Central America, South America

All packed up and off I go


It’s less than 24 hours until I leave for Guatemala. I’ll be there for the next three weeks, volunteering and travelling the country.

It’s my first time volunteering abroad, but it’s something I’ve considered for years. In university, I actually tried to do an “alternative spring break” trip with the school, which would have had me building an elementary school classroom in Colombia, but my application wasn’t selected.

On this trip I’ll be spending two weeks teaching English for half a day and learning Spanish for half a day. I’m not really sure what to expect. I’ve been told that depending on the week, the work will vary and I might be teaching adults or kids and the work might be at a community centre, public library or school. My days will be spent doing things like providing tutoring, setting up workshops, assisting local teachers and organizing educational games and activities.

For the Spanish, I’ll be in a class with 5 to 7 other people and it’s supposed to be more of an informal style that concentrates on conversation and vocabulary, not on grammar. I’m excited for that!

After two weeks of volunteering, I’ll be heading out on a tour of the country with the organization. Part of the tour includes a half-day hike up the active Pacaya volcano, which should be a really cool experience. We’ll also be heading to Tikal, one of the largest Mayan ruins in the world. It was built about 1700 years ago and abandoned, 1100 years ago. (It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.)

My flight leaves Toronto at 6:15 a.m. tomorrow and I’ll be arriving in Guatemala City around 12:30 p.m. One of the people from the organization I’ll be working with will meet me at the airport and bring me to their office for an orientation centre. I’ve connected with another Canadian on Facebook, so we’ll actually be flying down together. It’ll be nice to know someone before I even arrive.

I’ll actually be based out of Antigua, during most of my trip. It’s about 30 minutes from Guatemala City and the downtown core is another UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Spaniards built it, when they first arrived in the 1500s and it was originally the capital of the country. Earthquakes destroyed much of the city in the 1700s and the capital was moved to Guatemala City. Antigua was mostly abandoned, which helped preserve much of the old architecture. (There are also a lot of preserved ruins.) Oh and its full name is actually “Antigua Guatemala” i.e. Old Guatemala City.

When we arrive in Antigua tomorrow we have a quick lunch at the orientation centre, then we’ll be taken on a tour of the city and then brought to our accommodations. I might either be staying in a volunteer house or at a homestay (with 2 or 3 other volunteers). I’m going to pick up some maple candies at the airport tomorrow in case I do end up at the homestay, so I have a thank you gift to give the family.

I will have internet access at the organization, so I’ll try to post either before or after my daily Spanish classes, but I might not always get the chance.

United States

Washington DC: Day 1 Wrap

I’m writing this on my IPhone. So please ignore any spelling mistakes.

Wow, Washington. I’ve only really been in town for about 6 hours, but I’ve managed to cram in a lot already.

I thought I would write a recap so that I remember my trip in the future. Sorry if it gets a bit rambly!

I’m staying at the Hostel International in downtown Washington. Overall it’s pretty standard. The hostel staff is pretty nice and there are a lot of activities on offer. The one downside so far has been the Internet. The hostel charges $0.05 a minute to use their computers and the Wifi sucks!

So what have I done so far? Well my first DC experience was going to Potbelly’s a local sandwich chain for lunch. The first thing I noticed when I walked in were how big and fatty the portions were. One sandwich had about 900 calories! I got a mini-sub and soup and overall it was about the same portions I’m used to. The staff were all really friendly and a few other customers stopped to chat, which I thought was really nice.

After lunch I headed straight to the Newseum. I was really looking forward to this part of my trip and it didn’t disappoint!

First of all, I had grabbed a discount card at the hostel, but then couldn’t find it when I went to pay. The museum worker charged me the lower rate anyway on the honour system! (I ended up finding it later and have it to the guy as I left. He seemed relieved to get it.)

The museum was awesome! I only saw three floors before it closed, but admission is good for two days so I’ll definitely be back tomorrow. Some of the artifacts in the museum include chunks of the Berlin Wall, landing gear found at the site of 9/11, the Unabomber’s cabin, original copies of some of the original newspapers in the US, and press passes from many significant events. I highly recommend it!

After leaving the Newseum I walked down to the Mall and saw the US Capitol building and the Washington Monument (under construction). I met a woman who’s camera was dead, so I took a photo of her family on her SD card in my camera. She was so happy!

Along my walk, I explored the Hirsham sculpture Garden. Some pretty nice pieces.

Then on my way home, I saw that Washington has two of my favorite food shops from London: Paul’s (a patisserie with the best Macaron’s) and Pret a Manger (the ultimate grab and go place). I stopped at both. Yum!

Tomorrow I’m heading on a tour of the Capitol.

South America

Kudos to IVHQ

Just a quick update on my last post about my upcoming trip to Guatemala.

I mentioned that I had paid a registration fee of $250 + tax the company, (which by the way is the only money that stays with IVHQ to cover administrative costs.)

Well yesterday they told me that I had won their monthly draw and my registration fee was free. They refunded me the full amount last night!

I have never won anything like this before and it really made my day! Any company that is willing to waive their only compensation in the name of customer service definitely gets the Thrifty Abroad seal of approval!

North America

Getting back on the road

So a lot of you will have noticed that I haven’t updated my blog in almost a year. That’s mainly because I stopped travelling for a little while and let other aspects of my life take up more of my time.

But… I am happy to announce that I have booked a couple upcoming trips and I am very eager to get back on the road.

NEXT WEEK I’ll be visiting Washington D.C. for five days. I am really looking forward to visiting all the museums, especially the Newseum, but if I’m honest, I actually haven’t really planned out too much of my trip. (I’ve booked my hostel and plane tickets, but I’m going to let myself go with the flow.)

The real existing news, however, is the trip I’ll be taking in November… I have thought about going on a volunteer trip for many years, but whatever reason it never happened.

This all changed a couple of days ago.

After hearing good things from a friend of a friend who did a volunteer trip in Tanzania, I decided to check out International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ), which sells itself as a socially responsible, safe and affordable volunteer organization.

I’ve emphasized the last word because the prices are extremely reasonable. Most of the program fees are less than $300 US per week, plus a $250 registration fee. This money covers the costs of accommodations and all meals for the week as well as transportation to and from the airport, orientation and a 24-hour in country program organizer who places you in a position and monitors the situation. (Plus all the help leading up to the start date like telling you what to pack and what injections to get.)

So, after reviewing their different policies and checking out many countries, I decided to go to Guatemala. I’ll be teaching English for two weeks at the beginning of November and then travelling for a week through the country. So far, I’ve only had to pay the $250 registration fee (fully refundable until 30 days before, might I add.)

As my placement date gets closer, I’ll keep you all posted on my progress with the organization and all the money that I spend. If all goes well then I’ll definitely be giving them a Thrifty Abroad approval seal!


New trip: Exploring Halifax

Wow! I can’t believe it has been a whole year since I last posted. Coincidently, it’s also been a whole year since I last travelled! You better believe that I was going crazy.

I landed today for the first time in Halifax, Nova Scotia and I’ve spent the last four hours wandering around the downtown core.

My first impressions are that there are a LOT of restaurants. It also seems like that is the main thing to do in Halifax, at least on a sunny, Saturday afternoon. Most of the pubs I passed by the water were packed.

I’m visiting for the next week, while I take a program at the University of King’s College. Hopefully, I’ll get some time to see some sights in my free time.

I did discover one useful tip today: The Citadel is free during the last half-hour of the day and you can actually get a nice tour in the half-hour if you’re just interested in seeing the structure and concentrating on a couple of rooms. If you visited in the last half-hour a couple of times, I think you could see the whole thing.

I also learned that the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, which houses many of the artifacts recovered from The Titanic, is free from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays. So I’ll definitely be checking that out.