Category Archives: travel

Chillin’ in Cancún

853A7581

After tons of playtime in Playa del Carmen, Cancún gave us a chance to hunker down and catch up on things. We stayed in town, outside of the main stretch of beach and tourist area, so we really only biked to the beach once, which was exhausting for my out-of-shape self in the heat. After all that struggle, the ocean shore was murky and we never made it back to water after that. Two weeks passed quickly with Alex and Evelina catching a cold and me trying to launch Fosterie in time for Thanksgiving. We biked around town some, but mostly I loved all the parks and shady sidewalks between neighborhoods, so I could take Evelina for walks and let her practice wobbling around on the grass. (You’ve gotta see this vid.) Once she realized that we had a little routine down, we couldn’t pass the slides and swings without her pointing and wanting to stop. One day, I met a Russian mom and her baby, so we met up with the family for dinner later that night. Traveling has introduced us to so many people we wouldn’t have otherwise crossed paths with, it’s truly a gift.

We didn’t take many pictures of our time there, but I do love these few.

853A7603 853A7588 853A7594 853A7608

And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard our “shark” story, but it’s like a total thing now. Everywhere we go it seems like there’s some kind of shark reference. (And yes, that’s a shark stroller.) Had to have a pic of this artwork in the park!

Playin’ around in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

We spent two awesome weeks in Playa del Carmen. This touristy spot was kind of the perfect stop for us after months of exploring smaller cities and beach towns. To have everything we needed at our disposal, (hi Walmart!), endless food options (to cook or to dine out), and a quick walk to the beach – we were in Heaven. We ate our weight in street food (so much flavor!), met up with a super awesome fellow travel fam we’d connected with via Instagram and became IRL friends, and drank a responsible amount of local beer.

Playa del Carmen Playa del Carmen

We also took the ferry over to Cozumel a few times, which made me pretty seasick, but was fun once we were back on land. (Side note, did anyone else’s equilibrium change after pregnancy? I’d spent tons of time on boats before baby, but my stomach can barely handle it now…bummer.)

853A7418 853A7416 853A7421 853A7435 853A7453 853A7464

We visited Chankanaab on Cozumel, a place I’d been once before with my cousin on a cruise and it was strange to be back there with Alex and Evelina. Mainly because it was during that trip two years ago, as I laid on a massage table in the shade by the beach in February, that I realized there are places in the world where it’s summer year round, and I wasn’t currently living in one of them. (Life back then looked more like this.) When I got back to Chicago, I told Alex we should move to an island, and the rest is history. We don’t live on an island. (We don’t really live anywhere). But it’s always summer where we are! Chankanaab isn’t a place I thought I’d ever be back to, and it was pretty fun to experience it with an almost one year old.

Evelina was absolutely glued to the water show. I knew she liked animals, but whoa.

Cozumel Cozumel Cozumel

She basically sat like this whole time…

Cozumel

And she got kissed by a sea lion!
Cozumel

She’s part mermaid though I guess it makes sense.

853A7521Playa del Carmen

Ciao, PDC. Onward to Cancun!

Time in Tulum

tulum 7

Mexico has been amazing so far. We recently spent some time in Tulum, which wasn’t anything like I anticipated, though not a negative thing, just different from what I invisioned based on information that floats around.

After our time there, in my opinion, there are two Tulum’s. One, the strip of beach filled with resorts, vegan restaurants, yoga studio’s, and darling shops. And two, the town, about a 35 minute bike ride inland. We stayed in town, and I’ll tell you, without the beach breeze to cool us down and blow away some mosquitoes, it’s a different situation than the Tulum that supermodels and celebrities probably experience. That said, our time in there was pleasant and I loved the bike path’s along main routes. We had our little routine of an early breakfast at home, a mid-morning walk to the coffee shop, street food for lunch, and afternoon naps. And since the seaweed was running rampant, we only visited the beach once day during our week stay, but it was lovely and the pina colada made it worth the almost heat stroke I endured riding bikes to get there.

Something I continue to realize the more we travel, is the contrast of what you hear about places versus reality. Never have I heard about the extreme heat and mosquitoes in Mexico like I did warning us against Nicaragua. However, I don’t ever remember being this hot, or this covered with bites in Granada… Interesting, huh?

Our rental home came with bikes, one of which was equipped with a baby seat, and Evelina loved sitting behind Alex as we rode. I would pass by and wave and she would just smile and giggle. Seeing her experiencing these little things really does fill me with simple joy.

And now, for a few photo’s.

IMG_20151102_224555 IMG_20151103_074509 tulum 1853A7357 tulum 3 tulum 4853A7379IMG_20151029_103340853A7360853A7362 853A7352 tulum 5 tulum 6tulum 2tulum 8853A7355

Onward to Playa de Carmen!

P.S. More Tulum you might have missed – Halloween and the Mayan Ruins.

This trip was Ruined

853A7220

While in Tulum, we also visited the Mayan Ruins. In all honesty, it so blazing hot that day that we barely stopped to read the signs and information posted around the site. Sad but true, we rushed from one to the next, trying to find the next shady spot.  I do find the Mayans so interesting, what bits I’ve picked up being in Mexico, and I’m searching for a good book or documentary so I can learn more. In my past life I always researched places and things before visiting, but as our time between destinations is shorter and a toddling almost toddler under foot, I’ve developed the habit of going where the wind blows then wikipedia-ing later. Here are some of pictures taken before we both thought we were going to faint in the heat. (Seriously.) (If you plan to visit bring water!) True to my easily distracted form, I also took about 98 pictures of sunbathing iguanas, a few I will bestow upon you below.

853A7201853A7248853A7245853A726520151031_102953 (1)853A7216853A7260tul1853A7256853A7210853A7227853A7212853A7207853A7249853A7204853A7252853A7218

P.S. More Tulum!

Catch the Travel Bug

nenaphoto by Joel Sharpe

One of the coolest things about traveling and living abroad is the people you meet along the way. I mean, there are some super awesome, creative, lovely people out here in this great big world. And one of those such sweethearts is Nena, who I caught up with recently to chat about expat living, the challenges of not having a 9 to 5 life, her passion for travel, and how she used it to create something amazing.

Nena Tu Camino Travelphoto by Nathalie Vigia

If I’ve learned anything over the past few months it’s that as vacationers so much of what we go to see goes unseen. We book Caribbean cruises and never step off at the ports, we fly to tropical locations and never leave the resort. And after spending a few months living the local life, I feel like I’ve become that chirpy person saying “Get out there, see more!” But I get, I really do. It’s scary out there sometimes, the unknown usually is. And other times you just want to veg out at an all-inclusive, which is totally deserved. But when you’re ready for more, where do you start? You want to experience local life, be adventurous, you just don’t know how. You may not speak the language or you’ve heard concerning things. But now, thanks to Nena, you don’t have to go it alone.

Nena started TuCamino Travel this year, fueled by her passions for Costa Rica, where she lives, and Mexico, part of her heritage. By partnering with local connections in Puerto Viejo and Sayulita she’s crafted vacations with the perfect amount of relaxation (think yoga on the beach) and adventure (surfing or exploring waterfalls anyone?) with philanthropy (each trip includes a community service project). Sign up alone or grab your girls (the trips are women only), no doubt you’ll make friends and bond during a week that could go down as one of the greatest.

Here’s just a taste. Warning: it may make you want to claim instant BFF status.

Tu Camino TravelPhoto by Tu Camino Travel

“Women are beautiful creatures. We have the power to do so much! I started TuCamino Travel wanting to empower women to build community and immerse themselves in a different culture. Sometimes, we are intimidated to travel alone. I want to be the stepping stone for women to feel good about traveling alone. Don’t get me wrong, men are awesome but there is something special about female bonds and relationships. We really get one another and connect. This is what I want from TuCamino Travel.”

 

IMG_4855photo by Darryl Wilkin

slothPhoto by Tu Camino Travel

“A favorite thing about Puerto Viejo is the jungle. It is mysterious and beautiful. It is full of color and sounds. It meets the ocean and is wild and unruly. I love it. It has taught me to be more intuitive and stop and listen. It has taught me to feel. It is captivating. Another thing I love about Puerto Viejo is the community I am surrounded by. I am so fortunate to know a group of amazing people. Good people with beautiful hearts. People who love me dearly. This community has made Puerto Viejo home for me. I am forever grateful for that.”

 

mexPhoto by Tu Camino Travel

“My favorite thing about Sayulita: Culture! I love Mexican culture. The language, the food, the colors, the traditions. All of it! Growing up, I didn’t really connect with my Mexican heritage at all. Since traveling to Mexico, meeting my family on my dad’s side, and really immersing myself in the culture, I am so proud of my heritage. The culture is amazing!”

 

caribePhoto by Joel Sharpe

“Going back “home” is definitely strange for me every single time. I do end up feeling like an alien in my own country. How is that possible? I miss the ocean, the simplicity of everything, and my friends who are my family in Costa Rica. Everyone is running circles around me while I am standing completely still. It can be overwhelming. For me, the easiest way for me to explain what I have been doing in Costa Rica, is to show people. I have been fortunate in that a lot of my friends have come to visit, some more than once. Once they are here, they usually always say, “Nena, I get it now.””

Island+Longboard+Relax

 

Tu Camino means “your path” and Nena’s laid it out all for you. Check out her gorgeous website for the scoop and deets. (Spots are filling up fast!) Trips are 10% off through November and be sure to sign up for the the newsletter for an extra $100 off! (Pssst, her Instagram will give you major beach babe envy.)

P.S. Hey Nena, one last question – window or aisle?

“Window, please! I am way too anxious of a person to not be able to see outside. Being by the window, I feel like I can breathe, even though we are enclosed, haha! I can see outside and know what is going on. I have a hard time with letting go of control. In an airplane, I am powerless, but at least by sitting by the window I feel like I am a bit in control.”

 

 

Keeping in Touch

Ways to keep in touch while living abroad. Skyping from Granada

Above the culture shock, language barriers, and cold showers, the hardest part of moving abroad is being away from the ones we love. But being out of town doesn’t have to mean out of touch.

Thankfully, there’s a world full of technology and cool ways to keep us connected when we can’t be there.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Skype – We’ve been Skyped in on a few family gatherings so far and I can’t tell you how cool that is. To be miles away and not feel like you’re missing everything is truly a gift.
  • Voxer – Use it as text, talk, or sending pictures. It’s free and simple. Group Vox’s are my fave – I can always count on my Therapy Line ladies or the Family Vox to brighten my day. Listen live or listen later, messages hang out until you’re available and a simple status visibility let’s the sender know if you’ve heard, seen, or read their message so they know whether or not to expect a reply soon. For someone without reliable access to Internet (which is the case for many expats) it’s a pretty helpful feature. Bonus: you can access via web browser which comes in handy should your phone succumb to humidity. (Happened.)
  • Sincerely – I’m a big sender of snail mail and presents and it pains me knowing we miss special occasions and the opportunity to shower the ones we love with cards and gifts (at reasonable shipping cost anyway) so we’re big fans of Sincerely apps to handle that for us! Postagram is perfect for a quick ‘wish you were here’ picture postcard (that pops out!), I love Ink for more formal greeting cards, and Sesame covers the gifts. Order straight from your phone within minutes and send anywhere in the US, Canada or Europe. I’ve been a fan long before we left the States and can’t say enough about the ease of use and beautiful quality (and it’s cheap!). The best news? You can try it for free! The lovelies at Sincerely have provided an exclusive promo just for Little Girl, Big World readers! Get 2 Ink Cards or 4 Postagrams right this second – sweet!

sincerely cards

How to redeem:

Download the apps: Ink / Postagram

Once in the app, apply promo code LGBW15 via Settings > Apply Promo Code

Choose from awesome designs, add photo’s, text, and send. Simple as that!

Promo Code: LGBW15 is worth 20 credits (good for 2 Ink Cards or 4 Postagrams) It’s limited to 1 use per person and expires 12/31/15.

Now, go, go! You’re going to love it!

(But please come back and tell me what you think!)

Oh, Ometepe

Ometepe, Nicaragua

Oh, Ometepe, you quaint and quiet little island. We spent three days living like locals, practicing our Spanish (sometimes known as charades) with our lodging staff, and relaxing in the fresh volcanic mountain air. Below are a few of our photos and recommendations from our lovely stay. It’s a little less comprehensive than my typical guides because in all honestly we laid pretty low. Three days provided a nice chance to rest and was the perfect amount of time for us before heading to Granada.

Ometepe, Nicaragua Ometepe, Nicaragua Ometepe, NicaraguaIMG_20150821_09354820150820_100310IMG_20150819_165359853A5889IMG_20150819_140253 20150820_10102420150820_095524 20150820_103747 20150820_104310 853A5923 IMG_20150819_133053~2IMG_20150820_121305~2

 

How To Get There

boat

You’ll arrive by ferry, as Ometepe is a volcano island. Depending on the point from which you depart this could be a casual jaunt, or the ride of your life. We experienced both. The first boat rocked and swayed and splashed for nearly two hours as we watched the mainland fade and two volcano tips come into view. I battled nausea while fixated on a mother and her no less than two week old newborn in awe. The return trip was much less intense, on a larger ferry carrying passengers and cars, and didn’t feel nearly as long.

 

What to See and Do


20150820_124740

Ojo de Agua
This natural spring pool is filled with clear water from an underground river that comes from volcano Maderas. It’s a cool (literally and figuratively), refreshing way to spend a day. Admission is $3 USD.

Charco Verde
Exploring the trails in the area will likely give you visibility to monkeys, butterflies, and the usual tropical inhabitants. It rained on our day so we only snapped a few photos but I can only imagine how wonderful the views of the lake and nice the shade must feel on a sunny day.

Atlagracia
Stroll through this tiny town and get a glimpse into history via stone idols at the parroquial church, the archaeological museum, and don’t miss the model of Ometepe in the park.

Hike a Volcano
Ometepe, Nicaragua is an island housing two volcanos, one active, the other not. Though you can explore them by foot, we opted out of this adventure for two reasons: 1. It takes a while, 2. It’s intense, and even more so with a baby. However, if you’re up for the challenge, definitely go for it. Everyone says it’s worth it!

Rent a Scooter
Another adventure we didn’t do, but it was recommended by so many people it deserved a mention. You can use it to make your way to all of the above!

 

Where to Stay

IMG_20150820_073640

Per our new usual, we used Airbnb to book our accommodations. We upgraded our stay at Ometepe Guest House to include breakfast and dinner each day which I highly recommend.

The area where stayed was in a pretty remote area, and we didn’t explore any of the local hotels or hostels during our short time. However, a comprehensive list can be found here.

 

Where to Eat

IMG_20150820_113904

Having most of our meals provided at the guest house meant only one meal in town, which happened to be at a lakeside restaurant in Santo Domingo, where Alex chowed down everything in the picture above. If you like fish, you’ll be in for a treat in this town. But have no fear vegetarians, there’s plenty for us, too!

 

Travel Tips:

  • Prepare to be fairly “off the grid”. Cellular and data service can be spotty.
  • If traveling with a baby, bring plenty of diapers, food, and the like essentials. There are a handful of stores but you’ll likely overpay.
  • Of our travels thus far, Omepte was the biggest test of our limited Spanish. You won’t find too many English speakers here, but it’s manageable through hand gestures, etc. and everyone we were in contact with was very friendly and helpful in trying to understand us. It’s all part of the adventure!

 

The Great Granada, Nicaragua

A destination guide to Granada, Nicaragua

It pains me to admit that before moving to Central America I hadn’t given much thought to Nicaragua. I might have seen a few travel pictures on Instagram and heard about how dangerous it was somewhere down the line, but beyond that, it was a country I felt neutral towards, never dreaming I’d one day fall prey to her charms.

My acquaintance was made via the expat community, because as border country to Costa Rica, Nicaragua is a popular destination for visa runs. Ask around and you’re bound to hear stories regaling Sunday Funday, (the infamous weekly hostel party celebrated in San Juan Del Sur), ramblings of the beautiful city of Granada, and a lot about how hot it is.

Prior to our visit, I’d also heard I’d probably contract Dengue via a rogue mosquito, be mobbed by street gangs, and punched in the face while they stole my camera. The term “endless revolution” was even thrown around. Great, looking forward to it.

Maybe its happened to you, too. You form a vision of a place based on things you’ve heard on the news, from other people, or accept a general cliché. I’m used to having a different opinion (surely I can’t be the only one who thought Gigli wasn’t that bad?) but in regards to Nicaragua I didn’t expect to feel so mislead. And when I asked the locals what was up with the less than favorable (mostly inaccurate) reputation they said, “Shhhh, let’s keep it that way. It keeps it affordable and enjoyable.” Well, sorry locals, it’s just too good not to share. So here’s my scoop, based on our nine days of experience, whatever that’s worth.

Continue reading

A Few Days in San José

A photo journey and destination guide to San Jose, Costa RIca

Ask most people for a location recommendation in Costa Rica and the nation’s capital probably doesn’t top their list. Many travelers use San José strictly as a pass through to the coasts or valley, and rightfully so as the country is known for its beaches and mountains. But in my opinion, to skip this city is to miss the heartbeat.

In my short time residing in Costa Rica I’ve heard it described as grimy, somewhat unsafe, and generally just lacking. Luckily, my experiences have been quite the opposite; pleasant even, less than dangerous, and inspiring in their own way. To be honest, my greatest complaint (and the biggest surprise) is the inescapable scent of engine exhaust, even on the less traveled side streets. The pungent fumes linger long after cars have passed and as a Caribbean dweller used to salty fresh air, it gets old. Scents aside, I speculate that ten years of urban living has rendered me less affected by some of the things others find troubling. Combine that, with the suspicion that San José is a town haunted by a reputation that no longer holds true and I’ll gladly white knight for this burst of modernity in contrast to Puerto Viejo’s simplicity. Regardless, you’ll find rough edges or trouble anywhere you look hard enough, and that’s no exception here, but there’s plenty to appreciated otherwise. Historic architecture, culture and arts, green space, eclectic dining… just a handful of things I believe make any metropolis worth exploring. Though small in relation to the cities you may be accustomed to, there’s still plenty to fill an overnight or two.

Recently, we spent a few days in San José between our travel to and from Puerto Viejo and Nicaragua. Being there made me miss Chicago and the energy you just can’t find outside of metropolitan areas. There’s a San Francisco vibe in terms of weather (and hills!) and a Southern California feel with the mountains in the distance.

If words aren’t enough to convince you, perhaps the photo’s will speak for themselves. I’ve also included some recommendations for how to spend a few days in San José down below. Continue reading

Thoughts on my first month abroad


pv1

Though Alex arrived ahead of me, I’ve been living in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica for nearly a month now. The first two weeks were by far the most challenging because above all the other major changes to overcome, I was just so incredibly homesick. The slightest thing could trigger tears; seeing a black cat like the two we left behind or realizing it was dinner time on Eastern Time and missing our family meals, meant grounds for a good cry. As much as I tried to trick myself into believing it was just a vacation, my heart knew better, and it was difficult to let go and be open to the newness. Living in Tennessee for the past seven months, our quick stop “home” between Chicago and Costa Rica, had given me a taste of the closeness of family that I hadn’t had in over a decade. Being available for birthday’s, celebrations, or last minute plans made me the happiest. And going from seeing my them almost everyday to ‘all communication lost’ was ripping me apart. Suddenly I was mad at having to say goodbye. We had quickly bid a heart-wrenching farewell to Chicago and now another tough one. It made me question if we’d made the right decisions, or if we’d royally screwed up.

But as time passes every day gets a little easier, and though I still miss our friends and family (and always will), I’ve been able to lean in to this new life a bit more. Which is so. astonishingly. different. (All the gritty details are coming your way soon.) And the chance to be reminded why we made this choice, how we’re growing from it, and all we have to look forward to.

Before moving to Puerto Viejo, we had never visited the area, or even Costa Rica if we’re being real. (Crazy, right?) And though that’s definitely not a plan I recommend certain logistics dictated our decisions and  we resolved to jump first and figure it out later. When you think of living in the tropics a few obvious things come to mind – palm tress, stunning sunshine, an ocean breeze. And yes, we have that. But we also have unrelenting rain, spiders the size of my palm, and a never-ending dampness. So “settling in” is more of a mental job than the unpacking of some suitcases and calling it home. Without certain comforts, Internet and television for example, you start to feel a little cut off. And not having the typical to do’s means, huge surprise, paradise can get quite boring! (I know, cry me a river, right?)

During this month I’ve been emotional, elated, laughed, cried, wanted to stay forever, and wanted to book the next ticket back. I am so grateful to have been welcomed by the “locals” who’ve reminded me to take it slow, to be gentle on myself during the adjustment. And for places around town with free WiFi so I could feel a little less far away. :)

Thankfully, our newest rental includes Internet, hence the back to blogging, but it’s probably a good idea to remind you to follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for personal pics, travel tips, and more!