Tales from my journey to Peru (it’s a good story, for sure)

Surprise! I’m in Lima! Well, it’s not quite a surprise to those of my friends and family who I told about this trip, but I haven’t made any word to this blog yet!

A few weeks ago, the PR team at my favorite travel company, StudentUniverse, reached out to me about an opportunity to work for travel. I was instantly intrigued, and as I learned more about the opportunity, I knew it was a done deal: one week in South America in exchange for some in-location marketing on my part (for a company I’m already a huge fan of). Saying yes was a no-brainer.

Within a week, my flights and hostels were booked. The plan was for me to spend four days in Lima, Peru (two nights in Barranco, two nights in Miraflores), and three days in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, during my spring break from school. And it was a great plan… until we hit a few hiccups.

I arrived at the DCA airport Saturday morning for my 11 a.m. flight just to find that the foggy weather had caused delays for several flights, including mine. As the morning wore on, the weather worsened, til it reached the point that no planes could land in or take off from DCA whatsoever. I had to catch a flight from D.C. to New York, then New York to Lima; due to the delay leaving D.C., I knew I’d miss the connecting flight. The agents from the airline I was flying were accommodating and put me on a flight with another airline, which would then take me from D.C. to Atlanta, then from Atlanta to Lima.

I reserved my spot on the flight to Atlanta accordingly, and then discovered that departure was delayed as well! The agents in D.C. assured me I would have time to make the connecting flight in Atlanta, even with the delay, so I trusted them and boarded the plane when it arrived at the gate. Unfortunately, those agents were wrong. By the time I got to Atlanta, the flight to Lima was already in the air and I was, well, not. Uh oh. After a long talk on the phone with another travel agent, I had a new flight reservation from Atlanta to Los Angeles, with a new connecting flight from LAX to Lima. Off to California it was.

The flight changes were unfortunate, but weather is weather and there’s nothing we could do. But that was just hiccup #1. The other hiccup came when I discovered I needed a visa to enter Brazil, and I didn’t have one! Whoops, should have done my research because that seems like a pretty fundamental detail to overlook, but I had been so busy with school and exams leading up to spring break that I hadn’t had time to explore travel requirements for the trip!

Luckily, the team at StudentUniverse is awesome and could act quickly to reroute my journey. Now, I’m going to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the second half of the trip instead! It’s another amazing city I’ve always dreamed of visiting but figured I would have to wait until I was established and had more funds to visit — but now, I’ll be going there in three days! It’s truly unbelievable.

So, yeah, change of plans. But it’s nothing this young, broke traveler can’t handle!

I was supposed to arrive in Lima at 9:40 Saturday night, but with the delays and flight changes, I arrived 12 p.m. Sunday. It stinks losing that extra half day, but honestly, it could have been worse; I’m just so grateful and happy to be here! I did get separated from my luggage in Atlanta, though, so that’s a bummer, but the airport should be delivering it to my hostel when it arrives here on another flight.

Chugging along in yesterday socks, I still couldn’t be happier to be in South America. With a crazy start like this, the rest of the trip will hopefully be equally as eventful. I’m just hoping it’s the good kind of eventful. And hey, what’s an adventure without a few hiccups anyway?

Stay tuned for more!

I won a trip to Morocco — and I’m leaving in 2 days!

Image from moviepilot.com
Image from moviepilot.com

I haven’t posted anything to the blog about this yet, because it seemed too surreal, but in two days, I’m leaving for a 10-day trip to Morocco.

Yes, Morocco. Totally random, right? I mean everything else on this blog is about Europe – how I’ve been saving up for it, planning itineraries, sharing tales of my adventures and so on.

And now I’m going to Africa.

Here’s how it happened:

The Contest

In March, I got a promo email from StudentUniverse, my ride-or-die site for booking flights, about a contest the company was hosting. Entrants were to create boards on Pinterest tagged #NeverHaveIEver and pin a bunch of travel-related things that they’ve always wanted to do, like skydiving, going snorkeling in Sydney, riding a gondola through Venice, etc. The grand prize was a trip to Morocco and $500 towards a flight.

Morocco had never crossed my mind as a destination to but on my bucket list, but I thought Y-O-HACTVMFF-O (you-only-have-a-chance-to-visit-Morocco-for-free-once), so I entered the contest.

Already a devoted pinner, I had no problem getting the board going. For the entire month of April I poured all pinning efforts into my Never Have I Ever board. Any free time I had before and during classes, I’d take to the board and pin pictures of all the beautiful cities I want to visit and crazy escapades I wanted to embark on.

neverhaveiever

For a month this went on, and along the way I shared some of my pins with StudentUniverse on Pinterest and Twitter, grasping their attention and promoting their contest. And then, about a week after the contest ended, I saw this tweet:

StudentUniverse Tweet

OHHHHH EMMMMM GEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!1!!1!!!!!1!!!!!!!

I couldn’t believe it. I won. I won a trip to Morocco. I was going to Morocco. Morocco. MOROCCO!

The Dilemma

I sent an email to the address provided and waited, and waited, and waited. I finally heard back and got the details of the contest. The tour dates are all pre-set, so I had to choose any from the list provided that worked for me.The only conditions were that the tour had to depart before the end of August and already have at least four people signed up.

That’s where I hit a brick wall. My internship was already letting me take off a month for my trip to Europe, so I definitely couldn’t take off another week to go to Morocco.

Frick.

The other option would be to go the last week before school starts, but then I’d be missing crucial preparation time.

Frickety.

Decision time. I sat on it for a while, evaluating pros and cons, but then had to smack myself upside the head (in Homer Simpson style) when I realized traveling to a new country was way more important than missing preparation time for my last year of college.

I sent StudentUniverse my dates and mentally prepared myself for the adventure that Morocco would bring. But then I got a response. The tour group I chose did have enough people signed up, so I couldn’t go on that one. I had to choose another tour date that departed the week after or the week prior. My only options, then, were to have my internship boss kill me (figuratively…kinda) or miss the first week of school.

FRACK.

I was forced to make an ultimate decision. I definitely couldn’t take off from my internship because I desperately needed the money to afford going on the trip (Young, Broke Traveler). That left me with option #2. (Keep in mind that I’m an honors student who’s had perfect attendance since kindergarten, graduated high school with a 4.0, and has been on the dean’s list every semester of college — and I’m not bragging, I’m just trying to convey how important school is to me!) It killed me to think of missing my first week  of class, but I also thought “When will I ever get another chance to experience northern Africa and spend a week learning about a culture completely different from what I’m used to, meeting people who will teach me a different way of life, and appreciating the natural beauty of the world?”

A trip to Morocco would teach me more than I could ever learn sitting in a class that first week of school. Plus, Y-O-HACTVMFF-O, right? I responded to the agents at StudentUniverse that I’ll take the tour to that goes from Aug. 30 – Sept. 6. And that was that.

I completely pushed Morocco out of my mind to return my focus to my Eurotrip. Over the next few months, Europe was all I thought about, wrote about and talked about. But now it’s Aug. 26, and I’ve got some preppin’ to do.

The Details

The tour, a G Adventures tour called Morocco Kasbahs & Desert, begins in Casablanca and heads through Meknes, Fes, Merzouga, Todra Gorge, Aït Ben Haddou and Marrakech. The 14 of us on the guided tour will be traveling in a quaint van from town to town, staying in hotels, walking through medinas and meeting locals. Midweek, we’ll even be hopping on camel-back (I’ll do my best to refrain from making Hump Day jokes) and riding out to the desert where we’ll camp out overnight.

Morocco Tour Map

Yeah, sounds better than sitting in a classroom taking notes on data analytics, doesn’t it?

I’m flying into Casablanca early to have an extra day to explore the city. I leave Thursday the 28th and will arrive early Friday morning, spending the day alone until my tourmates arrive the next day. Saying I’m nervous doesn’t even begin to cover it. I’m realizing how sheltered I’ve been traveling to touristy places where most people speak English or Spanish and I’ve been comfortable on my own. Morocco, while generally safe, is not the safest place for a young woman to travel alone due to the forwardness of most Moroccan men. And the primary languages spoken are Arabic and French, of which I know nothing. So I better not get lost.

I’m aware that I am freaking out for no reason and I’ll be fine — especially in a city as metropolitan as Casablanca. But for now I’m just doing my best to prepare and make sure everything can go as smoothly as possible. And trying to get the phrase “Here’s looking at you, kid” out of my head. 🙂

Have you been to Morocco? Casablanca? What did you think? Any advice to offer me?

StudentUniverse: my go-to site for cheap flights

I cannot speak more highly of StudentUniverse. It’s absolutely my favorite resource for finding the best deals on flights. The company is a Boston-based travel agency focused on providing college students with discounts on flights, hotels, tours, activities and rail.

HOW IT WORKS

Before you can access the deals on the site, you have to create an account using your school’s or institution’s information to verify your status as student. Once StudentUniverse’s technology confirms your status, it connects you to hundreds of companies offering discounted products and services to StudentUniverse customers.

The company has over 65 major airline partners, including American Airlines, United Airways, Virgin America, British Airways, AirFrance, Jet Airways and numerous others. It’s travel company partners include the following:

Travel Guard Rail Europe HostelBookers G Adventures G Adventures

Student Universe has also partnered with travel sites such as Kayak, TravelZoo and Fly.com, so that those sites can redirect you StudentUniverse for discounts once you find your flight.

THEIR JUSTIFICATION

“It’s about getting the most out of your time in school. We believe in the positive effects that travel experiences can have on a person’s character and that having those experiences early on in life is critical in personal development. We believe that travel enriches education and that students should be able to experience their world without breaking the bank.” (http://www.studentuniverse.com/about-us)

FLIGHTS

My favorite feature on the site is the flight flexibility grid. When searching for a flight, you have the options of making your travel dates flexible and choosing from multiple airports in an area. If you select those options, StudentUniverse displays a grid comparing the cheapest flights on the market for a range of days around the departure and return dates you indicated. I’ve been able to save $300 on a flight just by flying out the night before I had planned.

grid

Thanks to StudentUniverse I was able to book my round trip ticket to London for my Mini Rider tour in June. I saved hundreds of dollars by picking an earlier departure day. Now I’ll be flying in to London a few days before the tour begins, so I’ll have more time to explore the city. Next, I’ll have to look into budget hostels or some place to Couchsurf while I’m in London!