Home Mad vs. Travel Mad

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels like a different (better?) person when I travel. For someone who, in my day-to-day life is a non-stop planner (control freak?) with an endless to-do list, it’s a relief to be forced to slow down and just focus on whatever is immediately in front of me. I have time to stare out of windows, to daydream, to process, and to stop worrying so much about stuff like cleaning the house, entertaining the dog, and whether or not my eyebrows are even (spoiler alert: they never are). 

With these alternate realities in mind, I came up with a list of some of the ways “Home Madeleine” is different from “Travel Madeleine”: 

Sleep

Home Mad: 5-6 hours/night maximum
Travel Mad: 9-10 hours/night minimum 

Beauty Routine

Home Mad: 2+ hour ordeal. Nails on fleek. Bangs on fleek. Lashes on fleek. Eyebrows on fleek. 

Travel Mad: 30-60 sweaty minutes. Nails breaking constantly. Eyebrows still on fleek.

Eating

Home Mad: carefully planned meals supplemented with small, protein rich snacks every 2-3 hours 

Travel Mad: whatever is available when the tummy gets rumbly. Lime over everything!

Drinking

Home Mad: wine wine vodka wine 

Travel Mad: tequila fireball tequila fireball 

Workout

Home Mad: 50-90 minutes, 4-6 days/week

Travel Mad: takes the stairs 

Weekend Turn-Up

Home Mad: Netflix & chills with the dog

Travel Mad: rages till dawn 

Love Life

Home Mad: famine 

Travel Mad: feast

Free Time

Home Mad: cleans the floors 

Travel Mad: blogs!

* * *

The couch = my happy place at home 

The Pros and Cons of Solo Travel

I get a lot of questions and comments about traveling alone.  I have traveled with family, with a boyfriend, with friends, and of course alone, and I prefer the latter.

Traveling alone fits me personally for several reasons.  Everyone has their own comfort level as far as risk and security go, but I have always been kind of a “high risk/high reward” type of person, and to be honest, I’m not really afraid of anything…except snakes and IV needles, neither of which have posed problems for me abroad.  Anyway the times I have been robbed were always when I was with friends, so going in a group does not automatically keep you safe.  I am very independent and I am perfectly happy alone or with company.  I also am very social and since I stay in hostels, meeting people to go out and about with is never a problem.  If you are not a bit of a risk-taker, not comfortable with solitude, and you’re not willing to strike up conversation with new people, traveling alone is not for you.  Traveling might not be for you at all, actually.

That being said, I have compiled a list of Pros and Cons on the topic for you to ponder.

Reasons to Travel Alone:

  1. Traveling alone gives you the ultimate autonomy and flexibility.  You will never need to compromise with another person on where to go, where to stay, what to do, etc.  If you want to spend all day in a park with your feet in a fountain, no one will complain that they’re bored.  If you want to speed through 3 museums in one day, no one will complain about being tired.  You can go as fast or slow as you want.
  2. When you travel alone, most of the time you are actually choosing your level of solitude.  Staying at a hostel, there is pretty much always someone to chat with or grab a beer with, but on the other hand, you’re free to wander aimlessly, or even stay in bed until 6pm.  You are as alone as you want to be.
  3. Silence is a huge perk of traveling alone.  In your day to day life, how often do you really get to enjoy silence?  Travel provides time to lose yourself in thought, daydream, meditate, process, evaluate your existence, and mentally re-calibrate.
  4. I would think this goes without saying, but traveling alone is the best way to make new friends.  Would I have formed such close friendships with Hayley, Elena, Nicolas, and the Peruanas, if I had been already locked into a friendship?  Maybe, maybe not.  I do know that when I was traveling with friends or family, I did not make deep connections with new people the way I have done going alone.  And now I can’t imagine my life without them.
  5. Solo travel forces you out of your comfort zone.  You have to think on your feet, stay alert, and above all be self-reliant.  If you want to become more independent, go alone.  If you want to test your sense of adventure, go alone.  If you want to grow, go alone.  I’m not saying you can’t do these things with a travel buddy; but the experience is MUCH more rewarding and empowering when it’s done as an army of one.
  6. Traveling alone also forces you to interact with strangers, which can lead to some fantastic conversations–the kind of conversations where your soul touches another soul and your brain wants to explode because you’ve reached some new metaphysical plane of intellect that you never knew existed, you never want to leave, and you know can never be repeated.  A one-of-a-kind orgasm for your spirit.
  7. Traveling alone, you never have to worry about arguments or tension with your travel partner. If you make a friend and then discover you don’t enjoy their company anymore, you can just part ways, no problem.  You’re not stuck with them for god knows how long.  I have witnessed so many spats and tense moments between friends or lovers, and of course I have been in the middle of my own drama.  If there were any cracks in your friendship or relationship before you left, those cracks will split wide open once you hit the road.
  8. I have found that once I do make friends and decide to go around with them, we fall into a bit of an “interaction bubble,” meaning that we end up mostly talking only to each other, and mostly in English.  We don’t push ourselves as hard to communicate in the local language.  I am especially guilty of doing this when I make friends who are native Spanish speakers in Latin America–even though my Spanish is excellent, I get lazy and let them do most of the talking.
  9. Finally, when you are alone, your experiences and opinions are not tainted by others’ perceptions.  You are tuned in only to your own senses, and I think this creates a more clear, honest, and “raw” memory of the places you go.

Reasons to Travel With a Buddy:

  1. Eating alone can feel uncomfortable.  It’s nice to have someone to share meals with.  And someone to split food with, like pizza, dessert, or a carafe of wine.
  2. Solitude is lovely, but sharing experiences with someone you care about is also lovely.  Creating unique shared memories, and especially inside jokes, is probably the best part of traveling with someone.
  3. Traveling in a duo or group can be cheaper, especially when sharing transportation such as taxis, or food and beverages, as mentioned above.  Also, with a small group, you have some leverage when bargaining for tour prices.
  4. Sometimes I feel self-conscious traveling alone, especially when I stand out as a woman or a foreigner.  Traveling with someone can reduce or eliminate the feeling that I don’t belong there.  You can “not belong” together.
  5. It is nice to bounce ideas off of your travel partner and to have someone around for a second opinion.  A travel buddy can be a great sounding board or co-decision-maker.  Does it make more sense to take the early colectivo, or to get extra sleep in the morning?  Which shirt looks nicer?  Is this guy into me, or is he biding his time so he can rob me?  An extra brain full of common sense is always useful, especially if you, like me, are prone to spontaneity.
  6. Your travel buddy is your built-in photographer.  Welcome to the end of selfies.  If you’re really lucky, as I was in Europe with BJ or in Guatemala with Nicolas, your travel buddy will even have a nice professional camera and will share their gorgeous photos with you to enhance your blog.
  7. Traveling with someone you trust is generally much safer than traveling alone.  As we learned in Playa del Carmen, you can still get robbed in a group, but the chances are reduced significantly.  You can keep an eye on each others’ stuff, provide support if someone is bothering you, and it’s just nice to have someone to check in with now and then.
  8. Travel buddies stave off boredom and loneliness.  These can be real issues, especially on long rides on transportation.  I would have had a psychological breakdown if I had been alone without Nicolas on the bus ride from Livingston to Antigua, where the bus completely stopped in traffic for 7 hours, turning a 4 hour ride into an 11 hour nightmare.  If nothing else, it’s nice to have someone to commiserate with over the inevitable bumps in the road.

As you can see, for me, the Pros outweigh the Cons.  What inspires you to travel alone?  

* * * 


Making moves 

Playa del Carmen, pt. 2/2

On New Years Day, the Peruanas and I dragged ourselves out of bed around 2pm and went straight to eat. 

Salsas 



Tacos al pastores y arracheras 

We made it to the beach by 4pm, accompanied by our Brazilian friend William. 

William, Mad, Stephanie, Karen 



Happy feet 



Playa del Carmen in the late afternoon 


Of course, we woke up that day saying, “We need a quiet night.” Especially me, who had been out late and crazy two nights in a row. But as the day wore on, it was suggested that we at least “go to dinner and check out the vibe…see if anything is going on.” Which is what let to the craziest night of my Mexican vacation. 

Beginning of the night selfie – business as usual 



Club Abolengo, where they pile glasses high and then light them up. Quite the spectacle. 



The Peruanas and I hopped from spot to spot, drinking and dancing the night away. I met a cute Mexican boy named Carlos… 

…and then turned around and met this motherfucker:

His name was Alan, originally from Guadalajara, now living in Playa, and his friends were friends with my friends. We all ended up at a remote beach in the wee hours. 

Just another sunrise over Playa 


Sunrise with Alan 



Pimp face at dawn 

We got home at 10am, slept till 2pm, then hit the beach. Much to our dismay, it was lousy, cloudy weather. 

When it started to rain, we found a beach bar that had swings in lieu of seats. I ordered a Michelada.  

That evening – same thing – “Let’s have a quiet night…” “Let’s just see what the vibe is…” And before you know it, we were back on the town. 

Beginning of the night selfies 

Fourth night at Dolores – found some Uruguayans 



3am pizza break 

I never said I was classy 



Recovery chilaquiles rojos con pollo y huevo & agua de piña  


Karen & I at the beach – we lost one 



Glowing so hard 

In a nutshell, what happened next is that I went to Tulum, but didn’t see or do anything interesting there, except for spend time with my dear Elena from Antigua. 

My days in Mexico were numbered. Alan came to visit me in Tulum the next day, and we had a great time, all lovey dovey, all the way back to Playa. All of a sudden, while dancing back at Dolores, my phone was gone, Stephanie’s phone was gone, and Alan and his friend were gone. Steph and I were devastated that our phones had been stolen, and my feelings were very hurt. However once we both got home safely and easily replaced our phones, we chalked it up to a learning experience. It was a stark reminder to never let our guard down.

Playa del Carmen, pt. 1/2

I guess this is the part where I attempt to explain the sheer raging madness that is Playa del Carmen…without incriminating myself?

I arrived in Playa on December 30 with a plan. Traveling alone, I essentially had 24 hours to implement some sort of epic New Years attack. Using only my charm and willpower, I was determined to go all out. 

As luck would have it, immediately upon arriving to my hostel in Playa from the airport in Cancun, I discovered that I was rooming with not one but two like-minded Brazilian boys.

Guilherme & William 



First glimpse of the mean streets of Playa 



Electro club Dolores, where I ended up every night 


Brasileiros fazem melhor

Thanks to a plethora of mescal shots, I ended up in bed till 4pm the next day. And when I got up, it was only for this… 

Recovery quesadilla 

…then back to bed until 7pm. 

At some point that day, a couple of Peruvian girls had checked in and were rooming with us as well. They had just arrived from California & New York and expressed a desire to hit the town. It was New Year’s Eve, after all. I, being the experienced resident, offered to give them a tour of what I’d seen the night before. 

First stop: Playa’s iconic Portal Maya monument 



Confetti at midnight 



Happy New Year from Stephanie, Karen, & Mad 

We spent a big chunk of our evening at Dolores, partly because we liked the music, and partly because the streets were insane and every time we tried to leave, we gave up and went back in. 

Dolores, again 



Madness on the streets of Playa  




Mad overlooking the madness 

Finally around 3:30am, the streets cleared enough for us to attempt a venture out. I thought maybe my Peruanas were going to tap out, but oh no–“The plan is to watch the sunrise at the beach,” Stephanie assured me.  

“I need Latin music!” cried Karen. 

Before I knew it, we were pounding Fireball shots… 

…and I was swept off my feet by a fun Argentine named Facundo. ¡Facundo! No photos, please. 

We eventually made our way to the beach, which was packed even at 6am. However, we spontaneously decided to get tortas and watch the sunrise from the comfort of our hostel’s balcony. 

Happy New Year, World 



Making 7am look good 

If you’re wondering what I look like after partying all night, well here it is: 

Sumidero Canyon

I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that Chiapas’ chief appeal is its natural beauty. A few days after the tour that took me to El Chiflón & Montebello, I scooted off to take a boat through Sumidero Canyon. 

Here is what I found:











Happy Madeleine in a canyon





Cool looking plants growing out of the canyon wall 

Small Catholic altar in a cave 


“Christmas tree” growing from the side of the canyon 


An electricity plant 






Crocodiles!



Little island 

Crema de leche con vainilla y plátano

Do(n’t) go chasing waterfalls – El Chiflón & Montebello

If you just love waterfalls and clear blue water the way I do–and, ahem, who doesn’t enjoy a nice waterfall and crystalline waters–then Chiapas is the place for you. 

Introducing: Cascadas El Chiflón & Lagunas de Montebello

Located in the enormous Lacandon jungle, El Chiflón is a series of breathtaking waterfalls that spill into a lazy turquoise river. 

Gorgeousness 






It remains my intense regret that my tour did not allow time to plunge into these magnificent pools. Still, it was wonderful to hike up and see the many waterfalls that make up El Chiflón. 

First up – Cascada El Suspiro 




Next – Cascada Ala de Angel 




Happy Madeleine chasing waterfalls 



Inspirational signs along the steep path 




I can’t get enough of this intense beauty 




Getting closer to the top…! 



Cascada Velo de Novia – fed by Cascadas Arcoiris & Quinceañera – is the crown jewel of El Chiflón 




Happy Madeleine getting sprayed by Velo de Novia 



View from the top


Refreshing snack after the hike 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: what a wonderful day! Time to relax. 

But no, the tour was only halfway done. From El Chiflón, we headed to Lagunas de Montebello, a park famous for its series of sparkling blue lakes (59 in all).  To our great dismay, the weather turned cloudy and dismal, so we had to “imagine” the renowned vibrant colors. 

Dreary Montebello 



The deep green foliage brought back fond memories of Guatemala, but still–where is the blueness? 

I made friends with a fun-spirited couple from DF, Daniela & Alejandro. They had the idea to take a raft out on the water. 




On the water with Alejandro & Daniela 



Greenery & whatnot 







Very excited to finally find a hint of blue! 



Blue just at the edges  





This land formation looks like a sitting gorilla 

Checked out one more colorless lake…

…and then headed back to San Cristóbal. 

San Cristóbal de las Casas

Many of you know that I’ve been basically obsessed with Chiapas, the southernmost Mexican state, for several years. In truth, this entire trip was planned around my desire to see this place. I booked 5 nights in San Cristóbal, which is the touristy-but-charming cultural center of the state, and which serves as an excellent jumping-off point to explore the many natural wonders of the Chiapan landscape. 

La Iguana hostel in San Cris 




Out and about in San Cris  








Pretty candy cart 


I don’t know what this is but I want it 


If you can tell me what the round spiky fruits are, I’ll give you a fist-bump 


More corn with lime & picante 


Finally tried crickets…


My little bag of edible bugs, dressed with lime, picante, and ketchup


Yes I really ate them…


…all but the soggy ones at the bottom of the bag, anyway. 


Quesadilla stand 


Quesadilla that I ate two nights in a row. Not sure what type of meat it contained.  Definitely not pollo, carnitas, chorizo, or carne asada…hmmm.  


Had to see if churros here are better than the ones in California 


I’m a sucker for shiny glowy stuff…



…and drinking with hottie morenos.

While the central of San Cristóbal is clearly well-kept, I think it’s worth noting that on my first day, I accidentally walked a ways in the wrong direction. Much to my dismay, I came upon a trash-ridden river, complete with people picking through the heap. Just a reminder that for all the beauty to be found in Mexico, it is not without its problems. 

The other side of Mex