2016 has been an intrepid year in Travel Adventures. Flight prices were incredibly inexpensive and credit card points made it much more accessible to book travel. I hope this post inspires you to book a few trips in 2017!
Travel as I’ve mentioned time and time again, does not need to be expensive. It can be if you prefer the luxury route, but it doesn’t need to be. I’ve included pricing and airline points that I’ve used in some of my travels this year to give you an idea of how affordable it can be. It does come down to how you prioritize your money. If travel is a priority, then save money by eating out less, reduce on a gym membership or for my California friends, 3 Vegas trips a year can easily amount to a 2 week International trip (I spent $3000 on a 1 month trip to Southeast Asia including Airfare and everything)!
I would recommend you open a travel credit card every 6 months that would earn you travel points (this won’t affect your credit much as long as you pay it off). Start with the Chase Reserve card, then apply to major airline cards (American Airlines, United, Delta that belong to a large alliance so that you can use it with all the partner airlines) that give you 40-60,000 points upon spending $4000 in 3 months. These are basically each 1 round trip ticket. Look out for deals on SkyScanner.com.
Laws of Attraction
There must be some coincidence that my biggest travel year also coincided with my 10 year anniversary with my company, Ticor Title, in August, which also happened to also be my best month in sales closings of all time. This was the job I took one month after graduating from UC Riverside in 2006, with only the intention of making a few thousand dollars then quitting to travel.
I ended up taking my first backpacking trip to Costa Rica with 4 college girlfriends the summer of 2007, and then my 3 week solo trip to India in 2008. I realized that I was able to keep my job as long as my sales numbers hit above the goals monthly which made my managers and I happy. Each year that went by, the number of trips I went on increased as my numbers increased. It’s all about the Work Hard, Work Smart mentality, and then Playing even Harder.
Who would have thought back then that 10 years later I would still be at the same company I once had no interest for and have traveled to 20+ more countries?
This is a true testament to my belief of the Laws of Attraction. Of course action is needed as part of attracting what you want, but it does start with that strong desire, knowing that you will not let anything get in the way of what you want. Then putting that energy out to the universe of what your heart truly desires.
This was my largest travel year thus far with a total of 9 countries: Morocco, England, Jordan, Holland, Croatia, Sri Lanka, Dominican Republic, Colombia, and Argentina. Here’s a brief recap.
48 Hours in London
I started off in February on a solo trip to Morocco, a trip I had been dreaming of for over a decade. It was difficult to find the right people to travel with me, so like my typical Bohemian Vagabond fashion, I decided to go on my own and it was worth every single moment. I spent only 20,000 miles on American Airlines for a one-way flight to London where I spent 2 days exploring (my first time there!). I explored Notting Hill the first day as that was one of my favorite chick-flicks growing up, and had dinner at a delicious Indian restaurant named Tayyabs on Brick Lane with some Aussie friends who were working in London.
Stayed at SoHostel, a hip, modern, mixed-dorm in Soho for $35 a night. I mention these prices to reveal once again that travel can be extremely affordable if you’re up for the sacrifice for less than 5-star hotels. From London, I flew to Marrakesh for $62 on Easy Jet.
Moroccan Destination Come True
In Morocco, I spent 8 unforgettable days – 3 days in Marrakesh, 1 day camping with the Berber tribal people in Zagora Desert and explored famous movie sets on our drive down south. Spent a whole day eating seafood by the ocean in the artsy, hippie town of Essaouira. From there, drove a day and a half with a girlfriend to Chefchaouen, the blue-washed city which was the highlight of my trip, where we stopped by Al Jadida, passed through Rabat and Casablanca, stopped in Ouezzane at a new friend/hitchhiker’s house with his family for lunch. Eventually, we made our way to Chefchaouen by sun down. I could have easy stayed another month in Morocco to shop spices, kitchen dishes, take more cooking classes and fully immerse into the culture. I plan to return soon.
A Rainy but Pleasant Evening in Copenhagen
From Marrakesh, I flew back to LAX via a newer airline, Norwegian Air, for only $450 with a stop in Copenhagen at 5pm and a flight out the next morning at 11am. As a Travel Contributor, on behalf of DestinationLuxury.com, I stayed at Hotel D’Angleterre as I covered a piece on this extravagant 5-star hotel, one of the best in the world.
Since I couldn’t book a table at Noma, revered as the best restaurant in the world, I was recommended the next best restaurant in Copenhagen at Amass, a Michelin guided restaurant offering a 6-7 course meal for about $90 a person + $45 for drink pairing. Hands down one of the best meals of my life.
I didn’t know anyone in the city and in addition, it was a dull weeknight, pouring rain outside. So I went back to the hotel and propped myself at the posh, upscale hotel bar for a nightcap. The gregarious bartender seemed just as delighted by my company and asked if he could utilize me as a guinea pig on his newest cocktail creations. I did not mind this one bit, tasting an array of fanciful concoctions he had created for his next seasonal menu. We conversed over his new life in Denmark, travel tales around the world, until I reminded myself that I needed to rest before my early flight out the next day.
Travel Writer’s Association
During my UH-MAZING trip in Morocco, I found out that I was accepted to attend a Culinary Press Tour through IFWTWA (International Food, Wine & Travel Writer’s Association) to the Kingdom of Jordan, which would be leaving 3 weeks after I returned home. It was admittedly a bit overwhelming at first but it was the dream life I had set out for: a life of non-stop Travels. Completely ecstatic that I would be on my way back to another adventure in the Middle-East, a place I have been incredibly drawn to and fond of as my second home. And mostly, I was looking forward to writing more stories to share to the world on the wonders and beautiful people of this region.
My Jordan Journey
My Journey to Jordan was simply magical. The 7 Travel Writers I went with were just as marvelous to travel with. It was a contrast from the millennial Travel Influencers I have traveled with in the past. Both equally as inspirational as I’m always able to learn so much from others and their experience in this rather small niche field. Most of the writers on my trip have been writing for over 20-30 years and have published award-winning travel books. The timing couldn’t have been more crucial for a group of American Travel Writers to visit this friendly country with people who welcomed tourists and guests in with full embrace.
Upon meeting so many Jordanians, after the cup of mint tea they always offered, they felt the obligation to express their side of the story. They asked us if we would consider temporarily suspending our prior beliefs and learn about the Arabic culture and their religion of Islam. They were fully aware of the western media’s despise of the ‘Middle-East’ which for anyone that has visited will know that it is incredibly one-sided and biased. Those of us that went, agreed that it was certainly the case and we were all ears to learn about a culture totally different than our own.
Our guide Mohammad was an encyclopedia of knowledge in everything Jordan ranging from the current political situation of their neighbors, to the 1 million+ Syrian Refugees they had taken in, the fascinating history of this majestic kingdom and their beloved King Abdullah II & Queen Rania. We spent our days with some of the most hospitable people in the world I’ve ever met that made us feel like family upon entering their home or Bedouin tents.
It was up to us to bring back the stories and places we experienced, the most spectacular places we seen in Petra, Amman, Wadi Rum, Red Sea Aqaba, Dead Sea, Aljoun. Last but not least, the incredible food we indulged in every single meal with fresh ingredients, labor of love into the cooking and the aromatic spices. Dozens of articles have since been published on our trip and I hope that many will travel to Jordan in the upcoming year.
Koningsdag, King’s Day in Amsterdam
In April, I was invited to Amsterdam on behalf of KLM & Heineken to experience Koningsdag, their “King’s Day” where the whole country celebrates their beloved King’s birthday by wearing his favorite color of orange. My job was to cover this celebration via social media and blog. The celebration consists of a whole day drinking beers and parading on the streets. Amsterdam sure knows how to party. They began filming the day before at the The Royal Palace where the former Queen lived just outside the city. On April 27, King’s day, about 50 of us hopped in a motor boat down the canals of Amsterdam like some vivid wild orange dream with a sexy female DJ spinning while we consumed incalculable amounts of Heineken.
This was a surprise from KLM to 4 special people with the same birthdays as the King, as they were flown out with their best friend or significant other (who had submitted their videos among hundreds of other contestants). The lucky ones were a couple from San Francisco, couple from Beijing, best friends from London and 2 friends from Rio de Janiero. It was needless to say a once in a lifetime birthday celebration none of them would ever forget.
The celebration proceeded to the Adam Towers by sunset where DJ Martin Garrix flown in on a helicopter just in time to spin his hottest mix, with a view of all of Amsterdam. It was absolustely surreal. We continued on the party until wee hours of the night with new friends from around the world.
Along the Dalmatia Coast, Croatia
Room to Read, the non-profit that I’ve been passionately involved with for the past 7 years, offers a Leadership Trek every 2 years to a country where they work. Two years ago, I went to Laos and met 16 other humanitarians from around the world. We visited schools & libraries our non-profit had re-constructed, met the families of girls who had annual scholarships from Room to Read, and were welcomed with so much love from villages who thanked us for giving the opportunity of education to their community. This trip reinforced my commitment to Room to Read in knowing that my chapter in Los Angeles and every other chapter in the world who have worked hard in fundraising, had their dollars go towards the best cause ever.
This year, we were presented with the opportunity to visit our work in Sri Lanka. Many of us who had gone 2 years ago were ready for another adventure and to reignite our kindred passion of eliminating illiteracy and gender inequality in the world. My dear Texan friend Linda and I brainstormed on a destination before the trip and agreed on Croatia as her tennis coaches were from there and had family we would meet.
We met in the coastal town of Split 6 days before the Sri Lanka trip began and spent 2 days in the city. Then made our way to Hvar and explored the islands by boat and kayak. She parted to Sri Lanka earlier while I stayed an extra 2 days to Dubrovnik where they famously filmed Game of Thrones. I wandered the city the first day.
On the 2nd and my last day, I bathed in the baking Adriatic sun, on the rocky, yet gorgeous aqua beaches as I people watched. Laying next to me was 4 friendly Austrian men who were vacationing for the weekend. I befriended them after finishing the The Blue Zone book. The start of our friendship began shortly after with a meal at Lady Pipi, a popular restaurant with fresh seafood inside the old walls of Dubrovnik, then watched a Futball match (soccer) at an outdoor bar doing Jager shots as if we were back in college. Then continued to bar hop our way through town. Another hungover morning trying to catch my next flight!
The journey to Sri Lanka was long and in all honesty, a bit painful. I had 2 layovers on the way there stopping by Rome for 3 hours, and then to Delhi via Air India for a 5 hour layover that turned to 10 hours. This was my consequence for booking with miles – just 25,000 United miles for an otherwise $500 trip. Upon arrival in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, I found that my luggage was still stuck in Rome (Air India’s mishandling), and that they would deliver it by the next afternoon. That turned into 72 hours later and after we had departed 200 kilometers north.
From Colombo, we drove to Anuradhapura where we spent 5 serene days. Luckily, all the ladies in our group were ever so generous in sharing their clothes with me where I rotated in wearing. The most inconvenience were not having new contact lenses! Now I’ve learned to never check that in as that’s the only thing you really can’t always replace in another country on a short notice.
Anuradhapura, an ancient city considered sacred to the Buddhist world, is a peaceful province in north-central Sri Lanka with dozens of Buddhist Temples to visit. A tropical climate, famous for it’s well-preserved ruins of an ancient Sri Lankan civilization. The region consists of Buddhists, Muslims and Hindus.
With our group of 15 volunteers, we visited and learned about the impact of Room to Read in the region, their creative solution in keeping more girls past secondary school (middle school) and met many girls who were on their way to university with aspirations of being doctors, educators and lawyers. Just in Sri Lanka, 4500 girls have benefited in education since 2006.
Samana, Dominican Republic
In August, I was presented with an invitation on a press trip to Samana, located in the northwest of Dominican Republic, to explore the 4 Bahia Principe resorts in the region. They ranged from family resort to 5 star luxury exclusive properties. We went horse-back riding on a trail to a series of waterfalls and tasted Mamajuana, the local drink. At night, we learned Salsa and danced to Merengue with locals. I have not been to Punta Cana but a few others have on the trip and preferred Samana’s sense of the untouched paradise. There were less tourists, prettier beaches and inexpensive pricing for luxury resorts ($100-150 for all inclusive).
BFF’s Bachelorette Party in Colombia
Marissa, my BFF from college, my partner in crime, travel partners for a decade plus wanted to take a fun trip for her Bachelorette party. I was of course nominated to plan and we quickly agreed on Colombia in August with a roundtrip flight of $399. We began a day in Bogota where we hired a local guide for the day to take us through downtown exploring the city’s street art and street food, then took a cable car up to Montserrat where we witnessed a view of the city by night. Bogota is quite liberal as we carried a bottle of wine and rum through our various locations throughout the day. At night, we recruited our adorable front desk boy, Alex, to show us a good time, our only night in Bogota. He took us to a local salsa club walking distance from Parque 93, the district where we stayed.
The early morning after, we boarded our flight to Cartagena where we spent 5 days in beach clothes and flip-flops, exploring the charming town inside the wall. I recommend booking through Homeaway, where we found the best penthouse with a rooftop overlooking the water. The condo came with 3 maids that cooked and cleaned for us 24/7 for only $300 a night.
We took a day trip on a private boat with 3 boys coincidentally also from LA, to a private island named Matamba owned by a local celebrity and restauranteur Juan Del Mar. The Salsa and Reggaetone music never seemed to halt nor our dancing for a whole week in this colorful, soulful country which has revived since the decades of war on drugs. We didn’t want to leave this unrestricted paradise that felt like the wild west of South America.
We made our last day to Medellin in search of Pablo Escobar, a cocaine forest of drug smugglers, and his familia. We found none of the above as we were too late for the tour to his brother’s house as well as the tour of his former house Hacienda Napoles. We decided to take a day trip on our last day to El Penol de Guatape. The drive was gorgeous through the lush greenness that makes up a majority of Colombia. Once we arrived, we hiked up 740 steps to the top and was awarded with this gorgeous view.
The nightlife in Medellin was phenomenal as the rumor goes, but we were a bit burnt out by then and had a relatively easier night with dinner, a bottle of rum and a bar.
Since my boyfriend started playing polo 2 years ago, we had been planning this trip to Argentina, polo capital of the world, where the highest ranked players were born. They also offer a substantially cheaper yet quality instruction of polo. He travels with me usually once a year as he is more tied to work. We alas went in November at the start of the Palermo Polo Open (highest goal Polo). Stayed at 2 different estancias (translated as estates) in Canuelas, 45 minutes outside of Buenos Aires, which were horse ranches on hundreds of acres with cows and some with chicken farms.
Absolutely loved the peacefulness waking up in the country. Sri got to practice polo and play Chukkers with other guest players from London and Barbados. We got to ride in the back of pickup trucks to the city in the evening to watch the games and then eat out at delicious Asados (Argentine BBQ).
We spent a weekend in the posh, beloved city of Buenos Aires in Palermo Hollywood where we rented a clean, hip & quaint 2-story Apartment via Homeaway for $70/night. We did a day tour around B.A. and enjoyed the nightlife they had to offer. Sri was sad to leave as his polo was just getting better. I guess we’ll have to go back soon.
My motto has been since I heard it in a motivational Real Estate Seminar, “Attitude drives Action. Action drive Results. Results drive Lifestyles.” I toast all my friends to a beautiful year in Travels and hope that it inspires all of you to do so too. It is beyond a vacation or an adventure, it’s a lifestyle, and it’s a way to bridge communication between different cultures, religions, politics, in a hopeful step towards World Peace.
For tips on Travel ideas/deals, or Media Press Inquiries, email me at JackiUeng@hotmail.com. I always love to chat Travels!