Flying for Free – Maximizing Credit Card Points for Travel

One of my major goals for 2016 was to improve my credit and pay off my credit card debt. I did this for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones was because I wanted to qualify for a new credit card that offered travel bonuses and a substantial sign-up offer of points.

After chunking down about 60% of my credit card balance in the first few months, I was given an increase in credit on my day-to-day credit card. This lowered my overall credit usage percentage and improved my credit score at the same time.

I kept my balances low and paid them off in full each month, utilizing the cash-back feature for my Capital One Quicksilver card. This is a great starter credit card, as it doesn’t require the best credit to get approved for it, and you get decent 1.5% cash-back on all purchases. If you are able to keep your balances paid off each month, you can quickly increase your credit line and improve your credit in just a few months.

By the end of September, I had done it – both of my credit cards had a zero balance and I was in the clear!

I kept myself busy near the end of the year and then in mid-December, I came across a pretty sweet sign-up offer for the Chase Sapphire Reserve card.

They were offering a bonus of 100,000 points (if I spent $4,000 within the first 3 months). They also offered an annual travel credit of $300, elite travel benefits, and 3x points on food and travel. The elite travel benefits were pretty comprehensive also. Access to 900+ airport lounges around the world, car rental benefits, travel and purchase protections, and even a one time credit to cover costs of TSA Pre®  or Global Entry .

So to get a better feel for what 100,000 points gets you, for just over 60,000 points, I could fly round trip from Los Angeles to Berlin. For only 25,000 points, I could fly round trip to Detroit, or for just over 40,000 points, I could fly to Bogota and back. Basically, it will cover 3-4 domestic flights or 1-2 international flights. Pretty schnazzy right?

I applied for it and got approved, registered for my travel lounge access, and later this week I am registering for the TSA Pre®.

The only potential negative to the card is that there is a fairly pricey annual fee. In my current situation though, the benefits far outweigh the negatives and the travel credit covers over half of the fee anyway.

While there are many travel cards that offer decent benefits, Chase’s Sapphire Reserve is one that currently offers the best benefits for travelers at the moment. Which credit cards are you using for travel benefits? Let me know in the comments!

Travel Plans for 2017

Where did the last year go?! 2016 seemed to fly by, and here I sit on another January 1st, trying to figure out what I want to accomplish in the coming year. In 2016, my travels were quite limited, but I did make time for 3 different trips.

In May, I flew to Argentina to chase my heart a bit. Ask me about that sometime. I spent 3 weeks in Mendoza, learning Spanish, drinking Wine, and connecting/ reconnecting with people. It was an incredible trip and I wish I could have stayed there longer!

My summer consisted of mostly just working, playing Gaelic Football, and raising a kitten that I rescued in traffic downtown.

Then in early September, I went to Seattle for the North American Gaelic Football Championship weekend. It was a quick trip but I got to meet some people from clubs around the country. Definitely looking forward to attending a few tournaments in 2017.

My final trip of the year was an even shorter weekend trip home to Michigan in early December. I took a redeye flight on a Thursday night and was scheduled to fly out early on Monday morning. I made sure to pack just about every minute of my schedule because it had been well over a year since my last visit. Lots of friends, family, and food – it was another successful trip.

This year I have a few ideas of what I want to accomplish, in terms of traveling and thanks to the benefits of my new credit card, I will not be paying for my flights. (Yay points!)

I am turning 30 years old near the end of August and would like to spend some time in Europe to celebrate it. I have been telling myself for over a decade that I would like to travel through Europe and just keep putting it off. While I was able to travel to a brilliant wedding in France for few days back in 2010, I was quite restricted time-wise, so there wasn’t too much time to experience more than Paris. This year, I am quite set on making it work. I WILL be in Europe for at least a few weeks!

There is a lot of time between now and then, so I would definitely like to squeeze in another trip, maybe to an island somewhere to surf, relax, and do some diving.

Also, my father got engaged about a week ago, so I imagine I will be heading back to Michigan at least once or twice this year. While there is no official date set for the wedding yet, I imagine it will be before the end of the year.

Lastly, I would really like to travel to a Gaelic Football tournament at some point this summer. If the Cougars don’t travel to any, then I’d like to reach out to my old club in Detroit and join them for a weekend if possible.

While this is not an extremely in-depth schedule of my pending travels, it will serve as a nice reminder to myself for where I’d like to travel this year.

Where do you plan on traveling in 2017? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter. Happy new year!

Transitioning into Vanlife

I have never been very interested in obtaining a horde of material goods. I am content with living a more simple day-to-day existence. Getting a brand new car, the latest new shoes, or renting a lavish apartment just wouldn’t be me. One of my first thoughts would be, “what else could I spend this money on that would bring more value to my life?”

I was lucky enough to be the first person in my family to attend university. The first year costs were covered by grants and my parents. The years that followed though, I had to cover myself. This involved taking out tens of thousands of dollars of student loans, and even stacking up some credit card debt in order to cover the costs of my books and a laptop for class.

After graduation, I accepted an internship that took me to Seoul and Manila. It was a short term contract and just covered the cost of living and minimum payments on my credit card for the 6 months I was there. Upon returning to the US, I had to begin paying off my student loans. I worked with my father for the summer, doing drain and sewer cleaning, in order to get by. While I knew it wasn’t my career path, I really valued all the time I got to spend with my father that summer.

After that, I worked as a data technician and then as a support technician for a software company. Both of these positions were less that full time(so that they didn’t have to provide me with healthcare benefits), so it was difficult to pay off my debt at the time.

That being said, at the time, I definitely spent money on things I wanted, in place of just paying off chunks of my debt. A 3 month trip to Colombia, 2 season tickets for Detroit City FC, and a newer laptop to help start a blog. I could have used that money to wipe out my credit card debt, but I didn’t, and I am honestly happy with that decision, since I had so many amazing experiences in both Colombia and Detroit.

Fast-forward to January 2015, and I had just moved to Los Angeles. My mother’s cousin offered me a place to stay on his sailboat down in San Pedro, while I was getting set up with my life out here. A few days after arrival, I was offered an eSports position, paying $1,000 a month. I was incredibly excited to be working in the videogame industry, so I accepted the offer as soon as it came through.

I was still paying the minimums on my credit card and student loans, but I was doing work I enjoyed and living on the west coast. That was something I had dreamed of since I was younger.

I worked 40-70 hour weeks for the first few months, just getting the company ready for launch, always eager to learn and improve whenever possible. Around this time, I made it my goal to improve my credit. I downloaded a pretty great free app called Credit Karma, and was able to see everything, including tips on how to improve my credit.

I was sitting at a credit score of about 580, and I had two negative marks on my credit history; one was an error and something that wasn’t accurate, and the second was from my time abroad. My old roommate was supposed to pay the final month of utilities after I sent him the money, but he just never did. Since it was in my name, it unfortunately hit my own credit. I found out that I would be able to improve my score tremendously by just continually making payments on time and by lowering my credit card balance.

After about 4 months of living on a sailboat, I had to find a new place to live. I looked at other liveaboard situations, but ended up settling on a living situation that was much closer to work, and quite reasonably priced. The only catch was that I would be renting out a living room in someone else’s 2 Bedroom apartment and that would be my residence for 6 months.

I never spent much time at home when I lived there, since there was never much comfort in being there. It was mostly just a place to sleep, shower, and eat. During my time there, my salary got cut to $700 per month. With rent at just over $400 per month, I was cutting it close, trying to manage my student loan payments, credit card payments, and still finding money to eat.

I was living in one of the most expensive cities in the world and didn’t have the money to do anything besides work and attend the occasional LCS event. Lets just say that during those months, I probably ate my weight in ramen.

In the fall, I was officially given new responsibilities at work. I had picked up the slack when the team lead had left, and I took over that role to ensure projects were done efficiently and finished on time. Along with the official increase in responsibilities, I was given a bump in pay as well, so I was finally making above minimum wage.

At the time, I thought that what I wanted was to find an apartment with a room of my own. I spent a month living on my cousin’s living room floor in North Hollywood during my search. I found a guy looking to sublease out the second room in his apartment and after meeting him, I thought it was perfect. The cost was just over half of my income, and I thought I would be fine with that.

After 3 months, I came to the realization that I was blowing way too much of my money with no real return. The thing I spent the most money on each month, was a room I still only spent sleeping hours in. I struggled to find a more reasonably priced apartment in Los Angeles, the one I was living in was considered cheap by LA standards.

January of this year was one of the most stressful months of my entire life. After making the realization that I had almost zero money in the bank, credit cards close to maxed, and just barely getting by, I decided to make a change.

I had spent over a month researching van-dwelling. It is a term used for someone who lives in their van instead of paying for monthly rent in a traditional apartment. Some people resort to van dwelling out of necessity, and some do it in order to better accomplish their goals or connect with nature and travel a bit. The subreddit r/vandwellers and #vanlife on Instagram became my inspiration. I tuned in on a daily basis to keep looking into the options and hear stories from other people who have made a similar transition. Web developers, business owners, vagabondes, and everything in between were abundant. It made it seem like a bulletproof idea. Why hadn’t I done this earlier?!

I found a cheap van on Craigslist that was actually walking distance from my then-current apartment. I immediately set up a time to go over and check out the van.

The interior wasn’t in the best condition and the outside had some issues, but the engine seemed to run just fine, and I could make changes later. My main interest in this particular van was the low cost and the heightened ceiling. I was able to stand up straight inside with no problem, at 6 feet tall, that’s pretty convenient.

I spoke with the owner and told him that I wanted the van, but wanted a trusted mechanic to check out the engine for me since I am not well trained when it comes to vehicles. I had been using a local shop to get tires and shocks changed recently, so I went with them. They said that it ran quite well for an ‘83, but the engine was covered in oil. They recommended I get the engine steam cleaned and give it a few days so they could see if there was a leak or if it was just oil buildup from maintenance over time.

That ended up costing me around 160 dollars, and I didn’t even own the van at this point. I didn’t actually have any assurance that the owner was going to sell it to me at all. This is a step that some people may have skipped, but I wanted to give myself peace of mind. In the end, the shop gave me the thumbs up and I made an offer of $1700 on the van. By the 29th of January, he accepted the offer and I had the van in my possession, and on the 30th I moved all of my things out of the apartment and into it.

On the 31st, I moved the van to the neighborhood that my office was in. I work in a residential neighborhood, where only about half of the residences have driveways, so there is free street parking for several blocks with alternating street cleaning dates. As long as I am aware of where I am parking and mix it up between a few spots each week, then I expect that I will have no major problems.

That night was the first one I spent in the van. It was much colder than I expected that first evening, considering I was in Los Angeles. No worries, I just bundled up and slept under several blankets.

The total cost of the van, including the engine cleaning and mechanic’s checkup came out to $1950. In comparison, this was just over what I would pay for two months of rent and utilities in my apartment. If I were to take the security deposit into account, it would be just a few hundred more than my first month in the apartment.

I almost immediately broke even and have since been able to do a lot to stabilize my personal finances. More than just financial freedom, the emotional freedom this change has allowed is incredible. The major stressors in my life had seemed to melt away, and I was left with a new adventure to look forward to and the perfect vindication.

Moving To Los Angeles

With the help of my father, I packed all of my belongings into the gray Ford Focus that I would be driving almost 3,000 miles in. Once packed, he hugged me and wished me luck as I began this new part of my life. We said our goodbyes, and I was off. I didn’t realize it at the time, but he had made the same trip 34 years before. Adventure runs through my veins and I have him to thank for it.

I stopped across town at a small diner where I met my mother for breakfast. It would be the last time I would see her for a long time, I basked in those moments. We talked about my plans, her plans, and job applications. After eating, we said our goodbyes and I was on my way once again.

The drive was a grueling one, taking me through 9 different states. Day 1 would be the longest day of driving, 1,027 miles from Detroit to Oklahoma City. I had never been to Missouri or Oklahoma before, so it was nice to see part of the country that I had previously never explored. It really helped me realize how little I actually know about the places I have yet to explore. For instance, I didn’t realize that Missouri was so mountainous. The latter of my trip was full of hills and mountains that I never expected. It was a beautiful surprise.

Driving through Missouri

After 16 hours of driving, I arrived in Oklahoma City. A friend from my teenage years, Sheri, had been living and working in OKC for a while. She had graciously offered to host me for a few days as I recharged my batteries and mind from the drive. It was really great to catch up with her! She is a dance instructor and is one of the hardest workers I know. She also genuinely enjoys what she does, which is something I highly respect her for. (Ask her about the year she spent traveling the world on a cruise ship!) Pursuing her passions even if they take her half a world away.

After a few days relaxing in OKC, I found myself on the road to San Antonio for a weekend at PAX South. PAX(Penny Arcade Expo) is a massive convention that attracts a lot of gamers and companies that are in the game industry. They hold a handful of conventions each year and this was the first time they were holding an event in the south.

Instead of ponying up a few hundred dollars to stay in a hotel for the weekend, I decided to Couchsurf. I have been a member of the Couchsurfing community since around 2011, and have met some pretty awesome people through different CS events. (Thinking of the time I went to a Couchsurfing birthday party in Seoul).

I had been to some CS events but before that weekend in San Antonio, I had never stayed with someone. My host was a wonderful woman named Pam, who happily hosted myself and another convention attendee. It made for a very convenient carpool to the convention center each day.

At the event, I met a lot of fun gamers while waiting in line to test out the latest games. I also attended several panels held by top industry professionals who offered insight on getting into the industry as well as their own experiences while creating games and services. It was a nice experience to jump start my new adventure out in LA, as I was seeking a job in the gaming industry myself.

Twitch at PAX South

The highlight of the weekend was probably the Twitch party held at one of the local bars Saturday evening. The first 100 people in the door were going to get bracelets for an open bar all night. They ended up doubling the number to 200 people, and I happened to literally be the 199th person in line, so I lucked out! I got to brush shoulders with some of the industry’s most popular streamers. It was a lot of fun.

I woke up early on Monday morning to drive another 11 hours from San Antonio to Tucson. During the drive, I was contacted by a company for a position that I had applied for about a month prior. Having nothing locked down yet upon arrival, I was extremely excited to hear that they wanted to interview me the day after I arrived in Los Angeles.

When I arrived in Tucson, I was again met with some fantastic hospitality from an old friend. My buddy from university, Trey, had spent the entire day moving into a new place. When I arrived in the early evening, he still insisted we go out for food, drinks, and shuffleboard.

After a short night of sleep, I thanked Trey for being an awesome host and set off in search of the nearest In-N-Out Burger. I am not one to frequent fast-food, but I had not had a Double-Double for almost a decade; it was time.

#inNout burger!! It’s been 9 long years without a double-double… Too long. #delish #food #imseventeenagain

A photo posted by Spencer Bing (@notspencer) on 

I continued my journey after lunch, setting off for Lake Elsinore, California. This portion of the journey was the most visually boring until I began coming down from the mountains. There was a collection of fog, clouds, and sunshine that rushed past some wind turbines to make up a pretty amazing view!

Road Trip Wind Turbines

I arrived at my mother’s cousin’s home just as the sun was setting. I posted up on his couch and took in the view as I rested and caught up on my emails and social media. Kenny(my mother’s cousin), had encouraged me to make the jump out to California for over a year and offered me a place to stay on his sailboat while I got set up with a job and a place to live of my own.

The day after arriving at his home, he gave me the key to the boat and sent me on my way to Los Angeles. I arrived at Al Larson’s Marina in San Pedro around midday, my new home for the time being. It just so happened that a television show was filming at the Marina for a few days at the same time I arrived. The Last Ship.

I had actually watched the first season so it was cool to have the opportunity to walk through the middle of the set on my way in and out of the Marina. I even came across Eric Dane, the shows main actor, in full military gear with an M4 rifle in hand. He was just as badass as the show portrays, smoking a cigar on a break from shooting.

Say hello to my quarters for the near future! #onaboat #losangeles

A photo posted by Spencer Bing (@notspencer) on 

My new home is an Ericson 36 foot sailboat. It is not perfect and not a lot of space, but thats okay; I don’t require a lot of space. I have more than enough room to chill out after a long day of work and a place to rest my head each evening. Its imperfectly mine.

My First Month In Colombia

For around 8 months, I saved up for a trip. I wasn’t 100% certain where I wanted to go, but I was debating between a return to Colombia, the Philippines, or even Korea. In the end; I decided that 3-6 months in South America would be the trip I take this year. My initial plan was 2 months in Colombia, a month in Brazil for the World Cup, and then around 3 months in Argentina. I was even able to utilize some of my favorite blogs to help with the planning process, Flora the Explorer and This Battered Suitcase.

Unfortunately for me, some setbacks were in the cards.


Only five days before I was set to fly to Colombia, I was playing the last indoor football match I would get to play with my friends for a long while. It wasn’t a particularly close game; I had scored and assisted goals, but we were losing 4-2. There was under five minutes remaining in the game and we won a corner. I jogged quickly to grab the ball and take the corner, when I heard a sickening “snap” in my ankle. It sounded like someone took a handful of raw spaghetti and broke it in half. I looked down and realized that the turf had shifted and the outside of my ankle was now the bottom of my foot. Not good.


I hadn’t torn any tendons, but the doctor said that I sprained just about every tendon in my ankle and would be out of business for at least 6 weeks. Unfortunately for me, I was set to fly to Colombia in under a week. Yikes.


I sat on it for a day or two and gave a lot of thought to what I would do next. I decided to delay my trip by 2 weeks in order to give myself a small amount of time to start the healing process. After some unfortunate calls to the two airlines I would be using(American Airlines and Jet Blue); I learned that neither of my flights could be delayed, and it would have cost me additional money to cancel the ticket. Luckily, I had signed up for travel insurance through World Nomads and I am currently working to get a refund through them. They have been extremely helpful with my claim so far.


So I picked up my new flights, rested for 2 weeks, and then flew off to Bogota.


I spent two quick weeks in Bogota before heading to Amaga to volunteer at an Eco Hostel. As a result of my ankle injury, I only ended up spending a week there instead of the six I had planned. The hostel was a 40 minute walk to the town, and a 40 minute walk in the other direction to the school I was volunteering at. I thought all those stories parents/grandparents told about school being “uphill both ways” was a joke, boy was I wrong! The stress of the walk on my ankle set me back at least two weeks as it was swollen every day I was there. So after a week of this, I explained to the woman who ran the hostel that I would have to leave and could no longer volunteer, in an attempt to rest and let my ankle heal up. And just like that I was off to Medellin!


During my first week in Medellin, I quickly realized that the amount of money I would require to actually make the trip down to Brazil for the World Cup was more than I felt comfortable spending. Everything’s price was blown out of proportion as a result of the tournament; 150 USD a night for bunkbeds in a dorm that would normally run 8 USD a night. Plus over 1000 USD simply for transportation down there from Colombia. Its madness. I had also spent more money than expected in the two weeks I was resting my ankle back in Michigan. So I basically have decided to spend the next few months in Colombia, instead of traveling further through South America. This also allows me more time to get a feel for each place I visit, so I am excited.


After a week in Medellin, I contacted a hostel in Santa Marta after they requested volunteer assistance. About a week later, I was stepping off the plane in Santa Marta. My rough plan is to spend the next few weeks here, just working in the hostel, swimming in the ocean, snorkeling, and meeting new people.


Maybe in mid-June, I will head up to Tayrona national park and then back down to Cartagena to check out the old city and everything it has to offer.


Roughly, Before I leave Colombia, I am thinking of returning to Bogota for a bit of a longer stay than my initial two weeks.


And that is that; I honestly have been playing much of this trip by ear. After hearing lots of people say that they were headed to Santa Marta, I looked into it and a few days later; I was here.

I look forward to making some more friends here in Santa Marta since I have so much time! I must make it a goal for the coming week.

New Baltimore, Michigan: A Return Home

In March, before I left for Colombia; I got the chance to spend some time with my older sister, Alexandria. She now lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, so I don’t get to see her often, but she was visiting Michigan for a few days. She wanted to go urban-exploring in Detroit, checking out old ruins and taking pictures. After being tied up with work for longer than expected, we decided instead of Detroit, we would go check out our childhood stomping grounds, New Baltimore.

New Baltimore is a small city of around 12,000 which finds itself on the northwest shore of Lake St. Clair. It always had a small-town feel for me. I was friends with most of the people in my neighborhood, and was familiar with the rest. It also holds a lot of great memories for me: my first kiss, attending many Bay-a-Rama festivals, winning the Little League All Star tournament with my friends, learning how to skateboard and play guitar, and many more. But even more than all of those things, I think New Baltimore holds a special place in my heart because I had lived there longer than anywhere else in my life. For slightly over 10 years, I was able to call a house that my father largely put back together, home.

We arrived at the waterfront and parked across from the old police station. We entered the park first; both of us armed with our camera, intent on capturing some hometown nostalgia.

The weather was nice enough for us to walk around without jackets, yet the lake was still frozen, and the sun was bright and warm.

We saw the playground we used to play tag on, the new beach which neither of us had used, the ledge on which we had watched many nights of fireworks, and the new dock, seemingly for police boats. I remember when the water tower was new and was given a fresh coat of vivid red paint, it was now rusty and a tired shade of its old self.

New Baltimore

We found our way to Washington Street where I saw the Rec. Center which I had totally forgotten about; yet played floor hockey in, year after year.

We walked past Main Street and noticed that the library had gotten a very nice makeover.

Our favorite corner store was now a bar; replacing 50 cent candy bars with 4 dollar pints.

Across the street, Stahl’s bakery was giving out free smells; we obliged to our senses and went in. I purchased a fresh bag of cookies. After trying one and confirming it was delicious, my sister quickly confiscated the bag for herself. Ah, just like old times.

Ally at Stahl's Bakery

We walked further down the street and passed Mike’s Comics, where I would rush to buy my next pack of Pokemon cards each week when I was younger. I was secretly glad to see it was still around, considering most of the other storefronts seemed new. A few restaurants and bars now exist where a hair salon and pizza shop used to be; I would have to return with some old friends to check them out.

We headed back to the car for a quick trip down Ashley Street, the one where our old house was located. Turning onto the street, I could see the Stanton’s beautiful home on the corner; with the backyard the twins and I would play baseball in until we started hitting the ball well across the street.


Finally, near the end of the street, there it was; the pinnacle of New Baltimore. Home.

A Bus, a Brit, and La Burgerhouse

The Brit in question, Amelia.

SATURDAY MORNING: I heard the buzzing of my alarm and peeled one eye open to see if there was time to snooze. The time read, 6:45; so I needed to get up and get ready. With some great effort, I managed to drag myself out of bed. I hobbled around the dark hostel room and collected my things. As soon as I was ready, I grabbed my cast and went out into the hallway to put it on. I figured that I would spare the rest of the dorm from the ripping Velcro noises. I walked to the front desk and asked if they could point me in the direction of the nearest Transmilenio(bus) station. One of the girls asked if I was leaving right then, because she was leaving as well. I said yes, and she happily showed me all the way to the bus stop.

From the center of Bogota to Portal del Norte; it was a quick hour by bus as I arrived to the transfer station to meet Paula Andrea.  Paula is an awesome/ hilarious girl I met back in 2009, the first time I visited Bogota. We kept in contact through Skype and Facebook, and I was very excited to see her again.

I ended up waiting for about an hour at the bus transfer station as a result of overcompensating for how long it would actually take to get there. Paula arrived with her friend Angelica, and we quickly found our way onto the next bus to Sopo. We caught up a bit on the bus, and tried to work through my real struggle with Spanish (The struggle being that I had never really studied it before). This second bus took another hour north of Bogota. We passed SO MANY cows on the way there; I guess that its the dairy district. MOO-ving on…

We hopped off the bus in Sopo and grabbed a quick bite to eat. Afterwards, we walked up to the town square to meet some other friends. In the square was an immaculate little park. Clean, very green grass, many benches, and what was surely the oldest tree I had ever laid my eyes on (it was MASSIVE). Not to mention; it smelled fresh, a small comfort being out of the sometimes fumey Bogota. As we were walking near the park, we saw another of Paula’s friends, Larry. He joined us as we took a seat on one of those benches. After a few minutes I noticed one of Paula’s friends Giselly walking towards us with her boyfriend, Cristian. We said made some introductions and then grabbed a pair of taxis towards the local national park.

Sopo sits on the side of a nice little mountain(big-steep mountain). The national park was at the very top of this mountain, and the road to the top was mixed dirt, rocks, and short portions of pavement. It was probably the steepest road that I have ever driven on. At some points, the road is very narrow; if there is another vehicle coming the opposite way, one of the vehicles will reverse to the nearest driveway. This occurred a handful of times. Another fun part of the drive up is when you are headed up and have to wait for a car to pass, there is often a struggle to gain any momentum and start going back up the mountain road.

Fifteen minutes and seemingly lots of burnt rubber later, we paid the driver and hopped out of the taxi. It was there that I met the final member of our party, Giselly’s brother Andres. We paid around 4 mil (not quite 2 USD) to enter the park, and were on our way.

We hiked for around a mile before we came to an opening that felt like a natural balcony to the valley below. It was an absolutely riveting view, complete with a white handrail. We hiked for a few more minutes and came to another balcony with a beautiful view. We all snapped handfuls of photos of the group and the excellent view. After a few minutes, we started the hike back to the entrance of the park.

Paula Andrea and I

The ride back to the bottom of the mountain was also a fun one. We packed seven of us into a small SUV and headed down! It was a much smoother ride this time, I expect as a result of the 4wd. We stopped at Giselly’s house for a few minutes and played with her hilariously happy dog and cat. After a while, we headed down to her family’s new restaurant, La Burgerhouse, to eat a late lunch.

The restaurant wasn’t officially open yet, so we had the place largely to ourselves. The layout of the restaurant is “muy chevere” (very cool), it was largely designed by Giselly and her brother, who happens to be a very talented graphic artist. We ate in the restaurant’s backyard, in a nice green tuft of grass. Once we finished eating, we started with a few beers. After some storytelling, listening, and questions; we went into the restaurant and played some drinking/ card games. It was an amazingly memorable time, full of laughter, smiles and Colombian music!

After a while, we realized that we may have missed the last bus back to Bogota; we were having too much fun to keep track of time! We hurried off to the bus stop and luckily caught the last one! We said our goodbyes and left Sopo. Andrea and Andres helped me find the right bus transfer to get back to my hostel, and when I walked in; all hell broke loose…

“Where the hell have you been? We were so worried! We even phoned the police!” shouted Amelia as she gave me a monster hug.

I guess I had forgotten to tell her that I was headed out of town for the day. After I recounted my day for her, I gave her another hug and thanked her for being so concerned about my well-being. I had only met her a few days before, but I am definitely glad to have a new friend who is so caring that they would report me missing to police before I actually go missing! Hah.

I am loving Colombia so far. Meeting class acts like her make me remember why I love traveling so much.

Have you met some friends on the road who you just instantly clicked with too?

An Unexpected Twist

Finished with my final week of work and feeling fresh after a morning swim, I decided to play a game of football(soccer) with some friends this past Tuesday. It would be my last chance to see this group of friends for at least 6 months. It wasn’t a particularly great match, however it was fun up until the very end. With just over 2 minutes on the clock, I earned my team a corner kick. As I jogged over to grab the ball, I felt my ankle turn on the turf. The noise was something out of a cooking show; someone had clearly taken a handful of raw spaghetti and cracked it in half. Meanwhile, I was on the ground writhing in pain, thinking about how I was supposed to be catching a plane to Colombia in 5 days.

After an hour of X-rays and waiting, the doctor quickly entered the room. He explained that it wasn’t broken, but I had definitely sprained the tendons in my ankle. He also explained that a 4-6 week recovery is normal, and I’d have to stay off it for at least 2 weeks. After noticing my football boot was still on my good ankle, he reminisced about his own playing days and the pinnacle of his footballing experience: seeing the great Pele play for the New York Cosmos in the 80s. He showed excitement as I mentioned my plan to stop in Brazil for the World Cup this summer. Just as quickly as he entered the room, he was gone and I was on my way home to rest, ice, and elevate my ankle.

Some lovely shots of my foot healing.

Some lovely shots of my foot healing.


I was supposed to fly to Fort Lauderdale in order to meet up with my family in Florida during my layover. I planned to rush back to the airport afterwards to catch my flight to Bogota. After much thought, I decided to delay my trip by two weeks. The pain of my ankle would make it quite difficult to even carry my own bag. Two weeks should be enough time for me to at least begin walking again, or at least I hope so!

As I peeled one eye ungraciously open, I found that the nibble was courtesy of Mishka the cat. The squawks came from Lloyd the Cockatiel, who was perched across the room, prompting me to wake up.While I may not be leaving to Colombia today as planned, I will definitely be flying there soon! And until that time, at least I have Lloyd and Mishka to keep me company! After all, who doesn’t like a good finger nibble every once in a while!

How I Accidently Quit My Job

The last few weeks have involved a lot of planning and organizing. Selling some of my excess belongings as well as picking up some new items that will make my traveling more simple. One of those items is an iPad Mini. I uploaded some PDFs and ebooks to it and basically have taken it with me wherever I’ve gone for the past week. I think I’m addicted. xD
I was at work with some extra downtime, so I pulled out my iPad and started reading one of those PDFs. My manager noticed my new piece of technology and asked me about it. I handed it to him and he started testing it out for himself. He asked me if I had sold my laptop in order to purchase the iPad. I explained that it would be perfect for my trip. He countered, “What trip?” In that second, I knew that I had spilled the beans.

The guys at work can be an intimidating bunch. (My manager - far left)

The guys at work can be an intimidating bunch. (My manager – far left)

I told him about the trip I was planning and explained that I would be resigning near the end of March. He was surprisingly understanding and seemed excited for me when I explained my trip to him. Any worries that I may have had about resigning had subsided. It was done.

Since then, I have purchased my one way plane ticket to Colombia! I have added more cities and countries to my itinerary, and plan to travel for at least the next six months. I am extremely excited! The future is here, and it looks bright!

My Island Vacation for Under $50

“Mate, I am going to check out this island and camp out on the beach this weekend. You interested?”

His friend had been wanting to make this trip for a while and I was told, the more the merrier!

I told him that I would look into the location when I got home from training and then let him know.

San Antonio, Philippines

A quick google search of Capones Island and Anawangin Cove brought up photos of a beautiful beach, a lighthouse, and another beach covered in Pine trees. PINE TREES, IN THE PHILIPPINES?! With such bizarre promise, I had to check it out!

I texted Ali and told him that I would meet him at the station.

So here is how it played out:

We woke up at 4:30am and Ali met me at my apartment to share a taxi to the bus station. We stopped at a nearby store to pick up some drinks and snacks before heading over to the bus station to get our tickets. Since it was early, there wasn’t too much of a line and we settled in and waited for Ali’s friend Aldrin and the bus.

Once they arrived, we crammed ourselves into some seats and quickly discovered that it would be a chilling trip. With the air conditioning set to max, we bundled on all of our layers and tried to sleep. I slept on-and-off for most of the trip thanks to my legendary Microsoft Zune and a borrowed hoodie.

After a 5 hour trip north from Manila, we arrived in San Antonio. The three of us piled out of the bus and collected our things, and off the bus went.

It was at this point that Aldrin realized that he left the bag with all of our food and his clothes on the bus. Since they didn’t have a way to contact the bus directly so we were out of luck.

We did a quick bag check as we regrouped to figure out our next step. We discovered that we still had the bag with our tents, so it wasn’t a complete loss.

Aldrin borrowed a phone and called the bus station to sort out the bag he forgot. He worked it out so that they would leave his bag at the station in Manila and he could pick it back up when we returned.

Once that was settled, we packed ourselves like sardines into a trike (See: roughly welded together motorbike and sidecar). After a 20 minute, extremely bumpy, trike ride, we arrived along the coast.


I was about to step into the sand when I realized that I had forgotten to bring sandals. Here I was at the beach in jet black tennis shoes and jeans, looking like a major boludo. It was awkward to say the least, I was definitely unprepared.

I had noticed a road-side shop on our way in, only a block away from the beach. I quickly made my way over to it, asking the woman inside about sandals. She showed me dozens of children’s and women’s sandals, but none that would fit me. After a few minutes she pointed to the only pair of sandals that was around my size. They were a combination of every bright color you could imagine and even had an added platinum flair to them that really caught your eye. It was basically a platinum rainbow, in sandal form. I was not about to complain though, it was either these or black tennis shoes on the hot beach all weekend. I purchased the sandals for only 82 php, some bread for 40 php, and ran to catch up with Ali and Aldrin.

While I was off looking for footwear, Aldrin was busy making a deal with the captain of a small boat to take us to Capones Island for a few hours, drop us off at the beach cove where we would stay the night, and then finally pick us up early the following morning to give us a ride back to San Antonio. We hopped on board and we were on our way!


After about 35 minutes, we arrived at the front of Capones Island. There were several groups of people along the beach and sunbathing on the rocks. We were under the impression that we would be able to see the island’s lighthouse, but we were informed that that would require a several hour hike across the island and up some cliffs. After speaking with our captain, Aldrin mentioned that they would be willing to anchor on the far side of the island and we would be able to swim into an area much closer to the lighthouse. We decided to do that.

The swim into the island was hilarious. Although the water started only neck deep, the shallows were full of rocks covered in the most slippery algae known to man! (Or so it seemed). It was literally impossible for us to balance on any of the rocks and what resulted was each of us being forced to swim up to 6 inches deep of water in order to avoid falling.

Once we finally got to shore, we climbed the stairs, towards the lighthouse. It wasn’t difficult getting there, but the steps were quite hot, after soaking in the sun all morning! Good thing I brought my new flip-flops!


We spent about an hour on the island itself, exploring, taking photographs, and even climbing to the top of the lighthouse tower. It was an amazing view; we sat up there for a 30 minutes before heading back down to shore. After a short crawl and swim to the boat, we were headed off to Anawangin Cove.

A quick 30 minute boat ride later, we were hopping off the boat and onto the beach. Much to my (pleasant) surprise, it was a completely undeveloped beach with just tents and a wooden fence. We were truly out in nature, it was brilliant.

En Route to Capones Island

As we picked a location for our tents, a man came along selling home-made ice cream. It was surprisingly delicious and the perfect treat to cool us down.


Once we finished setting up camp, we decided to set off into the woods. We had heard that there was a waterfall a few KM upstream, so we set off in that direction. After following the river for at least two hours, we never found it. It started getting late and the sun was going down, so we headed back towards the beach. It was definitely a fun experience, but I would not recommend that anyone hike 5 miles in sandals, hah.

We arrived back at the beach just in time to swim in the ocean for a bit and catch an amazing sunset. Afterwards, we dried off and got ready to eat dinner.

“What was for dinner?” you might ask, potato sticks and a loaf of bread. Since there were no shops there at the cove, we were stuck with what we picked up earlier in the day where I got my fancy flip-flops. We split it up three ways on our beach table and then quickly devoured it.


Once we cleaned up from dinner, we set off to meet some of the other people on the beach.

After a short walk through the pines, we settled on a group to join. They had a campfire on the edge of the tree line, yet still on the beach.

We asked if we could join them and indicated that we brought along some sweet nectar of the gods ($5 pints of rum). They enthusiastically waved us over and we got to introductions.

We ended up drinking and laughing for much of the night. One of the guys around the campfire was REALLY into Ali, which made it pretty awkward for Ali himself, being the ladies man that he is. Aldrin and I egged the guy on to keep hitting on Ali and I just remember some major laughter coming as a result.

This all lasted for a few hours, while some campers enjoyed an evening swim, and others were playing catch with glowsticks along the beach and in the water. When Ali and Aldrin decided they had had enough rum and laughter, they softly let his admirer down and headed back to our tents.

I stuck around for another hour or so to admire the evening, the ocean, and the stars with my new friends. I had grown up around the Great Lakes, but it was my first time swimming in the ocean. It was great.

After a while, I said my goodbyes, headed back to the tent, and immediately passed out.

We woke up early the next morning, just as the sun was coming up over the hillside. The captain that gave us a ride to the island had returned to bring us back to our launch point. From there, it would be another crammed trike ride and another 5 hour bus ride back to Manila.


Although it was a last second trip, and we had to rough it a bit after forgetting bags, we still managed to have a great time.

I can think of far worse ways to spend $50. ;).