I LOVE to travel.
I’m going to start out by saying that right away so that you know one of the most important things about me. This is the heart and soul behind the travel section of my blog. I’m a big fan of traveling domestically, but international travel is my main love. I’ve been traveling domestically since childhood, but I started traveling internationally at age 16 and haven’t stopped since. I have traveled internationally at least once a year every year since 2005 and these adventures have been the highlights of my life.
Looking at my life, I can say that some of my most memorable moments in life have come through traveling. My goal for this section of the blog is to share my love of traveling with you and encourage you to go out and fall in love with traveling too. More importantly, I’ll be sharing a lot of tips about traveling that will help you pack your bags and be on your way.
I have to be honest and say that I haven’t fully experienced the touristy side of too many countries. I’m not a very touristy kind of girl. Yes, I want to see the main historical sites, but I also want to see where the natives go. As a native New Yorker, I know firsthand that all the best places in any city are those beyond the tourist traps. I’ve been in full tourist mode in some of the countries I’ve traveled to, like Italy, Spain, Bermuda and Jamaica. But in most of the others, like Morocco, you’ll see that I had a more native/adventurous experience.
Most of my travels have come through humanitarian trips, so I’ve seen the dark side of most of these places. However, all of the countries that I’ve listed below have left impressions on my heart that will last forever and I want YOU to have these amazing experiences too.
Traveling to new and exotic lands will change your life forever, and the impact will be felt by all of those who know you. So go out there and travel because your experiences can impact your community, city and world.
The countries on this list are all countries that I’ve personally visited (some more than once) and so I’m giving you the insider’s scoop on WHY should visit them. The things that I value while traveling are: cost, culture, food and cleanliness. If these things are up to par in a country, I recommend it. The countries on this list follow a wide range of categories to fit everyone’s travel wants and needs. Some are the classic, romantic European destinations while others are the adventurous and risky places that will bring you higher heart rates and adrenaline rushes.
For each of these countries, I include the following: description, highlights and lowlights, cost and a word to describe the country. The cost was estimated using dates from different seasons and I used my preferred travel apps: SkyScanner, Cheaptickets.com and Airbnb.com. You can find very cheap travel deals if you have flexible dates and do your research.
Alright, here we go:
Brazil is without a doubt the liveliest country I’ve visited. There’s dancing and partying literally at every turn. There is so much flavor in this country that it will blow you away. The people are friendly and fun, the food is amazing and the sites are gorgeous. Most of my time was spent in Sao Paolo, however I also spent time in my friend’s hometown, Sao Jose dos Campos and the vacation beach town, Ubatuba.
I know what some of you might be thinking, isn’t Brazil kind of dangerous? I’ll tell you this much, I’m from NYC, and we aren’t afraid of anything here, so if you’re looking for a country that is 100% safe, you may as well stay home. Every country around the world poses some sort of threat to your well being, whether it’s gang violence, Zika, pick pocketing or terrorism. If you’re going to travel internationally (even domestically), you have to accept the fact that you have to take some risks in order to experience life.
Here’s my recommendation to you: Go to Brazil, eat at a churrascaria, dance with the kids in the streets and learn something new about the world.
Highlights: amazing food, fun establishments, beautiful culture
Lowlights: drastic views of disparity between rich and poor that will horrify you
Flight: ~$800- 1,000 (depending on the season)
Accommodations: $40-60/night (home) OR $60-150/night (hotel)
Ideal length: 8-10 days
Total: 10 days = ~$900-1,800/person
One word to describe Brazil: LIVELY
Mexico has the BEST customer service I have ever experienced in my life! My husband and I went there in 2013 for our honeymoon and it was pure paradise. It exceeded every single expectation that I had. Although I’ve always known that Mexico’s culture is amazing, it had never been much of a priority for me to go there until I started looking up honeymoon destinations. We wanted a peaceful beach location for our honeymoon that would include good food, good service and a place where we could see beautiful sites but not feel pressured to go site seeing every single day. We basically wanted paradise and thankfully, that’s exactly what we got. We chose Playa del Carmen/Riviera Maya and it was PERFECT! We had private jacuzzis and pools in our suite, amazing meals and service, and a romantic ambiance at every turn. We stayed at two of the best hotels in Playa del Carmen (Rosewood Mayakoba + Banyan Tree Mayakoba) and it was magical! Apparently Bruno Mars had stayed there the week before (too bad we missed him).
Mexico is very affordable. Since it was our honeymoon we ended up spending about $4,000 in total, however this is not the norm that we would have spent had it been a normal vacation. We loved it so much that would go back at the drop of a hat. When we were there, we met so many Americans who were repeat visitors to Mexico. The reason for this is that Mexico is the most popular international tourist destination for Americans.
When you go there, it’s easy to see why Americans love it so much. It’s because of the service, food, culture and safety. Many people don’t know this, but while most big cities in Mexico have high crime rates, Riviera Maya is the SAFEST place in Mexico. Since it brings so much revenue to the country, the government goes out of its way to protect this area. It’s very safe and I definitely recommend it.
Highlights: romantic environment, amazing food and customer service, AMAZING deals
Lowlights: can be pricey depending on which hotel you choose
Ideal length: 5-7 days (Honeymoon = 10 days)
Total: 7 days = $700-4000
One sentence to describe it: ROMANTIC
As a Latina, Spain is my motherland. Three out of four of my grandparents can trace their heritage back to Spain (the other is from Italy) and so it had always been a place that I wanted to visit. Back in 2011, I had the opportunity to do voluntourism there. I stayed for free with a family in exchange for teaching English to their daughters. It was a great opportunity. I was supposed to stay for a month but unfortunately my trip was cut short because they thought I needed to have my tonsils removed. Despite the fact that I was sick half the time, I fell head over heels in love with Spain. I spent a week in Madrid and loved every single minute. I went alone and enjoyed it but definitely recommend going with people. I would love to go again with my husband because it’s such a romantic country.
The culture is fantastic, food is amazing and the prices are very cheap. I went in 2012 when the Euro was pretty high and it was still very reasonably priced. Most attractions were between 6 and 8 Euros and the food was very cheap. My ideal trip to Spain would be ten days traveling through Toledo, Sevilla, Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona. This will happen someday.
Highlights: amazing food, historic sites, high value for your money
Cost for ten days: $1400-2000 per person (multicity trip)
One sentence to describe it: HISTORICAL
I’ll be creating a guide for Italy travel in the future but oh my gosh is Italy amazing. Every single place you go in Italy is snapshot worthy. Every photographer needs to go to Italy because it’s THAT beautiful. There is literally history at every turn. Let’s not even talk about the food! I had pizza and gelato every single day and still managed to come back home weighing less. I’m very sensitive to lactose and can never eat ice cream but I brought lactose pills to Italy and I was GOOD.
The best thing about Italy is that it is incredibly affordable. My husband and I came back with $400 left in our budget because it’s just so darn cheap. Thanks to AirBnb, we only spent $700 total for our accommodations for nine days. We stayed in gorgeous, clean and spacious apartments in the cities that were top rated. We did private tours so that we could skip lines (lines are crazy long everywhere in Italy) and we still had tons of money left in our budget. This was during the peak travel time in Italy (June), so it would be much cheaper to go off peak.
We went to four cities while we were there, Rome, Florence, Naples and the island of Capri. We traveled via Eurorail and had a lot of fun discovering different cities. My favorite was definitely Rome, followed by Capri. Jason LOVED Capri and Rome. We ultimately loved all of the cities, but if anyone asks me, Rome is absolutely unmatched.
Highlights: historical beauty, food, friendly natives
Lowlights: long lines like you’ve never seen, tourist traps, pick pocketing threat
Cost for ten days: $1,200-1800/person (significantly cheaper if you go to just one city)
One word to describe it: MAGICAL
I’ll be honest, Cambodia is a bittersweet country to visit. The sweetness is in the food and culture and the bitterness is because of the long-lasting effects of the genocide that are obvious everywhere you go. It’s important from a historical perspective to visit Cambodia. Seeing the effects of the genocide, including the details of how the genocide even happened, will blow your mind. What blew my mind the most was to learn about the role that the U.S. and Europe had in the genocide and how they could have stopped it but didn’t.
During the genocide, all of the country’s educated people were killed off by Pol Pot and his regime. This basically meant that most of the adult population was killed off. This left the country with mainly kids, teens, seniors and uneducated people. To this day, 50% of the population is under age 40. While visiting the country is a bit heavy, the beauty of the beaches, architecture and food will win you over. I worked a lot in the poor villages and the people won my heart.
This was the first Buddhist country I traveled to and it was SO intriguing to learn about the culture.
Highlights: super cheap, great food, nice locals (my hotel room cost $16/day for a double room)
Lowlights: effects of the genocide, poverty
Ideal length: 8-10 days
I have been to the Philippines twice and I will definitely be going back. The Philippines is the most amazing place I have ever visited for two main reasons: the people and the culture. I have never felt hospitality like I did while in the Philippines. They love foreigners and strangers and will invite you into their homes, cook for you and practice their English with you.
While I was there, I worked mainly to do feeding programs with poor families and I fell in LOVE with the children. They are gorgeous and will steal your heart forever.
I was in Manila and a small city two hours north called Pila Laguna. I visited the famous Pagsanjan Falls and the beauty was breathtaking. You ride a canoe down a river while monkeys jump from limb to limb all around you. When your canoe makes it to the waterfalls, you have the option of getting out and swimming underneath them. Pure beauty.
Highlights: natural beauty, accommodating culture, friendly natives
Lowlights: extreme weather, bugs, heat and humidity
Ideal length: 8-10 days (travel from the U.S. takes a long time to get there)
Price:$1,000-2,000 (main cost is the flight)
One word to describe it: BEAUTIFUL
Last year, I made my third trip back to India, the home of the one and only Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal alone is a good enough reason to visit New Delhi (it’s one of the wonders of the world, after all), but I’ll include a few more.
I’ll be honest, India is the most overwhelming country I’ve been to thus far. Being from NYC, I can say that I know a thing or two about crowds and overpopulation. In spite of all of my big city training, I was a little puppy dog when I first went to India. There are literally people EVERYWHERE. Every possible inch of space has humans. If this overwhelms a New Yorker, it will definitely overwhelm those of you from small towns.
India, in my opinion, is one of the most socioeconomically needy countries in the world. From a humanitarian perspective, I love this country and I have been able to make a significant difference in changing it. I had the privilege of teaching English in India last year for the first time and the gratitude of the students blew my mind. Last year was my first time going to the North of India, as I had previously only gone to Gujarat. We went to New Delhi and saw the TAJ MAJAL! You MUST go to India, if only to see the Taj Mahal. Everywhere you go in India, you’ll see monkeys. From the little ones that jump from tree to tree to the big Orangutans that run across the highway while you’re driving, you’ll see them everywhere.
I think what will shock you most about India is how many people there are and how different and unique there culture is from anything you’ve ever seen. For example, the sheer number of Hindu shrines are shocking and intriguing. There are tributes everywhere to their 300 million gods. I didn’t see them in New Delhi as much but everywhere else in India is full of these shrines.
Highlights: vibrant culture
Lowlights: heat and humidity, drastic human rights abuses
Ideal length: 8-10 days (travel from the U.S. takes a long time to get there)
Price:$1,100-2,000 (main cost is the flight)
One word to describe it: FASCINATING
Every Christian, Muslim and Jewish person needs to make it a priority to visit Israel. It is literally like a pop-up Bible. You get to see so many biblical moments come to life. While I was there I saw where David wrote some of the Psalms, where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane and many other biblical locations. I played in the Dead Sea, touched the remains of the Jericho Wall and drove on the Road to Damascus. This is a spiritual trip as much as it is a vacation. You will feel it in your soul when you see where Jesus walked. This place is magical and you must visit in your lifetime.
Highlights: rich history, delicious food
Lowlights: religious and political tension
Ideal length: 5-7 days
One word to describe it: SPIRITUAL
I know what you’re thinking…this girl must be crazy to recommend Palestinian Territory. Well, hear me out. I went on a humanitarian trip to the West Bank in 2008 when Bush was President, which was a peak year of tension between Palestine and Israel. I was scared to go there, as was my team. I only knew Palestinian territory by what the media said about it. I was expecting to meet terrorists, to be quite honest. However, instead we met the kindest, most loving people. These people were so grateful to us for having a medical clinic inside of their refugee camps. It was amazing.
This trip completely changed my perspective on the Israel-Palestine political drama. I prayed with Christian Palestinians in a church that was located in the heart of Palestine. Scary things did happen on the trip, but I’m a firm believer in risking things when God tells you to go. Stay tuned for more about these missions journeys in the future.
I’m considering Israel and Palestine two separate countries because they are. If you go to one and not the other, you’re only getting half of the experience. Whatever your political views, I encourage you to do a humanitarian trip there. You won’t regret it.
Highlights: AMAZING food, kind people, political enlightenment
Lowlights: political and religious tension
Ideal length: 3-4 days (A combined Israel-Palestine trip for 8 days would be perfect)
Price:$1,100-1,300 (main cost is the flight)
One word to describe it: ENLIGHTENING
Morocco is the most exotic country I’ve ever visited. From the history to the food and spices to the beautiful architecture, Morocco has it all. I spent a little over three weeks backpacking through Morocco with a group of 6 girls and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It’s not a luxurious vacation, but if you’re adventurous and into exotic locations, Morocco is for you. The food alone will win you over with it’s rich flavors, but the sunset camel rides on the beach aren’t too shabby either. Shopping in the medinas, taking photos in front of the blue doors, dipping your toes in the Mediterranean and eating tagine and zaytoons (olives) will rock your world.
Highlights: amazing food, exotic locations, vibrant architecture
Lowlights: the African sun is CRAZY
Ideal length: 7-10 days (Casablanca, Marrakesh, Rabat, Tangier, Chefchaouen)
One word to describe it: EXOTIC
As I said above, traveling will change your life in ways you never imagined. Whether you go to these countries I’ve listed or not, just TRAVEL! You will not regret it.
If you’ve never traveled outside of the U.S., I want to encourage you right now to plan an international trip. Text some friends or family and come up with a way to travel. If you’re worried about affording it, go on a tight budget and sacrifice one thing in order to save up for a vacation. I’ll be blogging about this in the future, so stay tuned!
What countries are on YOUR bucket list? I would love to hear, so comment below!