the Lima Loki after the concert. Well, nothing like a little motivation. Together we headed out to catch a very long and boring ride to the capital. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Inspiring Travelers: Ron from Guatemala

Right now I am doing my very best to not freeze to death here in Estonia. As I write this, I am also working the night shift at the hostel I stay at. One of my favorite things about working in a hostel is the wide variety of cultures I encounter in one day. I love hearing or reading stories that inspire me to travel. I always have my eye on a map or on hte horizon, and it doesn't take much to motivate me, but i still love hearing travel stories. I meet so many awesome travelers on the road, or in the hostels, that I thought I would share some of their great stories. One such person is Ron from Guatemal. He is a pretty dedicated traveler, who also writes a travel blog For my first of many interviews, he agreed to help me out.

Inspiring Travelers: Ron from Guatemala decides to change his life into one big adventure on the road.

 So tell us about yourself.

I'm from Guatemala and I am one of the few long term travels that I know from my country, because we don't really have a traveling culture. We don't really go on gap years, just safe, short holidays, because for them traveling is a big expense, and most people can't imagine it being possible to travel with little money, and would rather use their hard earned money for cars or toys, worldly things. I learned early that somethings are more important than social status, and I'm the proof that one can travel with little money. One day i decided i didn't want a regular life, being stuck in a office for my whole life, so i told my parents i was going to go travel, and i left a week later. I figured i would be gone for that long, but that was 3 years and 3 months ago

So what have you been up to? Where have you been traveling?

I started out busing from Guatemala to Costa Rica. From there I flew to Florida and started traveling around the east coast of the US for a month, looking for jobs. After a while I went to the west coast to meet a friend I met in Nicaragua, I was getting low on money so i was trying to find work. Not finding any, i ended up going to Mississippi to work with a relative. between working there and again in Florida, I saved some money. My goal was to make enough to get to Europe, so when i finally did i bought a one way ticket to Belgium. I was trying to travel as cheap as possible, but after 4 months i ran out of money. I didn't want to rely on family to keep me traveling, so I started finding work in hostels and picking up ways to travel with little money. long story short, I have been traveling between different jobs around Europe, central and south America ever since. I worked or volunteered in many hostels, I posed nude for an art school, I bartender, and many other things as well.

Were you affraid when you first started out?

I wouldn't say i was afraid, more like anxious. I was ready for the next chapter in my life to start.

How do you keep on budget?

I have a very small budget always, so I developed many secrets. I always hitchhike. while I am traveling and not working, I don't drink a lot, I never eat out, and I cook my own food. I Couchsurf a lot. Most of the expenses traveling in Europe are transportation and accommodation. I hardly ever pay for transportation, and I've never paid for accommodation yet. I've slept in bus and train stations, churches and fire departments in Latin America, in parks and where ever. not to mention Couchsurfing and working at hostels. When it comes to working, I am good at keeping in contact with people I meet, and that gets me jobs here and there sometimes. A guy I met back home got me a job here in Estonia. A guy I met, who picked me up when I was hitching from Germany to Denmark, offered me a job on his sail boat in the Baltic.

What advise or tips would you give someone who wants to travel but doesn't think they can?

leave your comfort zone. don't make excuses just make it a priority and go for it. It's all a state of mind. If you tel yourself you can do it, you will.

Do you have a favorite spot in the world?


Least favorite?

Maybe Bulgaria. Just because of the mean border police. It was hell. They even told me not to return. But I did meet a really hot Bulgarian girl there.

So what's next?

Well you know this answer since we are going together, but after New Years we are going to leave Tallinn and hitch to Ireland to find work and be there for St. Paddies day. We are meeting a girl we met here in Estonia, and 3 guys you met in Australia. just another example of keeping in contact. after a few months we will probably hitch to Georgia and try to get to India from there. Hard to plan that far, but that's our plan.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


After a few Days in Cali, I hit the road towards the Ecuadorian border. Besides the beautiful landscapes and the annoying salesman coming on board to try and sell various things until the next stop, I remember one other thing about the bus ride to the border..The check points. I was the only non-Spanish speaking person or foreigner on the bus, so I was always singled out for scrutiny.

Another check point
I figured it was because they suspected me of drug trafficking or something, but I became convinced that it was more because they were bored, and i was a distraction from the normal routine. They would check my passport for a visa stamp, but hardly ever even looked at it. Instead they would flip through the many pages looking at all of the other stamps and visas from countries they had never heard of, and show each other like it was show-and-tell. I had left a bank note from Cambodia in the passport cover, and when they took it out to eyeball it, they were all amazed when i told them where it was from. they even started to show the other passengers, and eventually it just started getting passed around the bus. I was convinced I would never see it again, but i got it back.

After hours of great scenery, and amused drug police, we arrived at the border. I had an un-eventful walk across the border, and arrived in my 23rd country. It was getting late, so i took a mini bus to the near-by town of Tulcan to find a bed for the night. It was a hole-in-the-wall place in a seedy area, just the place i usually go for, and i was the only guest. When i was hungry they sent me to this street food place, where i was a little nervous walking to at night, until i arrived and saw that it wasn't so bad. I ate one of the best hamburgers I've ever had. I'm going to attempt to describe it.. It had two thin beef patties, a couple slices of ham, a couple pieces of bacon, some cheese, all on giant buns with a Dijon type mustard. Back home i would sometimes crush some chips and put that in a burger or sandwich, but here they have these chips that are made just for this reason. they come in bags as tiny slivers of chips, and they put these on my burger, and all burgers i had in that area. It was awesome. I almost forgot.. as a side, they gave me a little paper bowel with french fries and sausages, with tooth-picks to poke them out with. damn good stuff.

The next day, after a few more hours on the bus, I was in Quito, The second highest capitol in the world. I followed my Lonely Planet guide and found myself in the Old Town amongst some amazing mid-evil architecture. I payed for a night in the San Blas hostel, but it was so nice, and the area was so beautiful, and everything so cheap, that I ended up staying a week. I was completely alone, and didn't meet anyone that I will keep in contact, unlike Bogota, but i still loved it. One thing i wasn't prepared for though, coming to South America, was it being so cold. Up until now, I had been traveling in high altitudes, and it hasn't been the tropical warm weather i had been hoping for. That's what happens when one does practically no planning, but I'm OK with with that.


some of the great architecture
                                                                                                      Since I'm
racing to make it to Rio for Christmas and New Years to meet friends, I don't have enough time to spend in any one country. On top of that, I spent more time both here and in Bogota than i anticipated, so I need to make up for time. So with a longing to stay longer, or to go to the coast, or to catch a plane to the Galapagos, I alternatively catch a bus to the Peruvian border. It's an over-night bus, and midway through my coat gets put away, not to be used again until i am in the highlands of Cusco. it gradually gets warmer as we near the border. It's light out as we pass through the city of Guayaquil, and by then the heat is stifling. The ride was so long i decide to spend the night here, and continue on in the morning. Tomorrow I will cross into Peru.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Bogota, Colombia

It's going to be hard to catch up on my blog; I havnt posted an update in a long time. At the moment I am holed up for the winter in Tallinn Estonia, working at a hostel. It's a long ways from where I left off to here, so I guess I'll just start at the beginning. Bogota.

After being home a few months, I was more than ready to be back on the road. I bought a one way ticket to Colombia, and the journey began. I landed in Bogota, and quickly realize that it would be nice to know some Spanish. I'd gotten along pretty well traveling the world with only English, but here would be different.

right away my luck was a little bad, as I found myself standing at the luggage claim empty handed as everyone else had already gone. it took me forever to get everything sorted, especially since I didn't have an address for them to send my lost luggage, but eventually I did. I gave them a hostel address, and took a cab there, hopping they weren't full.

Hostel Alegria did have a bed, and I stayed in a big dorm room. Ive hardly ever stayed in dorms, but it was alright. Bogota is pretty high in elevation, so it's pretty cold. The hostel had a big fire place that we sat around and socialized.

On my second day, I met Lexzy. She's one of the greatest girls I've ever met. She's now my girlfriend, more than a year later. When I met her tere in bogota, she was the happiest and most energetic person I've met. Within 30 minutes of meeting, we were going for pizza in a hole in the wall place in the Old Town and then to a local rock concert.

Together we took the gondola up the mountain to Monsarrati to see the cathedral and view bogota from above. We walked and explored all over bogota, trying out all kinds of restaurants and clubs. It was great. Colombia ended up being my favorite country in South America.

Eventually the road was beckoning loud enough so as not to be ignored. With sad and heart felt good-byes, we parted ways. We promised to keep in touch, and obviously we succeeded in doing so. It was sad to leave her that day, but exciting to catch a bus to Cali.

Salsa! That's all I hear about in Cali, colombia. I'm staying at Pelican Larry's hostel, in another dorm. Everyone wants to salsa, and it's hard not to get pulled into the scene. Cali for me ends up being mostly sleeping during the day and partying at night.

It's a shame to hurry through such a great country, but I need to get all the way to Rio for New Years to meet my friends. So once again, I promise myself to return, and catch a bus to the border of Ecuador. The ride is one of the most beautiful, albeit long, bus trips I've done. Life is good.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Another World Journey: Part One

First stop After leaving the States was Bogota, Colombia. I was a tad apprehensive since there was a state department warning for Colombia, and like usual everyone was telling me i shouldn't go, and i was sure to be killed. All the warnings from the armchair travelers back home was for nothing though, and Colombia became one of my favorite country in South America. From Bogota i worked my way overland all the way south through the continent counter clockwise to Rio De Janeiro.I bussed it through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chili, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil. From Sao Paulo I flew back north to Venezuela. My last night was spent sleeping next to some cool Europeans in the airport because the hostels were too expensive. Venezuela I spent 5 days resting in Trinidad and Tobago wandering the beaches and not doing anything, before continuing my world journey by flying to Perth, Australia.

NYE in Rio

Machu Picchu


Quito, Ecuador

Witch Market in La Paz, Bolivia

Iguazu Falls