passports-and-pasos-300x169Welcome to my blog about travel, living around the world, eating, and finding your particular path at any age.

My husband, Adam, and I have decided to start “living” around the world. It’s a lot less “traveling” and a lot more staying in one place one country at a time. We did not sell everything we own and filled our backpacks and start living off of a savings account. Instead, we kept most of everything we own, made some adjustments in our lives, and created work for ourselves that we can do while we travel and live in almost any location with a good internet connection.

What I mean by “living” around the world, is that we stay in one location for at least 2 months and sometimes up to 6 months (depending on our visa allowances and our enjoyment level). We become immersed in the community and culture and learn to really ‘live‘ in these places. We call this “slow travel“.

Those of you who know passion-300x262us, know that we LOVE to travel and have trouble staying still in one place for too long. We’ve done a number of adjustments in our lives to create this new lifestyle that we hope combines our passions, talents, and love for life and travel all in one.

In a nutshell, Adam and I are planning on traveling and being away from our home in North Carolina for at least two years – but most likely more – depending on where the work and good times are. Our plans are flexible and we continue to keep all opportunities (and job offers) under close consideration this entire time. This means we’re both available for work just about anywhere in the world – so don’t hesitate to ask us! We will also continue to be doing as much work as we can from the road.

TO BE CONTINUED…

How to find a good Airbnb by understanding reviews

How to find a great Airbnb listing by reading reviews

How to find the perfect airbnb place to sleep takes a little time and investigating some of the comments

Finding that perfect Airbnb place to sleep

Understanding how Reviews really work

Finding a good Airbnb that’s right for you can sometimes feel daunting. Airbnb listings can range from luxury homes with great perks to crazy ass nightmares. I know, I’ve rented both. But when it comes to figuring out how to actually read ‘between the lines’ of an online review, it can be difficult. It turns out that homeowners can literally loose their shit if you leave even a slightly bad review. Therefore, guest are getting more and more nervous about saying anything that may remotely sound like a bad experience on a review. So how do you figure out if a place is right for you when all the reviews are good and passive? I’m going to do my best to help guide you through on how to read a review on Airbnb before you book your next rental with them.

Reading and understanding the reviews written by previous airbnb guests can help you avoid nightmare situations

That perfect airbnb homestay can sometime be a nightmare

When searching for the perfect airbnb, I find a few listings that I really like and then I head to the reviews to see what people are saying about the property, the home itself, and the owners/hosts.

I don’t know about you, but when I see a listing that has 4.7 or more out of 5 stars it sets off an alarm. That kind of score is almost unheard of for most hotels. The average rating on hotels is 3.9 out of 5 stars – and that’s often with more than 100 reviews! Really? Then what the hell is going on with Airbnb reviews? 

Many people suspect there’s a psychological thing going on with guests and hosts. Some people might feel bad leaving a negative review (I’ve had friends tell me this) because they think that many hosts are using Airbnb to supplement their income so they don’t want to leave any negative feedback. Even when it could help the hosts in the future with more bookings! 

I know some people are hesitant to write a negative review because they are afraid of repercussions. Recently, at a place we were staying in Mexico, the last guest before us wrote a review (we did not see this until we were already staying at the location) that I felt was kind and extremely light on any sort of real negativity. However, the guest did mention some ‘small’ issue with a toilet not working and the noise of construction nearby. Yet, the guest still said she enjoyed her stay and would ‘recommend’ the listing.

Unfortunately, the homeowner lost her shit and responded with a long list of defensiveness that was not only insulting to the guest, but also included all the issues and problems the area has – as if it was not her fault! In other words, she completely shot herself and her listing in the foot since not only would this guest not come back, but she will not be recommending this place to anyone else either. Adding a cherry right on top of this response, the owner is now giving future guests the impression that the area sucks and she’s a crazed person who can’t stand having lodgers. 

Just to be clear, we’re not talking about ’scathing’ reviews here folks. I’m talking about people clearly being helpful to the homeowner for improvements and to help the next poor schmuck that rents the place. A simple heads-up is always a good thing for the next guest.

In any case, since ratings on the website are so high, it’s even more important to have a critical eye when reading these reviews.

HOW TO READ AND UNDERSTAND AIRBNB REVIEWS

Here are a few recommendations on not only how to interpret a review, but how to find out more about the location and the host.

Getting the most out of your airbnb homestay requires a bit of investigating before you book your vacation

Sometimes you need more then just a comfortable bed when staying at an Airbnb homestay

 

MAKE SURE YOU READ THE ENTIRE LISTING

Check out the description the best you can. Hosts will often tell the truth (but not always) about their particular property to avoid bad reviews later. I noticed our last host emailed me back to say she wanted to make sure I knew there was not an actual ocean view – though her listing never said it did- but I have to assume she had trouble in the past with other guests about this misunderstanding. It seems that if she’s had issues before that it is only fair that she actually state in her listing that there is not an ocean view.

Also look for descriptions like, “located in a busy neighborhood,” as this could indicate that it might be a bit noisy.

TAKE GREAT REVIEWS WITH A GRAIN OF SALT

When I read how a place is “the best ever” or is a “perfect apartment” I have to stand back and think about this. Is that possible? Could this really be the “perfect” apartment? This is when I’ll go deeper and read every review as best as I can. In many cases, you will start hearing small truths come out in very polite ways. “Best stay ever… even with their cute dog who jumps on you all the time”. Or, “I loved this rustic place! It’s close to the city center and we met many other nice guests”. This can also mean that it’s not very modern or maybe clean and of course can refer to being noisy with traffic, barking dogs, and possibly other loud guests.

 

AVOID ASSHOLE HOSTS

This is a big flag for me. Because a host can reply to a guest review publicly, sometimes these ‘responses’ can really indicate what kind of person the host might be and how they may behave during your stay. Like I mentioned earlier, a recent host went ballistic on this other guest because of the benign review she left. If I had read the homeowners response before booking, I’m pretty sure I would not have booked our stay there. I too wanted to write some important feedback about our stay (in another apartment nearby) but now we are terrified to do so in fear of being attacked by the host. When a homeowner writes a thank you for feedback and is happy and respectful with a guests suggestions, that’s the host I want to stay with.

IF YOU HAVE SPECIAL NEEDS – LET YOUR HOST KNOW

Airbnb offers lodging for all types of travelers and not every place if for every body. My husband and I are digital nomads and our needs maybe very different from someone on vacation. We require fast internet speed to get our work done. We’re also home most of the day, so noise can be an issue for us. However, many people using airbnb are on holiday and are out each day exploring and being active. Therefore daytime noise (like construction) may not be a problem. Maybe the host hasn’t mentioned what floor the room is on and you can’t walk up 5 flights of stairs each day. If you can’t figure out from the listing if a place fits your needs, contact the host first and see if they will be honest with you. This can avoid a lot of confusion and issues later.

 

KNOW HOW TO UNDERSTAND ‘REAL’ PROBLEMS IN AN AIRBNB REVIEW

Some people just want to complain about anything. Stuff that clearly doesn’t matter when it comes to renting a property short term. If someone doesn’t like the paintings on the wall, or the kind of cups that were provided, then you know this is just someone being a little too needy. However, if the toilet stops working or the internet goes down and no one will fix it, then obviously, these issues can be a real concern.

There are also things that happen that are outside the homeowners control. Like when a place might lose power, or the washing machine breaks. I find it’s how the owner handles and takes care of these things that really matters to me. A couple years ago we were in Bali and the airbnb rental we were staying in suddenly lost power. This can be a common occurrence in Bali. It was extremely hot at the time and we had rented this particular place because it had air conditioning. The owner quickly brought us a floor fan and ran an extension cord from another location (with power) to accommodate us as best as they could. Yes, it was a bummer we didn’t have power and A/C for a day, but the owner did the best they could for us at the time.  So, when reading a review, try to decipher if the host is responsive when issues do come up. In the example in Bali, reading a review about the power issue would indicate a good host.

MAKE SURE THE REVIEWS YOU ARE READING IS A RECENT REVIEW

Things change. So the construction nearby written in a review from last year hopefully is finished by now. The barking dog that keep guests awake all night in a review from 2 years ago – may have gone off to live at a farm somewhere far away. Just make sure you are reading the most current reviews and if you’re not sure, again contact the host to find out if that issue has been resolved.

Barking dogs are one of the many "hidden" problems at airbnb rentals

Is that cute dog going to bark all night at your airbnb homestay

IF YOU DO SEE A BAD REVIEW, DO SOME MORE INVESTIGATING

Like I mentioned before, some people are just natural complainers and you can never please them. You can click on a person’s profile to see more of these reviews and if they regularly leave bad reviews for their hosts. Also you can see what other hosts have said about them. If they are just a pain in the ass to everyone they stay with, I wouldn’t take much weight into what they have to say about the place I may want to book.

In the same way, I will regularly go to the hosts profile to see their other listings and check their reviews there as well.

In the end, as always, use your gut and your instincts when it comes to all these things. If a place looks too good to be true, it might be. Hopefully, Airbnb will start allowing guests to post their own photos of the home and figure out ways to help people leave constructive feedback for others.

If you haven’t already tried Airbnb for your vacation rental needs, sign up through our link and we get a little credit at no additional cost to you. (Airbnb affiliate link).

Preparing for Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago

Walking Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago

I’m finally going to take another long distant walking trip this fall. This time, I’m going to be walking Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago in southern France. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for quite some time, but just haven’t been able to start. Now, after years of visualizing, I’m going with 2 female friends of mine for a 3 week French adventure. We’ll spend some time before and after the walk eating our hearts out in France and San Sebastian Spain.

 

Jaime testing out new backpack for Le Puy Route of the Camino de Santiago.

My new backpack for walking Le Puy Route of the Camino de Santiago

 

Le Puy route

Our plans are to walk a self-guided 10-11 day trip in France starting in Lectoure and ending in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. This section of the Camino is referred to as part of the Le Puy Route or the Way of St. James. Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage that follows trails through rural south west France and along the Grand Randonnée 65.

My Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago

We will be stoping at the end of each day in a different village or town where we will have basic accommodations and plenty of food and water. Our stops my change, but my plan at the moment is the following:

Schedule for walking Le Puy Route of the Camino de Santiago

DAY 1  Lectoure to La Romieu 19.8 km

DAY 2  La Romieu to Larressingle 19.1 km

DAY 3  Larressingle to Eauze 28.8 km

DAY 4  Eauze to Nogaro 20 km     

DAY 5  Nogaro to Aire-sur-l’Adour 27.5 km

DAY 6  Aire-sur-l’Adour to Maslacq 54km REST DAY /BUS   

DAY 7  Maslacq to Navarrenx 23 km

DAY 8  Navarrenx to Aroue 20.1. km

DAY 9  Aroue to Ostabat 24.9 km

DAY 10  Ostabat to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port 22.7 km

 

Training

To prepare for this kind of walk, I’ve needed to up my game in exercise and in walking. Getting my body ready for these long distances means walking long distances whenever I can. Fortunately, here in Mexico there are plenty of beautiful long distant rural walks to take. Also, every Saturday a group hike takes place in a different location in the area with anywhere from 5 to 20 hikers. It takes about 2-3 hours and can give me a good 7-8 km walk at a time. The last two Saturdays, I went the extra kilometer and walked back to town from the starting point of the hike adding another 16 km to my day.

Poco a poco (little by little) is what we say here in Mexico.

A little about Money

Those of you who know me, know that I don’t buy much. I don’t spend money often (besides on plane tickets – and even then I get great deals) because, well, after 4 years of full time nomad travel I’ve got no where to put ‘stuff’. Occasionally, I buy some new clothes when things wear out, but not very often. We’ve simplified our lives so much that having more is not always a good thing in our case.

I have spent so much of my life believing that I could not afford the actual real-life that I’ve been living for the last 10 years. Of course, I’ve worked hard to save money and to simplify my lifestyle, but mostly I have adjusted how I feel about money and how it comes to me.

Years ago, I realized it was important to focus on what I wanted FIRST and THEN allow the money to find it’s way to me. I know this sounds silly to a lot of people, but it’s how it has worked for me for the last 25 years of my life. And it’s exactly what happened with this trip. Yes, I did set a budget aside for this adventure and in the end I’m confident that I will not regret my decision and the costs that will occur.

Getting prepared to walk Le Puy route of the Camino de Santiago took a hefty investment in new gear and equipment. I hadn’t updated my hiking gear and clothes in almost 20 years. And even back then, I didn’t want to spend much money so I bought lower quality items that have long since worn out. This time around, and since I am now more emotionally and physically invested in long distance walking, I am buying what suits my needs first and not worrying ‘too’ much about the costs. I’m hoping there will be plenty more of these walks in my future.

 

Purchases so far

Here’s the first of a few things I’ve bought myself after 20 years of basically no backpacking upgrades. I will share more later.

Hiking Boots

My preparations began with buying new hiking boots last summer – giving myself plenty of time to break them in. I choose Keen Targhee II Mid waterproof boots after having another hiking companion recommend them. They are amazing! These boots are everything I was looking for in a hiking shoe. Extremely lightweight, breathable, waterproof, and comfortable. I think they have a great grip for tough terrain and were very easy to break in. I’ve been walking in them regularly for the last 6 months including long 20km days through rural Mexico and they are my favorite hiking boot I’ve ever owned.

 

 

 

Backpack

I did a TON of research on this one. I read a hundred blogs and watched every video I could on finding the perfect backpack for my specific needs. Finally, I found the perfect pack for me. I picked the Osprey Sirrus 36 liters Backpack. It is just the right size for long distance walks where camping is not part of the plan. I won’t have to carry camping gear, tent, camp stove, water, water filters, pots, food, etc. Instead, we will be staying each night in a dorm, convent, hotel, guest house, or something similar. There is plenty of water and food along the way and no need to carry more than a few light snacks.

I also bought an Osprey 1.5 liter water bladder that conveniently fits inside the pack.

This backpack has a ton of nice features. First of all, it’s VERY lightweight (as you can see, this is an ongoing theme with everything since I’m carrying this stuff on my back for many long days). It has a cooling system so your back does not get too hot. It has 2 hip pockets to carry your phone or snacks. Even though it is top loading, it also has a side zipper pocket for easy access inside the main compartment. It has all the features I was looking for in a pack. And it’s avocado green!!!

Osprey Sirrus 36 liter backpack

 

Trekking Poles

I also invested in some trekking poles since it’s something I can use anywhere on a long distant walk. Not only do they help prevent you from falling and losing balance, but they keep your hands from fatigue when they are normally at your sides.

I choose Trekology Trek -Z collapsible poles so that I can easy fold them down into my carry-on backpack. Once I did research on the cork handles, I decided that would work best for me because they will help absorb palm sweating. Also, super lightweight and compact.

 

 

 

I’m slowly getting more and more prepared and more and more excited!

Buen Camino!

Sitting all night at a graveyard to honor the dead and keep their memory alive on Dia de los Muertos.

Day of the Dead in Patzcuaro Mexico

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán Mexico

Our first day of the dead was a special meaningful event for us. Adam’s father had died earlier that year and we decided that it would help us deal with his loss and offer some healing by taking part in these annual rituals.  We generally prefer to participate in activities instead of just observing them.

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As slow travelers, we were already living short term in Patzcuaro and were invited to participate in some of the annual rituals that Mexicans (and some foreign ex-pats) do every year. These traditions honor the ancestors and gives family members time to celebrate their lives together.

Day of the Dead in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán, Mexico

Dia de los Muertos is pretty special throughout Mexico.  It seems to be an even bigger deal here in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. Tourists come from all over Mexico (and the world) to experience this annual event. Although the official date of Day of the Dead is every November 1, the festivities of Day of the Dead often starts as early as the weekend before.

Our host family doing their annual tradition preparing Marigold flowers to decorate their alter to celebrate day of the dead. Families typically spend many days together preparing their alters and graveyard sites on November 1 for Day of the Dead - Dia de los Muertos

A family day of the dead tradition preparing to decorate an alter with Marigold flowers

During this time, families from all over Mexico begin collecting things for their alters to celebrate the lives of those loved ones who have passed. Families build their altars and decorate them with items that reflect what their ancestors liked or admired while they were alive.

Miniature food items to decorate graveyards including these candy bones, cupcakes, and little alter display for those that celebrate Day of the Dead

As part of the traditions of Day of the Dead, family members buy tiny food items to decorate graveyards when they visit their loved ones.

Offerings, like flowers, photos, candles, incense, sweets, memorabilia, food, and drinks are placed on the altars for viewing. As a result, it is believed that these items help guide the departed souls back to the living for that one night.

Papel picado, sugar skulls, marigold flowers, candles, and Pan de Muertos decorate this family's traditional alter during their annual celebration of Day of the Dead

We helped set up this traditional alter with friends and family members on Dia de los Muertos

I would highly recommend watching the lovely animated film Coco before traveling for Day of the Dead as you will learn a lot more about this special holiday.

Scholars say the origin came from an indigenous Purepecha observance dating back hundreds of years. It is also related to an Aztec festival dedicated to the goddess Mictecacihuatl. I love goddesses!   

What to do during Day of the Dead during the Day

There are no shortage of things to do during the day in and around Patzcuaro. This usually quiet city is now bustling with traffic and visitors from all over the world. Take a look at the list of activities below or explore some of the small villages and towns around the lake.

Artisan shopping and sugar skulls

Hundreds of sugar skulls lined up on tables for sale. Families living in Mexico buy these sugar skulls and write the name of the person who died so they can celebrate their lives on Day of the Dead

Sugar Skulls for sale on Day of the Dead representing the departing souls of those who have died. The names of the deceased are written on the forehead of the sugar skull.

The main plaza (Plaza Grande) has huge tents and visiting artists from all over selling their arts and crafts.

In addition to many hand crafted wares, vendors set up along the portales along the side of the plaza and sell sugar skulls and various sugar candies to decorate the alters.

If you were celebrating Dia de los Muertos, wouldn’t you want to buy these delicious candy skeletons and miniature sugar skulls for your family’s Day of the Dead tradition?

Candy skeletons, chocolate mummies, and miniature sugar skulls available for sale for families celebrating Dia de los Muertos

Adam and I purchased the personalized Sugar Skulls for his father as well as for our friend Steven. Both had died earlier that year. Each Sugar skull is made by the artists selling them and only costs a few pesos. That’s less than a dollar for the small ones and a couple of bucks for the bigger ones.

A man buying day of the dead sugar skulls in Patzcuaro Michoacan Mexico from a sweet vendor who makes these special items for dia de los muertos every year.

Adam celebrating Day of the Dead and buying some day of the dead sugar skulls from a local vendor.

Our friend Steven always wore tie-dyed shirts, so this rainbow sugar skull was a perfect choice for him! We immediately thought of him when we were shopping for our items to decorate our alter to honor his memory. He would have loved it!

Day of the dead rainbow sugar skull next to Steven's photo on a beautiful dia de los Muertos alter to celebrate his life on day of the dead.

Photo of Steven, who died earlier that year, with this perfect rainbow sugar skull on the alter to celebrate his life.

Flowers for Day of the Dead

On the street Benigno Serrato near the Basilica Church (Basilica of Our Lady of Health located here) are many people selling the flowers used to decorate all the graveyards and alters all around town. These include Marigolds (targetes erecta), Cockscomb (celosia cristata) and Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila muralis).

Vendors selling truckloads of marigold and cockscomb flowers to families who decorate the alters and graveyards where their loved ones are buried on Day of the Dead

A truck bringing Marigold and Cockscomb flowers to sell to families celebrating this important holiday to remember their loved one’s who have passed

The flowers are said to represent the beauty and fragility of life and the scent is believed to help guide the souls of the dead to the alters.

What to do during Day of the Dead during the night

The town becomes alive with Katrina’s, tourists, traffic, and celebrations. Head over to the Plaza Grande and enjoy a local Michoacán dish, get your face painted by many of the Katrina artists, or sample a Tequila or Mezcal.

Tourists experiencing this important holiday of Día de los Muertos to remember and honor their ancestors and friends who have died often will get their face painted like a Katrina like the woman in this photo

In order to get into the “spirit” of things, a tourist gets her face painted like a Katrina to celebrate the tradition of Day of the Dead

Visiting the Cemeteries

The most popular thing to do in the evening of November 1st is visit the graveyards all around Lake Patzcuaro. This typically involves a lot of traffic and drinking. We planned accordingly and hired a driver in order to stay safe and get the most out of the many different sites around the lake. People start just before sunset and go throughout the early morning.

Sitting all night at a cemetery to honor the dead and keep their memory alive on Dia de los Muertos.

Old woman honoring the memory of her dead husband by sitting at his gravesite in a cemetery after creating his alter on this important Mexican holiday.

We hired a driver with a mini van (combi) to take us to some of the more popular and beautiful graveyards around the lake area of Pátzcuaro. We decided this would be the best option since there were 15 of us and it would also allow us to arrive home safe!

This is what Day of the Dead is all about. Celebrating the lives of the dead with the living while visiting graveyards around Lake Patzcuaro in Mexico

Celebrating in style (and safely) in a mini-van called a Combi so our driver can take us to visit many of the graveyards on Day of the Dead.

Family members gather around beautifully decorated graveyards decorated with elaborate altars, long tapered glowing candles, and bright yellow marigolds. I was completely mesmerized by the magical night. One of the things I loved most about this holiday is how people are allowed to take time to celebrate loved ones who have left this life. 

Day of the Dead is all about the living spending time together sitting a cemetery and welcoming the souls of their departed every year on this Mexican tradition.

Families spending all night together at a cemetery as part of the tradition of honoring their relatives and friends who have moved on to another world.

With my DSLR camera in hand, I spent the evening shooting plenty of video. This is a short compilation that I created while we went around visiting the graveyards. 

Recommendations for Day of the Dead

Here are a couple insider tips to getting the most out of your Day of the Dead experience. Also, if you are looking for a complete listing of all the activities for this Mexican non-religious holiday, visit this site with a complete list of all activities.

Hotels and Lodging

I HIGHLY recommend making your hotel reservations early in order to experience the magical festivities during Day of the Dead. If you are lucky, here are a some lodging recommendations that might be available

Casa Werma – Amazing 5+ acre garden in the heart of centro that also doubles as a Bed and Breakfast. A real gem if you are lucky enough to get a reservation. Look for it on Airbnb

Casa Santiago in Ihuatzio – Call Kevin Quigley at 52-434-344-0880. You might be able to participate in some of the rituals from this family run BnB.

La Casa Encantada – Great location but books up over a year in advance

Hotel Casa Del Naranjo – right on the Plaza Grande in the heart of Centro

La Siranda Casa Hotel – boutique hotel right in the heart of town

La Casa en el Bosque – cute little place in the forest but still close to everything

Other Hotels in Patzcuaro

Airbnb – Many different options in and around Patzcuaro. Sign up for new account and save $20 off your first stay

Transportation

Traffic is insane during the festival. If you can, take a bus into town since buses in Mexico are easy, cheap, comfortable, and plentiful. Once you arrive, walking is often quicker and getting a cab is also quick and cheap.

If your drive park your vehicle for the duration of the festival. Walk, take a collectivo (combi), or hire a driver to take you around to the various graveyards at night. Ask your hotel to arrange a tour of the graveyards on the night of November 1 – 2

Build your own Alter

For me, the best part of Day of the Dead is Celebrating the lives of those who have passed. Bring with you some printed photos of your loved ones along with some simple things that they loved. For instance, my father loved Shakespeare so a couple of books added to his alter made for a personalized touch. Then you can pick up many of the additional foods and speciality items while you are in Patzcuaro.

Take the time to decorate your alter with your travel companions. Then sit around the alter with your favorite beverage and tell stories about your departed friends and ancestors. Remember this is really a day/night of celebration so enjoy it.

I was surprised that most of the people sitting around the graveyards were happy, laughing, and celebrating life.

I hope you enjoy Day of the Dead as much as I did.  Hopefully it will become one of your favorite annual traditions no matter where you are on November 1.

 

 

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Jaime Byrd
Director / Cinematographer / Editor