Traveling: Unlocking Las Vegas, The Sin City

2019 was indeed good to me and in December when I started to work on a new project, I got sent for two weeks to the “Sin City”. At first, I had very low expectations, since it didn’t sound as it was a place that fitted my style, yet in the end, I loved every second that I spent in the crazy Las Vegas.

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December might not be the best time to visit this area, yet beggars can’t be choosers, therefore I embarked on the plane, and a lot of hours after, I landed in the sunny, surrounded by canyons city of Las Vegas. The first impression was that it has a lot more to it than the infamous Strip street.  The Red Canyon was the first thing I saw when I got to the hotel and I have to admit, the view was amazing, never have I thought that the dessert can be so beautiful.

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The Red Canyon area, has also, a lot of very good restaurants and pubs, the ones that I have tried (and loved) are Frank & Fina’s Cocina and The Bar. If you plan a trip there, make sure you are hungry since the portions are HUGE. Compared to Chicago, I can say that the food in Las Vegas is beyond amazing, pretty sure I have put on a few pounds while here.

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Getting to the “main star” of the city, The Strip, and the famous casinos, I have to admit those are not my cup of tea. I have imagined more of a Casino Royale style, not flip-flops and shorts, also the image of people losing the track of hours spent on slot machines is not a pretty one. I do have to give it to the Venetian for the interior that resembles the real Venice and the sky that will trick you into thinking you are outside. The rest of them I would describe as kitsch. Since this is the city center, I saw that the food is mainly fast-food and expensive, aimed towards the tourists. Would recommend stepping away from the Strip if you want to eat.

Bellagio fountain and the Volcanos are nice shows to see, tacky yet cute in their own way. I guess for a once in a lifetime experience, you can check those out.

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A couple of other disappointments that I had were: The Pawn Shop, maybe I had high hopes since I watched their show for a while, but the store had little to nothing to see. Fremont Street is nothing but a highly artificially lighted place where people like to undress and “shock” the tourists, again, not my scene. Hard Rock Caffe, where you can listen to Nicky Minaj (wtf???) and drink an overpriced cocktail.

Clubbin in Caesar’s Palace Omnia wasn’t on my favorite list either, but here I knew from the beginning that the electronic music will not sweep me off my feet. All in all the experience is a nice one, with enough alcohol any type of music can be a good one.

Moving away from the not so great things, to the amazing ones, here are my top picks: Red Canyon, Grand Canyon ( technically not part of Las Vegas, but it’s only a few hours drive), Hoover Dam and, saved the best for last Cirque du Soleil – Mirage show. I will append a few of my favorite photos below, yet I cannot recommend those enough.

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In the two weeks that I spend in the city, I cannot say that I was bored, maybe it was because of the fact that I spend at least 8 hours at work, but even so, I would love to return to the infamous city that makes everyone lose their mind. As for a piece of advice if you plan a trip here, keep an open mind and if you are not planning to gamble, focus on the other attractions that the city has to offer.

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Traveling: All-Inclusive & Resorts

Last year it was the first time I have experienced the All-Inclusive plan in a resort in Egypt and I would like to give you all more information on how it felt and if it’s worth it. More about my trip to Egypt can be found here and here. 😉

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Visting the country that has the last ancient wonder of the world, was on my list ever since I saw the documentaries on National Geographic. Unfortunately, due to political and safety reasons, I went to a travel agency and I purchased a trip within one of the resorts from Hurghada, called Desert Rose (5*). The package included the charter from Cluj Napoca to Hurghada, 7 nights in the resort, and the all-inclusive meal plan for 1200 euros for 2 persons.

Since I have never seen a resort other than in photos, I was amazed by the size and the facilities: 3 pools, one small aqua park, one restaurant opened all the time, 4 a-la-carte restaurants, 5 bars,  access to the sea, bay for snorkeling, yoga classes, aerobics, etc. Similar to a small town, you can easily stay within the walls of it for a few days.

Given the fact that I wanted to visit the surroundings, I didn’t get the chance to stay more than a few hours every day in the resort, but I have to admit for those of you who enjoy the laid back type of vacation, you might find it appealing. There are activities to keep you busy during the day and night, I saw that they have many parties and the cocktails are pretty decent, so you can easily dance the night away.

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The worst part of this type of vacation I would say is related to the excesses that people make, especially when it comes to food and drinks. I have never in my life seen so much food thrown away in a country where hunger is still an issue. People would fill their plates with lots of food only to eat a quarter from it and then leave it. I have to admit I also sometimes added more than what I could eat, only because I wanted to try them all, but that was nothing compared to the full plates that surrounded me.

Pretty much the same was for drinks, someone would by a beer, for example, dring half of it, and go for another one because it got warm. Excess drinking and waste were once again seen everywhere, the mentality is that “if I paid for this I want to take advantage as much as I can”, not taking into consideration the amount of waste that is created.

Another aspect that I don’t like is the fact that you are eating at buffets, and you cannot choose anything other than what is given, personally, I prefer to order from the menu something that I would like to eat and have only that. As for the a-la-carte restaurants, we only got the chance to make reservations to two of them, since they were fully booked instantly. The seafood restaurant was a bit lame, all the good stuff was at extra charge and what was included didn’t taste as amazing as I would have hoped. The second one that we manage to find a reservation spot was at the Lebanese one called Fattoush. Here we were brought the food that was by default, so that was a bit odd, but it was tasty and I have to admit that I liked the presentation.

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There were 2 other a-la-carte restaurants but were fully booked so we had to continue eating at the buffet. Even if they gave their best to diversify the food, I cannot say that it was amazing or that I would have wanted to eat there for more than 7 days. So this part was not as great as it was advertised, yet it was decent. I stand by my choice of preferring to order from the menu, what I know I like, and not waste that much food.

At the department of bars, I have to say that the resort was amazing, there were so many and the drinks were very good, I had so many different cocktails and I was impressed by the fact that they even had customed ones, that tasted very good. Some bars would even have pancakes, but we didn’t have the chance to try them since we were on trips all day and those closed after the sunset.

In my opinion, the worst thing is the fact that both the sea and the pool close at 6pm. Yes, you read it right, even if the pool was surrounded by lights and looked amazing in the night, you are not allowed to swim in it, adding to our frustration since most of the day trips take longer than 6pm. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any day to spend only in the resort so we ended up taking a swim on the run before the closing hours.

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Not the type of vacation that I am used to, the all-inclusive type wasn’t as amazing as it was described by many. If you are the adventurous type that likes to explore on his own and blend in with the locals, perhaps you should also stay away, yet considering the area and the conflicts that are present in Egypt, I do not recommend the DIY version. If I will do it again? I am not sure since there are areas where the safest way is to choose a resort, yet it will not be my default option.

 

 

When I First Realized That I Am Hopelessly in Love with Traveling

It’s said that we are born travelers, but we have to wait until the demon is awakened by a random event to understand it. I was born in a family where my mom was in love with seeing the world, with conquering new lands and with understanding other cultures, it’s from her that I learned how to respect the places  I visit and their customs. As for the exact moment when I realized that I will never be able to save money for anything other than plane tickets and b&b hotels, well, let me tell you how it went!

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In 2009 I got into the Faculty of Computer Science and I was devasted about the fact that my parents pushed into this career path rather than letting me study journalism. I was sad and I cried almost every night in the first months spent in my dorm room. I felt out of place and had zero interest in learning programming, felt alone and with no friends in a city that I hated, so I needed something to focus on. It was then I learned about the Work and Travel program that allowed students to go to the States for 4 months during summer. I had to wait until the second year since it often happened for the juniors not to get the visa and I had to pass all my exams to maximize my chances. For two years I worked a boring data entry job to gather some of the money for the program,(I borrowed the remaining from my mom) while giving my best to pass and understand all the rocket science subjects from college.

In 2011 I was finally in the plane (for the first time) to cross the ocean to the destination I always dream of seeing: America. Landed in Boston with big eyes and for the next 3 months, I have worked my a*s off on shitty jobs. The working part of the program was awful since the agency that brought as overbooked the job offerings (they didn’t expect us all to pass the visa interview) and we ended up not having enough hours to support our living and since we arrived late (also due to their paperwork not being ready on time) most of the jobs were gone in the small place of Weirs Beach Laconia, New Hampshire.

Let’s just say that it was a very bad summer, filled with drama and money issues, that made me promised myself that I would never be in this position ever again, but then something out of the ordinary happened, I found myself in the best place in the world:  New York. It was on the streets of the never-sleeping city that I fall in love, both with the crazy place and with a friend of a friend. The 5 days spent there really put my life in a different perspective and made me understand that I looked for happiness in the wrong place all along. It was a combination of magic and love that it’s hard to explain.

From the fast-food that we brought from the streets to the small cheap apartment in New Harlem that we rented, to the Central Park vibe, I learned that I am not made to stay in one place, I will never be happy with just owning a car or a house and I am not cut for the white fence life. Finally understood what my mom kept on saying about wanting to see more, feel more and make traveling a priority. As I walked hand in hand on the Brooklyn Bridge in the cold days of October, my life started to make sense.

 

 

Of course, there will be times when I feel that my hobby is taking so much energy, there will be tourist traps that I would fall in, the places are not as I have expected or the weather will not be on my side, yet even in times like this, the memories are my treasure. It’s true that nothing can compare to my NYC moment (and I admit I am afraid to go back and ruin that special memory) but there are other places when I felt so happy that I had tears in my eyes ( Paris, Rome, Zakynthos, PhiPhi Island, Prague, etc).

Many will not understand, will think it’s just a phase and I will grow out of it, but the ones suffering from the same addiction will know that this is more than just a hobby is more of a lifestyle, a chosen life path, the taste of the forbidden apple. Yes, it will be hard working a full-time job and sometimes a part one as well, just to keep it going, but in the end, it’s all worth it.

Whenever I feel like I have to get away my day to day routine I just go on a plane aggregator website as Momondo and I look for my escape ticket, often I search for the route to the Big Apple just to fantasize how it could be, maybe someday I will have the courage to relive it, but until then the bucket list with destinations is set and ready.

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It’s been 8 years since the New York moment, yet it was the awakening that I always desired, the moment I finally knew what I want in life, the time where everything fell into the place it has to be and I knew that I am no longer lost. Probably the only time in my life when I was certain of something, my moment is frozen in time where a girl with big blue eyes and blond hair looked up the tall buildings and realized what she has to do in life to be happy.

How about you, when was the moment you realized you were a traveler at heart?

This is an article for Open World Travelers Ambassador Program @momondo. #owtravelers #admomondo

 

Traveling: Unlocking Copenhagen and Malmo

The Scandinavian area was on my list for quite a while, therefore you can imagine my joy when I saw a great deal for the plane tickets in March. Since the direct flight was to Malmo, 42km away from Copenhagen, I got to catch 2 rabbits in one hit, Sweden and Denmark in a short city-break.

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The flight was at a bargain price of 35 euros for 2 round trips with WizzAir. The prices for the hotels can be very high in the northern part of Europe, so I choose the Airbnb option with private rooms. One of the main benefits of this was the fact that I got to see how the local people leave, how their apartment looks and bonus, save a lot of money. For one night in Malmo and 2 in Copenhagen, I paid around 130 euros for 2 people, furthermore in Malmo, our host offered us breakfast and coffee. So what more to ask for?

 

The public transport is very well organized so there is no need to rent a car, unfortunately, most of the time we had to ask for guidance since not everything is intuitive. Also, if you plan on visiting Malmo, make sure to buy the bus tickets prior to getting on the bus, there is no option of buying from the driver. If you are also traveling from Malmo to Copenhagen and back, buy the return train ticket from Malmo since it will be cheaper. Traveling from one place to another is done by train, they come by Malmo Central every 15-30 minutes and the ride takes around 1h.

Both countries have their own currency and it can be hard to differentiate them, but you can use your credit/debit card everywhere, furthermore many places accept only payment by card, so make sure to bring one.

The favorite way of transport is by bicycles, so if you are also a fan, you can rent one. Just make sure the weather is on your side. In March, for me, it was pretty cold and the wind makes the real feel even worst, appropriate clothing is a must.

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Both Malmo and Copenhagen have a great architecture with old buildings and canals, so wandering on the streets of the city is a feast for the eyes. Both places have a lot of great places for coffee and food, from the mini-burgers I had on the Malmo Central to the amazing fish I had on the Nyhavn, everything was tasty and fresh. A recommendation that I got from my BFF in Amsterdam, was the cheesecake from Bertel’s Cheesecake Salon from Denmark side, probably the best cheesecake I ever had. If you are also, gourmand there is no better place for you!

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Speaking of places to check in Copenhagen, the ones that I had on my list were:

  • The Little Mermaid statue
  • Nyhavn – this is the place where you will shot the wallpaper pictures
  • Rosenborg Castle and the park around it
  • The Round Tower – great view of the city from above
  • Christanbor palace
  • Christiana park – keep an open mind about this one, since it will be a place with no rules

 

For Malmo, I cannot say that I had a list of items to check, I wandered around the streets and went to the port for a few minutes( the wind was too strong).

 

Both countries are rated among the first when it comes to the standard of living and just looking at the people that live there you can understand why. The overall atmosphere is a relaxed one and the citizens are clearly enjoying the moment. I cannot say that I will ever be able to get past the cold weather, but I do recommend visiting Scandinavia at least once in a lifetime.

Traveling: Unlocking Malta

I have been dreaming to see the little island for a while now and since there was a direct flight from my hometown, I decided to squeeze the city break into this year, even if it would be in October. Not everything went accordingly to my plans, but looking back I have to say that Malta has a charm of its own.IMG_5982

For those of you who don’t know this, Malta is a country located in the Mediterranean sea, close to Seychelles, Italy, and Tunis. It’s capital Valletta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it has so many influences from all over the world that it created its own culture from the mix.

What made Malta so famous? Apart from its financial laws that attracted many rich people, it’s the gorgeous landscapes and water. It even inspired the directors from Game of Thrones and many others to film in this amazing location. And yes the Azure Window is collapsed, but even so, the sightseeing from Gozo is absolutely gorgeous.

 

Even if October is usually a pretty good time to visit, since the temperature is nice and the water is warm, I wasn’t so lucky. I got to Malta on Friday afternoon, when it was sunny and warm, but in the 2 full days that we had there, it rained cats and dogs. The boats didn’t leave the harbor and I wasn’t able to get to probably the most famous place from there, the Blue Lagoon. Luckily we were able to do the other items from the list: Valletta, Sliema port, and Gozo.

 

As usual, I got a flight from WizzAir and paid around 120 euros for 2 round trip tickets, we landed at the only airport in Malta and got around the island with public transport. Even if the island is so small, the buses rout usually check a lot of places, we ended up taking around 1.5 hours for 12km, so make sure you keep this in mind when you schedule the itinerary. You can pay directly on the bus or buy a card, for one trip the cost is around 1.5 euros, the card is around 15 euros for 12 trips, so the prices are more or less the same.

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After making a bit of investigation we decided to go with a hotel in Sliema and we used Booking to purchase it. Hotel Europa is placed across from the beach and if you are lucky enough you can get a sea view room, I wasn’t, yet the hotel was decent and the breakfast was good, it had a great value given the price of 230 euros for 3 nights. When choosing the location make sure it is close to shops, the harbor and public transport, unfortunately, Airbnb didn’t have a great offer for Malta and the prices were higher for studios or even shared apartments than it was for hotels.

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Malta’s second national language is English so that makes thing easier when it comes to communicating, I have to give this as a big plus, I was able to talk to the bus drivers to tell me where to get off the bus, or what route to take. The same goes for restaurants and shops.

One of the first misfortune to have in Malta was the fact that the Revolut card is not working with BOV (Bank of Valletta), when I wanted to pay at the hotel the money got windrow, the transaction left pending and the POS rejected it, in about half an hour we got our money back, but it was pretty unpleasant to have to pay everywhere cash. If you own such a card, mine is a Visa, make sure to have a backup card or enough money in cash, to save yourself the trouble.

Since we had such limited time to spend there we went and purchased the boat tickets for Blue Lagoon and Gozo, full day with an open bar for 70 euros. Unfortunately because of the rain we had to exchange the tickets for the sightseeing bus in Gozo, cannot say that I regret it, since it was a nice trip, yet missing out on the Blue Lagoon made me realize that October might not be the best time to visit any country from Europe since the chance of rain is a high one. And to make things even more frustrating, before leaving for the airport the weather was amazing, sunny, people were swimming and the boats were leaving for the lagoon.

 

Most of the food I eat there was with an Italian influence, but I cannot say it was a remarkable one as I had in Italy. If you are a fan of the rabbit ( I am not, for me it’s as if I am eating a cat), then you will find a lot of places that serve it.

If you plan on booking a trip to this place, I recommend you do it in the summertime and if swimming is on your list make sure to bring water shoes since the shore is a rocky one. Also, don’t get impressed by the marketing that is made for the Aquarium, it might be a fun place to stop with the kids, otherwise you will spend more time in the line waiting to get in, than in the place itself.

Even if I didn’t manage to check everything from my list, I am not sure if I would return to this place. It definitely has its charm, yet it’s buildings with the neglected facades, the trash that was left on the streets, the holes from the grounds that were everywhere, wasn’t my cup of tea.  I would have to admit that the weather did play a big role in the fact that Malta didn’t impress me as much as Greece did, so I am trying to keep an open mind about this, who knows maybe I will return one day just for the blue water.

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Traveling: Unlocking Vienna

Who hasn’t heard or dreamed about visiting one of the best places on Earth to live? The Austrian city is known for its high quality of life and its people are having one of the best standards of living, so what makes this city so desired? Read along and you will understand exactly why.

 

 

Vienna is the capital of Austria, placed on the eastern part of the country, is the 7th largest city in Europe by population and before World War I, it was also the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Known also as the City of Music, for the famous musicians that lived here, probably the most famous ones are Johann Strauss,  Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven, but it is also known as the City of dreams, since here the first psychotherapist Sigmund Freud lived.

In the early time, Viena was also the home of one of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, also knows as Sissi, the Bavarian beauty that stole everyone’s heart, she is often compared with Princess Diana, since both of them were loved by the people but hated the court life. The history of the Austro-Hungarian empire can be learned when visiting the Schonbrunn Palace and Sissi museum.

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For visiting this amazing city I strongly recommend wearing VERY comfortable shoes since Vienna is best discovered on foot, the beautiful buildings most of them in the Baroque architecture, will take you back in time. If you want to feel like a royal you can even rent a carriage to take you on a tour of the city center.

Since there are so many must-see attractions, I recommend purchasing the Vienna Pass, this will grant you access to almost all of them, including the Hop On – Hop Off with that you will need to get to the Schonbrunn Palace or to the city panoramic. I purchased the 3-day pass with 110 euros from the official website and collect the pass from their office from Karlsplatz. Using this pass we visited the following attractions: Schonbrunn Palace, Schonbrunn Zoo, Palm House Schönbrunn, Imperial Carriage Museum, Gloriette Schönbrunn viewpoint, Spanish Riding School, Time Travel – Magic Vienna History Tour, Vienna Giant Ferris Wheel, Belvedere Palace, Madame Tussauds, City Cruises Vienna, State Hall of the Austrian National Library, Imperial Treasury Vienna, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Technology, Danube Tower, Sissi Museum and of course the Hop On Hop Off bus.

Some of them were totally worth it, some of them can be skipped, for example, the City Cruises Vienna will take you on a boat ride on the Danube canal, unfortunately, there is nothing to see and we just wasted one hour of our time in the city. Also if you already went to Schonbrunn, the Sissi museum will not bring much over what you already saw. The Imperial Treasury Vienna museum doesn’t hold much in it since all the royal jewelry was lost after the falling of the empire. Madame Tussauds, Museum of Natural History, Museum of Technology don’t bring much over other museums from Europe so you might not want to waste your precious time on them if you’ve already seen something similar.

 

If you want to get a panoramic view of the city I strongly advise you to visit the Wine Village Panoramic, you get to see their famous vineyards. There are restaurants there so you can also plan to have a glass of wine while looking at the city and the forest. Another way to see the city is by going to the Danube Tower, if you are planning on going in the afternoon you can see the city during twilight, the best time in my opinion. Make sure you also go to the coffee shop or restaurant, since they turn to offer their customers the 360o view.

 

A mandatory attraction for all the bookworms out there is the State Hall of the Austrian National Library. If you didn’t dream about wandering into a huge library then you are not a genuine book lover, but if you did make sure you put that on the list.

 

I will not make a case why you should visit Schonbrunn since this is a defining place for Austria, Bavaria, and Hungary. If you are there make sure to visit also Palm House Schönbrunn, Imperial Carriage Museum, and Gloriette Schönbrunn viewpoint.

 

 

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Even if I am not found of Zoo’s the Schonbrunn Zoo is advertising the fact that they are helping the animals by offering them a safe place to breed and after seeing the leopard and panda pups I am starting to believe they are doing a good job. The only way I agree with keeping animals in cages for display is if it offers the endangered species a place to breed so that we don’t lose these gifts of nature due to the evil of humans. I recommend a visit to this place since all the animals are cared for, have plenty of space and seam good. Also if you love animals, especially horses the Spanish Riding School, is the place for you. Most likely you will only be able to see the morning training, but the Lipizzan horses have a natural beauty that will make you want to book a riding lesson when you get home.

Apart from visiting, Vienna is also a place to relax and enjoy a frappe in the morning, a delicious meal in a restaurant or a glass of wine on a terrace. Not to mention a great ice-creme dessert, you don’t even have to pick, all the places where we eat were chosen randomly and the food was amazing a well-deserved break.

 

The calm and relaxed atmosphere of the city’s inhabitants can be spotted in the beautiful parks that can be found all around, people walking their dogs, doing yoga, reading in the park, jogging will make you understand why Vienna is one of the best places to live.

 

I cannot say that it made me change my mind about where I would like to live since to me Spain will always be the best place to live, but I started to understand why the northern countries have such a high standard of living. Vienna is clearly one of the best European cities to visit and it should definitely go on everyone’s bucket list.

 

 

Important Things You Have To Know About The Traveling Virus

Not all of us have it, but the numbers of those infected are increasing every year if it wouldn’t be this beneficial maybe a cure would be sought. Perhaps it’s because of the internet era and the access to information, or it’s the Instagram posts that make us what to be infected, the one thing is sure, more and more people are getting this virus of exploring the world, and it’s contagious.

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When I was a kid I heard my parents talking about people who went abroad working and that when they came back they were unable to adapt, they wanted to leave once again and travel so more. My father made an analogy with a virus and said that those who caught it, will never be able to leave in a single place all their life. Years later I finally understood what he meant. Tasting the freedom will change your DNA and will make you addicted to that feeling.

For me it all started with the desire to go to America with Work and Travel program, I struggled to save the money needed to apply, but in June 2011 I got the Visa on my passport and left for Boston. Even if the experience wasn’t a very pleasant one and I found out that even the “greatest” place on Earth can be a s*tty one, something change in the way I saw my country when I came back. I started to compare things and realized that I want to see more, explore more, learn more about other cultures. It was then that the traveler in me awakens, years later this virus makes me incapable of saving money for anything other than plane tickets and travel expenses.

Traveling made me far more efficient in packing and excepting that picture perfect doesn’t exist. It made me realize that comfort has priority over fancy looking and that the best moment in life will never be captured exactly on the camera. Learned that sometimes that perfect vacation can turn into a nightmare if you are not prepared properly for it, I got sunburned, sunstroke, back pains, food poising, and so many other complications while I was away.

You would think that unfortunate experience will make one change his mind, but it doesn’t it just adds up to the adventure. Months later when you remember the things that made you go crazy, you just laugh and know you would do it again, if you were offered the opportunity. You learn to deal with events like this and even be cool about it happening, it becomes part of your lifestyle and so is getting out of your comfort zone. I would lie if I say I love to fly when there are big turbulence, but I learned to adapt to them, to go to my happy place and to be confident that the pilots know what they are doing, regardless of me worrying.

Just like wine, it gets better in time and I am still learning how to enjoy the moment for what if offers me. With every trip, I uncover more land and meet new cultures, learn more about our planet and our people. Maybe the best and most important lesson is about accepting people as they are and fight for equality.