Living Like Mayan Kings: Exploring the Temples of Tikal

mayan ruins tikal

As much as we loved Antigua and were still sore from climbing volcanoes, it was time to head to one of the major sites for Mayan ruins in Central America—Tikal National Park. We had heard that is was the spot to really experience the ancient Mayan culture and to see some intact temples. Loading onto a bus, we tried to sleep on the eight-hour ride overnight and get enough rest that we could really enjoy the area.

Turns out, getting to Tikal was a bit more of a challenge than we had planned. After disembarking from one bus, we were loaded onto another, and finally loaded onto another before reaching the outskirts of the park. Altogether, it took about a day to arrive there and check into our hotel inside.

tikal main temple

However, it didn’t take us long to realize we had made a smart choice by staying there two nights. Although you can see the park in one, there is plenty to keep you occupied if you want to stay longer. There are hiking trails, various complexes, and excellent guides to hire who will be happy to give you a run down on the history.

ruins tikal guatemala

temple complex tikal

Formerly the ancient Mayan capital, it was easy to see why Tikal has become such a hot spot among adventure travelers lately. The massive pyramids (and there are so many!) are still climbable, unlike Chichen Itza where they have banned touching the monuments. We followed some of the wet and muddy paths that led to each temple, each more impressive than the last. Although we were tired from the long bus ride, we had fun exploring the nooks and crannies that they still leave open to tourists.

design ruins tikal

There was also a variety of wildlife that could be spotted as we walked through one end of the park to the other. Dozens upon dozens of coatis descended onto the main area of the temples where ancient Mayans used to bargain and sell their wares. We chased them, trying to snap good photos before they scurried away. Turkeys strutted, unfazed by the tourists who stopped to look.

coati tikal guatemala

tikal daniel alex

Since Daniel and I were there in the offseason, there were very few other people to contend with. Most the time we were alone, exploring the jungle and allowed to play among the ruins without anyone judging. We received plenty of bug bites and a little sprinkling of rain, but it was a relief to have the place to ourselves and to listen to the sounds of the howler monkeys in the trees.

We also ended up hiring a guide to take us around in the early morning. We set our alarms for four am (a very difficult thing for Daniel and me) and took to the park in an entirely new light. Our guide, Caesar, was a character. He showed us how the ancient Mayan people carried all the blocks for the temples on their backs and had some interesting theories about the types of stones used—limestone—and how it eventually led to mass poisoning and the end of the Mayan civilization.

tikal guatemala fog

Finally, we climbed Temple IV, the largest in the complex. We watched as the sun peeked over the horizon and through the heavy fog.

“The ancient kings believed they could see the creation of the world from up here,” Caesar said. “Just like the gods.”

I didn’t feel like a god, but I absolutely felt something primal and spiritual as I sat there. Tikal still remains one of my favorite locations and I would go back in a heartbeat. For me, it wasn’t about living like a king, but feeling the presence of those long ago.

alex daniel tikal

Have you ever been to a spot that has particularly stuck with you?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

 

Advertisements

I Was a Vegetarian Living Abroad: Why It Sucked

travel vegetarian bad

I may love weird foods now, but that wasn’t always the case. I had been studying abroad in Venice for about a week at nineteen when I began to feel sick to my stomach. Most likely, it was because I was cooking for myself in a foreign country for the first time, and I was unused to some of the foods and the new tastes and ingredients. I felt mostly sick after consuming meat, so I decided to switch to vegetarianism so I could feel good during my time abroad.

What followed was three years of vegetarianism/pescatarianism, in which I limited what I ate—even after I had returned home. Part of it was an animal rights statement, some of it was it was because I had grown used to that diet while abroad, but most of it was for the wrong reason. I was scared of gaining weight while abroad and I was dealing with body issues as my thighs, stomach, and overall view of myself morphed and changed.

I was tired, irritable, and changing my diet didn’t do much for either my weight or how I felt about how I looked. Even when I moved back to Italy, I still only consumed vegetables and I ate more like a vegan so when I returned home I could look the way I wanted to. And there was so much I was missing out on living in Italy and eating like a vegan! Although the fruits and vegetables there were amazing, I jealously watched my friends consume delicious Bolognese sauce or prosciutto. I knew I was missing out but I was too stubborn and too anxious about eating foods abroad that would make me hate myself when I returned back to the States.

I was also missing out on a cultural aspect of the place I was at and how important the food was to the people in Italy.

“You don’t eat meat?” my Italian friends would say in shock. “You are missing out on so much life!”

I didn’t want to admit it, but there were certain aspects of the Italian culture and attitudes that I was deliberately refusing to participate in. In a strange way, this made me feel even more like an outsider than I was already because I wasn’t willing to meet the culture and the cuisine half way. I was more upset with my own agenda than how I was interacting with others and this unique experience I was given.

It wasn’t until after I returned to Italy for the third time to live that I threw my hands up in the air and abandoned my idea of trying to be a vegetarian for the wrong reasons. I soon realized many of the joys I was missing. My body also desperately craved protein, and I felt happier, healthier, and less exhausted after I added a little meat to my diet. Which isn’t to say I wouldn’t go back to eating more like a vegetarian again—I love animals and it’s difficult for me to think about consuming them. Yet, I feel as though I would be missing something essential about each culture I visited if I refused some of the types of food. My experience living in Spain would be so different if I didn’t have jamon iberico—and I can’t imagine not having sushi in Japan.

Everyone needs to choose their own ideas of travel and what they want to accomplish while they do it. For me, I wanted so badly to feel as though I was part of a culture without consuming all of the traditional dishes, but I couldn’t. I still try and choose veggies when I can, but I don’t deny myself a cultural and healthy experience when it is important to my mental and physical well-being.

How has your diet changed when you travel or live abroad?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Why I Hate Travel Bucket Lists: But Why I Have One Anyway

travel bucket list

I’ll admit it—I hate bucket lists. While I used to think they were a great idea and had one growing up for as long as I can remember (sadly, meeting Elton John never came to fruition), I’ve kind of found myself hating the lists I’ve created. How can you compile all the life experiences and places you want to visit onto one list…no matter how gigantic?

I’m also not a huge fan of listing life experiences because it’s not really living, in my opinion. I know so many travelers who have taken time to compose an encyclopedic-like list that they cross off. This makes it seem like travel is a game or some sort of accomplishment that needs to be rushed through instead of enjoyed. Most of all, there is a lot we can learn from travel that can’t be put on a list or defined so narrowly. Goals change, perspectives change, and it is often much for fun to enjoy the ride.

Even with all the opinions, I still have a bucket list anyway. As hypocritical as it may seem, I still like having a vague idea of what I do want to accomplish before I die. Some of this includes travel, some of it life experiences I can only have in new cultures or areas, but some is just things I would like to learn or use as a tool to increase my knowledge.

I have riding a Vespa on the list, visiting an elephant sanctuary, and learning to speak multiple languages. Much of it is because I don’t want to forget at this moment and time why those goals are important to me and why I want to have those experiences at this point in my life. Will I remember that I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro without writing it down? If I don’t, is that really something that should be on my bucket list?

I’m not the only one who has had trouble with the concept. You have pros and cons surrounding travel bucket lists from all travelers. Some swear by them, others hate them. And some, like me, are in the middle.

I had visit the pyramids of Egypt on previous bucket lists, but that was the least favorite part of my trip. Sure, it was amazing to see these structures up close and personal and to know that this experience had been woven into my life. But I personally loved Luxor more and seeing the temples there was equally as impressive and life-altering as what was originally on my list. Would I have made it to Egypt if it wasn’t on my list? What about to Luxor?

As usual, these things tend to be more complicated than they initially look. Everyone needs to have their own travel journey, and to explore the world in their own ways. I have my bucket list because I like imagining the possibility of visiting places that look intriguing to me. It’s in a constant state of flux because, although I like having it, I am constantly in flux. Travel is such a personal thing, and the destinations you choose to visit equally so. Maybe I’ll change my mind about riding a Vespa in dangerous Roman traffic, after all.

I don’t hold myself to my bucket list all the time, or I push myself if I really feel I need to accomplish what I have written down. But I don’t judge those who love them or those who hate them because the purpose is all the same—getting out and exploring the world.

Do you keep a travel bucket list? Why or why not?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Pushing Boundaries: Testing Yourself When You Travel

testing yourself travel

I’m hiking the Camino de Santiago this week, and I once again reminded how travel can take you out of your comfort zone and remind you the importance of always testing your limits. Don’t get me wrong, luxury travel has its place and I love staying at a 5-star hotel as much as the next person. However, for me, travel is an opportunity to grow and test yourself as a person. It offers you a chance to always choose to be your better self—even if it might be a little difficult.

You can grow in many ways as a human being, and travel doesn’t necessarily have to be the way you do it. But for me, travel has served as a constant source of introspection and acknowledgement of both my weaknesses and my strengths. From moving abroad to Venice when I was nineteen, to embarking on the Camino now, I’ve learned things about myself that my other interests never asked from me.

One of my first times traveling alone required that I take a bus to Vienna. My credit card wasn’t working, and I had cobbled together enough cash to pay for the bus ticket. I had to call the company on the bus WiFi, which chose to be intermittent, so I could have enough money to pay for my hostel. After that, I walked alone in the dark on the outskirts of the city, trying to find my way with Google Maps. It was January and cold, and I didn’t know that Vienna is one of the safest cities in the world.

I was scared. And I have been scared many times on my travels. I have slept in a train station without cash, have stayed in sketchy hostels where no one knew I was there, and have walked home alone living abroad with my keys between my fingers like Wolverine so I could stab someone in the eye if needed. And guess what? All of my fears were unfounded. I never once had a situation on the road where I looked back and regretted it.

I’m not advocating for unsafe travel. There is a line there. But I do want to stress the importance of testing yourself (and others) by trying situations that you think might be scary or that you think you can’t live through. For me at nineteen, it was living without my parents for three months. For me at twenty-five, it’s walking 115km within less than a week and doing some internal digging.

Travel for some is a hobby or a way to get out of the daily day-to-day grind. I don’t fault that kind of travel, at all. Everyone needs to do what is right for them. But for me, as someone who is always traveling, this nomadic existence has become my life and I wish to make the most of it. This means taking a look at my boundaries, and knowing what is just outside them. Trying new foods, kayaking down the Amazon River, taking a tai chi class in Greece, asking questions, and meeting new people who can help me achieve my goals of exploration.

And if you don’t have someone who can do that for you, I’m here! Send me your travel goals or experiences you would like to accomplish and we’ll work together to make sure they happen. Let’s test our limits together.

What was the last journey that tested you?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Climbing High: Exploring Volcanoes in Guatemala

It wouldn’t be a trip if I didn’t encourage Daniel to do something a little stupid and a little crazy. After he had suggested that we head to Guatemala, I did a little research and found out that one of the top things to do there was to climb one of the nearby volcanoes, Acatenango. Of course, Daniel thought I was being crazy, but decided to go along with it anyway as long as he could talk about how horrible it was after.

Sounded like a deal to me. We met with our guide the day before and discussed what gear we would have to tote up the 3,976 meters up the mountain. All of us would be carrying up a piece of the tent we would be pitching (since, it had to be an overnight trip to really experience lava erupting from the nearby Mt. Fuego), pots and pans, and sweatshirts and pajamas for a cold night.

“How bad do you think this is going to be?” Daniel asked.

I shrugged. The guide had said it would be difficult, but I had no idea. I had spent much of my childhood hiking the trails in Montana and had finished the Inca Trail, so I wasn’t too worried. Difficult hikes are one of my favorite things, and I like pushing myself when I go to new places so I always have a story.

daniel volcano guatemala

The next day, we woke up early and chose a hearty breakfast with protein before heading up to the spot where we would be climbing almost straight up from there. We soon became close friends with our walking sticks, and we found that there was a lot of switch-backing and heavy climbing as we made our way up. Our guide was in a hurry and set a pace that was fast for the group.

climbing volcano guatemala

We let the rest of our troop move ahead and started walking the trail at our own pace. We had plenty of time, and the higher we got, the less humid and hot it became. We even managed to collect a friendly dog who followed us along the path.

alex walking stick

I didn’t want to be rude to the guide and the other young women we would be sharing a tent with, but I was frustrated that they felt the need to barrel ahead. As exciting as the hike was, it was better to go slow and enjoy it and we had plenty of light before we would have to put the tent up. We later found out that the guide was in a rush to get back and go on vacation with his girlfriend, but it definitely tainted the experience by making us feel like we were going more slowly than we actually were. I was the only other hiker carrying a pack (the rest had opted for porters), and we were moving along just fine. Even our dog friend was pooped by the time we made it up the mountain.

dog volcano guatemala

A night in a tent isn’t the worst place we had ever slept, but the rain started falling at one or so in the morning. We didn’t sleep much, and I could tell Daniel was just waiting to get on me about the horrors of this trip.

daniel hike guatemala

“Don’t say a word,” I said.

But the morning views of the sunrise were unlike any I had ever seen before. If you looked, you could see the Pacific Ocean while Mt. Fuego quietly fumed behind us. It was a trip that encompassed the full power and beauty of nature at the same time.

guatemala sunrise volcano

mt. fuego guatemala

The way down was worse than the way up, and we were glad to get back to the hostel where we could take a hot shower and think back on what we had accomplished.

“I hated it,” Daniel said. “But not very many people can say that they climbed a volcano like that.”

Have you had a tough experience while traveling that you’re glad you made it through?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

 

5 Reasons I’m Over the Hostel Dorm Life

too old hostel

I used to think that I could do the dorm-hostel life forever. I’d like to think that I am young, hip, and that little things don’t bother me (like intense snoring and rummaging around for facewash at four in the morning). But after a recent hostel stay on my own, and not in a private room with my boyfriend, I had a realization that maybe I’m not quite as cut out for this as I used to be. The price was nice, but the entire time I was thinking about how I could have paid just a little bit more for a budget hotel.

Here are a few things that made me realize that I am too old for hostel dorm life anymore.

1. I’m in bed early

Gone are the days where a night out until the sun rises seems appealing. I’ve always been more of an introvert to begin with, but now that I’m happily settled with someone and the club seems more like a torture chamber than a fun night, I go to bed semi-reasonably. I’m not too young anymore at twenty-five, and I don’t appreciate people coming into the room in the middle of the night waving flashlights. Before, I’d be out partying with them. Now, you’d have to force it. (And peer pressure doesn’t work anymore.)

2. I’m an introvert

I met this lovely girl the other night from Canada who was in Europe her first time. She was friendly, fun, and a recent graduate. Two or three years ago, I would have invited her out for a drink in order to make friends while on the road. In fact, I did that often and met some very interesting and incredible people. Now, I’m glad I got a quick conversation out of it, but I wished I had some alone time to read my book.

3. I’m willing to pay for more

“You get what you pay for,” I always thought.

Since I was willing to pay little, I was okay with it. Now, I know that I have a bit more money in my bank account. My boyfriend and I can afford to book budget hotels or even private rooms in a hostel, and that extra privacy has been a godsend in my older age. Money is less of an issue, so I’m willing to pay for a bit more security and the experience of being on my own. Even if I am not in my room often, knowing I have a haven to go back to makes a difference.

4. I can’t relate to others staying there

Hostels used to be a great way to make new friends and to find common ground with a stranger when you were in a strange place. However, now that I’m a bit older, I have very little in common with my dorm-mates. Most are recent college grads, gap-year students, or traveling groups of friends. Part of it is age, but another part is just that I am in a difference place than the average hostel-goer. And that’s okay.

5. My definition of “travel” has changed

I used to think that having a quality travel experience meant staying in hostels, roughing things out, and constantly feeling uncomfortable. I now know that travel means something a little different to everyone, and the definition can change at various points throughout a lifetime. I’m older now, and I’ve experienced a new kind of travel from when I was in my early twenties. That’s what makes traveling such a wonderful thing—so much of it is based on where you are in your life and reflects how you see the world.

Where are you in your travel experiences?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Get Rid of the Attitude: No More Entitled Traveling

entitled traveling ethics

We’ve all been there. The trains are late, the food is not what you expected, service is slow, you’re charged more for a coffee than you wanted to pay. Traveling has its share of frustrating moments—especially if you’ve come to expect a certain standard of living and you’ve grown up in a society where everything is readily available. I remember the first time I was truly annoyed with being in a foreign country.

Living in Venice, taking the vaporetti was an art. If you were too early, then you would wait half an hour or longer to catch one. If you were late, even by five seconds, they would immediately close the gate and you were left stranded on shore. I can’t tell you how annoying it was when I had class or an event to go to and be on time for and the attendant would shut the gate in my face.

As a United States citizen, I grew up with certain attitudes of how things should be. I expected to sit down at a restaurant and have a server at my side within moments. In Italy, Spain, or France, I was surprised when it took much longer. Tips are meager in these countries, and waiters and waitresses don’t have incentive to rush around with a smile on their faces. It took me a while to get used to the wait. Now, I enjoy it because having a meal is less about consuming and more about enjoying.

Every traveler has a sense of entitlement going into a new country and a new situation. It’s a comfort zone of how things “should be.” If I know things should be a certain way, then I don’t have to rethink my ideas of how the world works. But isn’t that the whole point of traveling? Why would you even bother to go to another place if things weren’t different?

Traveling, in its purest form, is difficult. It was a pain in the ass to be stuck on shore when I knew I had Italian class in a few minutes. I’ve waited plenty of time for an afternoon lunch when I was in a rush, and who knows how many times the buses have run at times that did not correspond with the time table that I had looked up. All of these experiences have made me want to tear my hair out and scream, but all of them have been good for me because they have pushed me out of my comfort zone.

It all depends on how you want to spend your time away from home. Since I’ve adopted a more nomadic lifestyle, I’ve had to learn to let things go more than I would have before. I’ve learned to laugh at myself and to see things from other perspectives. Will you suffer if your meal isn’t delivered at the speed of light? What difference does it make if you have to catch the next vaporetto in the long run?

We’ve been fortunate enough to live in societies and economic conditions that allow us to experience new cultures. As annoying as these instances can be, they have taught me how lucky I am and how entitled my culture really is. We enjoy aspects of our culture that others wouldn’t even dream of having in their own, and it’s taken me time to lose an entitled attitude (even now, I’m not totally rid of it entirely). Travel has taught me compassion in so many ways, but I had to be open to learning about a new culture and willing to see things from another point of view.

How have you lost an entitled attitude while traveling? Why is it important to you?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

 

The Big Traveler vs Tourist Debate: Why It Needs to Die

travel vs tourist

It’s been a while since I thought about the whole debate of being a traveler versus being a tourist. I usually come up with an opinion on it every time I read a new round of blog posts in the travel community talking about it, and then have to reestablish how I feel about it every few months.

The truth is that the line between traveler in tourist is difficult to define—just as what qualifies you as someone who “lived” in a foreign country. Is it a month? Three months? Three years? These are all arbitrary and personal definitions that we make up in order to suit our needs. I studied abroad in Venice for three months and it felt like I had been there forever, but living in Granada for six has barely given me enough time to appreciate it.

So what is a tourist? I usually think of them as the E.M. Forster definition of “Anglo-Saxons” in A Room with a View. They are people who spend only a few days in a location and do not interact with locals other to purchase things or be waited on. After that, it’s often off to the next destination, where they repeat the same actions in a new place.

What’s a traveler? My definition is someone who tries to connect with a place for a little longer. He or she might make friends from that country, or he or she could be an expat. Travelers tend to want to understand a spot from a cultural level by trying the foods and activities in the area. They might want to find places which might not be on the suggested itinerary to enjoy.

The reason why the traveler versus tourist debate is something that rolls around on a regular basis is that we all have been in the position of both. You don’t always have the opportunity to stay in a place for weeks or months in order to form a connection with it or meet the people who live there. One example I remember from recent trips was heading to Kyoto. We had two days to see everything, which is no small task. We didn’t have time to ask what type of local foods we should leisurely enjoy or have time to form a friendship with someone who lived there. We were tourists—and frantic ones at that.

However, I had tons of time living in Lucca, Italy to practice my Italian, eat the local cakes made of pine nuts, and chat with both Italian and expat friends. I now know Italy very well and can comment on the Italian experience. You don’t even have to live in a location in order to be a traveler—I connected well with the city of Fes even though I had only been there a few days. I loved it so much that I went back to experience it more.

I would like to say I’m always a traveler, but I’ve been both. I’ve spent only a few days in a location and have kept inside my own bubble. Sometimes, that’s how you want to see the world and that’s okay. Sometimes, you have to experience the world with what you feel comfortable with. I’ve been a tourist and I will be again. I find that even this small slice of time in a place is better than nothing and I can always return if I want to see it again.

The traveler versus tourist debate needs to die because either way, whichever type of travel you choose, you’re choosing to open your mind and experience the world in a new way. That is more than most choose to do in their lifetimes. One can easily become the other—and you can be both simultaneously.

When have you been a tourist? A traveler?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Finding a Hidden Gem: Exploring Antigua, Guatemala

exploring antigua guatemala

Though I’m usually the one to suggest a trip, it was Daniel who encouraged me to book tickets to Guatemala. Guatemala had never been on my radar of places I wanted to head to, but we decided to go because we had heard from others it was amazing and offered a non-touristy way to experience Central America.

Skipping Guatemala City, we hired someone to pick us up at the airport and to take us to Antigua. Again, this was not my trip and I was not in my element. I had heard only vaguely the things to do there—hiking, volcanoes, ziplining, and Mayan ruins. I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the small town of Antigua.

Turns out, for a town so small, there is a lot to do there. After a good night’s rest at the funky hostel we were staying at, we set out to experience Antigua and to see how this small spot an hour and a half from the capital had flourished over the past few years.

convent antigua guatemala

rose convent antigua

Our first stop was the local convent that had been left to fall into disrepair. While that might seem like a waste of time to some, it proved a treasure trove of blooming roses, places to play hide and seek, and wild but pretty gardens. It was nice to have a day to get used to the increase in elevation and to get to know what made this town unique.

After stopping for some tacos along the way (we devoured a lot of tacos) and passing some colorful buses, we ordered fresh fruit smoothies and deliciously dark coffees. Trying some of the local fare that included potatoes, steamed vegetables, and a variety of meat options. (Antigua would be a good spot for vegetarians, too.) I almost always try to taste the local beer wherever I go, so we ordered Gallo in the late afternoon when things started to become humid.

food antigua guatemala

buses guatemala antigua

Along with museums of ancient Mayan art, plenty of places to shop, and the great food spots, Antigua was fast becoming one of my favorite small towns south of Mexico. The cathedral was also worth taking a quick peek at for its gorgeous colors and unique take on Christian art. You’ll find all the statues of Jesus and the Mother Mary have dark skin like locals—a sneaky way to include the Mayan gods along with those of the conquistadors’.

cathedral antigua guatemala

interior cathedral antigua

After a few nights in, we were dying for a night out. Stopping by one of the expat havens, we had a few shots of the Quetzalteca Rosa de Jamaica (sipping, of course). Strong and sweet and cheap all at the same time, if you wanted, you could be knocked on your ass in about a half hour. We settled for tasting and heading to the hopping night club (literally) down the block—the Lucky Rabbit.

Latin music thumped through the speakers as dancers twirled and chose partners of all levels. I could see how someone could fall in love on a night like this and in a place with so much life. Daniel and I took to the floor for a little bit, but it wasn’t long before we just watched and enjoyed the complicated steps and even more complicated chemistry between the dancers.

antigua guatemala street

I almost regretted that we would be heading up the challenging Acentango volcano in the morning and that we had a few more days to enjoy the city. I could see why expats find themselves in Antigua—and why they have trouble leaving.

Alex antigua guatemala

Where is your favorite “hidden” city in Central America?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

5 Places I Wouldn’t Go Back to Even if You Paid Me

5 hated places

We all have the places we love when we travel. I have a list of places I would love to return to and savor the food, atmosphere, or to meet the people again. In fact, I’ve found that returning to a location is why travel never gets old for me. Like having an unlimited stash of books to read and things to learn, locations change and your perspective on the world changes. It’s one of the most beautiful things about traveling, in my opinion.

However, there are some places where I would simply never choose never to go back again. Even if you paid me, I would refuse (which is saying a lot—I’m open to going almost anywhere new). Keep in mind, these are just my places—everyone has their own and one person’s hated locale is another’s home or favorite spot.

1. Zagreb, Croatia

Looking back, I know I should have spent more time in Croatia. I missed the highlights of Split and Dubrovnik, and I was too broke to head to Plitvice Lakes. I was stuck in Zagreb, which had very little culture (despite the dozens of museums the city boasted), and I had four days to wander around by myself. Also, Zagreb has a huge café culture, but not many food options. While the locals spent their time on the streets under umbrellas and chatting with one another, I was busy trying to find a place to eat lunch unsuccessfully.

2. Vienna, Austria

I know, I know. It’s very likely that I’m crazy (well, we knew that), but there was something about Vienna that felt cold to me. The people were pleasant enough and kind when I asked for directions, but after seeing the main highlights of Mozart’s house and the museums, I was ready to leave. For me, the places that have left the largest impressions are the ones that are teeming with life. Vienna, while peaceful, felt slightly dead.

3. Lisbon, Portugal

I wanted to love Lisbon so badly! So much was promised to me: great seafood, wine, beautiful views, history. But when I got there, it felt stoic. As I mentioned in a blog post, I think much of it was me. I was tired after a six-hour flight with no rest and was rushing to see everything in a day. Regardless, I thought Lisbon would have a bit more character, and I was disappointed because this was a place I had heard so much about. (Side note: This is one place I would return to with someone who loved the city—I felt like I missed a lot.)

4. Guatemala City, Guatemala

Guatemala was amazing, and I can honestly say that it was a trip I look back on especially fondly. Antigua was a hub of sights, sounds, and good food and Tikal was unlike any place I had ever been (and probably will ever go again). But you would have to tie me up and kidnap me (which could easily happen there) before I would ever go back to the capital. Daniel and I left for five seconds to get food, but other than that, we spent two days in our hostel room—way too freaked out to walk the streets. Danger level for tourists: 10 out of 10.

5. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Cambodia was one of the highlights of my travels last year, but the capital was pretty dead in terms of touristic activity. While I encourage all travelers in Cambodia to go to the Killing Fields, Phnom Penh itself had very little to offer. Other than a few historic sights, there are very few good restaurants with local foods. I’m glad I visited because it gave me a good idea of what a Southeast Asian city looks like, but of all the places in the world, I wouldn’t go back.

Where is it that you would refuse to go back to if someone offered to pay for it?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander