Liebster Award – 11 Questions About Me


Thanks to travel bloggers Jeff and Erin at AWeekOrAWeekend, I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award. This doesn’t really mean I’ve won anything, technically–it’s more of  a fun way for bloggers to spread the word about other blogs they like (kind of like a word-of-mouth blog-tagging game). I’m not sure exactly what the criteria are (Number of followers? Page rank? Blog less than a certain number of years old?), but regardless of whether I’m technically eligible or not, I thought I’d put my fingers to the keyboard and actually participate in this chain-letter game. Thanks for the nomination, Jeff and Erin! Hope our paths cross someday 😉

Here are the rules for the Liebster Award:

  • When you receive the award, post 11 random facts about yourself.
  • On your blog, answer the 11 questions from the blog that nominated you.
  • Pass the award on to other blogs that deserve recognition and ask them 11 questions.  Make sure you tell them you nominated them.
  • You are not allowed to nominate the blog who nominated you.

1. Where was your first holiday?

First ever? Whew. Mom? Dad? (please feel free to weigh in here) I honestly have no idea. Where was the first place I ever visited? Grandma’s house?

2. Backpack or wheely suitcase?

Depends on where I’m going 😉

3. Two-in-one haircare or separate shampoo and conditioner?

Um, separate. I don’t care that it adds extra weight and is more bulky–that two-in-one stuff is an invitation for a flat, greasy ‘do that just won’t cut it.

4. Africa or Asia?  Why?

Well, since I’ve never actually been to Africa, this is kind of a biased question. So, let’s say Asia. But….I’ll preface that by saying I’ve certainly got dreams of going to Morocco someday on my mind….

5. What is your favourite travel film?

While I wouldn’t say I have a favorite film about travel, per se, I would say that my favorite “travel-related” films are typically filmed in places I’ve been. For one, every time I see the magnificent Azure Window from the tiny island of Gozo (it’s actually kind of a Mediterranean go-to as far as the movie industry goes), I feel a pang of lust in my chest….and I’m instantly returned there, every time. The power of the visual, I suppose–it’s stronger for me than most anything else.

6. Harem pants or board shorts?

Well, since I’m not a surfer and I’ve never worn board shorts, I guess I’ll go with harem pants on this one? I did buy a beautiful pair of silk harem pants in Thailand for wearing around the house, and I must admit: they are probably the most comfortable piece of fabric I’ve ever put on my body.

7. Guidebooks or get lost?

I’m a guidebook gal all the way. I’ve never gone on an international voyage without one, and I even bought an Arizona one when I moved to the Southwest so that I could learn about my new stomping ground. Honestly, while I know they are biased and subjective (like any piece of writing, right?), they are a great way to get oriented with a new place and to learn to find your way around an unfamiliar city. Plus, they are a great starting point for doing research while traveling, which, in case there’s no internet where you’re traveling and you’ve got a blog post or story due, is wonderfully helpful.

A tip about reading guidebooks, though, from my experience: Try to take the advice and “must-sees” lightheartedly–don’t try to recreate someone else’s trip or try to check off everything in one guidebook. For one, the “must-sees” are probably only one person’s “must-sees,” and a lot of spectacular places might have been left off the list for that particular publication. I just came across a very interesting critical spin on the guidebook–check out Laura Pulido’s A People’s Guide to Los Angeles if you’re interested in seeing what I mean. She eschews the traditional Los Angeles guidebook “must-sees” and documents 115 little-known sites in the city and its suburbs where struggles related to race, class, gender, and sexuality have occurred. Through her critical re-visioning of her beloved and complicated city, she introduces her readers to people and events usually ignored by mainstream media and, in the process, creates a dynamic history of Los Angeles. While the work has gotten its fair share of critiques (it’s a “slum tour,” as some have said), I think the work is brilliant for asking people to re-think their assumptions about guidebooks and how true they are.

8. Mountain or beach?

Beach. Hands-down, I’m a water bug and a sun bug through and through.

9. Travel pet-peeve?

Forgetting one of my electronic chargers. It is no fun trying to find a compatible cell phone charger, laptop charger, camera charger, etc. in a foreign place. And if you can’t speak the language in the place you’re traveling, bump that up ten-fold–it’s nearly impossible! (I so fondly remember trying to buy a compatible external hard drive for my camera images in Taiwan….now that was an experience). Thank goodness I’ve learned how to use my hands and pointing abilities so well over the years (when you travel alone, knowing how to point, grunt, smile, and nod are kind of a necessity).

10. Money-saving tip?

Think of your travels as an investment, if you can–they’ll last much longer and linger more beautifully than any one product you can buy 😉

11. Dream destination?

While I certainly have dreams of going to particular destinations (seeing the pyramids someday, for instance, or returning to Spain, the first place I ever stepped foot on outside my native country), I think about this question very delicately. Destinations, like people, are not static–they change all the time. My relationships with those destinations change all the time.

11 Random Facts About Me?

1. I just defended travel writing for 3 hours in my PhD comprehensive exams on Monday.

2. My fiancee proposed to me in my parents’ living room on my 29th birthday.

3. I have an orange tabby named Giuseppe who loves to eat more than any creature I’ve ever met.

4. I speak Spanish.

5. I am fascinated with the world and love the feeling of movement–in a car, a plane, on foot, by sea….you name it, I’m on it or I’ll do it.

6. I am an industry mutt–two parts grad student and writing teacher, one part writer and blogger.

7. I live in a city that somehow developed in one of the most inhospitable places on this continent.

8. I will beat you at Settlers of Catan more times than I’ll lose. Promise.

9. I love watching serial television shows with my fiancee.

10. I’ve been writing since I first picked up a pen when I was five years old….and despite a few creative dry spells, I’ve never really stopped.

11. I journal every night, whether I’m in my own bed at home, on the road, or anywhere else.


Travel blogs I’m giving a shout-out to:

1. A Traveler’s Library

2. Traveling Latina

3. 1dad1kid

4. Stars on the Ceiling

5. Brooke vs. the World

6. Wandering Educators

7. Maliha Masood

8. Stephanie Elizondo Griest


What I’m Reading: The World’s Cheapest Destinations

leffelbookAs someone who is just starting to research honeymoon options for her upcoming wedding, my friend and mentor Tim Leffel’s new book couldn’t have come out at a better time. (Seriously–two artist-teachers trying to get married while still inviting the family is expensive enough–add on a honeymoon and, well, let’s just say we’re not exactly hoping for 5-star resorts on this particular trip). Instead, we’ve been thinking about how we can discover and enjoy a new place together while not completely starving ourselves or resorting to desperate money-making measures in the process. After all, I don’t want to end up doing on my honeymoon what I ended up doing in Spain after misbudgeting my summer’s savings and spending, well, a lot of it in the first month–helping my roommate make and sell beaded necklaces in- between our classes at the university. (Though we did meet some unusual characters on those long afternoons sitting on a blanket on those cobblestoned streets of Valencia). However, for our honeymoon, I’m envisioning something a little bit less…artisan-focused. We’d also like to, you know, enjoy a nice bottle of champagne, sleep in a warm bed, and spend time together without worrying about our safety, our money, or our sanity.

Here’s where The World’s Cheapest Destinations comes into play. In all honesty, I’m actually not a veteran of this book–the new 4th edition has been my first. Opening the book, though, it’s pretty easy to see why it’s made it through four printings: On the first page, Tim asks us if we’d like to find out where a $100-a-day vacation budget makes you a splurging traveler instead of a tightwad.

Yes, in fact, I would. After all, what traveler–even a budget one?–wants to be known as a tightwad?

Truthfully, as anyone who has met me knows, I am already a huge advocate for traveling cheaply, though the process didn’t come easily for me. I’m actually a pretty horrific budgeter (just ask my fiancee, who thankfully does the finances in our house). When I plan for a trip I’m paying for, this is my modus operandi: I scramble to save up what I can, I buy a plane ticket, and then I just…go, hoping, of course, that I’ll get through the trip before the money runs out. Despite my first monetary snafu in Spain, though, I’ve actually done pretty well with this strategy: I lived in Colombia for half a year on less than $400.00 a month, I spent a summer volunteering in Malta for a monthly stipend of $200 (however, I should add that this wage did include free lodging and a nearly inedible imitation-tuna sandwich for lunch 5 days a week), I traveled in style around Europe for a month on less than $1,000, I traveled up and down Taiwan for 10 days spending as much of my $2,000 travel stipend as I could (and even with fresh lobster lunches, 7-star hotels, lots of cocktails, and taking taxis and trains everywhere, I only ended up with a total bill of around $800). I’ve done this in everything from hostels to 5-star resorts to rickety old tuk-tuks to swanky air-conditioned taxis. Of course, I realize that this doesn’t make me an expert on budget travel, and for me to claim to be one would be an act of pulling the wool over my own eyes; however, my point is that it can be done. And that a bad salary does not equal staying put.

Traveling cheaply in any country, though, takes practice–and a lot of patience–to learn. Learning the literacies it takes to travel cheaply and safely isn’t easy, and Tim knows that. It can be a lot more complicated than booking an all-inclusive stay at a fabulous resort–and if you’ve never done it before, it can be pretty intimidating. With this in mind, the first chapter of Tim’s book is devoted to quelling the counter-arguments, the ruffled feathers of those who might pick up the book and think “this book doesn’t apply to me because….” followed by one of these time-tested defenses: It’s too expensive. I don’t speak any other languages. It’s probably really dangerous. You’re a paid travel writer. I don’t know how to set up travel ahead of time. It’s going to cost way more than I think it will. I’ve got kids. I’m a vegetarian. I’m an LGBTQ traveler. There’s got to be a catch. By refuting all of these claims before even getting to the countries he’s highlighting, proving each one of these statements to be an excuse more than a legitimate reason, the first chapter will sound all too familiar to seasoned travelers and just a bit unsettling to novice ones. For after reading it, what else can you do but move forward and see what else he’s got to offer?

The rest of the book is divided into geographic regions: Asia, Africa/Middle East, Europe, and Americas. (It appears Australia and Antarctica did not make the continent cut). Each section is then sub-divided into countries. Prices are estimated in $USD, not, as Tim is careful to say, because he’s being a snooty American, but because he knows his audience–mostly people in the U.S.–will appreciate the conversions as they compare possible places to visit. (I certainly appreciated his acknowledgement as well as his understanding that some people might see this as privileging the dollar over using local currency).

To give you a quick idea of what a chapter might look like, I flipped through and first landed on Malaysia. The chapter opens with a quick overview of the fact that Malaysia has been more expensive than Thailand or Vietnam for quite some time, but still warrants being on the list because everything is rather reasonable compared to other Asian countries like Japan. Then, there is a list of accommodation options, food and drink options, and transportation ideas. Each chapter ends with a useful bulleted list titled “What Else?”. In Malaysia’s “What Else,” for instance, Tim makes sure to mention that the National Museum in Kuala Lumpur is only 60 cents, that good snorkeling equipment will cost between $2-$5 per day, and that travelers should note that the news is still highly censored and that news-seekers should jump online instead of trying to buy local newspapers. In the end, I feel introduced to this Asian country in a way that feels brutally honest and down-right realistic. And as someone who tries her best to fall in love with places on her own terms, it’s not always easy to take other people’s stories as truth; and yet, with an ethos like Tim’s, I’m not only inclined to take his word–I totally trust it.

Throughout the book, you will sometimes read things like “Cambodia has gone from basket case to bucket list status in less than a decade.” While  Cambodia’s waning “basket case status” is certainly subjective on some counts, I must admit: I admire his courage to write how his own perspective has shifted over the years. If you’re up for a wry sense of humor and aren’t put off by the occasional unabashed assessment, The World’s Cheapest Destinations is not only an easy read and a money-saving Bible, but also a veteran traveler’s look at places that many travelers in the U.S. tend to leave off their dream lists.

Now in its 4th edition, there’s a reason this book keeps coming back every few years–the entire book reads like a old friend telling you all the best secrets for cutting costs while you’re traveling. After you pick up this book, you’ll probably want to head out anyway, passport in one hand, backpack in the other, because most of these places are cheaper to wander around in for a month than staying home and going out to dinner a few nights a week. What Tim’s book does that other books only hope to do is inspire people who are open and curious to do something a little braver, a little more out of the ordinary…to check out, say, that beautiful beach in Indonesia rather than sitting at home this summer and buying that new carpet they’ve had their eye on. After all, while both will still be there after the summer, only Indonesia will welcome you comfortably for under $50 USD a day.

So now that I’ve read through The World’s Cheapest Destinations, honeymoon planning, where shall we begin?


If you’re tech-savvy, you can snag the Kindle copy for $8.99, or if you’re less tech-savvy or just love the feeling of a paper guidebook in your hands, you can get it here on Amazon for $15.95.

Thanks for all the time-saving, money-saving, stress-saving traveling and writing advice over the years, Tim–and thanks for the book!