Vacation before the Travels

For me, there is a big difference between vacations and traveling. You can travel for work or you can travel for fun or something in between. Vacations are at least supposed to be relaxing. You decide where you stay and what you do. You are comfortable. And if you are lucky, you saved enough so you aren’t really concerned with how much you are spending as you aren’t staying for too long.

With traveling, it is a bit different. It is a lot of planning. It is usually also a lot of waiting. It usually means budget considerations. After having a good job with a good income for three years, this is proving to be a bit of a challenge for me. At least for me, it also usually means sacrificing comfort which can present itself in various forms, either by staying in hostels in order to stay on budget, or trying things that are outside of your comfort zone. I haven’t had to make friends all over again in over three years. However, when you step out of your comfort zone, you usually grow the most.

And so, in order to bring the best me possible on this trip (and not the stressed, neurotic Angela I’m sure most of you have at least seen glimpses of before), I took a vacation before the travels to relax.

I went to El Salvador over Christmas for about six days. This was my second trip and as most of you already know, it is where my boyfriend Ricardo is from so I feel like I have a different perspective than a random traveler who just heads to El Salvador. Whenever I tell people I’m going to El Salvador I get a few different types of comments. There are a) those who think it is in South America, b) those that ask if it is safe, and c) those who know.

I was originally one of the ones in group b. I remember my first trip and I was quite nervous. Heck, even my second trip I was a bit nervous. I don’t really make it a habit of venturing to places where the US has a travel warning for the country. I had these images of being robbed as soon as I stepped off of the plane, or getting pulled over with Ricardo and being robbed, beaten, or worse, killed. Of course, these were all the worse case scenarios made in my head. The actual arrival is quite different. I have never been more intimidated to leave an airport than in El Salvador, and not for the reason you think. It is seriously a family event to greet someone at the airport. You exit the airport and you are surround by swarms of people waiting. You can barely see which way to turn as you exit.  You feel like a celebrity, like everyone was just waiting there for you to arrive.

But then I became a member of group c, in large part to Ricardo and his family. El Salvador is not very large, which allows you to crisscross the country in a few hours. The days between Chirstmas and New Years were spent at the lake and then at the beach and then sad that we couldn’t stay longer at either. The weather at this time of the year is gorgeous everyday. Upper 80s but with a coastal breeze which makes it manageable. Where we were on the beach was like our own private oasis. There were a few people closer to the holidays but other than that, it was pretty much just you.

Relaxing at Lake Coatepeque in El Salvador.

Relaxing at Lake Coatepeque in El Salvador.

We’d wake up, have breakfast, go to the ocean for an hour or two. Come back to the pool when it got too warm. Have some snacks. Get fresh oysters on the cheap delivered right to your door. Have lunch. Lounge and drink and lounge some more. Needless to say, I could have easily stayed for weeks.

I had the luxury of having Ricardo drive me everywhere but tourists to El Salvador can enjoy the same relaxed atmosphere, it just requires a bit more research. El Salvador also has a moderate American influence, and by that I mean plenty of food options for the less adventurous. Given that their currency is the U.S. dollar, it is not surprising but also don’t expect for everything to be cheap in this densely populated Central American country. I found that food was comparable, although probably a few dollars less in the capital than you would pay in a capital in a U.S. state. Coming from Michigan though, where things are quite affordable, there was more on comparison price wise than I expected.

My personal El Salvadorean tour guide & I having lunch overlooking the ocean in El Salvador.

My personal El Salvadorean tour guide & I having lunch overlooking the ocean in El Salvador.

This is just a taste of El Salvador and I hope it has piqued your interest. Given that Costa Rica is already the target location for many expats, and Nicaragua’s new found popularity, El Salvador has a lot to offer without the groups of tourists you might see in the other Central American countries. If you are looking for an adventure off the beaten path, with friendly locals & favorable weather, El Salvador may be just what you are looking for.

Lovely spot overlooking the ocean in El Salvador.

Lovely spot overlooking the ocean in El Salvador.

Rough Start

I knew when I started this journey it would not be all fun and games. I knew I would run into some issues at some point. You try to think of what might happen in order to be prepared. I guess I just didn’t expect to run into the issues before I even left.

I should be on my flight right now, on my way to my first stop, Italy. Instead, I’m on a bus, to Chicago to pick up my Brazilian visa which apparently could not be ready a day earlier. Now, my flight is on Monday,[Edit: This got changed to Wednesday due to the blizzard on the East Coast] and I am a few hundred dollars poorer. If you have spent just about any length of time with me over the past year, you will know that I acquired a new hobby over the past year or so. That hobby is flight finding. I am obsessed with finding the best deals on flights. October 2013 I bought my family tickets from Detroit to Ireland roundtrip for $300. In May 2014 I bought myself and Ricardo tickets to Vienna from Chicago for $360 RT. Most recently I bought flights from Chicago to Dubai for $200. As you may be able to tell from these facts, I have a habit of booking cheap flights. My flight for this trip was no different. I booked an open jaw flight from EWR to MXP and BCN to GRU for $500. I thought two continents for $500 was pretty good, especially considering a one way to South America from North America was easily north of $500.

As a way to commit myself to making the plunge and convincing all the naysayers that I was serious about quitting my job and traveling, I bought the ticket back in October. I also wanted to make sure I locked in that price. I thought 21 days was plenty of time to get a Brazilian Visa after the holidays and sort everything out. I thought wrong.

So here I am, on my way to Chicago, to get that Visa, and the past week was probably just as stressful  as it would have been if I was working busy season hours. Fortunately, the $500 ticket was still available but ironically enough, I changed my flight to have more days in Europe and a whole 12 hours in Brazil. I am getting a Brazilian visa for 12 hours. Lesson #1: Sometimes it is worth it to fork out the extra money to make things easier on yourself.

What I mean by this is, I could have initially booked my flight directly to Buenos Aires for about $200 more. I, being the avid traveler that I am, thought I would rather pay for a Brazilian visa than just spend more on a flight. I also thought that by having a few days in Brazil I could knock another country off my list. It ended up costing me a lot more than $200 and I’m pretty sure it knocked a few months off of my life in stress.

So, not surprisingly, this journey hasn’t started the way I planned. I do get an extra few days with family and friends for which I am grateful.  I did not realize how quickly a month would go by. If a month at home went by this quickly, I can only imagine how fast time will pass when everything is new. In order to not forget, and make the most of this trip, I will be documenting my thoughts and feelings here. Join me on this journey as I won’t just share the grand adventures, but also the hard times that help me realize why this style of travel isn’t desired by everyone. As a good friend recently shared, if you are looking for adventure, leave the map at home.

This is Atlas by Angela. Building my own map, one trip at a time.