Monday, April 28, 2014

Nicaragua-not just for backpackers...families too!!!

...Top 15 "Must Dos" in Nicaragua...

When I first traveled to Nicaragua through United Military Travel I was surprised to see not only young travelers but also families.  Taking a family vacation seems to be getting harder and harder these days and so obviously third world countries are becoming more attractive.  Aside from the airfare, the cost of enjoying yourself is extremely less than going to 1st world country and staying in a resort.  The accommodations in Nica, to me and my family, offer more personality, are more genuine, and fun.  And when you pair all that with the assistants of travel loans for a travel now and pay later scheme...taking a vacation is more than doable!  
When someone mentions Nicaragua, what are the first thoughts that come to your head?  Mine would be, "Oh, I love it there!" or "when do you wanna go?"  Not only is Nica a fantastic place for surfers but also nature lovers and families.  It really is such a diverse country that you can find something for everyone!  Check out my family's top 15 recommendations on the "must dos" of Nica.  Also enjoy my friend, Candace, and her families photos of their most recent trip down there!

  1. Stay on Ometepe Island
  2. Volcano Board
  3. Swim in a mineral spring
  4. Watch as many sunsets as possible
  5. Horse back ride
  6. Take a boat tour around Laguna de apoyo
  7. Find howler monkeys
  8. Visit a sea turtle nesting beach
  9. Use Salsa Verde on ALL of your food
  10. Eat at the market for breakfast in San Juan Del Sur
  11. Surf
  12. Experience Granada during the day AND night
  13. Stay either in Playa Santana or Playa Popoyo...its life changing
  14. Take a 1/2 day fishing charter
  15. Don't be afraid of new things
*Candace is a photographer for Brooke Mayo Photography, if you like her work check out their website!  

Friday, April 25, 2014

My Bucket List...As Of Today :)

What do you want to do before you "kick the bucket"?

I think I created my bucket list when I was in middle school and have been adding and taking away things almost on a daily basis.  The funny thing is that even when I was young my "want to dos" were the same things I want to do today! 
Here is my bucket of today :) 

  • Visit Australia X
  • Dive the Great Barrier Reef X
  • See a kangaroo in the wild X
  • Backpack Europe
  • Visit Cypress and go to the school my great grandfather created.
  • Swim in all the seas of the world
  • Travel across the world alone X
  • Live in Alaska X
  • Have a fling with a European X
  • Be the only American in a group and feel loved X
  • Ride a hot air balloon
  • Have a pillow room in my house with hookahs
  • Get married and have a family X
  • Own my own house
  • Have a HUGE organic garden
  • Learn to make homemade pasta
  • Own a bagel shop
  • Visit Hawaii X
  • Live in Indonesia
  • Drive cross country
  • Do "all" things legal in Colorado
  • Own a tropical beach bungalow in the Pacific
  • Travel the world with my husband and son
  • Travel to two new places each year X
  • Go to all the National Parks in the United States
  • Spend a week in Napa Valley
  • Dance in nothing but body paint
  • Stay in a gypsy wagon X
  • Speak spanish fluently
  • Raise my child to be a traveler
  • Literally visit every country in the world....
And I am pleased to say that United Military Travel has helped me accomplish 9 of those :) I have found that in order to do the things you want in life typically you are going to need help.  The sooner you come to terms with that the sooner you can start marking things off your bucket list.  If it wasn't for the "fly now, pay later" aspect of UMT - I honestly would not have been able to do half of these things.  Sharing my bucket list with you makes me feel lucky and I want the same for everyone!  Life is to short to live in a bubble get out and live!


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Nicaragua - A Diamond in the Ruff

Nicaragua....Truths vs. Misconceptions....

"Far Better To Live Your Life Imperfectly, Than To Live Another's Perfectly"

Nicaragua is not perfect, you will not find perfectly paved roads, manicured hedges, or five star resorts lining the beaches but to me and my husband it is a place of serenity, peacefulness, and happiness.  What you will find is a country that still lives like decades has not passed, a country where working hard is the only way to work, a country that still lives by tradition not the outside world.  
*United Military Travel will only book your trip in safe accommodations that live up to UMT's standards.
Ometepe Island - Playa Santa Martha
Road to town - Playa Santana

If you are an adventurist - book this trip now!

First thing to do upon arriving: head straight to la playa (the beach).  In order to really experience Nica you have to get out of the city.  But first some tips:
  • Already have a transfer service arranged for you from your hotel.  Makes life way easier.
  • You could rent a car but how are you going to navigate the country roads with no street signs?
  • At the airport many men will try to carry your bags to their cars making you use their service if you let them.  Refuse, unless that is what you want.    
  • Kids...lots of sweet little kids...trying to sell you chicle (gum), handmade flowers, water, etc.  I usually give them a dollar and do not take their items.  You do not have to...but I am a sucker. 
  • Prepare yourself for the car ride to be an adventure in itself.  You can buy yourself a 6 pack of Tona (great local beer), sit back and take in the sights as they wiz past you.  Literally, fly by you because driving down there is no joke.  If you have a weak stomach-sit in the front.  
  • Traffic consists of cars, mopeds, cows, chickens, horses, donkeys, and dogs (lots of them).
  • Pedestrians do NOT have the right of way - be careful.

Sunset - Playa Santana
Buena Onda Hotel - Playa Santana

You have many choices in accommodations and atmosphere:  beach, lake, island, or city. 
  • Beach: Playa Santana, Playa Popoyo, Playa Iguana for surf and remoteness. 
    • Accommodations:  Santana - Buena Onda or Rancho Santana.  Popoyo - Popoyo Beach Lodge.  Iguana - Hacienda Iguana.  
  • Lake: Lake Nicaragua (Ometepe Island),  Laguna de apoyo
    • Accommodations: Lake Nicaragua - Playa Santa Martha.  Laguna de apoyo - Hostel Pardiso.  Or rent your own home on your own island.
  • City: Granada, San Juan Del Sur
    • Accommodations: Granada - either rent your own home for a few nights at a wonderful rate with privacy and most homes are open air with indoor pools and terraces.  Or stay in Hotel Colon, they book fast so call ahead.  San Juan Del Sur - backpackers paradise.  Pelican Eyes Resort and Spa....hands down the best there!
Playa Maderas

Lake Nicaragua
Pelican Eyes - San Juan Del Sur

Playa Popoyo

Colonial Granada 
Colonial Granada - Rental Home

Ometepe Island
Laguna de apoyo - Rental Home                      

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Secrets of scoring cheaper airline tickets

Does buying airline tickets stress you out????
Follow these rules to be a "happy" traveler!

It does me and that is 90% of the reason we fly through United Military Travel (UMT) - it is 
soooooo nice to have someone else search all the websites for the best deal.  It is time consuming, stressful AND sometimes a deal breaker on whether people actually take a vacation or not.  The travel consultants at UMT always take into consideration the cheapest possible itinerary for you all while not sticking you with long lay overs and cheap airlines.  I wanted to share with you some of my little tricks when booking airline tickets with our travel consultant ; tricks that help me save money and give them the best information to work with.  Here is my family's full proof method of traveling through United Military Travel

  • Shop earlier but don't always buy early.  Airlines start offering cheaper airfare about 4 months out, 5 months for international.  
  • Holiday travel is an exception to the first rule - book early!
  • Airline prices change up to 3 times a day!  So trust me when I say that booking when you travel consultant says book - you should.  Typically that means all in one phone call - not multiple ones because that is when prices jump.  They want to save you money too :) 
  • Sunday, hands down, is the MOST expensive day to travel.
  • Prices rise about 40% the week you want to travel - so again book early.
  • Most discounts and sales are offered at the beginning of the week so call UMT then.
  • Buy Tuesday and Wednesday - Fly Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.
  • Be flexible on the airports you fly in and out of - that can save a ton of money! Flexibility is the main key to scoring cheap tickets!

My families motto....

So be a happy traveler not a stressed out one - enjoy the entire process, be excited 100% of the way.  Always smile because life is to short to frown :) 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sea and Stay Part 2

Puerto Lopez

...Sea and Stay - Part 2...
Ecuador: Puerto Lopez, Montanita, and Machalilla National Park

After settling into Ayampe, the owners of La Buena Vida drove us and some friends to Machalilla National Park where we could hike to a secluded beach for snorkeling, and fishing.  When I say secluded, I mean private, as in NO TRESSPASSING...because this is a beach protected solely for sea turtle nesting.
Translation = Nesting Beach
I am pretty sure that the only way to know where this beach is, is to know a local...good thing for us - we do!  Check out what we had to go through in order to get there:  
Thats me: 21 weeks preggers :)

Finally made it!
Remember in my previous post, A Word to the Wise, I spoke about the benefits of hitch hiking?  Well, that is what we all did next!  From the beach, we went into the small fishing village of Puerto Lopez to refresh ourselves with fresh squeezed juice and pure coconut water. These kind gentleman picked up on the side of the road and drove in the back of their truck a total of about 4 miles.....most fun 4 miles ever!  

We ended up seeing this man later in the super market and he gave each one of us a hug!
When you order fresh juice my recommendation would be the "Pina" meaning pineapple

Three things you HAVE to do while in Puerto Lopez:
  1. Buy handmade items from the natives that come down from the mountains to tourist towns and sell items made out of alpaca fur.  
  2. Buy a purchase you will ever, ever make!
  3. Eat at Johnny's Restaurant for fresh fish - it is to the right of the only pier in town.

Now, moving on to Montanita.....I have saved this place for last.   Please keep in mind the phrase "to each their own" and please do not let me discourage you from visiting this town.  Montanita is known in Ecuador as the "surf capital" on their coast not only because the swell lines up perfectly there but also because the place is over populated and everyone surfs there.  My first impression when we arrived by bus was "OMG" it is dirty; which threw me for a loop because Ecuador is very clean!  Instead of me rambling on and on about my reasons for dislike here is a list:
  1. Again, dirty...seeing trash on a beach breaks my heart
  2. Again, over populated...
  3. Expensive - you can the same items in Puerto Lopez for dollars less
  4. Party town - if you want to party till sunrise this is the place for you
  5. I am not a germaphobe but I did not want to touch ANYTHING!  
  6. Safety in numbers and girl or guy I suggest you never let your drink out of your sight!
I have to say that if you like big cities, the hustle and bustle, partying etc - Montanita is the place for you!  If you are like me and wants to feel safe walking in the dark from the beach to the hotel alone or surfing in a line up of only 5 others - Ayampe is the place for you.  



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Sea and Stay Part 1

 Manabi  Region Ayampe - Ecuador  
Sea and Stay - Part 1

United Military Travel flew us from 
Washington, DC to Guayaquil, Ecuador in a
 meer 7 hours - ones of the most painless 
flights ever (another reason why we love 
UMT)!  Before our arrival we had arranged for 
a pick up from the hotel we were staying with;
 I highly suggest doing so to ensure safe and
 reliable transportation.
  Ecuador is broken down into providences 
and we traveled north west to the coastal region of Manabi in 
about 3 hours from the airport. 
 You could fly into Manta International Airport for a shorter 
commute to Manabi but the 
airfare is more expensive. 

My husband surfs and I am a beach bum so we chose to make 
Ayampe our 
home base for the entire 10 days, as it is one of the top surf 
destinations in Ecuador.   Ayampe to
 us is more of a holistic community rather than a town - call it a
 village if you will.  
There we stayed at La Buena Vida Bungalows,, and if you are looking for small
 personal accommodations we highly
 suggest staying there.  The owner's, Keith and Marilyn Keller,
 are from Virginia Beach, Virginia
 and provide you with American style services but in an
 Ecuadorian atmosphere.  You will see 
them and their three kids everyday and probably get to know
 them on a first name basis. Also, 
they have two dogs, Reef and Rusty and a cat named Panko.
  The dogs will be your tour guides if
 you let them and if you give the kitty bacon he will be your best

Not a surfer?  That is ok!  
Ayampe also offers yoga, mountain biking, world class fishing, 
and deserted beaches - it just takes 20 minutes to walk around 
the town to find them all :) Also, you 
can walk to the bus stop to go anywhere but we chose Puerto
 Lopez, Montanita, and a private 
beach in a Machalilla National Park. 

If you are a food junkie like me here are my restaurant 

La Buena Vida: Breakfast (which is included in stay) and salad bar for lunch
El Paso:  Lunch and dinner for local food
Finca Punta: Dinner for ceviche and jungle atmosphere
La Orisha's:  Most amazing italian food and pizza in Ayampe

Coming up...Part 2 = Puerto Lopez, Montanita, and
Machalilla National Park 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Word To The Wise

Top 3 Things to  know before traveling to Ecuador
An informed traveler is a smart traveler!

...Know The Currency...

It is always a pain when you travel internationally and you have to convert your currency.  Are you getting a fare rate?  Are you getting ripped off?  Can you convert quickly in your head when out and about?  So many times travelers lose more money than the item they are buying is worth because they do not know the exchange rate.  That is the beauty of Ecuador - they use the American Dollar!  It is fantastic, I know!  Only one thing now that you have to remember - the smaller the bills the better.  Using a twenty dollar bill there is like trying to break a one hundred at a flee market here.  I suggest hitting your local bank before leaving and getting 1/2 (yes, literally 1/2) of your travel money in 1's, 5's, and 10's.  Also, bring a couple rolls of quarters with you as you can tip in change. 

...Big Tipping = Less Friends...

I know that sounds crazy, we are accustomed to leaving 20% of our bill to our server.  Not in Ecuador.  Your server will be offended and also it creates a domino effect - if one person tips "large" then the next, and the next after that it, will slowly become the way of the land.  I know this sounds horrible, and believe me it is not what I think is fair, but thats how it is.  It is the primary reason why Ecuador's income per household is still so low.  Great for traveler but poor for locals. 

                        ...Taxi’s vs. Buses vs. Hitch Hiking...
As American's we typically take taxi's if we need public transportation.  When in Ecuador the bus system is a fantastic way to get around and CHEAP!  Most bus rotations run every 20 minutes and are color coded for easy navigation - want to go North get on the blue (azul) bus etc.  A word to the wise, when you board the bus state where you are going to the driver and see if he says "si" or "no" to insure you are riding the correct bus.  This is where your change will come in handy; buses typically cost 50 cents to $1.50 each way and they do not like to give out a ton of change.

Taxi's are wonderful too, they are air conditioned, and fast but do not give you a cultural experience whatsoever and cost more.  Also, most of the time you will be getting into a car that is not owned by a taxi service but a guy saying he will give you a ride.  Kinda like hitch hiking but you think it is a taxi service

Hitch hiking a ride from locals is also a great way to get from point A to point B.  However, it is not free and most of the time you will be riding in the back of a truck with other locals, livestock, or other hitch hikers/backpackers.  From my experience, it was the most run but just make sure you do not get ripped off.  Know how much it would have cost for a bus pass and pay only that or less.  If the driver gets fussy - give him what he wants :) 

Honeymoon Reflection

Ayampe, Ecuador
... A small village, with a big heart ...

We had a wonderful time in Ayampe for our honeymoon, the holistic village is exactly what we need after an extremely busy/crazy few months.  Our sales representative at United Military Travel (UMT) was wonderful, and made the process so simple!  And believe me, we needed simple!  Our trip was full of sunsets, reflecting, connections, and nature thanks to UMT's fantastic team!

While there we were immersed by two words - COMPASSION and SYNCHRONICITY.

We need to always have COMPASSION for our bodies, other, the environment, and be compassionate about life; live in the MOMENT not in the past or future.

SYNCHRONICITY is the experience of two or more events as meaningfully related, where they are unlikely to be casually related.  
The first time we heard this word was on the plane from Panama to Ecuador.  The lady sitting next to Josh made an uncanny connection with us, that at the time was exactly what we needed.  She said our meeting was what she recognized as synchronicity and not to ignore it...we will always remember her.  Also, in the book I was reading there-Aleph, by Paulo Coelho, he speaks of it multiple times.  Sometimes in life we get so caught up in the outside forces that we fail to recognize when we are in the right place - at the exact right time - and when we are with the exact people who are supposed to be in our lives.  Mine and Josh's goal for the rest of our lives is to always be aware and live in the present.

When we chose Ecuador as our honeymoon destination we questioned whether it was the right place to go but now we realize it was where we were meant to go.  There is something about the Pacific Ocean that does wonders for our souls...

A HUGE thank you goes out to United Military Travel for the cheap military airfare!  It was incredibly easy and fast to get approved for the travel loan - which is great for us sporadic travelers!  Check them out on Facebook too at or call 866-582-9579


 The 411 on traveling with United Military Travel...
"The world is a book, and those who do not travel only read a page."

First off welcome to my travel blog, that is me and my husband Josh to the left and we travel the world through United Military Travel (UMT)!  We both are guilty of being bit by wanderlust bug, we HAVE to take at least two trips a year to soothe our soul.  Traveling is a rarity for most people when it should be common and second nature.  Today, with companies like United Military Travel, exploring the world is basically placed at your finger tips...all you need is the spirit to enjoy life.  Below is some quick information on the company and why my family chose them over the others.

United Military Travel is an American owned company that specializes in 100% 
military travel financing for Military and government Personnel.  They finance both
 Active Duty and Career Retired Military members, as well as government
 employees.  Also, UMT currently works with all the major airlines and has 
negotiated contracts with major consolidators all over the world.  Reason why we
 chose UMT
Gotta love an American run company.
  1.  They require no down payment.
  2.  Offer Military discounted airfare tickets.
  3.  Offer Military discounted hotel reservations. 
  4. Offer Military discounted car reservations.
  5.  Their staff is competent, punctual, friendly, and fantastic!
  6.  They take the hassle away from dealing with the airlines - the only person you deal with is your travel consultant.  You tell them where, when, who etc and they take care of the rest.
  7.  If you have any questions about ticket details, upgrades, check-in times, international travel, baggage fees, carry-on guidelines, security guidelines, passport information, traveling with pets, infant tickets, and children traveling alone; United Military Travel is just a phone call away with answers at 866-582-9579.

What are you waiting for????????