Must-See Mexico City: 10 Days in a Culture Capital

Before we go over the itinerary that Sam and I used, I’d like to give some general tips about traveling to Mexico City too.

  1. The weather is mostly mild and sunny year round, but the altitude (over 7000 ft above sea level) means it’s windy and sudden storms can take you by surprise— bring easy layers and comfortable tennis shoes.

  2. Don’t try to dress down here. By all means wear whatever you please, but know that Mexico City is very well dressed, basically everywhere. The only place I didn’t see blazers was hiking Teotihuacan’s pyramids.

  3. Many restaurants are wonderful here, but the magic is in the carts. Almost every street cart and bodega is making delicious, fresh meats and tortas. You’ll see tents full of suited lunch break bankers sitting on plastic stools huddled over a plate of steaming al pastor tacos. Trust these tents, and walk up to them as often if not more than you would Yelp a place first.

  4. We walked nearly everywhere, but this is a massive city. Take advantage of the cheap Uber rates, the convenient cabs, and the comprehensive bus and rail system. We didn’t take cabs here but only because Uber was so cheap and more regulated for us. I did read that many cabs don’t have meters and while this isn’t a safety issue, we don’t speak that great of Spanish, so this was one less aspect we had to worry about language barrier with.

  5. Speaking of Spanish, try to practice yours. People are very kind and accommodating if you don’t speak it, but everyone appreciates your effort if you know any. This isn’t a tourism dependent city, so not everyone will be fluent in English or other languages.

Day 1:
We arrived midday, but still wanted to ease into it since we had 10 days for this trip. Arriving around 3 still gives you an entire day in Mexico City, since night life is vibrant and days start late. We stayed around our hotel, got room service, and that night we went down to the hotel bar, 50 Mils, for drinks before walking around that night. Like I said, a mellow night, and many of the things we did on other mellow days could be fit into this day if you have less. time. I’ve linked all our tours, restaurants, and experiences, but none of these are affiliate links. They are purely provided for your information.

Day 2:
Our first full day in town! We ventured out into the city park and chipped away at our list of park attractions we wanted to see. I suggest planning ahead of time what you want to visit, because the park is massive, and even in the 3 days we committed to it, we didn’t see everything we wanted to. This day we explored the botanical garden, which also contained an adorable project called The Future Forest, an interactive park made entirely of reclaimed plastic. We also walked through the sculpture garden of the Museum of Modern Art. After roaming the museum, we walked to Los Panchos, a historic restaurant that also has a takeaway counter. For dinner that night we just walked around again until we found a place: Cantina Brio. The staff was so kind and our food was delicious! They also had a great karaoke night going on.

Day 3:

The day we explored Teotihuacán! The link is for the tour we booked. I recommend going with a tour guide to the site because there’s a lot to learn about the area, and it saves you the trouble of transportation there and back to the city. The site itself is navigable by yourself, but because so little on this trip requires a formal tour, we sprang for one here and one other day and it was definitely worth it. This tour also takes you to an obsidian shop and rest stop where you get a little lesson on the goods made there and a tequila tasting. It’s hard not to notice that you definitely get given a lot of tequila and then get released into their souvenir shop. While this part is a bit of a tourist trap, no one is pushy and we had no problem not buying anything. The goods were actually gorgeous, but obsidian isn’t cheap.

Day 4:

Another day in Chapultepec Park! This time we spent hours upon hours in the National Museum of Anthropology! This was a highlight for us, and you do need a full day here to see everything. Hungry and strung out on history, we wandered out of the museum into a plaza of carts and descended upon a torta and some elote like we’d never seen food before. It was incredible and I can’t stress enough how much you need to eat as much street food as possible here.
Later that night we went to El Califa for tacos. This is another institution in the region; we ended up here on three different nights.

Day 5:

This was a big day for Mexico politically, with a new government administration taking office. We stayed at our hotel and had a lazy day at the pool and reading in our room since it was also a national holiday and many things we’d want to do would be closed anyway. That night we went to the tree lighting ceremony at the hotel, and had dinner at the restaurant on premises, Zanaya. The food here is great; elevated if not authentic.

Day 6:

This was our other big tour day. I definitely recommend this tour specifically because our guide was so laid back and we got to see SO MUCH. Our guide was Veronica, and if you can request her I would suggest it. She made us feel like we were friends visiting her from out of town, the whole day was intimate and fun and relaxed. We floated on the Xochimilco canals and explored Coyoacan markets before heading to La Casa Azul, a Frida Kahlo museum at the site of her home. Aside from that, Veronica also took us to a flower market in Xochimilco, we had tostadas in the Coyoacan markets, and we visited the Anahuacali Museum of Diego Rivera. We also visited the University of Mexico, a beautiful campus with rolling lawns and meaningful art displayed throughout. We spent that night exploring Zona Rosa, a hip and bustling downtown area known for its bars and trendy restaurants, before heading back to El Califa for more delicious tacos.

Day 7:

We got brunch at Clara y Ema, an adorable little place with incredible breakfast sandwiches. Then we took an Uber over to the Soumaya Museum, a private collection housed in a work of art. From there we went to Bibilioteca Vasconcelos, an architectural wonder you’ve probably seen on Pinterest, or my Instagram. We got dinner at Casa de Tono before going back to Zona Rosa for the night. It’s a taqueria much like El Califa, popular and always busy, even with its many locations throughout the city.

Day 8:

We spent all morning at Mercado de Artesianes de Ciudadela, a market full of local goods and crafts that are fairly priced and well made. Take your time here and look for the vendors with small stalls tucked away in corners- we found cheaper prices for the same goods at those stalls. Later that day there was a thunderstorm, but it didn’t last long and after we headed out again, to Zona Rosa and El Califa. We were staying at the intersection of three very popular neighborhoods, Condesa, Palonca, and Zona Rosa, so exploring on foot and ending up at these popular spots was a great way to feel familiar in such a large city.

Day 9:

Our last day! We spent this one at the park again, this time at Castillo de Chapultepec and the national history museum it contains. The gardens here are beautiful too! We then headed over to the Zocalo, the historic city square, where we looked at the huge Christmas decorations on all the sides of the buildings and had beers at a terrace overlooking the square. I don’t recommend the place we went, so I won’t mention it here. Afterwards we got tortas at a cart outside our hotel and hung out in our room, packing and starting to reminisce. For our last night we went to dinner at Quebracho, and Argentinian restaurant around the corner. Everything was good, but their empanadas were everything I was hoping for.

Day 10:
We just flew home this day. I recommend being at the airport two hours before your flight. Always prepare for traffic, since going out during rush hours could mean the difference between 20 minutes and two hours. You can definitely condense this itinerary into less days, but we had a leisurely, relaxing trip, and I couldn’t recommend Mexico City enough. Happy travels, and always feel free to send me your travel questions!

There is Nothing Plus About My Size.

I tend to not talk about my size, in any light other than worshipping myself and my own taste in my very cheap and very simplistic outfits (haha). It’s on purpose, even if I don’t always feel as fabulous as I talk about being.

Look, I love myself. I’ve been a lonely kid basically all my life, and I had to make peace with that voice in my head at a young age, because there was no other way to harness that voice to narrate my dolls’ lives, or all the lives I made up for the people I saw. I needed that voice to be my friend, I needed to understand that voice and what it was there for.
I’ve actually almost mastered remembering that that voice is just the very deepest, most scared part of me, letting itself be known. We are our own worst critics. Even bullies don’t know us like we know us. While I may not always love what I see, I acknowledge that what I see is the only person who’s ALWAYS been there for me, always will be. This body has never let me down, it is the border between me and everything else. It’s my safe place, and this brain and this voice are the lobby and loudspeaker of that safety. Even with my anxiety and depression mostly dictating how I feel about myself, I try to keep in check what is allowed to play through this system.

At 11 I reached 5’7’, and I’m now just under 5’10”. I’ve never been small in any way, my hair and my voice and my body have always been big. It took a lot of constant unlearning to realize that there was nothing wrong with me just because I looked different. I think in part being an immigrant from such a small country really helped that mentality, helped me understand that sometimes you’re just more different than the different you see around you, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

This brings me to being considered “plus-size” when I just consider myself “size”. This isn’t out of some ignorance of myself or society or reality, it’s just weird for me to think about body positivity while also using a term that still depends on a normative body standard. Saying plus size is saying that your body is outside of sizing, somehow additional to what sizes should cover. Maybe this is semantics, but it makes me hesitate to make content that otherwise really appeals to me. I love fashion and beauty, but there are some aspects of the plus size industry that are inherently still reliant on separating us, on othering anyone after a certain size.

I understand that these distinctions start out as an empowerment, the fact that it’s an industry in itself today is a huge change that I don’t think adolescent me ever saw coming. I’m happy for me and other people like me. I’m glad there’s more representation across races and sizes and complexions and hair textures. I just think that a term like that still indicates that there are sizes you should be to be considered “straight sized” or “average”. Labels are labels and they’ll likely always suck. Just don’t call me plus sized. My size is exactly what it should be, it’s not plus or minus anything.

PS: Some great alternatives include “extended sizing”, “size inclusive”, and “fly as hell”.

5 Beaches to Visit on Hawaii: Kona

These are my favorite beaches on the Kona side of the big island of Hawaii! I've linked the Trip Advisor pages of the beaches through the photos for more information. To gauge my recommendations, know that our preferred activities are snorkeling, swimming, and staring at the ocean from the shade. All of these were amazing for that, but what I mention in their captions is the primary reminder you should keep in mind if you visit them. For example, the first beach, Beach 49, is accessed from the grounds of a gated community and there are a limited amount of parking spaces/ passes, so going early in the day (before 10) is key to getting in. Happy beaching!

Beach 49

Get here early for parking and bring an umbrella if you plan on spending the day!
The black sand gets hot but it's a small, quiet beach, unique and peaceful.

Kua Bay

The water here was so clear! Parking wasn’t bad but this is a popular beach if you’re looking for quiet.

Beach 69

This is such a great beach! A narrow strip of rocky shore, but lots of secret pockets of great snorkeling, and a nearby cove you can only reach by swimming around the rock. Parking isn’t bad but this is also a popular beach, come early for a good spot as the shore is narrow.

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2 Step Beach

The volcanic rock we’re standing on gives way to the most beautiful wall of reef I’ve ever seen! Tons to see when snorkeling here, a truly unique beach.

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Lava Lava Beach Club

While this isn’t technically a public beach, all beaches in Hawaii are public beaches! This is actually the shore along a great restaurant and beach club called Lava Lava. It’s a Kona favorite, and is almost always packed. When it comes time for sunset, you’ll see why.

While there are endless beaches to explore here, these are the ones I’ve really loved on our visits. Their images all link to their information on TripAdvisor, and will also suggest nearby beaches for you. Let me know if you have favorites of your own!

Italy 2018 Pt. 3

Our last few days in Italy were spent in such beautiful cities, and the time we spent at home was even more sweet than I remembered it to be. My favorite kinds of moments are the ones that you already know, right now, are forever memories. Most afternoons at the pool at La Casa feel like that. I keep capitalizing that because it's the name of the farmhouse on this property, that's been converted, I think in partnership with the hotel. La Casa was one of the first buildings on the property to get restored, and its design is so sweet and true to Italian country homes, while still being so modern and comfortable. 

Pizza night is special, aside from the rivalry for best pizza, because the pizza oven is on premises, and the grocery store trips to stock up on toppings are always such sweet peeks into the lives of the people who actually live here. We spent more time at the pool before, and basically had a pizza feast that night. I also love that we do this because there's almost always a guarantee of pizza leftovers to hold you over. 

Volterra, all walled up and perfectly meandering, gifted us with such beautiful weather. I don't personally have an issue with motion sickness, and even I can feel the pain of others in my group who do, when we go to Volterra. The roads are winding, you climb hills and descend them again. The city is a true reward after the trek, but be prepared for winding roads, and if you're on a bike, well bless your heart, godspeed on those hills. There's a cafe right inside town where Sam and I always stop, I believe it's the Enjoi Cafe. The area is known for its alabaster and olive wood, so the shopping in Volterra is especially good, and I often buy my gifts and souvenirs here. The restaurant we love in Volterra is Del Duca and I recommend if you eat at all in Volterra, it be here. The staff is so kind, and the kitchen staff is equally amazing. Between the different visits and taste trades among the family, I've probably tried everything on the menu, and all of it is made so impeccably, and tastes incredible.

The next day we did Siena! I always love Siena but this year there was something about the breeze and the smaller crowds, I think this was my favorite day this year, and I wasn't the only one in the family who felt that way. It might have had to do with Il Palio having just ended, maybe the city was relieved. The streets had been swept, and many of the thousands of people who flood into the city every year for the races seemed to have already left. It was Siena, but it felt small and sweet and quiet. 
Another favorite restaurant we got to return to was Osteria da Divo, and I couldn't recommend it enough. It's in a historic, mostly unaltered cave, and the tables are staged on the many descending levels. There's a deeper cave at the bottom, used to store aging wines and delicious cheese wheels. The meals are cozy, but never let the unassuming nature of the restaurants and their staff ever fool you, anywhere in Italy. You're likely about to sit down to the best food you've ever tasted. 

After another home day, everyone else went home! Sam and I had one more day, which we spent in Florence. One of our favorite old haunts, a little mall off the Piazza della Republica, ended up having a rooftop terrace that we'd never been up to before! We spent time there, and then went to another garden terrace hidden down an alley in the shopping district. I'll have to find a way to track down information for it, as it seemed really informal, but if you're going, I can give you directions from Piazza della Republica. 

I feel like I still rushed through covering Italy, but now that I've laid down a lot of information about many of the favorite places we go to often, I can start covering more wineries and experiences individually. As always, I am happy to answer any questions about my own trips, or help you figure out your own. Happy travels!

Italy 2018 Pt. 2

Fonterutoli! We toured the winery and facilities of Castello di Fonterutoli, the history of which is definitely worth learning about. What I love most about wineries in Italy, wineries like this one, is that so many of them are running on property that was developed hundreds of years ago, in restored villages, monasteries, and farming communities.

The big open plaza has covered valves that are opened during harvest. The vats are brought over the openings, which connect to wine vats underground. The barrels shown at the lowest level of the caves are where the wine is aged. The natural spring and cave wall is the back wall of that lowest level; it was built that way to naturally regulate the temperature and preserve the natural springs found during building. 

After the tour and wine tasting, we had lunch at the estate's restaurant, and it was a garden dream. 

The winery tour was our outing for the day, so when we went home to La Casa we had a pool day and dinner up at the terrace. I'm currently in grad school at National University, so the last picture is just my homework selfie while everyone else had dinner. 

The next day was Pisa! I had  never been before and I was so excited! It was a sweet simple day; we walked the Square of Miracles and took our Pisa pictures. The shops and cafes on the side streets off the square were so busy, and there's a cruise port in a nearby city that offers tours into Pisa, so it likely stayed busy throughout the summer despite the heat. The cathedral and tower tours are supposed to be incredible, but I was on a mission for water when my family went into the cathedral and I honestly gave up after I saw the ticket line. I wasn't going in the tower anyway, because it leaned! And I have a heights thing, so I kept my feet happily on the ground. After we all split up and explored the area for a few hours, we met for lunch at La Taverna di Emma, which was delicious and fresh. The server was so kind and hospitable, and she actually ended up being one of the owners! After she helped us order and we ate SO MUCH of their amazing pastas, she invited us to the kitchen they have next door, and introduced us to her husband, the other owner. Emma is their daughter. I gasped and aw-ed enough for all of us, don't fret. Their hospitality was as sweet as their story, and it was a true joy being taken over to see where they preserve all their meats and make their pastas and breads. Go visit them if you can, all the info is on their TripAdvisor linked above!

We still got home from Pisa with enough time to get in the pool! My amazing bathing suit is from Rue 107, a size inclusive, ethically made clothing line I absolutely love and secretly horde. Completely unrelated, maybe, but I get asked a lot about my bathing suits, so the link I've included to their site is also my referral link. You get 20% off, and so do I! For future reference I'll add this link to my About Me section as well. 

After Pisa we went to San Gimignano. We come here every year, I'm pretty sure it's everyone's favorite, it never gets old, and it never stops surprising you. Before entering the ancient fortress walls we went into an incredible leather shop just to the right of the gates, Namsce Bazar. The man there was a character out of such a romantic book! The pictures in his shop were all of his family, of him leather working in different decades of his career. I watched him hand press his logo into the leather after adjusting the sizes of the belts we bought; I was so taken that I asked if I could record him working, you can find it on my IGTV

We always eat at the same place for lunch, Ristorante Belsoggiorno. There are no words to describe the view from their dining area and their food is incredible. Not to mention, the staff are so kind! There's such a sweet charm to seeing familiar faces in a place that's not technically familiar. 

 

Next week I'll finish up our trip, including pizza night, Volterra, Siena, and Florence. I strongly encourage you to look into the reviews of the places I'm sharing. The experiences are unique, unforgettable. There is a romanticism written into the bones of people like me, it thrills me and breaks my heart so often in Italy. It's never the same experience, even when many of the places stay the same. There are many places I didn't have the space to include, so please don't hesitate to ask me for recommendations. I'm fairly familiar with most of the Tuscan region and would be happy to learn with you about the places I'm not familiar with. Happy travels!  

Italy 2018, Pt 1

We are home at last, after ten days in some of our favorite Italian cities. I started going to Italy with my husband and his family several years ago, but the charm never wears. There are some favorite photos on my Instagram, but here I wanted to go more into what each day was like, the towns I love, and the traditions Sam and I have built. 

 

First up, we have our first two days in Tuscany. I love landing in Florence because many cities that are beautiful still aren’t beautiful to land into. Florence from the sky is charming, and it warms me every time knowing that the charm is true, that the city waiting for you is filled with so much to see.

The room pictured is the upstairs of the villa at Caselllo di Casole. Out the window you can see the newly built hotel on the hill. It was a few years ago, maybe four, but it still feels so new every time I go up (The facilities and views are unbelievable).

Pool days are probably all of our favorite thing about La Casa. The first day we usually reserve to stay home and take full advantage and adjust to the time difference, but I’m pretty sure we’d all stay home the whole trip given the chance! 

Sam and I are sitting outside of  Osteria del Caffè Casolani, the gem of Casole d’Elsa. Every night Lani cooks an incredible four course meal, and any night you come, the meal she made is the meal you eat. Lani’s family helps run the restaurant, and as you sit and watch the small town close up shop and come out to play, it becomes harder and harder to leave. You linger for gelato, you watch the local children run up and down the narrow streets. Walking back to our car from Casole d’Elsa was the first time I saw fire flies. Considering the fairy tale charm of the place, the magic of it was not lost on me.

Come back tomorrow for our next few days in Fonterutoli, Pisa, and San Gimignano! 

New Orleans Audubon Institute Insectarium

I can't really post ONE blog about New Orleans because it has infinite identities, and I see it in a thousand different lights depending on my mood, the city's mood, and thousands of other factors that may or may not all be controlled by magic left behind in the very bricks. This week I want to focus on the Insectarium and butterfly sanctuary in New Orleans. It's near the waterfront, close to the Audubon Aquarium if you have an Ultimate Experience pass, and near enough to the French Quarter that it makes a fun stop if you have limited time but want to do more than one thing. They do a lot with the space and have beautiful displays and varieties of moths and butterflies. If you like bugs and science in general, or if you have kids, I'd definitely recommend this as a stop. 
The exhibits focus on the climate and history of Louisiana and surrounding areas, with a room dedicated to termites and the history of their destruction of the city.  I didn't get tons of photos in comparison to how big the collection actually was, but the rooms filled with moth and butterfly specimens are impressive enough on their own. I am a fan of butterfly sanctuaries too, humid as they may be. The butterflies live freely, so watch where you step or what you swat in this space!

Timber Cove & Bodega Bay

Spring has been busy for my suitcase! In March Sam and I headed to Bodega Bay for our first wedding anniversary, and the views there are some of the most breathtaking I've seen in the world. I want to share some pictures from that trip, and hopefully be able to convey the excitement I felt on these cliffs. We hiked forests and beaches, we explored tide pools, we said lots of wows and saw many creatures. The first day we drove in we walked the short hike out to Stillwater Cove before we checked into our hotel, the Timber Cove Resort. More about that gorgeous place later. The cove hike:

 

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Starting out in a redwood forest, you eventually end up on the highway before  a small crossing to the actual cove: 

 

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We watched the tide come in for a bit then walked back through to the car, fnding some beautiful spots along the way we came :

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The view at the Timber Cove Resort was unbelievable! We loved our room facing the Cove and I think we both really want to return here.

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The next day we hiked down to Shell Beach to do some tide pooling. It was a trek!

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Although it wasn't a long hike, the last part was a set of wooden planks that used to be steps but now functions more like a ladder. While my wobbly legs didn't love it, my camera did:

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After our hike and some driving around, we grabbed lunch and played some Uno in the lobby of the hotel. Hunting lodge done hip.

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The next afternoon we went on a walk of the grounds. This is the cove the hotel faces. 

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We spent more time in the region, and did a few more hikes and drives, but I shared here some of our favorite things about this trip. We absolutely loved the hotel and I think we both found it perfect for our first anniversary. The trails and tide pools in Bodega Bay are hard to beat, and the cloudy weather was still dry when we were out and about. Nearby spots that should be explored include Jenner, sitting at the mouth where the Russian River meets the ocean. Cafe Aquatica in Jenner has an unbeatable view. The Boedga Head also has many trails and the cliffs therehave amazing views of the ocean. Also visit the UC Davis Marine Research Center f you catch their visitor hours; we both love sea life and planned this trip around that interest. Definitely visit the Bodega Bay and Sonoma Coast State Park if you like ocean critters, tide pools, and the blustery north coast!

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Deciding where to go

There's no foolproof, one size fits all, right way to choose where to travel. There are several motivators that I think make the choice more obvious, like ancestry, travel aspirations, the time of year you can travel and for how long. I think foremost of these are places you aspire to travel, and ancestry, if you want to visit a country you or your family has a connection to.

I think if you're not sure where to travel, however, there are some ways to plan your trip that, in my opinion, give you a more fulfilling travel experience.

Travel Goal/ Heritage

Starting with the most obvious, if you have somewhere in mind, your next step is laying out a reality where you make this happen! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of research! It is so easy nowadays to type in keywords and find hundreds of resources for your questions about places or tours. With a place in mind, the next best factor you want to use in your search is when you would like to go. Depending on your reasons for this goal, or if your family has heritage in a place, or if you simply love the history of a certain region, having a time of year to hone in on can help you plan a route and activities. Focus on experiences you'd like to have instead of locations you'd like to cross off, this way you have plans at your destinations, and you can use those as great anchors for asking your tour providers or locals about other things to do or see. This is where forums come in so handy; you can read from experienced travelers what did and didn't work for them.

Seasons

So, if you don't have a place in mind, start by narrowing it down by the time of year you're traveling. I think it's more important than many travelers do to choose a time of year that suits you as far as weather and tourism peaks are concerned. For example, in planning a trip for my birthday, I noted the best time of year for nice weather and not much crowding in Thailand would be November, and since I can be flexible with my travel schedule and prefer low season for prices and crowds, I decided that would be the perfect place to go. It's also ideal for the length of time I'd like to travel, (the whole month) since I'll have ample time to explore many islands.
Many people can only travel during the summer or holidays, and while this limits you in some ways, it's also an opportunity to explore! Looking for off season deals is my favorite way to discover new places. 

Events or Festivals

Events already have a time and place, so your best planning around an event is going to be around where to stay and what to see in the area. For this, I love guide books or magazines about specific places. Some examples of this kind of planning would be like going to the Voodoo festival in New Orleans and using the time there to explore the city. The options for lodging nowadays are endless. From sharing someone's couch on couchsurf.com to renting someone's entire luxury condo on AirBnB, you can tailor every part of your experience. Lowkey hostels and guesthouses open you up to a lot of options in international travel, and I also recommend this as a great way to have a more local experience. In 2011 in Sri Lanka, we mostly stayed in guesthouses with locals. Often, these hosts cooked us dinner and directed us to tours and local activities. 

This may be too freeform for many travelers, as some like to have their entire itinerary locked in before leaving. These are the travelers whom I usually recommend cruises to, since those have your lodging and itinerary mostly nailed down and let you explore several destinations on one trip. It is entirely possible to book all your activities and stops before you leave, it really just does depend on preference.

At first you may feel lost, but don't shy away from this feeling! The magic of traveling is that, unlike your everyday life, you can form the entire experience into whatever you want it to be!