Lake Atitlan sunset Guatemala

Great Escape Month Two Review: February 2016

In Andorra, Central America, Europe, Great Escape, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco, Spain by KatelynLeave a Comment

Tree pose Morocco Great Escape

February brought me from Central America to Maine to Europe to Africa. It was a whirlwind month of travel and fun. Just thinking back on it makes my head spin.

I spent time scuba diving in Honduras, trekking the highlands of Guatemala, eating authentic Spanish tapas, and saw African snow in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. While each experience was incredible, I also dealt with the negatives – I got altitude sickness, I was stressed from bad wifi connections, and I often had no idea what language I should be speaking wherever I was that day.

Often times social media and blogs glorify travel. It’s all about the colorful sunsets, picture perfect lattes, or crowd-free monuments. In reality, travel is nothing like that. It’s confusing, tiring, and wonderful all at the same time. Each time I enter a new city I have to figure out the public transportation system in a foreign language. I get confused by the currency. Do you tip? Can I drink the water? I have to pay how much to use the toilet? The questions go on.

Despite the negatives of travel. Travel is amazing.

Lake Atitlan sunset Guatemala

Lago de Atitlan at sunset

Where I’ve Been

  • 4 Days in Utila, Honduras
  • 1.5 Days in Copan Ruinas, Honduras
  • 1.5 Days in Antigua, Guatemala
  • 1 Day in Xela, Guatemala
  • 3 Days trekking from Xela to Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
  • 3 Days around Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala
  • 3.5 Days in Portland, Maine (HOME)
  • 1.5 Days in Madrid, Spain
  • 4 Days in Barcelona, Spain
  • 2 Hours in Andorra (more to come on this adventure)
  • 3 Days in Morocco

The Highlights

  • I’m a certified advanced open water diver! After about 5 days of classroom and in-the-water training I’m now a certified scuba diver. I can’t wait to explore the world under the sea. Growing up my father was a diver and even had his own equipment. Getting my certification has always been on my list to do, but it wasn’t until I won the Go Overseas contest and moving to Australia became real that I decided to get my certification. And what better place than Central America! I’ll have an in-depth post on my experience with Underwater Vision in Utila in the coming months.
  • I’m getting a tax return! It’s always exciting to get money back from the government at the end of the year then have to pay them. Last year I only received a small amount due to rolling over my former 401(k) to a Roth IRA. I knew I had to pay taxes on the rollover so I planned accordingly. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay last year. Now that I am traveling full-time/living as an expat, any extra money is a godsend.
  • I saw snow in Africa! Africa has been calling my name for years. While in Europe I decided to head down to Morocco for a weeklong tour. While many consider Morocco more Middle East than Africa, it’s still on the African continent. On the day we crossed the Atlas Mountains from Marrakesh to the Sahara Desert we were delayed by snow removal in the mountain range. Seeing and playing with African snow was a total surprise and a bit mind-boggling. Coming from Maine I’m used to snow, but seeing and touching it with my own hands is just crazy.
Atlas Mountains Morocco snow

African snow in the Moroccan High Atlas Mountains

The Lowlights

  • Working on the road is hard. Prior to leaving for my Great Escape I told a couple of my clients that I’d be happy to take on more work, but they both said “hold on until you get to Australia because balancing work and travel is not easy.” Boy were they right! The first issue I’ve dealt with is the lack of good internet connection. Central America is notoriously bad for fast internet speed and I’ve been dealing with it in parts of Europe too. When you entirely online you become desperate for good internet. Hence why I’ve spent way too much money at Starbucks lately. Secondly, after a day of sightseeing and adventures I’m exhausted. Writing is the last thing on my mind.
  • Getting sick in Morocco. It was inevitable. I knew at some point in my travels I was going to get sick. It was just a matter of time. While in Morocco not only did I deal with car sickness, I developed a nasty cold a couple of days into the trip. It could have been much worst, like food poisoning, but blowing your nose every few minutes is just plain annoying.
  • I got altitude sickness while trekking in Guatemala. After a week of diving I headed back to Guatemala for a 3 day trek from the highland town of Xela to Lago de Atitlan with Quetzaltrekkers. Xela is at 2,333 meters (or 8,000 feet) above sea level. I struggled majorly on the hike because of the altitude. Not only did I just come from literally below sea level, but I’m from sea level. The hike was probably harder than Ironman Lake Placid, which I did in 2013.
Guatemala hike Great Escape

Feeling majorly defeated after “Record Hill” Photo Credit: Sebastien Chion

Monthly Income

Last month I set a goal of earning at least $500 in the month of February. Well, that did not happen. Between bad internet connection and physical and emotional exhaustion, I only did my regular client work instead of pitching or looking for extra work. And I already know that March will be much of the same. When you’re constantly on the move it can be quite difficult. In February I grossed about $470. It’s close, but no cigar yet.

Monthly Expenses

February was definitely an expensive month because of my dive certification courses. I also left the backpacker budget-friendly Central America to expensive Western Europe. While I’m good at resisting impulse buys, occasionally extra expenses creep up on you, like Starbucks. I know what you’re thinking… why I am going to Starbucks? Simple. Because they have reliable, fast internet!

I started off my Great Escape keeping a journal with detailed records of my expenses. I did really well until I got to Honduras and then I just stopped. I know roughly what I spent during my time in Honduras and Guatemala, but please remember that these numbers are more of an estimate versus actual to-the-penny expenses. I’ve been really good with my journal in Europe so expect more accurate numbers!

  • Open Water + Advanced Open Water courses with Underwater Vision – $629
  • Hostels/Hotels – $394
  • Transportation (i.e., buses, metro, flights) – $270 (+ $131 for 3 flights prepaid and booked in 2015)
  • Food & Drinks – $438
  • Tours, Activities & Fun Things – $575 ( + $519 prepaid in 2015 for Morocco tour)
  • Other (i.e., tips, gifts, etc.) – $40

A month of travel from Central America to Spain to Morocco cost $2346 (with prepaid items = $2996) or  $80.87 a day. Yikes! February was an expensive month. However, I knew I would be doing both dive courses so I planned accordingly. I look at them as an investment for the future.

I certainly could have spent less money. After my 3-day hike in Guatemala my friend and I opted for slightly more expensive hotels to recover. We could have stayed in the cheap $10 a night hostels, but hot water and comfortable beds called our names. Unfortunately my flight back to Boston arrived after the last bus to Maine so I decided to splurge on a hotel for the night instead of sleeping on the floor of the airport, which I have done before.

Favorite Photo of the Month

Sagrada Familia Barcelona photos of Spain

Colorful light shining through the stained glass windows of Sagrada Familia

I went a bit photo happy in Barcelona. It’s such a beautiful city that I couldn’t help myself almost fill a 32gb memory card. I especially fell in love with Sagrada Familia. I could have easily spent an entire day just wandering around in all directions. The lights. The colors. Oh my!

Goals for March

  • Continue looking for opportunities to pitch and gain new clients
  • Celebrate my 29th birthday in London
  • Start seriously looking for a job in Australia

Books I Read in February

  • Ghost Gifts by Laura Spinella – Every month Amazon offers a choice of free ebooks and I decided on this easy read. While it wasn’t a deep or intellectual read, it was a quick and easy enjoyable book. Perfect for basking in the sun after a 3 day trek through the Guatemala highlands.

Favorite Quote of the Month

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that waiting for us” – Joseph Campbell

During my short 3 days home in Maine my primary mission was to get my taxes done. While I looking around for my 2015 tax return paperwork I found the above quote written on the folder. I have no idea why it was there, but the quote is very fitting for my Great Escape.

Until next time, safe travels my friends!

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