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Between all the visible parts of my job as a roaming writer and video producer, there is one element constantly in the background:
Planning and booking travel.
Living a life on the move requires me to constantly be thinking about where I came from and where I’m headed in addition to where I am in that moment.
I get a lot of questions about how I decide where to go and where to stay and what to do while I’m there, so I thought I’d share some of my process — that delicate balance of making a plan while staying open to major change — as well as some of what’s in store for me in the months ahead.
Each locale requires a number of considerations — first, “Why do I want to go?”
Well, actually, I don’t always know. In fact, I often *don’t* know. I don’t have time to research every town in a country before choosing a path, so I just talk to people everywhere and make decisions on the fly. When I arrived in San Ignacio, Belize, I had no idea where I wanted to go next, but I asked everyone I met and listened to their rationale for each city. Sometimes, it’s a crap shoot. As a white American solo female traveller, I’m always worried people will send me to the more touristy places or locales pegged as “safe” because they think that’s what I want. And who knows if the people I’m talking with value what I value in an experience. But pieced together, with a heavy dose of questions, it works out well more often than not.
Even so, I generally have only a vague idea of what I want to do in a place when I arrive. When I headed for San Cristóbal, I only knew of its rolling hills and a cheap wine bar. Before journeying to Lake Atitlán, I was only aware that it was a beautiful lake, set in the mountains. When I landed in Cobán, it was simply because it was kind of near Semuc Champey and someone said it was interesting.
Hey, sometimes that’s enough.
Once I’ve decided a place is worthy of a visit, my next question is “Can I feasibly get there?”
For example, traveling from a tiny Belizean town to a major Honduras city is not a simple feat. First, you’ll likely have to get to a major airport or pay exorbitant fares. And I don’t have the budget to spend much money on air travel, so usually an alternative mode of transport is necessary. Some touristy areas are connected by flat-rate shuttles. In Belize, the public bus system is pretty extensive (and cheap) if meandering. There is also the matter of water travel — water taxis in Belize are pretty affordable and and shuttling between Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras is possible.
All of these options require a lot of research. If I have to fly, I’m always searching multiple days and times to get the best fare. Lots of times, I’m considering different layover options or separate flights to arrive somewhere the most cheaply. For my stints back in the states, I’m planning ahead a lot as well. For example, I planned to come back to the states (likely from Honduras) in March for one of my best girlfriends’ wedding in Arizona. But after about four hours of researching flights out of Honduras, Belize and Guatemala, considering short flights from smaller cities, boats, busses and possible layover points and entry points, I realized it simply wasn’t possible — without paying about four times the regular fare. Mid March is spring break, people. Don’t ever attempt to fly from Central America to the States or vice versa during that time!
If I’m looking for other ways to get to a place, I try to find someone local to ask “what’s the best way to get to X?” In Belize, I have found the resources for the bus schedule and the water taxi schedule this way.
Next, I ask “Where can I stay?”
I almost always stay in Airbnbs (still waiting on that loyalty program, guys), but the availability and cost varies a lot depending on where you go. I haven’t outright changed plans because of housing cost, but it does change the equation substantially.
Usually, I filter by my budget (I never spend more than $30/night to stay anywhere and try to spend considerably less), and look at the map view to find a place that is in a good location for a reasonable price. When I find a candidate, I read the reviews to check for anything alarming (like complaints about drain smells or a terrible bed). I also look for a few specific things: windows (you’d be surprised), floor fans, WiFi and the ability to bolt the door from the inside. Those are my must haves … hot water and access to a kitchen or coffeemaker are bonuses. If I can’t find anything on Airbnb, my next source is booking.com. Those two are pretty global, but for some of the smaller towns moving forward, it might be necessary to find someone who knows people there to arrange something.
So what’s next for me?
On Thursday, I’m bound for Corozal, Belize — which requires flying into Belize City (via Atlanta), taxiing to the bus stop and then taking a bus north to the little seaside town.
From what I understand, it’s a small, laid-back village. I decided to go only because I saw photos of the phenomenal Cerros Mayan ruins that stand, resolute, on an encroaching beach. Part of those ruins are already underwater — in a number of years they will be gone altogether. What is there now, I expect to be a stunning portrait of ancient relics defying the tide. The only other feature on my radar is Corozal’s proximity to Sartenja, a little village known for its wooden fishing boat production. There is a ferry that goes there from Corozal, regularly.
I booked the cheapest place I could find in Corozal ($16/night), where the owner has promised me 5mbps WiFi, windows and a floor fan. I plan to stay a week.
From there, I think I will return to Caye Caulker since I didn’t have much time on my last visit, before heading south …possibly to Dangriga to take in some of the Gariguna culture and then back to Placencia, because there is a boat that goes directly to Puerto Cortés, Honduras and it seems like the easiest way to get to the next country. A girl friend in Placencia might make the trip with me for a couple days! I intend to stay in Honduras for maybe two months before pit stopping back in the U.S. in April. My list of locales in Honduras is long, and I hope to make a video about perspectives on the Caravana Migrante from the country most of the migrants departed from.
Of course, who knows if this plan will remain in tact or timely (it’s a good bet it won’t), which is my last rule of travel planning: plan on things changing.
I never book more than one destination in advance, and I always seek out Airbnbs with flexible cancellation policies when possible. And it’s also helpful that most Airbnb owners will allow you to push your dates into the future as long as you stay the same amount of time, even if the cancellation policy *isn’t* flexible.
I do all this future planning while also writing and making videos about the past, and attempting to meet people, shoot video and collect experiences to write about in the present.
And that, ultimately the reason I’m doing this, is the biggest trick in this life — despite the swirl and chaos, staying in the moment and respecting each locale for what it likely is: a once-in-a-lifetime experience I want to remember forever.