Cusco & Machu Picchu, Peru

Day 23-26: Cusco, Peru

We touched down in Cusco after 12 hours of taxis, planes and transfers from Rio and Lima and welcomed the cool mountain air.


I’m a tropical climate girl at heart, but we were both ready for a new country and scenery. My flu was now on day 7 without any sign of slowing down, so I was also hoping the change in weather and altitude might improve things.

Our hostel sat at the top of a hill looking over the city, and looked more like a college campus/apartment complex (in a good way). We had splurged $56/night for a private room for my birthday, and were led up several flights of stairs to what we called the penthouse suite, complete with a view of the entire city and mountains beyond.


Hands down, best $56 ever spent (the beds were a dream, too).

I knew something was off when I struggled to make it up just one flight of stairs, and my illness wasn’t to blame. The altitude caught up to me as soon as we settled into our room as my head began to pound and my heart wouldn’t stop racing.


Cusco sits at 11,200 feet above sea level and altitude sickness can start to set in at 8000 feet. Machu Picchu is at 7970, for reference (convenient, right?)


Our symptoms subsided after that first night but for the next week spent in Cusco, my heart rate was always elevated and it was difficult to walk at any incline. High altitude is no joke!


Lucas stocked up on meds from the pharmacy for me and we immediately extended our stay, spending much of the next 3 days and nights huddled in bed, enjoying the hot showers and watching the sky change colors from our window.


We did manage to squeeze in a day tour of the city, stopping at a ruins site and getting up close and personal with llamas.


After the tour we were dropped off nowhere near our hostel in the pouring rain, so we found the nearest local spot to grab dinner and it was every bit as good as we’d been told to expect from Peru—and so much cheaper than Brazil!


The following day we set out in search for warmer clothing, which is a challenge to find in a city full of all tourist shops. We located something labeled “Mall” on our GPS and headed in that direction.


Several streets off the main tourist square, we had clearly entered the locals area with residents selling fruit and vegetables on the sidewalks of narrow roads and alleyways. Eventually we ended up in front of an enclosed building with rows of open storage units where vendors hung and stacked piles of their wares for sale.


We roamed the aisles, looking for normal clothes until we both found a pair of knockoff brand sweatpants—not nearly the bargain we expected them to be and you can’t haggle on the prices either—but we got them anyway.


The real gem of this outing was the row of “restaurants” on the other end, aka a couple people in a cubby cooking food. We ordered something we had never heard of for 5 soles each (less than $2) and were handed a big bowl of some sort of delicious rice, chicken and potato concoction.


A mug of freshly squeezed papaya/strawberry and mango juice from the cubicle next door and we had ourselves the best lunch in town for around $7. And this town is very touristy, so we’re hoping to really save money once we head to the lesser traveled towns.

Day 27-28:  Machu Picchu

By day 4 in Cusco my hearing still hadn’t fully returned and the congestion and nightly coughing fits weren’t going away, but we were anxious to get to Machu Picchu and I felt well enough to take the trip, so we booked it that day (ps: anyone have recommendations on how to clear stubborn head/ear congestion?!)


There are several ways to get there, and we had originally planned on doing a jungle trek which is 4 days of mountain biking, ziplining, water rafting and hiking but with my current condition that was no longer an option. Instead we decided to do the bus/train/bus route, which ended up being four hours of perhaps the most scenic drive I’ve ever witnessed.


The bus led us through open fields and small Peruvian villages with clay homes built onto the side of a cliff opposite steep forested mountains and rivers below.

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The staggering size and presence of the Andes mountains as you near Machu Picchu can only be truly appreciated in person. They rise from the earth abruptly, like a wall of granite and jungle straight to the sky with their peaks permanently shrouded by clouds. Our train had windows in the ceiling just so you could see the top of them.


On Friday afternoon we arrived in Aguas Calientes, the small town just outside of Machu Picchu. A hot springs nearby had been recommended, so we figured we’d give the cities’ namesake a visit.


It rained as we walked through the village with no cars, past souvenir shops and a football field, over bridges and up muddy hills.


The view from the top was beautiful, even in the rain and foggy mountains.


We stayed in the pool for over two hours, drinking pisco sours and making friends with Canadians, and coincidentally meeting two different people from my small hometown. The steady downpour continued as we soaked in the steamy sulphuric water, and it was one of our simplest yet best memories of Peru.


At 5:23am on Saturday the alarm rang and off we went, eager to witness this wonder of the world. The 25 minute bus ride to the entrance felt as if we were stepping back into the Jurassic period—I was half expecting to see a dinosaur pop out from behind a mountain.


The early morning fog was thick, but that didn’t take away from the majestic beauty just steps from the entrance.

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We followed a tour guide for the first two hours, who led us through the ruins, teaching of Incan history. It rained off and on with a steady inflow of clouds and fog, enveloping the surrounding mountains.

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This has to be the most photogenic place on earth… half of these images are from my iphone. Can you tell which ones? (I can’t).


Just as the Incas did, we prayed to the Sun God and within a couple hours, the skies began to clear.

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For seven hours we explored Machu Picchu—discovering hiding spots in the ruins, finding the best vantage points and taking selfies with llamas, naturally.

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While a trek would have been amazing, it wasn’t in the cards for us but I wouldn’t trade our experience for anything. We both agreed it was the best day of our trip so far, and we were able to relax and take our time (and witness the scenery in a range of weather).


As I write this now on the bus back to Cusco, images of Machu Picchu are all I can see when I close my eyes—they’ve been forever burned into my mind, and I hope I never forget the feeling of this day.


On our last day in Cusco, the sky put on a farewell display in the form of a double rainbow:


Best way to end an unforgettable birthday week. Last night we left the city for a week long (potentially longer) bus trip around the south of Peru where we’ll eventually end up in Lima. Machu Picchu may be the most breathtaking sight, but we’re ready for a new adventure (and lower altitude!)

Follow my instagram stories & snapchat to watch live daily updates and join us for the ride! More on the way from Peru…


3 Weeks in Brazil: Our first Travel Video

You’ve seen the photos and read the stories since we began our travel adventure… but there’s something about video that captures the experience in a way nothing else can.

Here is our first travel video, documenting our amazing three weeks in Brazil (including the proposal!) Click below to watch:


I spent countless hours shooting and editing (Lucas actually did about half of the shooting—this has become a fun project for us to work together on) and we can’t wait to make more!

We hope you enjoy the video and welcome any feedback so we can continue to improve and make these fun for you to watch.

The next post will be from Peru, and you can follow my instagram stories and snapchat for daily updates!




Salvador & Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

Day 15-19: Salvador, Brazil

On Easter Sunday we woke up in our hotel room, still blissfully happy from our engagement the night before.IMG_6325

We said goodbye to Rio as we boarded a plane to Salvador, 700 miles up the coast.

Our hostel in Salvador had given us broad instructions to take a public bus into town, and we circled outside of the mostly deserted airport, unable to find anyone who could point us in the right direction. Finally, we spotted what appeared to be a bus stop across a field behind the parking lots and waited there, wondering if we should go back and spend the $10 on an uber. 


Two English speaking Jehovah’s Witness missionaries noticed our confusion and approached us, explaining which bus to take while handing over pamphlets about how we need to be saved. They definitely saved us, and 30 minutes later we paid 80 cents as we loaded our backpacks onto the bus and settled in for the 15 mile ride.

15 miles turned into two hours, as the bus stopped every few blocks, opening its doors to a rotating cast of interesting characters. We were told to get off at the last stop, and that we couldn’t miss it as the bus would stay there for several minutes. We knew it was getting close, but then it started driving in the opposite direction. Worried we had missed our stop and unable to ask anyone (language barrier) we decided to hop off at the next stop, which was now nearly a mile from our hostel. In most places this wouldn’t be a problem, but this is Brazil. We’d heard the constant warnings from both locals and travelers to stay in crowded areas/safe zones, and this bus stop was neither. It was raining and the streets were deserted, apart from a few questionable wandering men. We had no choice but to walk with all of our belongings to our hostel, fast. 


Even walking the streets alone in Vietnam I felt more safe than I do here (both Rio and Salvador) in broad daylight with Lucas. Maybe we’re being overly cautious, but we’ve met people in every city who had been robbed or witnessed a robbery. Our hostel gave us a map with a path drawn and warned us to stay on that path. As we were nearing our hostel that day, about to turn right, a local stopped us and motioned to not walk down that street (which looked just like any other street). Cops in military gear stand on the street corners all day, and behind us as we eat dinner on the sidewalk as if they’re our personal guards.


I rarely took my phone anywhere and only brought my camera out of the hostel once. Being an obvious target doesn’t help the situation, but it’s unusual to not be able to freely explore a city and to be on constant high alert. 


On the first day, we took a risk and brought my camera out of the hostel to try and capture a few shots. A capoeira group was in the main square putting on a show with a drum ensemble. We approached them and they grabbed Lucas to join in (video coming soon!). It was one of the highlights of our time here, and fascinating to watch.

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But the biggest highlight of Salvador… it’s where I found my ring! 


If you read the proposal story, you know that Lucas had lost the ring so we planned to find a new one together at our next destination. We walked into a jewelry store with nothing specific in mind, except that it had to be unique and non-traditional. I’d heard that Brazil was known for its gemstones, and the jeweler said she had something special that she thought I’d love. She opened a bag of raw uncut imperial topaz jewels, which are rare and mined only in Brazil.


I chose the palest pink/peach stone and had it cut into a 3.8 carat irregular shape, and set into a custom brushed rose gold band. Three days later it was ready, and it’s absolutely perfect.


On Tuesday we had a boat trip planned, but I woke up feeling sick and couldn’t make it out of bed, let alone a boat. Worry began to set in with all of the potential viruses in the area, so we decided to see a doctor to be safe. After getting instructions to a free clinic, we finally found it and attempted to communicate (via google translate on our phone). It was a long and confusing process, and they had us wait in a hallway for an hour before telling us the only doctor who speaks some English couldn’t see me that day.

With half the day wasted, we then got an uber to another free clinic 5 miles away, and watched the lost driver circle around the city for an hour, not following GPS. When we finally arrived, there was a line of 50+ people out the door of a sweaty dark room with bugs and screaming kids. With my condition deteriorating, I attempted to ask how long the wait was but they didn’t understand/wouldn’t answer. Frustrated, we gave up and got a taxi back to our hostel. It was easily the worst day of this trip… but then I stop and realize where I’m at, who I’m with, and I wouldn’t trade any of this for the world.


Still determined to find a doctor, we bit the bullet and went to an expensive private hospital. Like the day before, it was a long process with many obstacles, but after several hours we were able to confirm that it was indeed a regular flu virus and nothing more. Whew. 


At the pharmacy we stocked up on every medicine we could and I hibernated in bed for the next couple days. Unfortunately, the symptoms only worsened and the next day we had tickets to Gamboa Beach, next to the bustling town of Morro de São Paulo. We stuck to the plan though, anxious to leave Salvador and see one last town before leaving Brazil. 


Day 20-22: Gamboa & Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

Continuing our trend of bad luck with transportation, the tour bus forgot to pick us up and we spent all day waiting in their office. By sunset we boarded the ferry and stood on the top deck for the 80 minute ride, watching the sky change colors and the cars sway beneath us.


The warm breeze felt refreshing on my achy body as I was taken back to the feeling of my ferry boat rides across the open ocean in Thailand. This time around it’s much more fulfilling. 


The next three hours consisted of more transfers, the coldest two hour bus ride of my life, another boat ride and carrying our bags along an empty beach at night until we finally found our hostel, 12 hours after we’d left that morning. Travel days can be the most challenging part of backpacking, and it’s compounded when you’re sick. 

Between crowded airports, stuffy buses packed with people, dirty hostels, lack of sleep, new germs and weakened immune system, illness is almost guaranteed. It’s also a reminder that we’re not on vacation—this is our life for the next 7 months, and  as tempting as it is to want to live it up in every city with the new friends you meet, we need to take time off to rest. We’re not in college anymore and our bodies can’t sustain that lifestyle (getting old is no fun, am I right?!) so we’re still trying to figure out the right balance.


Our $45/night pousada (we upgraded from a hostel) was the ideal place to detox. We had the entire place to ourselves, and enjoyed the company of the sweet family who ran it along with two playful puppies.


See the favela on the hilltop in the background? We were instructed to stay on the beach and not take any back roads. Didn’t feel safe in Gamboa either.



On Friday it rained, and we sat in the hammocks overlooking the ocean and beautiful gardens for 10 hours straight—just what the doctor ordered. I even started to feel better, so we finally booked that boat tour we’d been looking forward to.


The recovery was short lived though, as I woke up Saturday morning in a deteriorated condition with loss of hearing in one ear due to congestion. We canceled the boat trip (again) but we hadn’t come all this way for nothing, so instead we caught the next ferry to Morro de São Paulo. 


And within moments of stepping on shore, I was in my new favorite place in Brazil. It felt like a Disney park with hilly cobblestone streets, walls painted with bright intricate murals, lush plant life and a winding river—and it felt safe.

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We made our way through narrow alleyways until finding our new pousada, tucked away in a jungle-like setting with a rooftop view. 


We spent the day on the beach, soaking up our last rays of Brazilian sun, eating ceviche and sipping from coconuts. It was a national holiday weekend so the island was packed, and we were surely the only Americans there (still nowhere near tan enough to blend in).

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At night the streets filled with live music and lively crowds singing in a mix of Portuguese and Spanish. We found an Italian restaurant with a deck view of the festivities below and spent the evening people watching. When we come back to Brazil one day, Morro de São Paulo is a must visit—I just wish we had more time here.


As we make our way back to the airport bound for Peru tomorrow, it’s hard to believe we’ve only been here three weeks. It feels like ages ago that we took in Rio’s breathtaking skyline from a cable car on our first night in the city, and I’m leaving this country a different person than when I entered—now engaged and planning a future for two.


Brazil will always hold a special place in my heart, and now I’ll carry a piece of it on my ring finger forever. Thank you for the memories. 

See you next week from Peru!


Ilha Grande & Paraty, Brazil

Thank you all so much for the kind words regarding our engagement! It means everything to us—we are truly feeling the love and couldn’t be happier or more excited for this next chapter <3 

Day 8-10: Ilha Grande, Brazil

A bus arrived at our hostel in the morning bound for the island of Ilha Grande, where we had booked a beachfront hostel for the next two nights. The driver spoke only Portuguese but we were told the trip would take just a few hours. We watched our location on our phones’ GPS, confused as it continued to move farther in the opposite direction of our destination. I reached for my seatbelt as the bus came inches from the guard rail and was taken back to the days of wild rides through Southeast Asia. The driver maneuvered the bus like a formula 1 car, swerving around traffic with one hand on the wheel while texting with the other, to a soundtrack of 90’s American rock ballads on repeat.


Fortunately, we made it in one piece and were led to a pier where we boarded a boat headed for the island. Thirty minutes later my feet hit the sand and I was instantly in love. With our backpacks in tow, we trekked along the shoreline past colorful weathered buildings, cafes with live music and lively crowds drinking cervejas. Our hostel was situated at the far end of the beach with a postcard worthy view of the entire bay and surrounding mountains covered in dense forest.


We dropped our belongings off in our dorm and set out to see as much of the island as possible in the remaining daylight hours. Moving away from town, a dirt trail led us along the rocky eastern coast through forests with glowing bugs, abandoned buildings and vine covered stone walls. At dusk, we found a quiet beach and watched the sun set over our new island paradise.


That night in our six bedroom shared dorm I got to relive the full backpacker experience. Up until that night we had stayed in a private room, but those are $100/night on this island and costs have been adding up quicker than expected. Instead we payed $30/night each for a twin bed in shared bunks. That same bed is $5/night in Cambodia, for reference. I knew Brazil wouldn’t be as affordable as Southeast Asia, but Rio is not cheap by any standard. You can find some inexpensive street food and drinks, but we’ve found that restaurants and lodging are typical of average US prices.


People often ask how we are able to afford to travel for months at a time, and apart from my shop/blog which I operate online, using credit card points for flights and saving up some cash, it’s pretty simple: we don’t get fancy. That means sacrificing luxurious accommodations and staying in hostels (bonus: you meet awesome people from around the world) and not dining at 5 star restaurants. We stray off the beaten path, take cheap overnight buses and use public transportation. For us, cold showers, sweaty dorms and no wi-fi are worth once in a lifetime experiences that we couldn’t otherwise afford.


Don’t get me wrong—we do splurge from time to time and we’ve planned for that in this trip (Europe is certainly not going to be this cheap). But I lived for $30/day in Southeast Asia and did everything I wanted without worrying about cost. Here in Brazil so far we’ve been living on around $110/day, not including our flight to Rio, and this is the most expensive city. To put things into perspective, our cost just to live in San Francisco was significantly higher—so we get to explore the most exotic locations in the world for less than the price of rent. Technically, we’re actually saving money this way 😉


But these days of hostel living are numbered, I thought to myself as I woke up and removed my ear plugs—which failed to keep me from waking up at all hours of the night. The last two to get out of bed, we dragged ourselves to the deck and filled our plates with the exact same breakfast served by every hostel in Brazil (they must get a group discount?). After fighting off the bees, we dined on pineapple, watermelon, cake and stale Frosted Flakes while watching colorful boats fill the bay.


I counted the constellations of bug bites on my legs as we planned our route for a hike to a waterfall and beach, and made sure to lather on the bug spray and feet. Lucas had an impressive farmers tan and my legs were still peeling from a Florida sunburn a month ago.


Weighed down by my camera equipment and thick humid air, our hike through the forest was slow and scenic. With Macchu Picchu planned in a couple weeks, we need all the training we can get.


We cooled off in the waterfall and finally made it to the beach, where we spent an hour evening out our tans and enjoying açai (of course).


Night life is quiet on the small island with no cars or transportation, and our evenings consisted of card games and cervejas with an assortment of Dutch, German and British guys. We also stumbled upon a homemade Argentinian pasta restaurant, and it was hands down the best meal I’ve had in Brazil. Top ten in my life, and I’m not even a big pasta eater.

The best day of the trip so far was our boat tour of the surrounding islands. We stopped at six different locations, ranging from lagoons to sandy beaches to private islands.


There we snorkeled in the reefs of turquoise waters, sipped on sake and ate bananas while practicing our Spanish with lawyers from Argentina.


Halfway through our day the clouds rolled in and threatened our picture perfect beach day, but that didn’t stop us from setting up some fun video shots with the GoPro (video coming soon!)


We also spotted and snorkeled with a big turtle at one stop, which completely made our trip. If you are coming to this area of Brazil, Ilha Grande is a must.


Day 11-12: Paraty, Brazil

The next morning we had an afternoon bus booked to Paraty, which is a charming colonial town a couple hours south of Ilha Grande. The sky had opened up and it was pouring rain as we boarded a taxi boat back to the mainland. There were no actual seats, and we squished along the sides of the boat with 50 other people and our bags piled around us, every surface drenched in water.

This boat was very different than the one we arrived on, slowed by the choppy seas and wind that began blowing the storm into the boat. Mothers shielded their babies and umbrellas were opened as the boat rocked and the ocean came in through the bottom of the floor (if you saw the video of this on instagram/snapchat, you’ll remember how crazy it was).


Sketchy transportation seems to be a recurring theme in Brazil.

But fortunately, again we survived, and two hours later we were safe and sound in the picturesque town of Paraty.


Our hostel was once again empty, so we spent the next two days enjoying each others company and exploring as much of the area as we could.


This place is an instagrammer’s paradise if I’ve ever seen one. Rocky cobblestone streets and old buildings loaded with character.


We stayed mostly in the old town where no cars are allowed, and walked down each street of cafes, ice cream and tourist shops. The centuries-old buildings are preserved with patches of history showing through, each with a unique style of colorful doors and windows.


Rows of vibrant wooden boats line the river and bay surrounding the city center.


On the first night we ducked into a restaurant with live acoustic jazz and made friends with our waiter, Roberto, who used to live in New Jersey and has a wife and kids living in Florida. He rarely meets Americans and gave us free passion fruit and special cachaça. He had the most interesting Portuguese/Spanish/New Jersey accent.


We also found a gourmet artesanal burger shop with one of the top 3 burgers I’ve ever tried (Brazil has treated me well in the food category) and stopped at a cachaçaria to buy a bottle of the flavored cachaça we tried the night before (this area of Brazil is known for their distilleries which make the specialty cachaças).


It rained the entire first day, but it was probably for the better as I was able to catch up on work (and write this post!)


I would have loved to stay longer in Paraty, but what I didn’t know then is that we were about to spend one last night in Rio that would change things forever.

Stories from Salvador, up next…


Our Engagement Story

My grandmother would have been 100 years old on Saturday, and I know her spirit was there, shining through the clouds as Lucas got on one knee and asked me to marry him as the sun set over Rio de Janeiro. This trip suddenly has a whole new meaning.


I was finishing up my post about our second week in Brazil, but after the announcement, I can’t leave you hanging! I’ll be back soon with our regularly scheduled content.

We had returned from the south coast of Brazil for two more nights in Rio before heading up north to Salvador, and after a quiet week of relaxing on the beach we were ready for something a bit more lively.


Our new hostel was known for its parties, and we booked $11 beds in a shared dorm. A complete 180° from every previous hostel, this one was packed with folks (who spoke English) and we quickly made friends with our French and Swedish roommates. It was a Friday night which meant street party in Lapa—our second time going, but it was even more crowded this week as there was no rain.

No details needed, but it was easily the most memorable night of our trip and one that will be hard to beat.


Feeling quite groggy the next morning after lack of sleep, we were determined to spend our last day visiting Christ the Redeemer and watching the sun set at Arpoador rock.


After a long and confusing bus ride/transfer service, we finally arrived at Cristo Redentor. Tip: never go on a Saturday during good weather after a week of rain, especially the day before Easter (especially if you have claustrophobia).


It was a zoo, and we were herded like cattle to the viewing platform, fighting our way to the edge to try and get a photo each time the clouds cleared. It took about 2 hours to get these photos, but very worth it. And the ever changing mix of blue sky and clouds swirling around Christ—magical.


By the time we got our photos a few hours later than planned, we had to rush to Copacabana before the sun set. The metro dropped us off just in time and the sky began to change colors as we ran down the boardwalk towards the rock. Just before the end of the beach, Lucas stopped me and told me to wait there while he grabbed something. Thinking nothing of it, I paused to take a quick video, and a few minutes later we were back on the run.

We climbed past the crowd to the back of the rock, where I found a clearing to set my camera down to record a time lapse of the sunset (or so I thought). Making sure we were visible in the frame, Lucas turned me towards him, said that we had made some amazing memories together so far and we’re about to make so many more, and kneeled down with a ring. I was legitimately shocked, to the point of asking him if this was real (several times). The crowd took notice and began to clap, and of course I said yes and spent the next five minutes trying to comprehend what had just happened.


Sidenote: Funny(ish) story… an hour before the proposal, Lucas realized he had lost the ring (as in, not misplaced it or left it in the hostel, but it was gone forever somewhere in the streets of Rio). Needing a Plan B quick, he bought one off a street vendor along the beach for $3 as we were rushing to catch the sunset—hence the reason he told me to stop and wait there.


We both agree it actually worked out for the better though, because now we get to go find one together on this trip, and the story behind it is much better than the jewel itself. I’ve heard Brazil is known for their gemstones so I can’t wait to find the one 😉

Back to the story. After the initial shock wore off, it was pure elation as we found an all you can eat Brazilian BBQ, splurged on a fancy dinner and stuffed ourselves with steak and caipirinhas.


That night we ditched our sweaty hostel dorm and stayed in a hotel across the street, enjoying our first hot shower and uninterrupted night of sleep in a week.

As I write this now from 30,000 feet in the air, I’m looking to my left at a beautiful man fast asleep, tears welling up as it hits me that I get to wake up to him forever. Memorizing the markings on his tanned skin, smell of his hair, color of his lips and the shape of his hands so I’ll never forget what our love was like in the beginning. Wishing I could freeze this moment and equally anticipating growing old together. These are the best days of our lives…


More stories from Brazil on the way.


Panama City & Rio de Janeiro

I’ve decided to document this trip in a daily diary entry style—sharing bits and pieces of our experiences and observations along the way, accompanied by photos and video vlogs. Some entries will be shorter than others or combined into multiple days, but this seems like the best way to go about organizing the memories that will be made over the next year.

I hope you’ll enjoy following along, perhaps learn more about these places and even feel as if you’re there, experiencing it all with us. We’ve just booked our flight to Peru for April 23rd, so after three weeks in Brazil I’ll post the first video vlog (there’s some amazing shots already, and I can’t wait to share that with you!) In the meantime, you can follow our photos on instagram at #JandLtraveltheworld.

For now, let’s kick off this crazy seven month adventure with our first week abroad…

Day 1: Panama City, Panama

After arriving at 5:45 am on a red eye which I could not fall asleep on, we made our way to the Copa airport lounge where I chugged three cappuccinos and watched the sunrise. The condensation forming on the windows was a welcoming sight—after months of a cold and dry San Francisco climate, we were ready for the tropical air.

An uber dropped us off at the Mercado de Mariscos, which is the famous local market where fishing boats dock and serve their catches of the day in an alleyway lined with ceviche cafes. It was 9am on a Sunday and nothing was open, so we continued to the streets of Casco Viejo.


Downtown Panama City is something else—much more impressive than I had expected. From the Cinta Costera, you get an unobstructed view of the sprawling skyline, packed with modern skyscrapers and unique architecture, reminiscent of a Miami waterfront view.


It’s a stark contrast to the 17th century world heritage site of Casco Viejo, a charming peninsula of narrow cobblestone roads lined with Spanish style buildings mixed with squares, statues and abandoned ruins. It was nearly deserted as we wandered through the streets, already sweating from the humidity.


An older gentleman approached us on the street and we followed him around the town—stopping in a hole in the wall café for lunch, and exploring the outskirts where the locals reside as he gave us insight into the history and culture.


By this time, the fish market had finally opened and was more lively, with ceviche bars surrounding the perimeter and waiters desperately trying to pull you in. We found the only table next to a giant fan and a few minutes later we were eating spoonfuls of fresh ceviche from a styrofoam cup and sipping Panama’s national beer. Just as quick as it had begun, we were back on a plane en route to Brazil.

Day 2: Central Rio de Janeiro

After checking into our hostel at 3am and sleeping for the first time in 30 hours, we wandered the streets of our new temporary home.

The smell of churrasco (Brazilian bbq) led us to a small, bar counter style local spot and we scanned the menu for any familiar words. Even with our basic knowledge of Spanish, Portuguese is completely foreign to us (apparently the Google translate app is just as confused). We pointed to a “combination meal for two” along with an agua, assuming that could be nothing else other than water. Instead we were handed a soda bottle that said “H2O” and was most definitely some form of Sprite.



Minutes later, a giant plate of green rice and French fries was placed on the counter. Then a plate of what appeared to be chunks of egg coated in flour. Then a bowl of beans, a bowl of salsa, and finally, a platter of steak, chicken, sausage, onions and peppers. Normally I clean my plate, but we didn’t even make a dent in this feast that could have easily fed four football players. First impression of Rio: Brazilians like to eat.


The rest of the day was spent digesting our food and figuring out the public bus system to get to Sugarloaf Mountain so we could watch the sun set over the city. We made it to the cable car ticket booth with an hour to spare, paid 80 reais each and glided up to the first peak, in awe of the breathtaking scenery below. It was our first real view of the city, and it was quite something to witness in person.


We boarded the second cable car up to the highest peak, and squeezed our way in through the crowds to grab a front row seat of the light show. From the top there’s a 360 degree view—from the city center to Cristo Redentor, to the beaches of Ipanema and islands off the coast. Sunbeams highlighted the favelas on the cliffs and the sky turned shades of deep pink and purple. Helicopters and birds hovered above us as small mass of clouds formed at the base of the Christ in the distance, and the crowd clapped as the sun dipped below the horizon.




It could have been the ending scene from a movie, and I was so glad to have been able to capture those shots (video to come!)



Feeling energized from what we’d just witnessed, we arrived back at our hostel ready to experience Rio’s infamous nightlife scene. After meeting other travelers from different parts of the world, we ended up in an uber with a Norwegian couple, on our way to a neighborhood known for the biggest parties. We ordered four caipirinhas—a potent Brazilian staple made with pure sugarcane liquor, sugar and lime—from a guy on the street who had been there for 20 years.

Soon after we found ourselves dancing the night away to a random mix of salsa, Shakira, rap, the Macarena, and American oldies. The people were just as diverse as the music, and we ended up closing the bar down with our new friends and great memories for our first night in Rio.


Day 3-4: Central Rio de Janeiro

The next two days in central Rio were filled with exploring the city’s vibrant neighborhoods, sampling the local cuisine and learning about its’ long history.

We hiked up winding cobblestone streets through Santa Teresa, past colorful doors and painted walls. The area was quiet and calm, with shady trees and city views along the way—reminiscent of the San Francisco streets I frequently walked through.


From there we entered the Parque de Ruinas, I tried my first of many Brazilian açaís, and took in 360 degree views from the top balcony.

IMG_6054 IMG_8811

A free walking tour brought us to the Escadaria Selarón—an iconic Rio landmark of colorfully tiled steps. We passed by street vendors selling everything from VHS tapes to staplers, dish racks to naked baby dolls sprawled out on blankets on the sidewalk.



Even more common than street vendors are confectioneries. Brazilians love their bread and sweets, and as a sugar addict, it’s both a blessing and a curse. For breakfast we’d walk to a local café and choose a handful of mysterious stuffed and fried breaded treats, savoring each bite as we guessed what was inside. Fortunately, we’re averaging 5-10 miles on foot each day to balance out the influx of carbs and sugar (at least that’s our reasoning).


Walking through Rio is a feast for the eyes. The walls are covered in bright murals and graffiti—but the graffiti there is welcomed and a defining feature of the city. Each building is different, with interesting architecture and beautiful carved doors in every shape, size and color. Even the sidewalks are works of art with mosaic tiles laid in unique patterns which vary by neighborhood.


On a quiet Tuesday night, we sat on a romantic terrace surrounded by trees and string lights, sipped fancy cocktails and dined on the best meal we’d had in Rio. Later, a bartender exhibition rolled through and we watched and cheered as they performed tricks, spinning and throwing cups as they mixed the ingredients together. Our first few nights in Rio were relatively quiet, but the weekend is when it really comes alive.

Day 5-7: Copacabana & Ipanema

By Thursday we had relocated to Copacabana to check out Rio’s picturesque beaches. The waters of Copacabana beach were a bit rough, so we walked to the neighboring Ipanema, on a wavy mosaic sidewalk past the rows of bars, food stands and vendors. A local pointed us in the direction of food (fortunately, the word for food is the same in Spanish and Portuguese) where we bought empanadas and rented an umbrella.


Our white skin made it clear we were tourists on a beach filled with rows of dark Brazilian bodies. People watching is the best in foreign countries—especially on one of the world’s most famous beaches. My favorite character was the Portuguese speaking, blue bearded hippie cowboy, drinking liquor out of a wine glass behind us and preaching to bystanders—if only we understood a word he was saying.


After getting our fill of sun and açaí bowls, we made our way to Arpoador Rock to watch the sunset. This small peninsula divides Copacabana and Ipanema beaches and attracts locals and tourists alike. It’s the perfect spot to sip a cheap caipirinha and take in the views as the sun dips below the horizon and the city begins to glow.



Our hostel threw a barbecue party Friday night, where we joined a crowd of mostly locals and other South Americans, and were able to practice our Spanish with new Argentinian friends. Later we went to the famous Lapa neighborhood, home of Rio’s biggest nightlife scene. The rain began to pick up but that didn’t stop hundreds of partygoers from hopping from bar to bar and gathering in the streets. We found cheap fruity caipirinhas and met a Danish girl who introduced us to her group of friends as we wandered the streets, ducking into bars and dancing along the way. By this point it was pouring outside, but we welcomed the cool rain on our sweaty sunburned skin.


The backpacking scene is quite different in South America than Southeast Asia. As English speakers, we’re in the minority so it’s not as easy to make friends (thankfully we have each other!)


One night we hopped around to random hostels and joined a group for a big party on the street, filled with hundreds of locals socializing as Brazilian music played from the bars. There we met a couple girls from New York, and we all ended up at an outdoor night club at the base of a horse racing track. The crowd was lively and filled with nationalities from around the world. We danced with Argentinians and sang with Australians and cuddled with friendly cats. The dance floor was surrounded by straw huts where we escaped to enjoy the quiet solitude—an illuminated Christ the Redeemer visible in the distance with the lagoon and city lights below. This city is truly something special to experience.


Next up: the island paradise of Ilha Grande…



Our Story

As we settle into our first temporary home in Rio, overwhelmed by all of the kind comments and messages left after the announcement, we wanted to take a moment to reflect on our journey and what led us to this point (click to watch):

Our Story

Since meeting in Vietnam 18 months ago during our own solo backpacking trips, it feels as though we have come full circle, now embarking on this new adventure together. My one regret is not having any video from those life changing months, but this time around I’m making it a priority.

This video is the first of our travel series as we explore the sights, cities and people over the next several months. I still plan to blog and take photos, but I’m also hoping to capture our story in a different way—one that can take you on this journey with us so you can feel as if you’re part of the experience.

Thanks to instagram and snapchat, I’m able to easily share these moments much more frequently, so make sure to follow me there for daily updates in between the posts/vlogs!

Thank you again for being along for the ride. It means a lot to us to know we have so much support from friends all around the world.

More to come from Rio,


A New Adventure Begins

On August 14th, 2015, I published a post that changed the course of this blog and the direction of my life forever.

In two days I’ll be on a plane to Asia and life will never be the same … I bought a one way ticket to Bangkok to leave this life behind and start over.”


Today’s announcement is strangely similar, yet different in so many ways.

In two days, I’ll be on a plane to South America with a one way ticket to Rio. But this time I’ll have someone by my side… and this trip is not about starting over—it’s about the start of our own great adventure, together.


When I returned home from Asia to sell my house, I never thought I’d stay. I couldn’t wait to get back to a nomadic lifestyle, waking up to new places and people every day. But there was someone I had met along the way who would change those plans.

Lucas was moving to San Francisco to settle down, and as difficult as the decision was to stay with him in California, I knew I’d never be able to walk away from this connection we had.


That connection grew into love, and the beginning of a life together in the city. He found a great career, and I decided to fully pursue real estate with the purchase of my first flip.


But there was something missing. A void had been left in the absence of travel, and it was growing by the day. A piece of me was gone, and nothing could replace it. I couldn’t look at those old photos, relive the memories or even talk about my time abroad without mourning the loss of the path I didn’t take.


Some part of Lucas felt the same, and he was also re-evaluating his career path and life plans.

After many long conversations, we both knew what we needed to do.


It was because of a risk we both took in 2015—him leaving his career to backpack overseas for several months and me walking away from a marriage to do the same—that ended up being the best decision of our lives, and the one that brought us together. There was no hesitation, it was time to make that same decision again.


A couple months ago, Lucas quit his job and a we booked a flight to Rio, where we’ll begin our backpacking trip through South America and Europe for the next seven months.

Just as we each did during our own travels throughout Southeast Asia, we have very little booked or planned because it’s all about the journey, not the destination. We’ll follow our internal compass and let our encounters lead the way.


At the end of this year, we plan to return home for the holidays before packing up and moving to Florida in January. We’ll settle in Tampa/St. Petersburg and start our own real estate company, investing through rehabbing, selling and renting homes. We’ve both put a lot of time and thought into this decision and are prepared to fully commit ourselves to this business.


That leads us to the future of this blog. I can’t make any promises about what to expect over the next several months while we’re traveling, but I can say that I will focus on raising the bar for my videos/vlogging (the next one is coming soon!)

There will still be blog updates, but they may not be as lengthy as they were during my last travels—it’s tough to predict right now. Lucas has also shown interest in contributing with his own posts from time to time, coming from a different perspective of transitioning from the corporate world to self employment, which some of you may be able to relate to.


I know many of you only read this blog for the home décor content, and I understand if you
decide to check out until that resumes next January—I’m expecting it to come back bigger than ever once there are two of us working at it full time! But for those of you who stuck around and enjoyed following my first solo journey, there’s a lot more where that came from. And it’s never going away, as we have both vowed to make travel a priority for the rest of our lives.


There are still many unknowns ahead, but we’ve learned that is where the magic happens… in following your heart and letting the universe guide you to where you’re meant to be. Each day is precious and tomorrow is not guaranteed, so there’s no time to waste.


Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all—and our adventure begins now.


Giveaway Week: Lowe’s

We’re ending Giveaway Week with a store that has practically become my second home during this renovation…



I’ve been a loyal Lowe’s customer for years, since I bought my very first power tool. They were part of the early days as I stumbled my way through DIY projects in the Florida house, moved onto my first full kitchen renovation, and I used them for nearly everything in this cottage flip. From the the cabinets, counters, tile, sink, faucet and appliances in the kitchen


To the brick pavers in the laundry and bathroom


The dining room chandelier and floors…


The lanterns and adirondack chairs, and of course all of the landscaping, paint, wood and supplies for my DIY projects (both interior and exterior)…


No matter what space I’m renovating, they’re always the first place I look to. And lucky for you, they’re also generous because I’ve got a $250 gift card to give away!

prizegrab-lowes-200Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). It’s open to international residents, and the giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th (the winner will be emailed the following day, March 27th).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to everyone!

Next week I’m dropping some big news that will answer the question of “What’s next?”… things are about to change in a big way, and you won’t want to miss this announcement 😉


Giveaway Week: Wayfair

Today is Day 4 of Giveaway Week, and it’s one you all know and love!


Those of you who follow my blog already know what a huge Wayfair fan I am, and that you can find their products in nearly every room in the cottage flip. They brought the personality to the bedrooms with unique and affordable items—you just can’t beat that combination.

I could be here all night listing off all my finds, but here are some of my favorites from the flip. The bedding, chandelier, lamps and mirror in Bedroom 1. Sigh.



These ridiculously affordable glass sconces (that I bought 5 of)—and classic gold round mirror:


This show stopping patterned tile (and chandelier, sink, and shower faucet set):


The sweet floral bedding in Bedroom 4:


Actually, all of their bedding. These flannel sheets were perfect for Bedroom 2:


There selection is huge and always changing, so I spend more time browsing Wayfair than probably anywhere else when putting together room designs. And one of you are about to do the same because Wayfair is giving away $250 in store credit to a lucky reader!

Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below (use one or more of the options for as many entries as you’d like). The giveaway period ends at 11:59pm next Sunday, March 26th, and the winner will be emailed the following day (March 27th).

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck to all, and stay tuned for the last giveaway tomorrow!