Our Round-the-World Backpacking Adventure

On January 18, 2017, my boyfriend Andy and I said goodbye to the U.S. and embarked on our round-the-world backpacking journey.  We’ve now been traveling for over two months, and I intend to catch up and post about each destination! First, though, some notes about the trip itself.

The Reason

From infancy, I’ve always been a curious person, and starting flying on planes before my first birthday.  An interest in travel was all but guaranteed.  My family traveled domestically (and later, internationally); I studied abroad in Madrid, Spain; I taught abroad in Daegu, South Korea, post-graduation.  During all of these pursuits, I met others from around the globe and was inspired by many of their (seemingly ordinary) travels.  Being an American office-worker, trips of over 10-11 days seemed out of reach… something only a European or Australian could really dream of.  I was working as a DC fundraiser and wanted to see more of the world, and for longer stretches of time – so I could really dig deep into the local food, culture and countryside.  And so – a plan was born… Andy and I would go backpacking around the world.  Consider it a sabbatical from the working world.

backpacking, travel
Us with all of our possessions on our backs.
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Iceland on a Budget: Flying Wow Air

Visiting Iceland doesn’t have to break the bank.  Stick to your Iceland budget by flying Wow Air, and read more about how to save on food, lodging and popular sites.

Iceland has always been on my radar, and when flight prices dropped below $400 roundtrip, I bought my ticket immediately.  Wow Air is an Icelandic budget airline that flies to several U.S. cities (New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco), and many cities throughout Europe.  You can do what I did – add a long weekend in the smallest capital city in the world to another region in Europe.

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Hidden in Plain Sight: U.S. Capitol Stoneyard

I have some big travel plans in the works, but until then, I want to spend more time in the city where I live (Washington, D.C.).  You can always be a tourist in your own backyard, and DC makes it easy! One of my first off-the-beaten-track stops was the U.S. Capitol stoneyard.

Rubble in the US Capitol Stoneyard, featuring some of the most decorative pieces
Decorative remains of the original Capitol building

History of the Capitol Stones

A few weekends ago, I learned that in Rock Creek Park, there is a stoneyard of old bricks of the U.S. Capitol building.  Most DC residents know the original Capitol columns are on display at the National Arboretum, but few know what happened to the rest of the East Portico.  The original Capitol building had a copper dome, but when additional offices for the ever-growing Congress were added to either side, it seemed too small.  In the 1850s, the Capitol went in the opposite direction – a multi-level iron dome, topped with the State of Freedom* – the dome we all know and love today.

Early photo of the US Capitol building with its original dome, taken in 1846.
Capitol Building with original dome, 1846
Historic photo of the US Capitol with its new iron dome, taken in the 1950s. Love those vintage cars!
Capitol Building with new iron dome, 1950s

Of course, now that a massive dome topped the original building, the columns on the East Portico were no longer proportional! In the 1950s, work finally begun on replacing the columns and portico.  The original materials were kept, but no one knew quite what to do with them.  In the 1980s, a benefactor pushed for the display of the original columns, and we’re so lucky he did.  The rest of the stones? Dumped in a stoneyard in Rock Creek Park, unmarked, off the beaten track.  Most residents don’t even know they are there.

Walking into the entrance of the US Capitol stoneyard. Note the lack of fences or signs.
Entrance to the Capitol stoneyard

Finding the Capitol Stoneyard

Piecing together clues from other blogs, Andy and I set out and found the Capitol stoneyard ourselves.  A tip: wear closed-toe shoes, because you have to go past the horse barn, and where there’s horses… There was no fence or no trespassing sign.  It reminded me of the temples of Angkor, with its piles of magnificent stones, some overtaken by the forest, and nothing barring you from climbing them if you so desire.  (Not that I recommend that – they are still federal property, and they are not 100% stable.  Be careful if you venture out here!)

Follow the red star to the US Capitol Stoneyard on this map. Wear closed shoes to avoid horse poo!
Follow the red star! Courtesy of RockCreekRunner

*Like many of the historic buildings and monuments of DC, the Statue of Freedom was cast by an enslaved person.  For that matter, so were the US Capitol columns and stones.  One of my next “tourist” stops will hopefully be the brand-new Smithsonian Museum of African-American History and Culture, which officially opens to the public September 23, 2016.  I hope they address this fact, so when tourists from all over the country and world visit DC, they have a more complete perspective to balance the grandeur with reality.  If you want to learn more, the DC government has an excellent report on this topic.

This "altar" in the Capitol stoneyard totally fits - the original nickname of the Capitol was Temple of Liberty.
Reminds me of an altar, adding to the temple vibe
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A Perfect Day in Minca, Colombia

Colombia’s Magdalena department has more to offer than Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park‘s beautiful beaches; it is also home to Minca, a small village located high in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  Some people choose to spend a few days in Minca, enjoying the slow pace of life, but it is also a great option for a day trip from Santa Marta or Taganga.  Hire a taxi to take you to the cool mountains, and you’ll be there in no time.  I’ve outlined a full day of Minca activities, after the jump.

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The Beaches of Tayrona National Park

La Piscina Parque Tayrona

After the boat ride from hell (seriously – take the horses or hike!!), we finally arrived at Cabo San Juan.  I wish I had a photo of our first glimpse of the cape, because it was stunning.  Turquoise water, white sand, lush palm trees, mountain backdrops, and flocks of pelicans flying overhead.  It felt like we had stepped back through time.

The surf at Cabo San Juan is strong – I merely went for a quick dip and felt like I could have easily been pulled out to sea.  Our merry little band walked through the jungle to get to La Piscina, the nearby swimming beach.

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Up the Colombian Coast: Santa Marta & Taganga

Early morning in Taganga, Colombia

I definitely shouldn’t have tried to start blogging again during the holidays.  Now that they’re over, stories of Colombia await.  Up first: Santa Marta.

Santa Marta is an improbable city nestled between the bright blue Caribbean Sea and the Sierra Nevadas, the highest coastal mountain range in the world.  Palm trees and cacti dot the landscape.  The winter winds blow ferociously.

This port city is the site of the first Spanish settlement in Colombia.  It’s also one of the best jumping off points for nearby Tayrona National Park and the 6-day trek to La Ciudad Perdida, Colombia’s lost city that predates Machu Picchu by 650 years.

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5 Top Travel Tips for Any Destination

passport map copies

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.

Some of the best and worst experiences of your life can be made while traveling. I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes over the years, but being prepared for any situation and planning ahead can significantly improve any trip. Here are my five top travel tips for any trip, no matter the destination.

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Best Cafe in Istanbul

Beyoglu Istanbul skyline

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.  Today’s question: tell us about an experience you had from information you got from a local.

A Local’s Perspective

Back in April, Andy and I visited Turkey.  After a great time in Cappadocia (to be outlined in a future post), we flew to Istanbul for a few days.  Istanbul was such an amazing city and I really think it should be added to any traveler’s short list.  The people were so welcoming, the food was excellent, and there is so much to do and see.  That goes for the rest of Turkey, as well!

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Hidden Gems of Washington, DC

Our group in a tuk-tuk at the Embassy of Bangaldesh

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.  In this post, I discuss one of the best hidden gems in my current city of residence – Washington, D.C.  No travel lover should miss this!

Tell us a place in your hometown, or in the town you’re in now, that you think more visitors should experience.

Washington, DC is an interesting city.  I definitely think people who are from this area take for granted the 20+ free Smithsonian museums, incredible monuments, and excellent day trips (some less than 1 hour from the city).  You don’t need a car to take advantage of all it has to offer, either.  If you’re considering adding Washington, DC to your United States itinerary, remember that the same museums would cost $20+ in any other city.  I’m happy to answer questions below, too, if you have them.

That being said, most visitors hit the same places ad nauseam – Smithsonian museums and art galleries, the city’s free zoo, monuments, tidal basin, White House, Capitol building.  Locals know the hidden gems.  I have a few favorites (Hillwood Estate, Glenstone in Potomac, MD, Great Falls National Park, Maine Ave Fish Market), but I really love Embassy Day.

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Learning from Long-term Travel

For the month of November, I’ll be participating in BootsnAll‘s Indie Travel Challenge.  Click here to go to the beginning.

I grew up in suburban America, descended from immigrants who came to this country to escape persecution and try their hand at the American Dream.  My great-grandmother came from Latvia, alone, with two silver spoons.  Sometimes I wonder about what that experience must have been like – she carried no possessions, came alone on a ship full of immigrants from around the world, to a place she had never been and couldn’t possibly imagine.

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