Planning a Last Minute International Trip

Julio and I had plans to go to Michigan and Chicago in early June for a wedding, but they fell through so we were left without a vacation.  Julio wasn’t too disappointed, but as someone who gets flighty feelings if she hasn’t gone away within a few months, I was worried.  I decided to do some last minute searching and plan an international trip for May, only a month and a half away.

Caye-Caulker-6034920-smalltabletRetina
credit: http://www.expedia.com

First priority was deciding where to go.  I use Skyscanner.com to find cheap flights to any destination and considering I had no idea where I wanted to go at first, that was my best option.  Although San Diego has a major international airport, LA is really where it’s at in terms of cheaper international flights.  Luckily, it’s only a 2 hour drive for me and I have fabulous friends willing to let me keep my car at their house so I don’t have to pay for airport parking!!  So I searched “From: LAX” “To: Everywhere,” and I selected the entire month of May because my dates were pretty open.  I love that Skyscanner has the flexiblity and whole month search options because the results come up as a list of possible country destinations from cheapest to most expensive.  My results came up like this:


As I scrolled down my list of possible getaways, it became apparent that Central America was going to be the way to go, although there were a few Caribbean selections and even Greece from May 3-14 for $372 roundtrip!!  That’s insane!  If you read my recent post about my travel bucket list, you’d know Greece is my #1 dream location, but, Julio and I have decided that’s our future honeymoon destination, so I can’t pack my bags for that just yet.  I had decided that I wanted to go somewhere tropical (I mean really, who doesn’t?) and I’ve read a lot about Belize, their reef system, and the Blue Hole, which is a World Heritage site.  I selected Belize from my country list and found I could fly into Belize City for as cheap as $288 roundtrip.  I pay more than that for my flights home to Maryland!  I decided to travel during the week, since I already have Tuesdays and most Fridays off, and weekends are my money-making days.  I found that near the end of the month, I could go to Belize on a Monday through Friday for the cheapest advertised price!  Once you select your departure and return dates, the website checks for any changes in price and gives you a list of flight selections.  The flight times were pretty good too, I would fly out of LA late at night (early morning) Monday and arrive at 9:30am, so I wouldn’t waste a day flying, and I would fly back to the states on Friday at about noon and arrive at 7pm.  Perfect!

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Of course I bought my Lonely Planet guidebook!

After I booked my flight, I needed a place to stay.  One of my favorite travel blogs to follow is Alex in Wanderland, and I knew she had been to all of the Central American countries.  I quickly searched “Belize” on her site, and found that during the beach part of her stay, she had fallen in love with Caye Caulker (you can read why here).  I had never used Airbnb before, but plenty of my friends have, so I did a quick search for places to stay on the island.  While I was browsing beach cabanas, my friend Katie called to ask about going to Iceland over Thanksgiving to see the Northern Lights.  I told her I was definitely interested in that too, but did she want to go on a last minute Belize trip with me?  She said she was in for sure, and so I went from solo traveler to having a partner.  Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem traveling alone, and I have never traveled solo internationally before, so I was looking forward to the experience, but it’s always more fun with a friend.

Caye-Caulker
credit: http://blog.spaceja.com

We booked a great little cabana right on the beach with a porch and a hammock (heaven!) on Caye Caulker for $78 a night, or about $160 a person for 4 nights.  Our next step was planning out what sort of excursions we want to do while we’re there.  We both agreed that we wanted to keep it on a budget, but we wanted to do a snorkel tour, possibly visit the Blue Hole, and maybe go into the jungle on the mainland one day.  From the guidebook and reading Alex’s blog, we figured we could book a snorkel tour and possibly the Blue Hole tour once we get to Caye Caulker.  There are a few dive and snorkel tour companies on the island so we are going to look at our options once we get there.  The Blue Hole is going to be an expensive day trip if we decide to do it, but I feel like it’s a “can’t miss” on my list of stops in Belize.  We are also looking into renting a car the first day we arrive for a jungle adventure.  It will be too late in the morning to hop on a day tour, but reviews say it’s easy to rent a car and get around, and we can visit the Monkey Sanctuary and the Altun Ha Mayan ruins by driving there ourselves.

bluehole
credit: http://www.emelieeldridge.com

Finally, we checked out what, if any vaccine and visa requirements there are for Belize.  Since it’s also a popular stop on cruises, there are no required vaccines, just suggested use of bug spray and an up to date tetanus shot.  United States citizens are not required to get a visa to enter the country, but a visitor’s permit valid for 30 days will be stamped into our passports on arrival.  It was surprisingly painless planning and booking an international trip only a month before departure, although we also picked a very easy and popular destination.  Skyscanner is a great tool to use for finding cheap airfare and Airbnb is my new favorite accommodation booking site, although I am still a TripAdvisor fan when it comes to hotels.  It IS possible to travel internationally on a budget and still get great deals at the same time.  I can’t wait to check off Belize, my first Central American country, next month!

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