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Never Stop Exploring

Can You Really Become an Expat?

This question has been really digging into my brain, lately.  But for some reason, I keep putting off the research. Yesterday, I was reading a few travel blogs for inspiration when I came across “How I Afford A Life of Constant Travel, and You Can Too” by This American Girl.

The secret to affording a life of constant travel, is simply deciding to.”

The post is long, and totally worth reading, but this line got stuck in my head.  I spent the day with a friend recently who has known me about 19 years or so, and he asked me where my confidence had gone, why I wasn’t fearless anymore.  When I read this line, I realized that I had chosen not to be fearless anymore and it was time to make a different choice.

Testing out My Dream

See, constant travel is my dream.  Living in a Spanish-speaking country (which I only speak in the most tangential manner so far) is also a dream.  Costa Rica, with its Spanish-speaking natives and large ex-pat American community, seems like the place to get started.

Most of the traveling I’ve done has been in tourist mode and I’m looking to change that.  Instead of a weeklong vacation, what about a 3 month stay? Or longer?  Yes, that’s still playing it a bit safe, but it’s at least a way to stick my foot in the water and see if I could make the dream work.

Manual Antonio National Park, Costa Rica Image Credit: 123rf.com
Manual Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Image Credit: 123rf.com

Why Costa Rica?

First, they speak Spanish and English there, so my language skills can get a workout but not to the detriment of my health or anything else.  Second, Costa Rica has everything a girl could want…beaches on two sides of the country with mountains and jungles in between.  The cost of living is lower, they don’t tax money earned outside of the country (so my online work could continue), it isn’t *too* far from home if I need help, or my family needs me to come home.  Sounds like the perfect testing ground, right?

Oh, and my daughter has her passport, so she could come spend winter break with me🙂

Image Credit: 123rf.com
Image Credit: 123rf.com

Waiter, Can I Have My Reality Check?

So what would all of this cost?

Camille from This American Girl gave a breakdown of her monthly expenses in Costa Rica:

Two Years Ago Living in Costa Rica:

$300/month for a one bedroom apartment

$20/month unlimited internet and cell phone

$200/month for organic, local groceries

$200/month for eating out, drinking, fun extras

$80/month for yoga classes

Free transportation by walking and riding a bicycle

Total expenses: $800/month

My totals look a bit different because I would only be going for the 90 day stay, instead of spending a year as Camille did.

  • I would still have expenses in the US (car insurance, cell phone, student loan, IRS, web hosting) that would come to approximately $900 a month. ($1,800 for three months)
  • I would have one time expenses before I left (passport, flight, medication, pet food for my dog and cats that would stay with my mom that would equal $1,050.
  • And finally, I know myself… I would spend a bit more each month on eating out and stuff than Camille did.  I haven’t learned to live that simply yet.  So I estimated about $1,200 a month in Costa Rica, for a total of $3,600.

That adds up to approximately $6,500 needed for this test of my dreams, or $2,200 a month.

Llanos de Cort waterfall Image Credit: 123rf.com
Llanos de Cort waterfall
Image Credit: 123rf.com

That sounds…. doable, right?  Like most of us, I’ve always assumed that living abroad would be astronomically expensive, but I’ve paid more than that to live in some of the places I’ve lived in the US.

I would give you ideas for how you can make this kind of dream a reality, but Camille said it better.  Go over and check out her site.

Ohio Glimpses #4

I wanted to give a shout out to my AirBnB hosts, Leslie and Daniel.  The Dragonfly Cabin is phenomenal and I loved every minute of it.  I’m hoping to be able to rent it next year when I go back up for my daughter’s graduation.

Ohio Glimpses #3

This video shows a few of the barns I discovered in Ohio… boy do they love their barns! I saw everything from painted advertisements to church-like barns to musical tributes (which I didn’t get a picture of, my brain wasn’t working.)  You will also see the World’s Largest Cuckoo Clock in Sugarcreek, OH.  Hope you enjoy polka!

 

Ohio Glimpses #2

This video is from the historic Village of Zoar, just outside the Akron-Canton airport.  I found the village by accident, but what a happy accident!

Ohio Glimpses

Later this week, I’ll be writing more in-depth articles about my week in Ohio’s Amish Country (today, I have a funeral to attend), but I thought I would show some short videos I put together from my trip first.

This first one is from Coshocton, OH.

A Short-term Cure for Gypsy Feet

When you can’t travel and the itch overcomes you, what do you?

I go geocaching!

The last two weeks in my part of Texas, it has been raining almost non-stop, which has caused a little cabin fever for me.  So when the weather man said only a 30% chance of rain on Sunday, I started making plans.

The Texas State Parks and Wildlife Department has created a challenge with over 80 caches spread over the state.  Before Sunday, I had found 26.  I picked out two relatively nearby state parks and set out.

Fort Boggy State Park

Fort Boggy is a relatively small (less than 2,000 acres) park just outside of Centerville, Texas.  It has a pretty lake for fishing and some great hiking trails. The TPWD folks placed three caches here, which I am not complaining about.

I might complain about the driving rain for half an hour outside of Huntsville, or the fact that both my GPS and my Waze app couldn’t find Fort Boggy.  But I will never complain about three caches at once.

2015-05-17 13.09.49

That’s my Mom in the picture, she came along for the hike.

Unfortunately for us, the ground at Fort Boggy was clay, and wet.  If you haven’t tried to walk downhill in wet clay, it is slick.  REALLY SLICK.

The trail for all three geocaches wound around behind the lake.  After we managed to get down that very slick hill, we found this:2015-05-17 13.19.28

What you can’t see in that picture is the fast rushing water flowing over the spillway.

Neither of us had expected anything like this, so we were wearing tennis shoes, not rubber boots.  Much to my chagrin, Fort Boggy’s caches will have to wait for another day.  Gotta tell you, though, climbing back UP that clay hill was even more fun than going down.

Mission Tejas State Park

Outside of Crockett, Texas is Mission Tejas State Park, an even smaller park at just 660 acres of piney woods and slope forest.  The park commemorates Mission San Francisco de los Tejas, the first Spanish mission in the Texas territory, established in 1690. It also has the restored Rice Family log cabin that was used as a pioneer traveler’s waypoint on the Old San Antonio Road.

Mission Tejas State Park also had three geocaches, which I now desperately wanted to find after having been denied the ones in Fort Boggy.

Like Fort Boggy, Mission Tejas has a small lake.  I would love to tell you that there is fishing in this lake, but mostly what I saw was evidence of really bad fishermen.  Every tree around the lake was decorated with little red bobbers and fishing lures. It was like Christmas had come.

2015-05-17 15.00.30

The park was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934 and is beautiful, as most CCC parks are. They did a great job building structures that fit in with the natural landscape, building hiking trails that were fun and challenging, and even built a few surprises for themselves, like the natural spring bathtubs.

Finding the caches

What the CCC didn’t build was a fat-friendly park.  I hike, I kayak, I love being outside, but I am not a little girl and some of those hills were really tough.  Mom and I started off on this really nice path with beautifully built brides and barely a change in elevation.  The first cache was an easy find, so we were jazzed up.

2015-05-17 15.11.14

The second cache was a complete fluke.  We followed the Nature Trail to the Big Pine Trail to the Steep Steps Trail.  Yup, even the name sounded bad.  Just getting to the Steep Steps involved a walk on a narrow wet clay trail on the side of a deep ravine, but that was a cake walk next to the Steep Steps.

Imagine damp fieldstone steps sunk into wet clay on a 45 degree hillside.  Now imagine about 1/2 a mile of that.  Somewhere along the ravine, I had nearly given up on the second cache because the tree canopy was driving my GPS nuts.  I stuck the darn thing in my pocket when we hit the Steep Steps and ignored it.

On a fluke, about halfway up when I stopped to rest and pulled out the GPS, thinking it would set it back to the first cache because I knew my way out from there.  Turns out, we were 50 feet from cache number 2.

After the step monster hill, we took a wrong turn and added another mile to our hike, but doing that allowed us to find the CCC baths.  When we made it back to the Nature Trail and the first cache, I put in the third set of coordinates, just for shits and giggles.

Turns out we had passed it on the first round, just about 1000 feet away from where we were standing. Of course we had to go get it… up hill all the way!

Honestly, rain, wet clay and sore muscles aside, it was one of the best days I’ve had in a while.

Moral of the story: Don’t let the rain stop you.

Oh, and remember to take a bottle of water when you hike five miles in Texas humidity.

Top Five Reasons to Use a Travel Agent

Today, finding cheap flights and hotels is an easy proposition with all of the DIY travel sites. So why, in this day and age, would you need a travel agent?

GOSH, I’m Glad You Asked!

 

There are actually lots of reasons. I’m going to give you the top five according to me, Tripology, Fox News, STA Travel and Forbes.

5. Saves Time – This one seems counterintuitive, but all four sites agree.  A travel agent can save you time by combining all the steps into one.  Your travel agent can book flights, cars, hotels, tours, experiences, and travel insurance all at one time.  You would have to research each one individually.

4. Saves Money – Sure, you can find cheap flights on those big sites, and you might find a good hotel deal on one of the others.  But travel agents have exclusive relationships with resorts, hotels, cruise lines and airlines that result in deals just not available to you, especially if he or she is able to bundle several services at once.

3.  Expertise – Travel Agents are trained to find the best deals and listen to your needs.  You need to know if a cruise ship has wheelchair accessibility, see a travel agent.  Need to know if the hotel will have a safe children’s area to entertain your little ones while you enjoy the night life, see a travel agent.  Need to know if the airlines will serve a vegan meal, or a gluten free one?  Again, see a travel agent.  Travel agents are also up to date on travel alerts, safety issues and which parts of the world are the best to see at which times of the year.

Travel agents can match you to the right cruise or airline vendor, find a hotel that is ecologically friendly, or put you in touch with just the right zipline tour guide.  Their experience is something you can’t find on a big box website.

Image Credit: 123RF.com
Image Credit: 123RF.com

2. Safety Net – We all like to believe that trips will be wonderful from the time we get to the airport till we get back home. The truth is rarely that rosy.  Travel agents can help you make alternative travel arrangements if your flight is cancelled, or your tour bus breaks down.  They can help you find local assistance and get your trip back on track.

The Number One Reason Is……

1. A real person – When you deal with a travel agent, you are dealing with a live person from the first moment.  Not a website where you can accidentally press the wrong button, or put in the wrong dates (which I have done).  You won’t have to wait on the phone for 45 minutes listening to muzak and pushing buttons to talk to an automated system.  You get a real, live, caring human being who wants nothing more than to help you have the best, most personally crafted experience that you can have so that you will come back and let them help you again.

Let our agent, Pamela Garza, help you to save time, money and frustration on your next trip. 

Contact Wings R’ Waves Travel at

1-832-390-7911 or wingsrwaves@yahoo.com.

Pamela Garza
Pamela Garza

Walking the Big Thicket

This is National Parks Week, so I thought I would talk about a recent walk I took through the Big Thicket National Preserve in SE Texas.

Cypress trunk Image Credit: April Flowers
Cypress trunk
Image Credit: April Flowers

This is not my first time walking / hiking through the Thicket, I grew up here.  My dad had us hunting, fishing, canoeing and camping in these woods before we could walk, almost. So having a chance to hike here is like coming home and remembering my dad all at once.

Nine Ecosystems Meet in the Middle

The Preserve is just over 84,000 acres that cross 7 counties.  It was one of the first two National Preserves created (along with the Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida) and has been named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

The visitor’s center is located about 8 miles outside of Kountze, Texas.  Even if that’s not the part of the Thicket you are interested in, it is well worth a visit.  The local communities came together a few years back and raised over one million dollars to have the center installed.  The town of Kountze has just recently added a dedicated biking / walking trail from town to the Visitor’s Center, as well.

Wildflowers Image Credit: April Flowers
Wildflowers
Image Credit: April Flowers

What used to be the Big Thicket Museum in Saratoga, Texas (which I visited several times as a child), is now the Big Thicket Field Research Station where scientists from around the world come to study what is left of this confluence of ecosystems.

The five Units of the Big Thicket are connected by the Neches River and Village Creek.  Inside those units you will find everything from “southeastern swamps, Appalachians, eastern forests, central plains, and southwest deserts. Bogs sit near arid sandhills. Eastern bluebirds nest near roadrunners. There are 85 tree species, more than 60 shrubs, and nearly 1,000 other flowering plants, including 26 ferns and allies, 20 orchids and four of North America’s five type of insect-eating plants. Nearly 300 kinds of birds live here or migrate through. Fifty reptile species include a small, rarely seen population of alligators,” according to the Big Thicket Directory.

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Sundews and Pitcher Plants

I was feeling restless last weekend, so I went out into the Thicket for a hike.  Normally, I hit the Kirby Trailhead, which is nearest my home, but it had been raining for days and the Kirby trail has a tendency to become mushy.  Well, let’s be serious, I WAS going to hike the Kirby trail, but I had on my very expensive walking shoes rather than my hiking boots, so mushy was out of the question.

Wetlands runoff Image Credit: April Flowers
Wetlands runoff
Image Credit: April Flowers

Instead, I went for the Sundew Trail, because it is about 80% boardwalk.  At just one mile in length, the Trail is perfect for a Sunday afternoon walk.

Image Credit: April Flowers
Image Credit: April Flowers

Although the Thicket is home to several venomous types of snakes, the scariest thing for a hiker here is the ankle turners: sweet gum balls and pine cones the size of hand grenades.  I’ve limped home more than once because I stopped paying attention to what was underfoot.

Ankle Twisting Pine Cones Image Credit: April Flowers
Ankle Twisting Pine Cones
Image Credit: April Flowers

I was still feeling a bit restless after walking the Sundew Trail, so I drove a few more miles and hiked the 1-mile Pitcher Plant Trail as well.  Pitcher plants grow in marshy wetlands, so most of this trail is also boardwalk, with benches and observation decks to sit and absorb the quiet beauty of the Thicket.

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Blooming Pitcher Plants Image Credit: April Flowers
Blooming Pitcher Plants
Image Credit: April Flowers

Next time your travels take you to southeast Texas, take a day or three to explore the Big Thicket.  It won’t disappoint.

The Ethical Traveler

Today, I was cruising around Twitter when I came across the most beautiful picture of the Maldives on Nicole LeBarges’ My Travel Wildlife.  Now, I haven’t really heard of the Maldives since my daughter did a report on them in fourth grade, and she’s currently a college jr.

Image Credit: 123RF.com
Image Credit: 123RF.com

I started Googling, thinking that I love beaches and maybe I could find my way there. Imagine my surprise when the first thing to come up wasn’t more beautiful beaches, but a story from The Express, dated TODAY, warning tourists to be careful in the Maldives.

You might think the story was about a rash of burglaries, or some airport scam happening.  That’s what I thought at first too.  Instead the story was about which resorts participate in human rights abuses. Whoa!

That got me thinking, what is an ethical traveler and should we strive to be one?

Image Credit: 123RF.com
Image Credit: 123RF.com

What is an Ethical Traveler?

I got back on Google to find out what the rest of the world thinks is an ethical traveler. According to EthicalTraveler.org it is someone who uses the economic clout of tourism to protect human rights and the environment.

This makes sense to me.  I vote with my dollars here at home when I disagree with the politics of a celebrity, or a company.

I boycotted a large burger chain years ago when they were chopping down the rainforest for cattle grazing, I stopped shopping at a chain of convenience stores when they fired employees for having AIDS in the early 90s, and I almost always try to find mom-n-pop shops to shop in rather than giant box stores.

I refuse to pay money to see movies or buy products from a certain actress whose politics in the 60’s were highly questionable, or a certain misogynistic satellite radio shock jock.

Why shouldn’t I use those same dollars to vote abroad?  There are definitely human rights abuses and environmental issues that I disagree with passionately.

So Where CAN You Travel?

There are several resources to answer this question.

For the Maldives specifically, there is Ethical Maldives, a website devoted to informing concerned travelers about the dangers of using certain resorts during your stay.  They do not want to discourage you from coming to the Maldives, just make you aware of which of the over 100 resorts are worth spending your money on and which aren’t.

Ethical Traveler is also a good resource.  Every year they produce a top ten list of developing countries who score high for protections for the environment, animals and human rights. You can find how they compile that list here. They do not look at nations in the “developed” category, however.


This year’s list:

“Ethical Traveler congratulates the countries on our 2015 list of The World’s 10 Best Ethical Destinations. The winners, in alphabetical order (not in order of merit), are:

  • Cabo Verde *
  • Chile *
  • Dominica *
  • Lithuania *
  • Mauritius *
  • Palau *
  • Samoa
  • Tonga
  • Uruguay *
  • Vanuatu

( * = also appeared on our 2014 list).”


Doing your own research is good as well.  Look at recent news stories about the place you are wanting to visit.  Have they been cited or accused of such violations? Are they on any watch lists with the US State Department?

Wherever you decide to travel, remember that your dollars are voting for you in the ethical battles of that country or region. Vote, and travel, responsibly.

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