Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Puns for the Traveler in Your Life

If your Valentine is a map-loving, globe-trotting traveler, he or she may be more into tickets than truffles and prefer road trips over roses. You will definitely need to use the right words to really win 'em over. Lucky for you, I've designed some very funny punny Valentines to share with yours on this special day.

 Words submitted by @estrellaexplore of

Feel free to download, print and share these with your valentines.

Can you think of any valentine travel puns that I missed? Leave your ideas in the comments! 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

17 Creative Travel #Hashtags to Use & Follow on Instagram

I love Instagram and I'm not afraid to admit it. I'm not the least bit ashamed of my slight addiction because I'm willing to bet that most of you are similarly obsessed. Well, why would you have clicked on this post if you don't love Instagram? And just in case you're not a fan of the fast, easy, double-tapping social media platform, you may not want to stick around. We probably wouldn't get along anyway.

For travelers and anyone who would like to travel (that's basically everyone, right?), Instagram allows us to share our current adventures or virtually cure the travel bug by scrolling through other people's adventures.

Recently, I've grown pretty tired of the typical #hashtags that I, along with most other travel bloggers, am using. Many blogs instruct us to add #travel, tag the country you're in, then the city, and maybe add in an #instatravel or #wanderlust, then post for the world and pray for the likes. While this may be effective, it can get pretty boring. Especially when I'm looking through the #travel feed and the photos are a blend with such a broad theme.

So in order to spark a little creative inspiration with your travel photos, I've put together a list of my favorite creative travel hashtags:

1. #FromWhereIStand

This is the perfect selfie for people who aren't too photogenic, but do wear great kicks and stand in cool places. These pictures are also a reminder for all of us travelers as to where our feet have taken us. Why not take a picture like this in every country/city/continent and start your own collection!

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @emilyblincoe - ;  2. @matteovetran0 ;

2. #JustBackFrom

If they're better than cheap magnets and plastic keychains, share your souvenir collection after returning home from a great trip. Condé Naste Traveler's account @CNTraveler features the best of these photos.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @CNTraveler ;  2. @FranziSimone ;  3. @lomo31;

3. #WeEatWorld

This hashtag stems from @GirlEatWorld a.k.a. Melissa, a Singapore-based photographer whose collection of "hold up food in front of interesting scenery" pictures went viral. Her main mission is to stuff her face around the world. Melissa tags her own pics with #GirlEatWorld and encourages others to tag similar posts with the #WeEatWorld hashtag. WARNING: Do not scroll through this feed if hungry or dieting.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @girleatworld ;  2. @KelseyOhleger - Route Words ;
3. @theromanfoodie - The Roman Foodie ;  4. @girleatworld)

4. #FollowMeTo

In 2011, Russian photographer Murad Osmann's girlfriend got annoyed of his contact picture taking and started dragging him through the streets of Barcelona. But this didn't stop Murad and actually inspired him even more. Since then, Osmann has posted a collection of these photos taken around the world onto his popular Instagram account and the images have gone viral. Many others have also been inspired by the pose and now the #FollowMeTo feed is filled with similar photos.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @muradosman ;  2. @gabriellaeeyore ; 
3. @hashnae ; 4. @muradosman)

5. #Whatsinmybag

Step 1: Take everything out of your bag. Step 2: Arrange it all in an eye-catching, creative layout. Step 3: Add in something else that is not normally in your bag, but will make others find you interesting. Step 4: Stand above the neatly organized materials and snap a picture. Step 5: Post on instagram with the hashtag #whatsinmybag. 

Okay, so that's generally how it goes, but this hashtag is also great to learn about new gadgets, products and snacks that you may also want to toss into your bag before your next trip.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @passport_liz -  Passport Packed ;  2. @veetravels - Vee Travels ;
3. @j2martinez - ;  4. @kluwi)

6. #IPulledOverForThis

While road tripping, certain things are going to catch your eye and make you want to pull over. Whether it's a gorilla holding a VW bugthe world's largest ball of twine, or just a pit stop to stretch your legs, you can always find something worth photographing.
(Clockwise from top left: 1. @hmosterhout;  2. @wvmomofsix;  3. @cayenneiam;  4. @reeb77 )

7. #AirportCarpet

If you can take a second to stop in between the TSA screening, grabbing your Starbucks latte and sprinting to catch your connecting flight, you may want to look down. There is usually something underneath your quick moving feet that most airport travelers ignore: the carpet. If you scroll through the feed of this hashtag, you'll see swirls of bright colors and unusual patterns that would only otherwise be used on the rug of a Las Vegas casino or upholstery of the seat on a charter bus.
(Clockwise from top left: 1. @jennifernellen - Let's Go;  2. @bryanschiele - Bryan Schiele;
3. @petermeiyu;  4. @lindstromrugs)

8. #OnTheRoofs

Two young guys started climbing onto roofs and and a new hashtag was born. Vitaliy Raskalov from Ukrain and Vadim Makhorov from Russia are photography partners, travelers and working together on this social project dedicated to urban exploration. Scroll through their shots and if you're not afraid of heights, start contributing to the collection.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @makhorov - On the Roofs; 2. @makhorov - On the Roofs;
3. @crazytravelist - Crazy Travelista; 4. @curiositytrav - Curiosity Travels)

9. #FlyingTraveler

Junanto Herdiawan is an economist in Indonesia Central Bank who spends his time off levitating around the world. Okay, well he's actually just fooling us all with some play on perspectives. But how neat are these pictures? Definitely a step up from the basic #jumpstagram. Junanto's signature pose has become popular with other travelers as well, which inspired the #FlyingTraveler tag.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @junantoheridiawan - Life is a Journey; 2. @heriadi_alhifni;
3. @junantoheridiawan - Life is a Journey; 4. @junantoheridiawan - Life is a Journey)

10. #DailyCortado

No Instagram account is complete without a coffee picture. Or many coffee pictures. Possibly daily coffee pictures. I won't judge, nor will I complain. Just as long as the latte art is on point. Lipstick stains and well-placed props are also appreciated. Scrolling through this feed is like virtual espresso without the bad breath or mid-morning crash.
(Clockwise from top left: 1. @livingminnaly - Living Minnaly; 2. @kevmasse;
3. @laurenonlocation - Lauren on Location; 4. @leatherandlattes - Leather and Lattes)

11. #FriendsAndWalls

Grab a friend and find a wall. If you have no friends, grab a selfie stick and find a wall. It can be the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China, or just a plain ol' wall… whatever you decide! These types of pictures are so simple, yet so striking.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @tmkampa ;  2. @fi_bird - Poppet's Window
3. @taylorcgibson - Capture Joy;  4. @cestchristine - C'est Christine)

12. #WYMTM

#WYMTM, short for “What You Missed This Morning”, is for beautiful sunrises and foggy mountains to be rubbed in the face of your oversleeping friend with a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). The hashtag was established by CyclingTips founder Wade Wallace back in 2008 in order to make people jealous when they skip a morning bike ride. It has recently grown to be used more widely by early risers - cyclist or not. The hashtag has also inspired a photo competition on CyclingTips each December.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @yeahteam ; 2. @revoluti0n9 ;
3. @fdpallero ;  4. @thats_my_line - Gloria Liu)

13. #KicksOnAPlane

This hashtag is exactly what it says it is. A picture of your kicks on a plane. The only guidelines are that the photo must contain at least one shoe (A.K.A. kick) and that shoe is on a plane.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @justineiaboni - Jet Set Justine ;  2. @djneilarmstrong ;
3. @soleinvadors ;  4. @jellyfishkid2.0)

14. #cnTravelerEats

Ohh.. food porn. We all know it well. But if you can capture it in a mouth-watering, travel-inspiring way, you may get featured by this other Conde Nast Traveler tag at @cnTraveler.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @cnTraveler ;  2. @martinecooks - Martine Cooks ; 
3. @tanveerbadal  - Tanveer Badal ;  4. @CourtneyLikkel - Adelante)

15. #AirplaneFood

#Airplanefood is far from #foodporn or #nomnom or #delicious, but it's an interesting meal to document and a great hashtag feed to explore typical meals across different cultures. You may even book your next flight based on an airline's peanuts or bottomless wine.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @catsandfood ;  2. @rebelgrain - Rebel Grain;
3.  @sgfoodhero ;  4. @travip)

16. #PuddleGram

Rainy days while traveling can be frustrating. While you may feel like hiding under the covers in your hotel room watching repeats of Cupcake Wars dubbed in Spanish, you have a new reason to venture out and see the sights through a different perspective: the #puddlegram.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @everson4 ;  2. @romdilon ;  3. @matt.anderson;  4. @esposito13)

17. #EmptyChairsProject

Who doesn't like taking pictures of empty chairs? In airports.. outside coffee shops… in the park. Raphaël Liais (@raphaelliais) noticed empty chairs in Casablanca, Morocco and began a personal project of uploading these photos onto Instagram with the tag. Since then, this hashtag has developed a following and more people are becoming inspired to 'gram these chairs instead of plopping down on them.

(Clockwise from top left: 1. @raphaellias ;  2. @la_solea ;  3. @inesnimu ;  4. @roundthewayk)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Madrids Little Secrets: Cookies from the Cloistered Nuns

A short walk from Plaza Mayor, there is a small, elbow-shaped street conveniently named Elbow Street (Calle Codo). There's no unusual draw to this street. You won't find many people walking down it, especially not tourists, unless they know about the nuns. Yes, nuns. And these nuns can bake.

El Convento de Corpus Christi is a convent of cloistered nuns on Elbow Street Calle Codo in Madrid. The Hieronimus nuns have no contact with the outside world and make their money by selling traditional Spanish sweets. The variety of cookies are sold by using a wooden turntable where you choose your box and replace it with the money owed.

Take a look at the video to better understand this unique experience..

Thursday, October 2, 2014

'Un Encuentro Gastronómico' with Top Chef Spain

Last April, I received an email in my inbox with "encuentro gastronómico" written in the subject line. A gastronomic encounter? A foodie adventure? I'm in.

Top Chef España was beginning their competition and needed American taste testers for the second episode of the Spanish TV series. I still have no idea why I was contacted or how they found my email, but I'd like to think that blogging has some perks... like television fame.
The details were kept pretty secret until the final days before filming. I eventually received an email to wear plaid, jeans, or anything with an American flag and meet outside of a hotel at a certain time the following day. 

So I reluctantly played along with the cowboy theme, threw on a plaid shirt and walked to the meeting spot to find 100 other Americans waiting to get on a couple buses. This was by far the most English speakers (and Americans) I had been around in a while. All dressed in red, white and blue, some waving American flags and others in cowboy boots. It was almost like our own personal 4th of July in Madrid. 

We signed some waivers promising not to take pictures (but we were sneaky!) or post anything about the event on social media until the episode aired. But now that it has debuted...

They bussed us to an undisclosed location an hour outside of Madrid and fed us bocadillos and cervesas. Free sandwiches and beer? They knew how to keep Americans happy.

After a few hours of boredom, cow-gazing, and flag-waving for the camera, we were invited inside a barn to sit on hay bales at a long red and white checkered picnic table. We were at a cattle ranch and the two teams of Spanish chefs were frantically finishing to cook up some great American barbecue.

I filed into the table with some friends and luckily sat across from one the show's judges Yayo Deporta. His hair was gelled perfectly, he had a nice Mediterranean tan and a flawless complexion due to a thick slathering of TV makeup. Apart from his good looks, he is also one of the youngest chefs ever to receive a Michelin star.

With friends Jessica of Curiosity Travels and Amy of Restless Fork Blog. Photo Courtesy of Jessica.

We were told to clap along as a country music band played and then watch some of the chefs goof off and dance. They grabbed some girls to Do-si-do and a Spanish chef used an American flag as the cape as another chef acted as the bull. It was, as my friend Jessica hilariously described on her blog as "the most amazing inappropriate use of our nation’s flag I’d ever seen."

Eventually, we were served our food. Each team was instructed to prepare a traditional American Barbecue dish with a side. 

The grey team served two types of meat, one American-style and the other Spanish, with chips, a potato and coleslaw.

The orange team had sliced and skewered beef with a baked potato and corn topped with guacamole. Corn and guacamole? That was unique.

Now, I am not a meat eater, but I had been living under the mentality of "when in Rome Madrid" and sampling some non-vegetarian dishes. (You cannot live in Spain and not try Jamón ibérico). The food was good. It wasn't amazing, but it wasn't bad either. I preferred the orange plate because of some extra spice and crunchy toppings, but the guacamole-corn is not something I rushed to recreate.

We put the color card of our favorite dish in an envelope and then placed it in a glass box to determine the winning team. 

Again with Jessica and Amy. Photo courtesy of Jessica.
We were shuffled out of the barn and back on the bus before we could find out which team won, but luckily you can watch all of that drama from the full episode here (in Spanish, of course).

Overall, it was a fun day and I would definitely do it all again. But the best part? My souvenir… I made it onto Spanish TV! 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Surf Weekend in Rabat

"I'm going to Africa for the weekend."

Leading up to my trip to Morocco, I couldn't stop saying this phrase. AFRICA for the WEEKEND? It sounded crazy and I loved it.

Living in Madrid with its large airport makes it easy to fly cheaply across Europe, but I had forgotten that Spain is also just one tiny Strait of Gibraltar away from Africa.

So one Friday afternoon with a cheap RyanAir ticket, I flew down to Morocco's capital city for a surf weekend with a few friends.

None of us researched much before the trip, but a friend recommended a hostel with a free breakfast and reasonable priced surf rentals and lessons - that's all we needed!

The hostel was located in the old part of the city, known as the medina. When you enter the neighborhood's clay walls, it is a maze of narrow, winding walkways with no windows or streets signs. We would have never found the hostel if one of the guys hadn't picked us up at the airport and guided us through the labyrinth.

When we eventually arrived at Medina Surfing Association, we were greeted by the owner and surf instructor Abdel El Harim. Abdel is Morocco's most famous professional surfer with repeated success in the World Qualifying Series.

Abdel gave us a quick tour of the hostel transformed from a riad: a traditional Moroccan house with an open-air courtyard in the middle. Each room faces the center and has no exterior windows. This old design helps residents cope with the Moroccan heat as the rooms stay dark and cold and the heat rises out of top of the structure.

We spent the day exploring the city, trying to navigate our way around the medina and then enjoyed tajines at Dar Naji to fuel up for the following day of surfing. And with no alcohol available in traditionally Muslim Rabat, our sobremesa wine was replaced with many, many cups of peppermint tea.

The next morning we began our day with a rooftop breakfast (and of course more tea) before squeezing into some wetsuits and hitting the beach.

Unfortunately, the pictures stop here. We could only bring ourselves, the boards and a pair of flip flops to the beach to be left underneath the cart of a street vendor.

Abdel helped us warm up and explained some basic tactics before ditching us to catch his own waves. This was a little disappointing, but I guess a pro-surfer has his own priorities. We hit the water with another instructor that only knew one English word: "UP" - very practical when the most difficult part of learning to surf is actually standing up.

Now this was not my first time surfing, but the sport has never been something I've really wanted to tackle. I had my first lesson in Australia in 2009 and then picked up a board every once in a while while living a year on the beach in Ecuador. I've always preferred to jump in on a game of sand soccer instead of getting beaten up by the waves.

But as the only one within my group of friends who had surfed before, I felt a tiny bit of pressure to do well. So we paddled out together and the instructor was to help each of us individually catch our first wave. I went first. We saw the wave coming, he gave me a little nudge and I paddled as hard as I could. Then a strong French accent yell "UP" and I thought about yoga class: engaging the core and floating from plank pose gracefully into forward fold. Lo and behold, I was up! First try, phew!

By the end of the lesson, all five of us were catching waves - with a lot of face plants, wipeouts and water up the nose in between. Overall, we had a great time and were discussing our next surf weekend before we even returned to the hostel.

It was quick trip to Africa - only Friday to Sunday, but I highly recommend a surf weekend in Rabat as a short getaway from Madrid.

Check out Medina Surf Association's blog and Facebook page for more info.

Have you surfed before? Always wanted to try?
Leave me note in the comments below with your favorite surf spots around the world! 


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