Tag Archives: Guatemala

Tips for staying with a host family

When I was going through my life list goals I noticed that I have never actually written about what it is like to stay with a host family abroad. I know when I get on the IVHQ forums one of the biggest concerns I read about is “What is it really like to stay with a host family?” I remember when I first set off to go to Guatemala the thought terrified me. I had so many concerns because staying with someone you do not know can be terrifying your first time believe me. Some of the questions I asked were…

Would I like them?
What if I don’t like the food?
What if I feel unsafe?
How the hell am I going to communicate with a language barrier?

Looking back I laugh at my concerns because I realize my concerns were seriously unfounded and when I volunteer abroad again I will always choose a host family.

If you are offered the option of a host family stay on a volunteer trip or vacation you should strongly consider if for many reasons.

1. It is immersion into a language and culture. One of the main reasons I still consider Guatemala my favorite country still to this day is because of my host family. I did not speak nearly as much Spanish as I do now but I was able to practice daily and I really did get to know the culture of a Guatemalan family. It was a beautiful thing and I can assure you that while traveling to a country may give you insight into a local culture, living with a local family will put you in the middle of it.

2. I was forced to try local food. Now it is absolutely no secret how I am not a foodie, when I travel I do not think about food. In fact, I am one of the most frustrating people to travel with because I am too busy trying to see every single sight I do not even think about food and simply will not eat. I will literally grab a bagel and hit the ground running and not stop. Seriously I am one of the lucky ones that will lose weight on a vacation. Anyway, I digress. Food in a foreign country is actually one of the most terrifying things to me, (TMI GROSS FACTOR COMING, I have gotten worms before, ewww I know but if you are not careful IT CAN and WILL happen) so believe me I get the concerns. I have found though home stays will often offer the freshest and most local dishes. Sure you can go to a restaurant and eat local food but going to a Central American restaurant in the states is vastly different than eating Central American food with a Central American family. Seriously, it is significantly fresher and well more authentic.

3. There is an additional safety factor. I am not going to lie to you, Antigua is not a city you go out after dusk alone. You do not do it. One night however, I lost track of time and was going to walk almost a mile home in the dark but thanks to my home stay it did not happen. I told my house mom that I would be home by dark and one night I wasn’t because I lost track of time and went to salsa classes. When she called the studio and found out I was there she drove to pick me up so I wouldn’t have to walk home at night. Now I am not saying this is something that will happen with your home stay, but living with a local will often give you added security because they know the reality of their city. They are often very proud of their city, but they get that it may not be safe.

4. You get families from all over the world. I am friends with my house momma on facebook. We are SO lucky to live in the age of facebook. Anyone you meet in the world you can say hey add me on facebook and you are friends and you can keep up with them. With the exception of a few countries just about everyone has access to the internet in some way and you will find they love keeping up with you too. They still invite me to stay with them today.

So those are just a few of the benefits of choosing a home stay when you volunteer or travel. Now let me give you a few tips for staying with a local family.

1. Practice their language. Now this one was hard for me at first. I often found myself gravitating towards the person that spoke the most English and having them translate for me. This was the easy way out, but then I learned that if I wanted to learn Spanish I was going to have to get over my self esteem and make mistakes when speaking the language. I did this with some serious embarrassing results, one time, I was trying to communicate that a dog was 14 years old… well I messed up the Spanish words and said the dog had 14 anuses. Everyone and I do mean everyone laughed so hard at that. I was embarrassed at first but then my house momma corrected the Spanish words and I now know how to say years in Spanish properly. SO dive in speak the local language make mistakes, you will find that even after a week you will easily speak 20-30 more words than you did upon arrival.

2. Bring something from your home area. Often you will find that your family is not as well traveled as you and will be very curious about your life in the United States. It is often easy to forget that while you live in the USA and know what day to day life is like, your host family doesn’t, they only know what they see on the news. I am from Texas and I tend to bring Texas Pralines and every time I do they are a hit. Mostly because the candy is very different and they have not had it before. It doesn’t have to be huge or expensive. I think I spend like $5 and I am a hit. If you don’t bring a gift buying something in a local market is a great idea. I bought blackberries once, because they were considered expensive to my local family so they never bought them, but to me they were a steal.

3. KEEP YOUR SPACE CLEAN. I put this in caps because it is so important. Now I am messy as hell and if my mom reads this she is going to laugh because my space is often a disaster at home. However, while I may be messy she did raise me to have some damn manners and respect others. So all I am going to say is, keep you space clean. Just like you take pride in your home, they take pride in theirs. Keep your space clean.

4. Be honest about your food habits. I have found that home stays are often SHOCKED at how little I eat and often if I don’t eat a lot they feel I don’t like the food and want to change my meals. Which is why I say be 100% honest about the food, if you can’t eat something let them know. Food is expensive in countries and it is more important to not waste it. Also be clear if you don’t eat a lot. I am someone that will eat more frequently throughout the day and it may take a few days but I have found that being clear about what I do like is better up front than wasting food. However, that being said it is important to understand you will likely not eat like you do at home. I have found that me just saying I really don’t eat a lot, so smaller portions with more carb heavy meals… ie rice and fruit works wonders and once that happens food is never wasted and they know I am happy.

5. Get to know your host family and do NOT lose touch. I can’t stress this enough ask questions in their language no matter how broken, find out their favorite color, what is their favorite holiday? Ask questions, communicate. When it is time to leave exchange emails or become facebook friends. I can’t stress this last tip enough. You will enjoy your stay in whatever country so much more if you get to know your family. They will be able to offer insight into the local area and even their favorite restaurants if you just communicate with them. Plus you will have a new family that you can talk about for years to come. Seriously I still talk about my home stays they had that big of an impact on me. Take pictures because if you don’t you might regret it.

Well that is all I have for tips on staying in a home stay. I hope if you are on the fence on whether to stay with a family or not this helps you decide to do it. I will never choose a hotel or any other option if I have the opportunity to stay with a house family.

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Budgeting & Goals- Month 3

This month my plan is to stay in Guatemala for another month, I am hoping to extend my home stay an additional 4 weeks & focus and work on Spanish.  So long story short, this month is going to be cheap & relaxing.

I have already said my goal is to come back fluent in Spanish and it is my every intention to take Spanish classes as often as I can, Antigua language schools are pretty affordable and for 2 hour group classes it will cost me approx $165 for the month, plus factor in a one month home stay and I should pick up Spanish pretty quickly.

I am also planning on spending some long weekends at Lake Atitlan, Tikal, Semuc Champey & El Salvador, each weekend will be cheaper than I budgeted because gain I used Trip Advisor as a guide, but at the same time as I keep stressing I rather be over budgeted.

So this month’s budget?

Home stay $665
Food $100
Spanish Lessons $165
Weekend Trips $800

Total Budget for month 3- $1730 or $57 per day which is within my target of 50-60 per day. 

Note on the food budget, home stay includes 2 meals per day, I am not a foodie and I really do not eat much so I budgeted an extra $100 for fruits, veggies & rice.

So what is my budget thus far for this trip?

Pre-Trip- $1200 (one way flight & pre-trip expenses)
Month 1- $2825 (Playa del Carmen, San Ignacio & Caye Caulker)
Month 2- $2685 (TEFL certification & Guatemala)
Month 3- $1730 (Spanish Lessons, Guatemala, El Salvador)

Total Proposed Budget- $8440 or $93 per day if you include all expenses, my target is to average $50-60 per day and I am hoping to balance out over time once I stop paying for certifications, I am wanting to obtain my yoga teaching certification in Peru, if I don’t do it before I go so in theory that should be my last hard hitting expense. 

Any tips on budgeting??? Anything you can suggest? Month 4 & 5’s budget will be a simple one, as I am planning on spending two months volunteering with sea turtles in Costa Rica, then I am taking a two week biking tour to finish up in Central America before cruising to Colombia, then I will spend 6 months in South America. 🙂

Budgeting & Goals- Month 2

I had so much fun making a rough itinerary for my RTW trip that I decided I needed to work on my next segment.

I have said from day one when I decided to take this trip abroad I have always known I would start in Central America and work through the region slowly & taking the sights before I ventured into South America, from South America I would likely go to Europe and from there either Asia or Africa. The general route has always been semi planned in my head it was just more about the stops along the way that I have not really thought about.

After I had so much fun realizing how feasible my first month is (even though thanks to a few encouraging emails I know I have over budgeted) I decided it was to start my next month.

After I get through Mexico and Belize I am hoping to spend a couple of months in Guatemala. Yes a couple of months. I absolutely LOVE Guatemala and I can’t wait to spend some real time there.

So when I get back to Guatemala I am planning on getting my TEFL Certification. While I am getting certified I am planning on utilizing the home stay and then practicing Spanish in the evenings while I am Antigua. When I spent time in Guatemala back in 2013 I met numerous people that were doing this program that I knew without a doubt I had to do when I finally started my RTW adventure. When it is all said and done I am hoping to be fluent in Spanish & Mandarin at the end of my trip so studying Spanish while I am in Latin American is very important to me.

In fact, while I am on this trip in general I am planning on getting a lot of certifications and experiences. Travel is education right?

So this month actually is pretty cheap very cheap if you don’t factor in my certification because technically I will likely have to pay that way before hand.

In fact, I can break this month down into “goals” I will have to pay the TEFL Certification before I arrive. The 4 week intensive program is $1520. The program I reviewed gives me the option of a home stay which I plan on doing 100%. The cost of the home stay is $665 while I am in the program. The home stay includes 2 meals, so I am budgeting an extra $100 to cover lunch.

So here is my proposed budget

TEFL Certification- $1520
4 week home stay- $665
Extra Food- $100
Spanish Lessons- $400

Total is $2685 if you factor the TEFL into my daily amount calculation it is $89 per day. If you just factor in the home stay, food & Spanish lessons the amount is approx $34 per day. Guatemala is in fact this cheap. When I went to Guatemala my daily budget was around this amount.

I know the TEFL is a budget killer, but it is something I want to do abroad. One of the best things about having so much time to plan and save for this trip is I can plan and budget for hard hitters like TEFL & Yoga teacher certifications. So I have to remind myself that even though I am a bit away from my trip, I do have time by my side and once my debt is paid off I will be able to save a fair amount of my income to accomplish my dreams so I need to stay positive.

So here is a recap of all my “rough budgets” & the total “budget” set so far. I do not have a leave date & I have not set a duration just yet.

Pre-Trip- $1200 (one way flight & pre-trip expenses)-
Month 1- $2825 (Playa del Carmen, San Ignacio & Caye Caulker)
Month 2- $2685 (TEFL certification & Guatemala)

Total Proposed Budget thus far- $6710

I have researched a lot of budgets and I know my budget is higher than some because of certifications & my need for private rooms, but still this only comes out to $111 per day for the 60 days I am on my trip. Like I keep saying I would rather be over budgeted and it is nice seeing it broken down slowly, so I can set “mini savings” goals.

I have started planning month three & I am really hoping to explore and tour Guate in more detail before I venture in a volunteer stint in Costa Rica, before taking a bike tour through Costa Rica, Nicaragua & Panama.

Planning really is WAY too much fun and I can’t wait to make it a reality. 🙂

Photos that make me smile…

When you forced to stay put you often find yourself digging through photos for memories.  Lately I have been working on my scrapbooks & finishing up projects that I never really got around to finishing up.  I have a lot of free time lately, so it has been nice to finish a few projects.

One of the projects is going through photos to decide what I want to frame, put in a scrapbook or make into something else.

A few of my photos make me smile every time I see them, so I figured I would go ahead and share with you the photos that make me smile and the story behind them

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This photo is one of my favorite photos I have ever taken, I was on one volcano in San Miguel Guatemala taking a photo of another volcano. It was very peaceful and serene and I really just felt at home. It is no secret that Guatemala was a life changing event for me & whenever I see this photo I think of my time there.

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This photo is by far one of my favorite photos I have ever taken. I was walking back home after strolling the streets of Antigua when I walked by this ruin and I don’t know the sun was setting at the most perfect time & I happened to snag the photos. I know professional photographers can probably find a million things wrong with it, but for me this was just a beautiful moment.

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There is nothing special about the above photo, I was on a boat looking out at sea after a beautiful day in Belize.   I think this is more about what I was feeling in this moment, I was watching a sunset in total silence and it was in this moment that I knew everything was just the way it should be.

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Again another photo that isn’t anything special to most people, but to me this moment is everything.   I had just experienced a devastating moment a week before this trip to Hawaii.  The person that was supposed to go with me pretty much told me he did not want me in his life any more.   The trip to Hawaii was booked and I didn’t want to go alone and my dad went with me very last minute so I wouldn’t cancel my trip.  Our first day in Hawaii we took a “movie tour” and this is one of the photos we took.  This was one of my favorite trips I took with my dad & it is a trip that we will have the rest of our lives.  I am a daddy’s girl at heart and I am so glad I got to spend a week with him in one of the most magical places I have ever been to.  This photo is so my family who in all actuality are a bunch of nerds.  Plus I am laughing in this photo & I realize looking back that once again everything is ok.

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This next photo makes me laugh so hard this photo was taken about 4 days after my grandmother’s funeral.  I of course was very sad & emotional, but my two best friends took me to San Francisco and we drove these crazy hills.  It was a weekend of laughs & pretty tense moments while driving but I wouldn’t trade this trip for ANYTHING with these two.  We don’t spend as much time as I would like together, but this weekend was very healing for me and for that this photo makes me very happy.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Every time I see this photo I smile, and every time this makes me realize how much my soul belongs to the beach. I am always at peace near water and I know without a doubt that when I retire I want to be near a beach.

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While I have 100s of photos that make me smile this is the one that makes me realize how much traveling means to me. Most of my travel has been through the US & Mexico and for the longest I didn’t need a passport to cross the border into Mexico (and it is my understanding I still don’t) but for me having my passport stamped sealed the deal for me & made me realize that being a citizen of the world is what really makes me happy & what makes me feel the most peace. If I didn’t want to appear vain I would totally put this picture in a frame because this moment was everything to me & to be honest I never in my life would have thought Honduras is where my first passport stamp would come from & for that that country holds a peace of my heart.  I took this photo after I got my second stamp in Belize & based on that smile you would have thought I won the lottery.  🙂