Live Inspired: How to travel around the U.S. for a summer as a kind-of broke nomad

On Sunday night, I had a nightmare that I got sick while back in the States.

In the dream, I had a cold that wouldn’t go away, so I went to a hospital. At the end of the appointment, I asked the doctor how much this visit would cost, sans health insurance. She wrote down and slid a number across the table that jolted me from sleep, wheezing.

Health insurance, you see, is one of the many things that just isn’t in the budget for this three-month stint in the U.S. — a venture I’m both very excited and very stressed about.

After I awoke, I lay in bed for a minute, doing a mental check of every part of my body to ensure sickness wasn’t creeping up inside of me. I considered that I should probably drink fewer beers and smoke fewer stress cigarettes. I mulled how many more tunafish sandwiches were in my future. I checked my bank accounts, again, and the tally of all the various reward points I have.

When people in the U.S. marvel at how I’m able to afford to travel full time, they’re usually doing so with a North American mindset — scrutinizing just how much everything costs, here. By moving through developing countries, I tell them, I spend a lot less money to travel full time than most people do to stay in one place. That, of course is because everything in the U.S. is more expensive. Healthcare is a pretty dramatic example (seeing a doctor and obtaining medicine in Central America are tiny fractions of what such things cost here), but vast differences, exist, too, in travel, housing and food.

In Central America, I make enough money to buy my coffee each morning, eat out three meals a day (sometimes on the street though), drink too many aforementioned beers and occasionally stay in a locale with AC, hot water or (!) both. In the States, that budget would barely get me a sandwich and a dorm bed.

On Monday morning, thinking of all this, I considered breaking all my plans and zipping back to El Salvador, stat.

But alas, I have already booked nearly a summer’s worth of travel, and have some events in the works, too. SO, I guess I’ll figure out how to make it work. Hopefully. Maybe. Con suerte.

Here’s how to do it (I think):

Live Inspired: In the “land of the free,” our toilets flush all

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

These days, I spend a lot of time trying to remember where to put my toilet paper.

Since I got back to the States a week ago, I’ve found myself lingering in a lot of bathrooms, awkwardly holding that little used swath and trying to figure out why the trash can is so far away.

When I realize, anew, that I’m back in the ol’ U.S. of A. and I can indeed flush the stuff, my new reaction is less relieved than it is confused — mystified by the fact that the toilets can actually handle it here. I’ve stared into a lot of toilets, unconvinced it will all make its way down.

Perhaps this is the biggest analogy of it all: life in the States, down to the way we dispose of our excrement, is different. Almost every moment back is a reminder of that.

Live Inspired: Chemex, craft beer and joy in the world’s most violent city

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

The barista arrived at my leather banquette table armed with a tray full of equipment.

The pourover stand, with a glass decanter at its base. A stainless kettle with a delicate, gooseneck spout. A canister of the coffee itself, which she allowed me to whiff before beginning the precise brewing process, ensuring the shape and stream of the water flow was optimal for my single perfect cup.

Around me, bright murals covered the walls. Edison lights hung from the ceiling. Japanese siphon contraptions, which were also used to brew this organic java, were strategically placed around the cafe, like art.

I was in San Pedro Sula, dubbed “the most violent city on Earth.”

And I was having a lovely time.

Live Inspired: A Tegucigalpa welcoming

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

I had taken a wrong turn.

In search of Castillo Belluci, a crumbling Italian-built castle in the hills of Tegucigalpa, Honduras, I had stumbled past a great iron gate. It seemed to be the right area of the Leona neighborhood. It seemed a gate worthy of such an attraction. So I walked right in.

…And abruptly found myself in someone’s front yard. Beyond the plant-lined stairway where I stood, a man and two women sat at a long, al fresco table, slowly savoring a bottle of wine. Seeing a gringa suddenly appear in their garden, they raised their arms.

“Venga,” come on down, the man called. “Esta es su casa.”

Realizing my mistake and, assuming the sentiment about it being my house to be sarcasm, I covered my face with my hands. “Ay perdon, perdon,” I shouted. But as I spun to leave, they called again, dramatically gesturing with their arms that I join them.

I wondered, for a moment, whether they were expecting someone else and had confused me for their guest.

Soon, I saw there wasn’t any misunderstanding at all: by crashing into their lives, rather, I had become their guest. They had watched a confused, white tourist barge into their garden, and they simply chose to respond with such graciousness that I felt I had been bound there, all along.

Live Inspired: a necessary education (cat calling and the machismo culture in Honduras)

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Perhaps it really started to sink in with the boy, appearing to be all of 11 or 12 years old.

As I approached him on the street in Gracias, Honduras, he made a show of eyeing me. He pursed his lips together as I walked past and made the exaggerated kissing noises I had become so accustomed to hearing.

“Mami,” he called, sneering and looking to his young friend for reaction.

It was my 17th such incident that day — hearing “pssts” and “wows” as I walked to the bank; absorbing “I love yous” as I searched for a place to eat lunch; receiving the hard stares and persistent chatter of professional predators as I walked around, taking photos.

But it was this preteen, years from sprouting his first chin hairs, that really drove home the point.

Here in Honduras, there is no Me Too movement. Feminism is not trendy nor visible. And the piropos (cat calling)? It’s systemic. It’s so engrained in the culture that the habit is picked up by kids who haven’t even learned what it really means.

Live Inspired: What I think about before I take a photo

Behind every snap, cultural, social and historical context needs to be considered.

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

I think about photography — and now videography — all the time.

I think about it when women in colorful skirts walk past colorful buildings. I think about it when old men in cowboy hats lean up against a building while devouring ice cream cones. I think about it every time I go into a market and the worn, leathery hands of the vendors contrast with the youthful ripeness of the produce.

Sometimes beautiful angles just occur, when the world so naturally aligns and a portrait emerges, so defined. Sometimes beautiful moments just happen, girls in flowing dresses dancing around a cotton tree, the sun’s golden light igniting pieces of their hair.

I think about taking these photos all the time.

But often, I don’t.

Why I refrain has nothing to do with the laws of whatever place I’m in, as someone on Instagram suggested to me recently, and everything to do with the complex cultural, social and historical considerations surrounding every snap.

Live Inspired: In Gracias, change

• In partnership with John Reamer and Associates

Shortly after I arrived in Gracias, Honduras last week and enthusiastically began posting photos of this beautiful colonial town brimming with red-tiled roofs and pristine, cafe-filled parks, someone on Instagram messaged me to ask a simple question:

Why was everything in Gracias so clean and well-kept and, well, so very different than where I had previously stayed, in Puerto Cortes?

My instinct was to say that like most places in this world, Honduras possesses range and dimension.

“Why are places in the US different from each other?” I countered. “Every place has variance.”

Live Inspired: On to Honduras

• In partnership with John Reamer & Associates

Last Friday, I departed Belize for Honduras.

Whenever I move on to a new country, I always get those jitters, that feeling of newness and change and excitement and anticipation of what to expect (since I rarely know or have time to exhaustively research any town).

But with Honduras, it was a little bit different. 

After a couple months in Belize, I was getting accustomed to a certain reaction when I told people I was traveling to the country most known around the world for its extreme poverty and recently, a migrant caravan that trekked more than 2,500 miles to the U.S. border around the time of the 2018 midterm elections (many of the migrants have given up on gaining entry, deciding to stay in Mexico or go home).

“Why?” many Belizeans asked me. “Why would you go?” 

I was finding, in many places, that the stereotypes we sometimes consider uniquely North American persist throughout Central America too. 

Live Inspired: My loveletter to Belize

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates

Almost exactly three months ago, I sat on a bus bound for the Belize border after wandering through Guatemala for about four months (minus a couple stops in the States).

I felt this contraction in my chest, then.

I remember thinking, and writing, that I felt I would always be connected with Guatemala, that I would always harbor some special feeling toward the country.

It’s still true. I still practice with my Guatemala-based Spanish teacher twice a week. I still think and read about the political happenings in a place whose landscapes astounded me and whose traditions overwhelmed me.

But even now, it feels far away. Because as this month draws to a close, it’s leaving Belize  (to move on to Honduras) that my heart is breaking over.

Live Inspired: Finding home in, leaving, Corozal

• Brought to you by John Reamer and Associates

A month ago, I rolled into Corozal, a stranger.

Something compelled me to come, though no one had offered a recommendation; though the town wasn’t known for anything in particular; though I knew nothing of what to expect.

I booked a week in an apartment. I wondered if it was too long.

Then I stepped off the bus from Belize City and almost instantly had a feeling. A feeling I would stay longer than planned. A feeling that something special was in the air.

Four weeks later, as I snaked through the sea grape trees at the water’s edge, mentally preparing to finally move on, I understood that instinct.

I was meant to arrive in Corozal. It was a place that slowed my anxiety and calmed my soul. A place where, though I didn’t know it yet, my community was waiting.