Sponsored Post: Rethinking the Travel Souvenir

It’s no secret that I don’t have a lot of souvenirs from my travels. When I travel by boat, there’s usually not a lot of storage space, but even when I’m on land, I pack light–and I mean LIGHT. “Is that it?” people would ask me on my last three-month trip, pointing to my school-sized backpack and tote bag. As if hauling around your entire house on your back (as friends of mine have done) is something to aspire to?

I like traveling this way for many reasons, and I don’t plan to change. Besides, the most important things to hold onto are the memories, right?

But this also means I don’t have a lot of room for extras or souvenirs, and when I do find something small that I can hold onto or give to someone else, I value it all the more.

For instance, the matching initial necklaces that my mother gave me right before I left on my last trip. Personalization says, “No matter where I go in the world, no matter who I meet, I am still me. This is where I come from.” That’s a powerful statement, especially for a traveler.

Uncommon Goods also “travels light.” Despite being a catalog company, they don’t clog my mailbox with paper, and they work with small artists and suppliers whose names and faces appear on every product page, so you know exactly where every item is coming from. Committed to keeping this planet green for future travelers, they carry only products made from natural, recyclable, non-animal components.

Plus, when it comes to the small things, Uncommon Goods has some of my favorites. Not only can you personalize these gifts based on where you’ve been (such as maps and GPS coordinates), but where you’re going. In a world that seems bigger and smaller all at once, these items both serve as a physical token of your memories and a talisman to protect you on your travels to come. And when you order online, they’ll be waiting when you get home! Here are some of my favorites:

 

Hand-Engraved Compass Necklace

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I’ll tell you a secret about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s gotten me in trouble while traveling too many times to count, up to and including missing flights! But these sterling-silver necklaces will always point me the right way.

Latitude Longitude Pendant

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Personalize this pendant with any latitude and longitude for a memory that’s meaningful to you–even if it’s the middle of the ocean. For me, it’s Ascension Island–a place of sea turtles, lava rocks, and one magic night in the South Atlantic, onboard the tall ship Oosterschelde.

Custom Latitude Longitude Keychain

 

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Not surprisingly, I’m a sucker for nautical-inspired jewelry. Shackles, lines, and rigging get my salty soul excited. That’s why I’m crazy about this customizable keychain. The whipped shock cord holding this keychain together makes me want to close my eyes and feel the spray on my face.

Custom Sand Bijoux Bracelet

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I’ve fallen in love with a lot of beaches in my time, and I wish I could take them all home with me. Cayman, Port Antonio, Tulum, Ascension, Scheveningen. But what can you do with a bottle of sand? If you wear this bracelet, you can carry it with you wherever you go–even on the New York subway. Just send in your favorite sand using the custom mailer. Don’t have any? Designer Holly Daniels Christensen has a Sand Bank of hundreds of beaches from all over the world.

Custom Map Pillow

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Travel feeds my soul–but so does arriving home after a long journey and laying my head down in my own bed. With these customizable map pillows, you can choose a nautical chart or land map from anywhere in the U.S. on which to curl up and dream of your next adventure.

Thanks to Uncommon Goods for sponsoring this post. As always, my opinions are my own!

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Happy #Cinco de Mayo! Here are 5 reasons you’ll wish you were spending it in Yucatan

Ole! Today, communities all over the country are celebrating the historic Cinco de Mayo battle by guzzling cheap tequila and wearing oversized novelty sombreros. But on my recent trip to Yucatan, I experienced the natural beauty and rich Mayan culture that represent the more authentic side of Mexico–and I can’t wait to go back. If you think Yucatan is just the beaches of Cancun, you couldn’t be more wrong. The capital city, Merida, is a destination in its own right, complete with boutique hotels like Luz en Yucatan. Here are 5 other reasons to go to Yucatan and experience “The real Mexico:”

Cenotes

There are no aboveground lakes or rivers in Yucatan or Quintana Roo, as the locals will remind you. What they do have are cenotes–underground caverns that were sacred to the Mayans, and it’s easy to see why. Some are above ground, some are in caves, and every one is different.

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Practically every municipality in Yucatan has at least one or two, some nearly undiscovered  (at least by tourists). Two of my favorites I visited were Casa Cenote, an above-ground oasis (perfect for claustrophobes) where the mangrove roots seems to sparkle under the water, and the Cenote Zaci a colossal cavern smack in the center of Valladolid that Batman would be proud of.

Culture

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Most people go to Yucatan to relax and beach out, but they forget to take time out to visit the best art museums in Mexico. These include the MACAY museum in Merida, which features works by abstract painter Fernando García Ponce and muralist Fernando Castro Pacheco, and the utterly charming Casa de los Venados in Valladolid, the single biggest collection of Mexican folk art in private hands, including the most colorful examples of Day of the Dead Catrina art and Oaxacan alibrijes (fantastical animals) I’ve seen. The colonial architecture in Merida and the surrounding towns, including the Palacio Municipal (below) and the Casa de Montejo, built from recycled Mayan temples, is not to be missed.

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Nature

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The sleepy fishing village of Rio Lagartos, a few hours north of Merida, offers guided boat tours through the mangroves where you can spot flocks of flamingos up close, then have a refreshing natural spa day bathing in the same clay that makes the flamingos pink. Celestun and Progreso are other coastal areas off the tourist path, popular with vacationing Mexicans, where you can observe eagles, pelicans, crocodiles and other critters.

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Food

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Stale tortilla chips and guac can’t compare to the traditional Mayan specialties of Yucatan sopa de lima from La Chaya Maya, salbutes and panuchos from the Merida central market, or the delectable oddity known as marquesitas, a confection made like a rolled-up waffle and with the texture of a thin potato chip, filled with Nutella and cheese, sold at every event.

Entertainment

At night, Yucatecans love to get outdoors and have fun–and usually it’s for free! Every weekend, streets close to traffic and you can stroll up and down the avenues listening to Yucatecan Serenade, traditional big band music that Mexican old-timers will come out for and dance salsa all night long

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Or you can see traditional Mayan athletes strain human endurance by playing pok ta pok, the traditional Mayan ballgame that involves hitting a ball through a stone ring using only their torsos. It’s not for weaklings!

 

6 Things No One Tells You About Caye Caulker, Belize

Caye Caulker is becoming one of the most popular destinations in Belize for people heading down the  Central American “gringo trail.” Its location on the coral reef make it an amazing destination for diving, snorkeling, and sailing.

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I came there on a sailboat and we anchored in the harbor for almost a week, taking in the scene, amazed by the friendliness of the people and the laid-back island vibes along the main drag, enjoying rum punches from Margarita Mike’s, jerk chicken from Belizean Flava and deep-fried Snickers bars from Best of the Fair.

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But a couple of things surprised me, too. Here’s what you must know before visiting Caye Caulker:

  1. It’s only 10 minutes away by boat from the larger city of San Pedro. I met locals who said they had been able to jetski or windsurf there.
  2. It’s surprisingly easy to get to Yucatan, Mexico. You can catch the once-a-day Water Jets Ferry to Chetumal, Mexico, and from there get an ADO bus to Cancun.IMG_20160331_115223651
  3. Like a lot of the Caribbean resort towns (Utila specifically) there isn’t enough nightlife to pack every club every night, so the bars in town have an an unspoken agreement that they each get a specific night of the week to be the “place to go.” The first night we were there, it was Barrier Reef Sports Bar, the next night, I&I Reggae Bar. All you have to do is ask around to find “the scene”–or it may just find you.
  4. Although there’s no real “beach” to speak of, it’s a popular destination for kiteboarders, who launch off the split on the north end of the main drag. We went to a BBQ and met people from all over the world to come to Belize to try this thrilling extreme sport. The flat conditions make it an excellent place to learn I’m told. There are at least two companies who offer lessons, but be sure to get up early for the best wind!
  5. That “street food” you see may not actually be street food. On the main drag, a couple of guys stood outside near two huge grills, calling to passersby, saying “follow your nose!” We did, and ended up a short flight of stairs at Belizean Flava (right next to the Sports Bar) enjoying the best BBQ and jerk chicken in town for $15 Belize ($7.50 US) complete with two sides (I chose coconut rice and salad; my friends had garlic mashed potatoes) and two rum punches. It’s a family affair–the cook was the waiter’s mother, who’s lent her secret spices in top restaurants all over Belize, and she was back in the kitchen. (The guys outside were just grilling and yelling!)
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  7. It’s dusty! The roads aren’t paved, and the sand and dust from the beach gets everywhere, including on every product in the supermarket, making everything seem much older than it is. After walking around all day, my feet and flip-flops were practically white with dust. You’ll want to rinse off every time you get back to your hotel (or in my case, boat).IMG_20160329_161539208_HDR