What happens when you get tired of traveling? Once you get past the sightseeing stage, you realise that sights become repetitive - another Church, another castle, another cobblestoned plaza, another amazing beach and so on and so forth. When Sole Sister Julienne took up a few weeks of Spanish last year, she realised that many young Europeans would rather stay put and learn a language and enjoy a city over a longer period of time rather than spend all their money on a 13-country tour. She comes back with a review of the third language school she’s attended in Spain over the span of two years.
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Rooftop Gourmet Experience, El Corte Ingles, Callao 

April 2016: Madrid, Spain

It was time to make the switch. I had been studying with a language school near Gran Vía for a few weeks up to that point, and I was not a hundred percent happy with how it was going. While I liked my teachers, I was placed in the wrong level and in a time slot that didn’t fit my schedule. Reception did not do anything about my requests until over a week had passed, and even then they were not very pleasant to deal with. A little smile never hurt anyone, has it?!

So I transferred to AIL Madrid - the third Spanish language school I’ve tried in the span of two years.

Discovery: your language school of choice has the power to define your experience in the city.

Read: 7 Reasons Why You Should Really Take Spanish Classes


Spanish Classes - AIL Madrid
Taking a siesta at the rooftop of Mercado de San Antón


Language Study vs. Traveling for the Sake of Travel
Many people - especially Asians - would rather blow their money on a grand tour packed with sightseeing, cruises, hotel accommodations, “must eat” restaurants, etc. A lot think language study is an unnecessary expense when they just want to see and do as much as possible with the time they have. Little do people know that it doesn’t have to be expensive, and it provides and even fuller experience than just traveling for the sake of “ticking things off your bucket list” (and having all those Instagram pictures of yourself superimposed on 1 million UNESCO heritage landmarks).


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Nothing wrong with a tour, just like what we did with our dad in Cordoba. 
It’s just a completely different experience!


You can get a room in Madrid for a month for as low as 300 euros (I was paying 350). That beats hostel rates per night in Europe. A good value language school can be around 150 euros a week depending on how long you stay (the longer, the cheaper).

And what you can’t put a price tag on: friends that you will make for life. For a period, you live your day to day life with them, exploring your own little secret corners of the city together.
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Hiking Madrid’s La Pedriza with my classmates

I met so many people from the very first day in AIL - not just from class but also thanks to the welcome tapas the school holds for all new students every Monday (more free food and drinks than we could actually finish). That’s when you meet people of different levels of study, eager to make new friends because like you, they’re new to town.

Other after class activities included Spanish cooking classes, bike rides along the river, and the popular Friday “noche de copas”. But my favourite were the Spanish and Dance (Flamenco, Tango, Sevillanas etc) courses, because dancing is my thing. But if it’s not yours, there’s Spanish and Art (painting, drawing, photography, pottery…), Gourmet Spanish (cooking) etc.

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Welcome tapas - more free food than we could finish


Who do you meet at language school? Talking demographics, last year AIL had students from over 63 different countries from all ages and stages of life. At 27, I was sitting on the fence between university students and retirees. I really got along with a super intelligent Brazilian lady lawyer doing her sabbatical in Madrid. And then there was the party-hard Dutch guy on Erasmus who kept inviting me to electronic parties with his flatmates.

The Smallest Politeness Can Go a Long Way
Compared to the previous language school I was in, admin at AIL Madrid was so much more accommodating and way more efficient - from switching campuses and timeslots to arranging the level to advance rather than waste time re-learning things you already know. Plus, they would smile and greet you and say bye whenever you come and go - funny how the smallest cordialities can go a long way. (Obviously, I’m scarred from the last school)

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I couldn’t resist eating this on my way to school - the best chocolate cake in the world!

I already had my own accommodations but the school offered a variety of options. If hadn’t already been living with my Spanish girlfriend, I would probably have chosen to stay with a host family. I had classmates who had the funniest reenactments of their host mothers in class; I would go green with envy when they actually had home cooked meals when I would have to resort to burritos at Takoaway, where the latino staff would always hit on me in the most hilarious of ways.

"¿Que tal cariño?... Aprende español conmigo, te enseñaré todo lo que necesites saber…" (How are you love? Learn Spanish with me, I’ll teach you everything you need to know)

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“Playing” in the famous El Retiro Park with classmates after morning classes

One thing I really appreciated as well was the fact that you could get an International student ID valid for one year. This gives you either free (!!!) or super discounted access at museums and other similar establishments all over Europe. Wish I had gotten one sooner!

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When the weather was bad, I would spend afternoons at museums. This was taken at the compelling Museo Arqueológico Nacional, also right by the school. And of course, entrance is free for students.

Location: Barrio Salamanca, Madrid’s Prettiest

Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park - Madrid’s most famous. Barrio Salamanca is Madrid’s poshest district full of chic cafes and restaurants. The neighbourhood is lined by beautiful old buildings, birds chirping in the trees, chic shops all around, and the greenery that the barrios around Gran Vía (where I was formerly studying) lack. I would grab breakfast at the Carrefour Express across the school, or at the hipster bakery around the corner. They even had the Valencian specialty horchatas con fartons (like a cold, light, summer version of churros) by the metro station, which I couldn’t resist on warmer days.

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Walking to school everyday, I would pass by Retiro Park

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Horchata con farton

Literally at the school’s doorstep are the shopping streets of Goya and Serrano, and if you like to party (like me, because I love dancing, especially to latino music!), Madrid’s preferred nightlife hotspots are right there: Gabana, Le Boutique, La Posada de las Animas, etc.

  • Metro stops three minutes from the school: Velázquez, Principe de Vergara, and Retiro stations

About AIL Madrid

Academics: I didn’t mean to leave this one for last, since after all it should be the most important aspect of a school. Here are the basics - AIL Madrid is Cervantes-accredited (always the best place to begin when booking a Spanish course), and lessons are conducted via debates, games, grammatical exercises, music, and conversation. You can eat in class, speaking your mind (in Spanish, of course) is encouraged, even joking around was the norm. AIL is apparently the only school that makes up class hours missed for national holidays, and my Dutch classmate chose to study there because they agreed on a flexible programme for him wherein he could come in around thrice a week rather than do the intensive everyday schedule.

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Scrabble in Spanish


Before I was able to move up a level, the academic director personally made sure I was qualified and tested my subjunctive skills, which I managed not to botch up too badly.

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Class selfie on my last day of class


Have you taken up a language during your travels? Share your experience in the comments section!

Disclosure: AIL Madrid provided a one week intensive course in exchange for an honest review.


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Missing Madrid from 7,000 miles away,
Sole Sister Julienne

Sole Sister Julienne of Morena Travels is a 27 year old Manila-but-not-so-Manila girl who's lived in Hong Kong for five years as an editor of a tourism magazine. She loves board games, adventures, getting lost in the great outdoors, karaoke, trying new things, dancing, good food, meeting amazing people and having intelligent conversations. Currently based between Manila and Hong Kong (but earlier this year between Madrid and Berlin, her two favourite cities in the world), Julienne is getting ready to hustle in the corporate world once again after over a year of travelling. Stay tuned for her latest at IG @morenatravels.
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We all want to travel forever don't we? But there's always something standing between our dream destination and where we are: that dreaded bank account balance. What if I told you that there's a way for you to spend less money and travel to more places? 

These tips are things we can all do. It just takes a little bit of sacrifice and a lot of creativity. 

BEFORE YOUR TRIP

1 Stop Spending Unnecessarily 

Months before my planned trip, I always have my mantra on replay "The less you spend here, the more you get to spend elsewhere." For example, if I have the itch to buy some new clothes, books or whatnot, I just imagine myself in a place I've never been and buying things from there. Suddenly, my impulsive need to make a purchase disappears, knowing that I can get something better if I can wait a little more. 

Travel Blogger Money

2 Cancel Recurrent Fees 

If your account gets automatically debited for anything you don't really need, just cancel it. You can survive without your gym membership, postpaid cellphone subscription, or movie club membership, can't you? Try to replace them with other things to preoccupy you that don't cost that much. Think of other costs you can do without, your weekly salon appointment, that daily cup a joe, expensive rent... Perhaps it's time to downsize your lifestyle and use your savings to explore a new country?

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3 Sell Your Stuff

With social media, anyone can do a virtual garage sale these days. Perhaps it's time for some spring cleaning and take out any unwanted items from your place? Decluttering, upcycling, recycling and letting go of some possessions can do wonders.  A few used things you can get rid of that can add to your travel fund: bags, clothes, furniture, gadgets, equipment, watches, books, etc. You may think some of these are worthless, but other people may be willing to pay for them. 

DURING YOUR TRIP 

4 Book Ahead 

Sign up for budget airlines seat sale alerts so you can be notified of cheap flights. If you book months in advance, flights and accommodations may also cost less when the demand is low. 

5 Avoid High Season

Do your research in advance and find out when is low season at your planned destination. Chances are, accommodations, tours and other expenditures will cost much lower than usual. Even just a few weeks before or after high season can save you a lot of money. 

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6 Use Online Travel Agencies

One of the main benefits of using travel agencies like Traveloka Philippines is being able to compare flights and accommodations not just based on rates and prices, but also on reviews. It makes things a lot easier and your choices become less complicated. You can also view facilities that each hotel offers and what popular sights surrounding the hotel. They don't only help users find the best price of flights and hotels, they also provide assistance in case of problems during pre-departure. This user-friendly experience comes with non-stop customer service.

7 Find Freebies

Travel does not have to be expensive, sometimes it comes free or at a small cost.

Transportation: Get free flights with travel points through your credit card or frequent flyer miles.  To get from point A to point B, consider hitchhiking (where it's safe), biking, or walking. You can also try ride sharing like blah blah car.

Strangers We Know: Meet Jorgelina


Accommodations: Find friends or family living in your travel destination and ask if you can stay with them. Alternately, you can also ask to stay with locals via couchsurfing. You can also offer to house sit or do a home exchange. Some hostels offer free food and lodging in exchange for work.

Make Travel Happen 2 - Volunteers

Gear: Specific gear for winter, sports or specific activities like mountain climbing can cost a fortune. Try to borrow or barter. Also try scouring second hand thrift shops. 

Food: Always ask if breakfast comes free wherever you are staying. Sometimes, even though it's not clearly offered, some establishments can include meals in the price if you ask nicely.

Groups Discounts or Perks: If you're traveling in a group, ask your tour operator or hotel/hostel if you can get a discount or some add-ons. They might be willing to lower your cost or include breakfast or even a massage to get more business.

FOR LONG TERM TRIPS

8 Look for Volunteer Opportunities 

They are so many opportunities to volunteer all over the world. To start with, think of a skill or a talent that you can share to create value. Then find establishments, companies or organizations that can benefit from them in exchange for covering some, if not all, of your travel costs. Some examples would be teaching yoga, teaching English, working at a hostel or bed and breakfast, teaching children, and so much more. Check out WWOOF and Helpx for more volunteer opportunities.

9 Find Work in a Foreign Country 

There are so many websites that offer jobs that allow you to travel, live and work abroad. Here are a few examples: Workaway, Backpacker Job Market, Start Me Up.

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10 Travel Full Time

If your job allows you to work remotely, why not make travel your lifestyle? Instead of having to pay for rent or a mortgage, car payments or internet and mobile fees, you will be able to roam the world and not have to stick to a boring routine. Clearly, this move is not for everyone. But if you decide to become a full time traveler, you will certainly get to experience the world at your own pace and live a remarkably unconventional life.

Enjoyed this article? Also check out 10 Sassy Ways to Master the Art of Travel

How do you travel more? Share your tips in the comments sections!

Sole Sister Lois has traveled extensively and has lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She is currently based in Europe with her husband and daughter. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters
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When I first decided to travel in Southeast Asia, I went on that journey with only 1 goal in mind: to travel to as many places, for as long as I can, on as little as possible. I had set out with 1 backpack, with around 2,500 USD and very little expectations.

I ended up exploring 9 countries in the region for 6 months and came back with more than a backpack's worth of wisdom earned from the road. Southeast Asia taught me many things. To be humble, to lose myself, to let go of attachments, among many things.

But most of all, it has healed my soul and opened me up to limitless possibilities. Here's how:

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I learned to channel into the NOW.

One of the most poignant moments of my trip was sitting in a slow boat in Laos on the Mekong river and simply staring at the water and the foliage. It was in that moment when I realized that I was exactly where I needed to be. I was not in a rush to be somewhere or to do something. I was simply allowing the moment to unfold without interrupting it with my own thoughts and interpretation.

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I learned to accept strangers' generosity.

In Indonesia, I was forced to rely on the kindness of a stranger. I had to fly out of Bali during Nyepi, the Balinese Day of Silence. It's a day where the locals don't work, travel, talk or even eat. It was very unfortunate for me because I didn't have enough cash and the ATMs at the airport were all closed. At boarding time, the ticket counter would not let me get on the plane because I did not have the 15 USD airport fee. I felt very helpless and was close to tears. Then the guy behind me asked what was the matter. I explained the situation to him. Without another word, he opened his wallet, took out the money and wished me a good flight. 

This was not an isolated case. I've received kindness from others on a regular basis while traveling in the region. I've had to borrow money from an Indonesian guy when I went broke in Thailand. I've been offered tea and pastries by teenage girls who had very little in Myanmar. I was handed 100 USD by a Canadian traveler just because she thought I could make good use of it. I've been hosted by countless people through couchsurfing who have never asked for anything in return.

And the most surprising thing? Those who have little are often the ones who give most.

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I realized just how trivial my problems were.

Back at home, I found myself complaining about the littlest things. A rude co-worker. Traffic jams. An expensive camera that I couldn't afford. Bad weather. But while traveling through Laos, the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia and all those far flung and less developed places, I realized that I had so much to be grateful for and very little to complain about. 

I met a farmer who was wounded and could not afford to buy bandages and antiseptic. I dressed his wound with my first aid kit. I've seen little children who could not even return my smile because they were suffering from hunger. Being exposed to these realities were painful at times, but it balanced my perception of the world. So now, when I'm faced with something difficult, I simply remember my travels in Southeast Asia and tell myself, "You can hack through this. You've seen worse. You've been through worse."

Southeast Asia - Myanmar

I felt so poor and found meaning in suffering.

While traveling in Southeast Asia, I ran out of money a few times. I became literally penniless because some of the places I went to didn't have any ATMs. There were places I went to that wouldn't accept the currency I was carrying. I knew what it was like to be hungry. I knew what it's like to have to sleep on a cold airport floor. I knew what it was like to have to be resourceful to survive. I may have been in a pitiful state but I never felt any self-pity. I knew that everything I was experiencing was fleeting and temporal. But what I learned would stay with me forever.

Southeast Asia - Vietnam

I felt so rich and developed compassion.

Alternately, I landed in places like Vietnam where I became a millionaire overnight, albeit in the local currency. I've paid a few dollars for lunch in some places where families had to survive for a week on that amount. I've witnessed people working so hard in fishing villages to bring home a pittance to their family but shared with me the fish they caught that day.

All in all, I learned that poverty and affluence are only a matter of perspective.

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I've practiced an attitude of gratitude.

I'm not a very religious person and people often ask me why I always remember to say a prayer before each meal. It's to express gratitude that at that moment I had something to eat. There were days when I had to go without. While hiking across Myanmar, there were moments when I was grateful to be able to sleep on a mat and have a bucket of cold water for a bath.

Even today, I remember not to take these small luxuries for granted.

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I've accepted that nothing is within my control.

 
I missed a flight in Thailand. I got a flat tire while biking in Angkor Wat and missed the splendor of the sunset. I ran out of money in Myanmar. I've thought I lost my passport while trying to make a border crossing in Vietnam. I've left my luggage on an island in Batanes and had to go for days with almost no possessions. I've been forced into situations where absolutely nothing was predictable or familiar. So I learned to let go of that need to always be in control of things. Because nothing truly is.

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I learned to test and go beyond my limits.

Traveling for 6 months in Southeast Asia tested me physically, emotionally and spiritually. I learned how far I can actually walk with 10 kilos on my back. I learned to endure nonstop bus and train rides. I've even gone for days without a decent shower or a bed. It tested my patience constantly. It made me realize how much I can actually carry, literally and figuratively. I learned to stare at Fear in the eye, acknowledge its presence, and discovered we were actually on a journey together. I lowered my expectations in every place I visited and was always amazed each time.

The cornerstones of all spiritual practice are reducing fear and expectation. And if that's true, then travel is one of the best ways to attain enlightenment.

Kid monk in red robes  Myanmar

I learned to suspend judgement.

Because I was exposed to different types of cultures and environments, I realized how we are all essentially the same. We all have dreams. We all have fears. We all love and protect those we love. So I became less on my guard and more open to the little miracles of daily existence.

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I learned that I am not my ego.

Before this trip, I had a very comfortable life. I had a stable job, a great place to live, the respect and admiration of family and colleagues. I had been on my way to what would have been a very fruitful career in the banking industry. When I exchanged my heels for hiking boots, and power suits for tank top and shorts, the change was absolute. Stripped of a job, my most prized possessions, a familiar and comfortable environment, affection and support from family and friends, I asked myself "Who am I?"

That's when I realized that identity and other people's perception of me did not matter as much as I thought. All that was just ego. When you put yourself in a wildly unfamiliar and often uncomfortable place, you begin to be more aware of your thoughts, your fears, your hidden desires. And then you come face to face with who you really are.

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I allowed myself to be. 

In Chiang Mai, I chatted with a monk and learned about the Buddhist principle of anatta, or the non-self. It's the doctrine that allows you to let go of the trappings and get down to who you really are, which is the observer.  The observer feels, but is not the feeling. She sees but is not the scene. So she becomes lighthearted and free to see the world as it is without getting herself caught up in it. 

And so, when my 6 months traveling around Southeast Asia was up, I came home to the Philippines knowing that it was not the end of my exploration. I arrived where I my journey began and started to see the place for what seemed like the first time. Nothing had changed. It was I who had been completely and irrevocably transformed.

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When I first planned this trip, I stared at a map of Southeast Asia and marvelled on how vast it was and how small I was. I saw myself as this tiny dot, fragmented and broken, apart from the whole. 

When I came back from the journey, I learned to see who I really am- a more expansive, more connected part of a much greater World. I found my true, humble place in the World, and all is well with my soul.

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Our ebook "Where Should I Go in Southeast Asia?" is available only until June 30th! 
This was co-created with Marie of Miles of Happiness.
After that, we will be removing it online. It's now on sale for only 9.99 USD! BUY NOW!


Sole Sister Lois has traveled extensively and has lived in Asia, the United States, and Europe. She is currently based in Europe with her husband and daughter. She is the co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of We Are Sole Sisters and has written the ebook "Where Should I Go in Southeast Asia?" based on her travels in the region for 6 months on less than 2,500 USD.
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Girls, listen up! It’s about time you transform your hapless tourist selves into a kickass travel ninjas. Sole Sister Julienne shares her 100% tried and tested travel hacks - from meeting cool local guides to avoiding financial awkwardness with your travel buddies.

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Sole Sister Lois relives a painful experience of getting denied a visa and shares how you can avoid it, or deal with your own visa woes.

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Singapore-based designer Melissa Hie became an overnight Instagram sensation after dedicating her account entirely to food shots with travelgram-worthy backdrops. We catch up with this Indonesian foodie with an appetite to match her wanderlust.


Our spotlight this month is sure to get your stomachs grumbling. Travelling foodie Melissa Hie of Girl Eat World found herself stumbling upon massive Instagram fame after pushing through with a simple concept two years ago: publish photos of food in hand against current setting. And just like that, her page exploded online, getting featured on Huffington Post, BuzzFeed and Business Insider. Today, with more than 236,000 followers, Melissa is a bonafide Instagram celebrity.

“Thanks to all these websites, at its peak, I received over 11,000 followers overnight,” says Melissa.

We’re lucky to have been able to grab a quick interview with her in between her day job and sponsored trips. What do we uncover? A down-to-earth personality who is good at keeping things simple, and becoming all the more successful for it.

Melissa of Girl Eat World - Teh Kotak in West Papua
Teh Kotak at Pianemo view point in Raja Ampat, West Papua


Could you tell us more about your earliest travel memories?

My parents took me to Genting Highlands in Malaysia when I was maybe 3 years old. Back in the day, Genting was known for its casinos. I don't remember much from the trip except that I somehow met a met a kind dealer from the casino and he gave me some tokens to play with.

How did you start traveling?

Growing up, I moved around quite a bit with family and school. Then in 2009, I moved to Singapore. Thanks to its strategic location I was able to travel to nearby Asian countries in a time and cost effective manner. After a short trip to Thailand in 2010 I discovered my love for being on the road and that it doesn’t have to be expensive to travel. The year after that, I went to Europe for the first time, and didn’t stop from there. My goal is to visit at least one new place every year! I also enjoy scuba diving, which sort of overlaps with travel in a different way. It takes me to obscure places I never thought I would ever visit!

What pushed you to move to Singapore by yourself?

After finishing college, I tried to move to Jakarta to be closer to my family. However I found that I don't do well sitting in traffic jams and it was making me very unhappy having to deal with it everyday. So after visiting Singapore in March, I looked into career options and sent off my resume to a bunch of companies. The rest is history.

Melissa of Girl Eat World - Angkor Wat
Inside Angkor Wat


What were the biggest struggles you had to deal with moving abroad on your own?

Making friends that truly connect. I'm an introvert and I find it difficult to open up to people that I don't know very well. But over time, I learned how to make friends and this is no longer an issue.

How did you begin Girl Eat World?

I have always enjoyed telling stories and have grown up blogging with the likes of blogger, livejournal, xanga, etc. Unfortunately none of the blogs stayed after I started working full-time, but I did keep up my travel blog and found it very useful for future reference. Then one time I was in Rome with my good friend Serena. She insisted on taking my picture in front of the Coliseum, while I insisted on eating my sandwich because I was too hungry. The resulting pic was a funny one of me pigging out in front of an iconic background.

Since then, I thought about doing a collection of pics like that, of me eating in front of famous places, but the next time I went to Europe I was by myself and a bit shy about asking strangers to take a picture of me. So I took the food pics by myself in front of whatever iconic backgrounds I happened to be in. Then I posted these pictures to my personal Facebook where I received positive feedback from friends so I kept on taking one at every city I visited, for my own personal amusement.

One of my friends (who owns @nycars, a popular Instagram for unique vintage cars) convinced me to create a dedicated Instagram for my food pictures. I toyed around with the idea but only got around to it after my Japan trip in May 2014 — about 8 months after I started taking these pictures. And that’s how the @girleatworld Instagram was born!

Melissa of Girl Eat World - Great Wall of China

At the Great Wall of China

How do you eat your way through the world?

For me, as long as it’s local I will try it. Bonus points if they tell interesting histories about the place (like currywurst in Germany for example).

You often travel alone. What are the pros and cons to you of solo travel, especially as an Asian woman?

Solo traveling allows me to make a trip completely for myself and about the things I want to see or experience. The downside though is having less food variety since there is no one to share meals with!

As a woman,  the pro is that people are much nicer to me. They don't see me as a threat and are more willing to help. It also helps that I tend to look much younger than I really am.

The con is that - for the same reasons - I could be seen as an easy target for scams too.

Melissa of Girl EatMelissa of Girl Eat World - Amman Jordan
Amman, Jordan

What was the most challenging country you've been to? And how did you overcome that?

Probably Morocco, but only Marrakesh, since it was overwhelming. After awhile I just kinda learned to be vigilant, ignore the seller touting and learn how to bargain, so I was okay.

How do you fund your trips?

By saving up and being very careful with my spending.

Melissa of Girl Eat World - Australia
Australian Outback: Kakadu National Park

Would you ever give up your full-time job to travel?

Probably not. I plan to take a break and do full-time traveling for maybe a year, but I think I would go back and do a normal job. I need that stability in life.

How does your family see your travel lifestyle? Are they always supportive or do they sometimes show concern?

My mom is always concerned and thinks I'm crazy whenever I go to a place that is less conventional! Haha!

Melissa of Girl Eat World - Myanmar2
Bagan, Myanmar

All photos courtesy of Girl Eat World

Melissa Hie is the girl behind Girl Eat World. As the name suggests, she loves eating and traveling the world. Food, Travel and Visual story-telling are her three main passions. She also enjoys scuba diving, which sort of overlaps with travel in a different way. It takes her to obscure places she never thought she would visit. Follow her gastronomic adventures on Girl Eat World and her Facebook and Instagram.

Want to read more about women empowering women to travel? Check out more at Sole Sister Spotlight.

Do you know of travelers who conquer the world one country at a time? We would love to interview them for Sole Sister Spotlight. Please send us an email at solesisters(dot)weare(at)gmail.com. We look forward to your suggestions!
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Sole Sister Adi has been traveling all over Latin America for months and is debunking myths and sharing her personal truths from her experiences in the region.

1. No one speaks English

It’s true that most people don't speak English, or more accurately put, people will expect you to speak Spanish. So you basically have two options - try to learn enough to get around on your own, or don’t veer off the Gringo trail (discussed in #3).

The best option is to make a real effort to speak enough Spanish so that you can get around hassle-free and maybe even bargain a little. Carry a Latin American Spanish phrasebook with you wherever you go and practice everyday! People who live in the cities and work for the tourism industry may have different levels of comprehension and will be able to carry conversations, so you’ll still be able to make some local friends.

Misconceptions on Traveling Latin America3


2. It’s dangerous as hell

Not really. Just like lot of places in the world, petty crimes do happen and you'll have to be more careful in crowded places. So take the usual precautions. Don’t carry a lot of valuables, don’t wear flashy jewellery, and keep your cash on hand to a minimum. Avoid looking like a clueless tourist on vacation. Don’t wander around alone late at night.

Whenever I travel in public buses or trains, I never let my backpack out of sight and I always wear a money belt around my waist, under my clothes. I stick my passport, ATM and credit card in there too for extra peace of mind. I’ve traveled Central America and South America only taking public buses on my own. They play movies in Spanish so it’s a great way to learn. They’re not so bad!

Read more: 5 Tips to Stay Safe as a Solo Sister in Central America

Misconceptions on Traveling Latin America4

3. You will get kidnapped

Trust your instincts. If you are a solo female traveler, it’s best to stick to what they call the Gringo trail to play it safe. These destinations are the usual points of interests, visited by foreigners on a regular basis. These places are protected by the tourist police patrolling the areas. I sort of broke this rule when I sailed next to the Darien Gap, a dense impenetrable forest infamous for its drug cartel trade. It’s still one of the most dangerous places in the world, but a company called San Blas Adventures have been safely sailing from Panama to Colombia and vice versa for the past few years in the heavily patrolled marine border. It was quite the adventure and I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

Misconceptions on Traveling Latin America6

4. There are drugs everywhere

This is so true. Drugs are everywhere and they are cheap! But that doesn’t mean you have to try them. Never express any interest in taking drugs or getting involved in prostitution. Guys, make sure your Tinder date isn’t going to ask for money when you leave her the next morning. Always be sober enough to be aware of what’s going on around you and know how to get home safely. Even some of the most sacred Ayahuasca ceremonies have ended up badly, leading to overdosing, rape and even death.

Misconceptions on Traveling Latin America1

5. It’s too expensive

This is subjective depending on each country as well as which part of it you're in.But to simplify things and give you a general idea, I’m going to compare Costa Rica, the most expensive country in Latin America and Colombia which shows us about the average in South America.
Please note that the following are the average estimated costs for a typical backpacker in US Dollars in the year 2015 - 2016.

DAILY EXPENSES ON A BACKPACKING BUDGET                        

Hostel Dorm Bed
Costa Rica/ Central America - 10 USD  
Colombia/ South America - 8 USD

Hostel Cooked Breakfast 
Costa Rica/ Central America - 4 USD
Colombia/ South America - 1 USD
Cup of Freshly Brewed Coffee Costa Rica/ Central America - 3 USD
Colombia/ South America - .60 (cents) USD

1 Litre Bottled Water Costa Rica/ Central America (Potable in most places) - 2 USD
Colombia/ South America - (Potable in bigger cities) - 1 USD

Lunch at a Cheap Local Place
Costa Rica/ Central America - 8 USD for a Casado (A plate of rice, beans, salad, meat & patacones)
Colombia/ South America - 3 USD for a Bandeja paisa (A plate of rice, beans, salad, meat, arepa, fried egg & avocado slice)

Dinner at a nice restaurant
Costa Rica/ Central America - starts at 12 USD
Colombia/ South America - starts at 6 USD

Local Beer
Costa Rica/ Central America - 3 USD
Colombia/ South America - 1 USD

Bus Fare (per hour)
Costa Rica/ Central America - 8 USD
Colombia/ South America - 2 USD

Daily Total (Average)  
Costa Rica/ Central America -  Around 50 USD
Colombia/ South America - Around 22.60 USD

To save money in Costa Rica, I volunteered at different yoga retreat centers to save on accommodation and meals. In between jobs, I traveled to different parts of the country and couchsurfed or stayed in hostels. Though they were pretty affordable, it’s the meals that took a lot out of my daily budget so I ended up making a lot of vegetarian dishes. I basically had to restrain from any kind of alcohol.

I came to Colombia wanting to do the same when I realized, “Oh my gosh, I can actually afford to eat out three times a day here!” Obviously, making your own meals can save you loads of money if you are staying a couple of days in one place. Lately, we’ve been taking turns cooking sumptuous meals at our hostel and are more than happy to share. So basically, Colombia is so cheap you can choose to have a nice meal at a restaurant or cook for eight hungry backpackers!

Here’s a quick guide to help you get around Latin America:

Misconceptions on Traveling Latin America2


Off to the next adventure,
Sole Sister Adi

Sole Sister Adi escaped from the corporate world so her life now happily revolves around yoga and travel. She lives a simple, eco-friendly lifestyle and inspires those around her to do the same. She shares her AntiGravity and yoga practice everywhere she goes and dreams of building rustic Secret Spot hostels in beautiful tropical destinations. She just came back to the Philippines after a long term backpacking trip across Latin America. Follow Adi's adventures on Love the Search and on Facebook and Instagram.
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