A Day of Firsts in Barcelona

Sipping the best cappuccino ever outside a café across the street from apartment in Barcelona, I’m proud of myself to finally be up before 10am. It’s taken almost a week to get on track with this new timezone, and I’m happy to say I’m almost there!  It’s been an exciting beginning to this three month journey abroad, and what would a solo trip be without something huge going wrong at the start.

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My flight from ATL to Barcelona was scheduled to leave at 5:30pm, so I planned to head to the airport around 2pm. Earlier that afternoon, all packed and ready to go, I decided to check in on my phone for my Air France flight. I got to the last step of the checkin process after entering my confirmation code and my passport information, but wasn’t allowed to check in because my trip apparently required a visa for the over 90day stay. I thought, okay well since I won’t be in Barcelona for the entire 90 days it’ll be fine, Im basically switching each country after a month if not sooner. Obviously I just needed to clear up this misunderstanding since I would only be in Spain for 30 days. After speaking with the embassy I in fact learned that as a US citizen you’re not allowed to be in Europe as a WHOLE for over 90 days (not just per country), and my flight reservation was for 95 days. They basically weren’t going to let me on the plane that day! To make matters worse I had booked my ticket through an external flight savings site, not the actual airline, so when I called to move up my return flight I was told they could not. About an hour or so later of playing cat and mouse between the two companies (each saying they were unable to change my reservation), I was finally able to change my ticket home to a week earlier.

Lesson learned… as a U.S. citizen don’t book a trip over 90 days to Europe, and don’t book your flight through an external site. I may have saved a few hundred in the beginning not booking directly with the airline, but I paid that right back to alter my flight.

I’ve been told with Southwest you can change your reservation for free, but you don’t always get to choose your preferred airline everywhere you go. Anyways, I was finally able to check in to my flight, and that rush of stress and panic slowly started to fade away. After a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc at the airport, I was stress-free and excited to travel across the Atlantic. 9 hours, 2 cheesy chick flicks and an attempt at sleeping later, we touched down in Barcelona, Spain at 8:30am. Customs was a breeze at the airport, since it was my first time in Europe all I had to compare it to was traveling to Central America… which requires paperwork and scanning all your luggage. After just a quick stamp of my passport, I grabbed my backpack at baggage claim and jumped in a taxi to go to my new home for the month. Luckily I had written the address on a slip of paper so there was so issue communicating to them where I needed to go. I seriously should have worked more on my Spanish before coming…

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We arrived to the Gràcia neighborhood in Barcelona and I was dropped off on this little pedestrian only street where my apartment was. The driver told me #20 was just right over there, so I started walking down the street. After then being chased down by the driver, he told me it was literally right on that corner and I had walked right passed it. Thank God for him because I probably would have walked the whole block, half awake after barely any sleep, and loaded up with luggage looking for this place. As I looked at the options to dial in my host lady on the buzzer, none of the names matched hers. I looked back at my info and saw her apartment was #1…. all the names had a 1 next to them. I started to just push all the buttons on the list, and after a few tries my host lady answered and let me in the building.

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The entry area and beginning of the stairwell is marble and colored tiles, so pretty and so old. I made my way up the tiny stairs which turned into terra-cotta tiled stairs, tightly winding up until I reached the third floor. Quite a hike I must say when you’re loaded down with all your belongings, but I was thankful I had decided on the backpack as opposed to a rolling suitcase. THAT would have been hell to carry up those little stairs. Maria was very sweet, brought me to my room, showed me all around her adorable, very traditional style apartment, made me a coffee (or cafe as I should say!), and walked me through the map of where we are located  and how to use the metro in Barcelona. After unpacking my luggage and settling into my room I set out to wander the streets of my new home for the month.

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Being that it was my first time in Spain, and Europe in general, I was entranced by the city as a whole– the architecture, all the tiny streets, balconies everywhere with people, plants and flags hanging from them (no hanging people, just hanging flags FYI). It was so beautiful and I wandered around for hours taking in the constant views of this vibrant city. The only thing I could compare it to at the time was being in NYC, but this was way more beautiful, cleaner and slower paced. People just strolling around, hanging out on benches everywhere, chatting away and sipping on their drink of choice.  I started with just my neighborhood of Gràcia, and ended up walking all the way down through the gothic quarter to the marina. The water here in Barcelona is so blue I decided I had to see the beach before returning home. After making my way through the crowds of Port Vall, I reached Barceloneta Beach where crowds of people were enjoying the sun and ocean views. I spent my first euros on some tapas for an early dinner, and after an exhausting first day I was ready to get back home to rest.

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Another amateur move of mine– I left that afternoon to explore wearing little sandals with absolutely no support, thinking “o well I’ll just be around the neighborhood”. Hours later my feet were definitely hurting so it was time for another first of mine– taking the Barcelona metro to my stop in Gràcia. With a little help of an elderly couple in the station I figured out which direction I was supposed to be heading and piled in that cramped train for the first time, exiting at my stop (called Fontana which funny enough is the city in California where I was born).  With the exception of a few hiccups along the way I was finally here, ready to really begin this journey of mine alone in a foreign country.

I’m Outta Here

Well, it’s official. I have my first month booked living in Barcelona, Spain and I will be leaving in June! I can’t believe it’s around the corner, but even more so I can’t believe I’ve decided to leave the security of a full-time job, sell most of my things, and travel around the world on my own, open-endedly. Friends of mine have called it adventurous, I’m sure others think I’m totally insane… but either way this lady is heading to Europe in less than 3 months without a return plane ticket. I’m sure you’re wondering how in the world I ended up here, so let’s do a little recap!

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I have always dreamt of traveling anywhere and everywhere, soaking up the different cultures and scenary. To me, that is a huge part of what life is all about. The world is way too vast to stay in this western hemisphere bubble and not go experience all the places I’ve heard about and seen pictures of. Unfortunately this thing we call REAL LIFE has gotten in the way of those dreams for far too long– putting myself through college, never taking more than maybe 4 days in a row off work since I was 16, and you know… pretending I actually have a savings account for years. I’ve spent most of my adult life just trying to hold it all together on my own, and the idea of spending thousands of dollars (plus taking extended vacation time away from work) to travel abroad simply wasn’t a realistic thing in my mind to do. I’ve taken a decent amount of long weekend getaways back to California, NYC, Colorado, other places around the US and then Costa Rica last December in an attempt to fulfill my wanderlust, but that little travel bug inside me just wasn’t quite satisfied.

I know so many of us feel this same way, but few actually do something about it. We get stuck in the day-to-day routine and before we know it, years have flown by.

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I came across a travel group that selects 75 people to travel around the world together working remotely. You spend a month in each of the 12 countries throughout Europe, Asia and South America, totaling a whole year of travel. You are required to have your own remote job to support yourself, the program does not provide this for you, but given that I’m in the design/marketing field I knew somehow there was a way I could make that happen. Without hesitation I applied, not thinking anything would come of it. About a month later I had made it through to the final round Skype interview. At this point I was fully picturing myself gallivanting around the world, immersing myself in the different cultures and making new connections. Then in February of this year I received the news… I was accepted as one of the 75 people to leave in June, out of over 50,000 applicants!

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I was ecstatic and almost couldn’t believe I was about to be going on this adventure. I was given 2 weeks to make my decision and give my down payment to hold my place for the trip. After making a budget and lists of everything I needed to cover before the trip (huge down payment, travel insurance, plane ticket to first location, visas, passport renewal, etc) plus the monthly dues paid to the group to cover all our transportation and accommodations, I was feeling totally overwhelmed with the overall costs compared to the reality of my finances. Not to mention I hadn’t fully secured my 100% remote work income yet. What if after a few months the remote job wasn’t working out and I had to leave the trip? All of these fears were flying through my head while under pressure to make a decision by my deadline. I wanted to be smart with my money and use it wisely, instead of completely draining myself and going into more debt.

Guess what? I declined the offer… but for something WAY better.

I started researching how much it would cost for me to do a similar idea totally on my own- the cost to stay an entire month in some countries through airbnb, transportation costs between countries, etc. I found I could literally pay for 3 months of Europe travel with just the down payment money alone this group was asking for. Not only would I be able to travel abroad while working remotely on my own for less than HALF the monthly cost of going with that program, but I would be able to select the countries I really wanted instead of having to stick with their itinerary. The choice was quite obvious to me, and the next day I officially declined the offer and set out to plan my own world travel adventures.

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I’ve decided to focus on Europe for the remainder of 2016 and begin my solo travels in Barcelona, Spain. There are SO many places on my list to explore in Europe, and there is no way I will ever make it to all of them this year! Be sure to check back for future blog posts about other locations I’ve chosen and more travel plan details. Not only will June be the start of this crazy experience, but I am also utilizing this time to jumpstart this blog, Sauvignon Blue, into a travel focused blog. You’ll be able to keep up with me through the ups and downs of life on the road- being on my own in places I don’t speak the language or know a single person. I’m fortunate enough to have some friends and connections around the globe to meet up with along the way, but this journey is not only about discovering new places but new people too. And of course you know there will be countless pictures included 🙂 Be sure to follow me on Instagram @SauvignonBlue for daily snapshots, and let the journey begin!

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2015 Favorite 9

Everyone’s been sharing their top 9 from 2015 on social so I figured I’d do the same! Instead of going with top 9 “liked” photos I went with my top 9 favorite moments or experiences from 2015.  It was been a year of ups and downs as every year is, and I am very grateful and proud to be where I am beginning 2016 🙂

#1- Colorado Lovin’

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#2- New York State of Mind

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#3- RAW Natural Born Artist Show

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#4- St. Augustine Mother-Daughter Trip

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#5- BELLA Magazine White Party in the Hamptons

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#6- Home Makeovers and Blog Progress

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#7- California Dreamin’

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#8- Hola Costa Rica

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#9- View of the Year

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Costa Rica Continued

The second day of my Costa Rica adventure with Under30Experiences included more stunning views, a new favorite spot in town and yet another coastal sunset. We began our day with a pretty tough hike through the rainforest. Though the steep and rocky path wasn’t easy to climb, we were definitely rewarded with turquoise waters, a hidden beach, and beautiful foliage along the way.

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After our hike and a quick dip in the pool to cool off our group headed to one of my favorite spots on the trip, Café Milagro. Not only do they make their own premium, single origin, estate grown, micro milled coffees (I was lucky all the coffee I bought fit in my luggage!), they have the BEST fish tacos. I started things off with a double espresso for that little afternoon pick me up and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-750-3

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After lunch we headed into Quepos where we toured the waterways on a local boat and caught the most beautiful rainbow over the river. Just in time we stopped at on land to catch our 3rd colorful ocean sunset of the trip.

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Costa Rica- Manuel Antonio National Park

I had no idea where we were staying in Costa Rica until maybe a day before my flight, not even joking! People thought I was a little crazy, some said I would go missing, but in reality I was too busy keeping up with work in the days leading up to the trip to go over the exact itinerary. Traveling with Under30Experiences was also amazing because I didn’t have to worry about any accommodations or transportation ahead of time. They took care of everything for you so you can almost just show up in San Jose ready to go.

We arrived to our new home at night, so it wasn’t until the next morning that I could really take in the scenery of where we would be staying. Villas Mymosa was such a wonderful place to spend our time in Costa Rica! The plants surrounding you are beautiful (like almost all places in the area), the pool felt amazing after some long uphill hiking, and the Mymositos outside Restaurant and Bar was the perfect place for us travelers to spend time getting to know each other more over breakfast, dinner and drinks.

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Our villas were about 2.5 miles down the road from Manuel Antonio National Park, so we hopped on the city bus and headed that way after breakfast. Whenever I travel I am drawn to a more local experience than a lavish resort, so exchanging my dollars for colones to pay for a bus ride was something I really enjoyed… even if our bus ride back consisted of being completed smashed in between people, while a couple very awkwardly exchanged aggressive gestures towards each other in the seat near us. Gotta love the little things, right!?

We arrived at Playa de Manuel Antonio and walked to the park entrance where we were greeted again with some coco locos. The group chose  to stay hydrated for our hike instead of the rum filled coconuts  (look how responsible we are!), and made our way through a gorgeous hike.
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Playas Gemelas was our first stop off the trail . The turquoise blue water combined with the black rocky shoreline and green foliage was stunning. Following a  30 minute photo shoot on the largest rock area (hello, we all had to get our selfies in with no one in the background… with 15 people that takes time!) we made our way back to the path.SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-23 SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-24

Another thing on my check list for this Costa Rica experience was seeing some wild life, and we definitely lucked out big time during our hike! At one point an entire group of capuchin monkeys crossed our path so close you could reach out and touch them if you really wanted (and if they didn’t attach to your arm when you did). Along with the capuchin monkeys, we were fortunate to also spot the howler monkeys and squirrel monkeys, but they typically keep their distance from hikers.

Our path then led to a beautiful lookout on Playa Puerto Escondido, a slightly tough uphill walk back up but totally worth the view.
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On our way back to the entrance of the park we came across the cutest smiley faced slow poke– a sloth. That little guy was maybe 8 feet from our path and he was so fun to watch in slow motion.

After exiting the park we walked up the road past some colorful bohemian little shops (always my fav!) and stopped at El Sol for lunch and to cool off from the humidity.
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Another home run for the restaurant picking by Under30Experiences by choosing lunch at El Sol ! My frozen passionfruit margarita cooled me right down from our hike and was complimented with some delicious tacos de pescado. El Sol is definitely a place I would stop on my next trip our to Manuel Antonio. Looking around the table there were so many other amazing dishes I’d like to try. After lunch we walked across the street to the the beach where we spent the rest of our day.
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Some of the group took surf lessons while a few of us ladies hung back and enjoyed some relaxing beach time (well, despite that one wave that completely took me under and almost took my swimsuit with it, eeeekkk). We stayed oceanside long enough to see yet another bright Central American sunset.

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Day 1 came to a close with Ladies Night up the road from our villas. When almost your entire travel group is made up of girls, Ladies Night is a great perk! A few vodka sodas and pool games later we ended the night with a life-size Jenga game where we discovered this U30X sticker from a previous travel group (shout out to the Nov 2015 group!).
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Next up for Costa Rica on SB– hidden beaches, local places, boat rides & more!

Costa Rica, Aren’t You Pretty

On Thursday December 10th, I arrived at the San Jose Airport in Costa Rica to begin my Central American adventure with an amazing travel group for young adults called Under30Experiences. This was my first group trip with total strangers and I absolutely loved it! Others came with friends or significant others, but just like the other half of the group I was set on doing this completely solo. I think when you go alone to something like this you’re more likely to step outside your comfort zone a little and get to know others. Not only was I looking forward to experiencing an amazing new country, but also connecting with people from all different places and backgrounds.

We introduced ourselves outside the airport, packed up the van, and headed out to our first stop of the day- cocolocos and crocodiles!
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Something I liked about Costa Rica right away was all the little random shops on the side of the road, especially the ones serving coco locos ;-). I’m slightly addicted to coconut water already, so getting to drink right out of the coconut itself and get a little rum buzz while doing so was a great way to start the trip.

Coco locos in hand we walked just down the road to the Tarcoles Bridge to checkout some huge crocodiles and take in our first out-of-van views of the area.
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Next stop was Playa Hermosa, whose name literally means “Beautiful Beach”. The black sands of Playa Hermosa were so unique and almost made the ocean waves and sunsetting sky pop more than usual. To say we enjoyed a “pretty” sunset would be an understatement, it was absolutely gorgeous. SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-5 SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-7 SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-8 SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-9

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After watching the colors turn from bright blues to warm orange and pink we continued taking in the view over dinner at Bowie’s Point. Another benefit of traveling with Under30Experiences was all of our dinners were included in what we already paid for the trip! This made things even easier for all of us travelers, and I enjoyed my first taste of Costa Rica with a Pilsen beer and Tuna Poki. Perfectly ripe avocado pieces mixed with super fresh local tuna over rice, it’s making me hungry just thinking about that dinner!SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-12 SauvignonBlue-CostaRica-13

The group then packed back in our van and drove through Quepos towards Manuel Antonio to our home for the next few days. After settling into our rooms a few of us grabbed a bottle of wine and enjoyed a glass and conversation with our toes in the pool.

Next Up: Day 2 of hiking, monkeys, beaches and ladies night, stay tuned!

Costa Rican Countdown

Today marks my 7 day countdown until I’ll be exploring beautiful Costa Rica! People have been asking me, “who are you going with?” every time I bring up my trip, and they’re typically surprised when I say, “myself”. Although I do love a good solo vaca any day, I technically am not actually going totally alone… just with a group of total strangers.

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I’m excited to go on my first adventure with a group called Under30Experiences, a travel group for young adults & young professionals. One of my biggest roadblocks with international traveling is having someone to go with! Apparently not everyone is up for taking the time away for getaways like this. Being a single lady myself I’d prefer the safety and companionship of having someone with me for those farther away destinations. Under30Experiences makes this happen by pairing you with a group of people to share the experience with and connect with; plus they take care of most of the trip details to make everything easy and stress-free.

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After holding myself back from signing up for Bali or Iceland (the ones I REALLY wanted!) I decided to dip my toes in by signing up for the Starter Costa Rica trip. After all, this girl’s still on a budget and can’t go totally crazy here! I’ll be meeting up with people from all over the continent at the San Jose airport, where we’ll then head to Playa Hermosa, Manuel Antonio National Park and Quepos.

Our 5 days in Costa Rica will include ocean sunsets, hikes in the rainforest, iguanas, monkeys, local food, drinks with new friends and clear blue Pacific water. Plus I have a few extras in mind like zip lining and boat rides ;-).

Check back in to see photos from this solo/not solo adventure! 7 days and counting.

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