The Hardest Adventure

(Just a heads up, parts of this post may be a little graphic but worth the read.)

Hi friends, family, and followers,

We are embarking on a new adventure, but this time it’s going to be a little different than our last big adventure.  It’s definitely been a while since we’ve shared a blog post…February of 2014 to be exact.  To say the least, we’ve been busy.

What I’m about to share with you, is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to put into words.  It’s very personal, somewhat heartbreaking, and joyful at the same time.  We contemplated how, when, and whom we would share this with, but now seemed like the right time.  So please bear with the long post and we just ask for your prayers, support, and any kind thoughts.  However, in order for you to understand the path we’re headed down, we first have to explain a little (or a lot) about the past and what we’ve been through since our last post in 2014.

In 2013 we decided we wanted a different lifestyle, one that would allow us to travel, explore, and most importantly allow us to grow our family when we were ready.  So if you’ve followed the blog, you’ve read and seen all of the adventures that our trip around the world took us on.  What you didn’t see was what happened when we came home at the end of our trip.

Just a couple weeks after we returned home from our big adventure, we found out that I was pregnant.  We were going to be a family of 3! We were both over the moon and terrified at the same time.  The first couple months of the pregnancy were easier than we anticipated with just a little morning sickness and lots of naps…and that’s where the easy part ended.  From three months on, my pregnancy turned into a nightmare including lots of complications; placenta previa, a terrifying trip to the emergency room where we thought we miscarried, a bicornuate uterus that lead to lots and lots of trips to the emergency room in the middle of the night to get shots and medications to stop me from going into pre-term labor.  It was not an easy pregnancy by any means, but it didn’t matter, because we were so blessed to be having a baby.

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The day finally came when I woke up at 4:00 in the morning and went into full on labor.  I labored for about 12 hours with coupled contractions and after 3 hours of pushing, we were rushed into a C-section because the baby was face up and there was meconium in the amniotic fluid.  On September 8th of 2014 at 4:33PM, Liam Bradley Achen made his first appearance weighing in at a whopping 8lbs 9.8oz and 22 inches long!  He was perfect and healthy and Scott got to watch the entire operation (I don’t know how he watched it all, but he did).  We were so blessed to finally be able to hold this little miracle!


Shortly after the c-section I spiked a fever and had indications of an infection.  I was so happy, yet so miserable at the same time.  Scott got to escort Liam to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to be checked out while I got sewn back together.  That first night in the hospital was miserable…joyful, but miserable.

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We spent a couple days in the hospital and then we were on our way home with our new baby boy.  The first couple weeks at home were rough and we didn’t get much sleep and I was in a lot of pain from the c-section, but we thought it was to be expected.

When Liam was 10 days old, we took him to have newborn pictures taken by our good friend Kathy at Brooks Photography.  I didn’t feel well that day.  I felt exhausted and still in a lot of discomfort, but we were so excited to be getting these photographs taken. I toughed through that whole day.

That night, the baby was fast asleep in his crib and so was Scott.  I woke up and just didn’t feel right.  I got up to go to the bathroom and started to bleed profusely.  Scott rushed us to the emergency room in the middle of the night, where I continued to hemorrhage for over 4 hours in an emergency room bed until we were seen by a doctor.  By the time the doctor came to see us, I had lost so much blood that I was in need of a transfusion and was admitted.  At first the doctors thought it was due to the infection I had experienced just after Liam’s birth, so I was put on antibiotics for a couple days.  It didn’t work.  I began to hemorrhage again…and again.  I was taken into surgery to try to remove what they thought were placental fragments left behind from the c-section, which should solve the bleeding…and it did…for a little while.  I hadn’t had any bleeding for a couple days, so they decided I could go home.  We were home for about 10 hours and it happened again, this time worse than the last and I was in unbearable pain!  Back to the emergency room.  We were admitted again where the doctors tried different medications and injections, and to be honest, were a little stumped at why this was happening.  At this point, I was at 13 units of blood that had been transfused and the doctor’s were running out of options.

The doctors came in to have the discussion we were dreading throughout this entire nightmare.  They said at this point there was only one option left…a hysterectomy.  I was at a point where my body could only handle one more blood transfusion before it would start shutting down.  It was my life or my ability to have more babies.  At this point I was in denial and in such a fog (probably Fentanyl induced).  I was trying to grasp for any way to not have to go that route, but both Scott and the rest of my family knew that it was the only way for them not to lose me…baby Liam needed me…they needed me.

So on September 25th, our fourth wedding anniversary, I was wheeled into the operating room one more time.  They re-opened my c-section incision and removed my uterus.  I received that 14th unit of blood during the surgery (at this point my entire body’s blood volume had been replaced), and I escaped with my life.

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It was a very long recovery, both physical and emotional.  It was traumatizing, humiliating and very hard to talk about.  Only some of our closest friends and family even knew that we had been in the hospital for almost a month, let alone that I had almost died.  Our hopes of having a big family, to have more babies was gone.

So we decided to focus all of our love and attention on the one BIG blessing that we got from all of this, and that was that we had our beautiful, healthy Liam Bradley and we had each other.

Since then, we’ve traveled a lot with our family of three.  Liam has been to Dallas, Phoenix, Denver, all over New Mexico, Boston, Baltimore, Hawaii, Paris, London, and Disney World 5 times! He has his own passport and is already collecting stamps.  He is a little traveler by nature (may be a genetic trait…just saying). The hardest part of our trips now, is that he gets lonely.  He wants to play with other kids.  He doesn’t have a partner in crime to experience being a kid with.  He has cousins and he has friends, but at the end of the day, when it’s just us at home, we can tell he is lonely and it’s heartbreaking.

Now a couple years down the road, Liam is starting to ask that question that hurts to hear, “Mama, Liam have it baby sister?” (He repeatedly tells us he wants a baby sister named pants!  He is very definite about it too.  Lol!) We’ve had the baby itch for a while and it’s hard to watch all of our friends having more babies.  To be honest, we are constantly surrounded by new babies and bombarded with social media posts of friends that are expecting.  It is so hard, because we are happy for them yet our hearts are aching at the same time.

After a lot of thought, we have decided that Liam NEEDS a baby brother or sister and we are determined to give him that.  We’ve discussed adoption, but we just aren’t there yet.  We truly believe that it is a calling to be adoptive parents and to be honest, we haven’t felt called to do that.  We get the “why don’t you adopt?” question A LOT from people who know our situation, and to be honest, right now it’s just not in our hearts.  It’s also very expensive and can be a VERY LONG process, especially if you want to adopt a baby.  This may be hard for some people to understand.  Maybe we will get there someday, but maybe not.

So we’ve started exploring other options, and fortunately, when the doctor’s performed my hysterectomy, they left my beautiful ovaries behind.  Which means, that we still have all of the ingredients to make another beautiful baby, we just don’t have the oven!

We have met with a wonderful fertility specialist in Albuquerque and are moving forward with the in vitro fertilization process to create our next baby.  Which brings us to the hardest part of our journey moving forward, the oven part.  We are actively looking for a loving woman to carry our next baby.  If you know anything about the IVF process, you know that it is not a cheap process…and if you know anything about the gestational carrier (surrogacy) process (and most people don’t), you know that it can be an outrageous financial and emotional burden.  We have had a few people that have considered carrying our baby, but ultimately decided that they couldn’t do it, which is understandable.  It’s not an easy decision with a lot of complexities involved and it is A LOT to ask of somebody.

So, we have been praying that God would send us the right person to give us the biggest blessing that we could receive by being a carrier of our baby.  We know that it is a huge undertaking for someone to commit to and it is also requires a lot of faith on our part to trust someone else with caring for our unborn baby.

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This is where we are at in the process, and we just ask that you please keep us in your thoughts and prayers and maybe sometime soon Liam will get to be a big brother.

XOXO,

Steph, Scott, & Liam Achen

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”                                                                                                     2 Corinthians 12:9

New Zealand, The Best Souvenir Ever, and Our Next Big Adventure!

We flew from Melbourne, Australia to Aukland, New Zealand. Going to New Zealand was not originally on our itinerary, however, since we decided to leave Southeast Asia early we decided to give it a go. Since it was a last minute add, we really didn't know what to expect.

While we were on our road trip in Australia, we had met a really nice Kiwi that had told us about a hop- on hop-off bus tour company called Stray that came highly recommended. We figured we'd had enough driving, so a bus tour would be a hassle free way to get around and a way to meet other travelers.

We spent the first day wandering around Aukland and getting ready for the bus tour that would be taking us all over the North island. We weren't super impressed with Aukland, but we did have really delicious burgers at a place called Velvet Burger.

The next morning we had to be up bright and early to catch our bus. When the bus pulled up, the driver stepped off to help us load our bags. He had a huge smile on his face, long dreadlocks, and no shoes. He introduced himself as “Splash.” From that point on we knew the tour would be awesome!

Our first stop was at this amazing hot water beach (Hahei). Everyone digs holes in the sand that fill up with really hot water. It was like having a natural hot tub with a killer view. After we left the beach we went for a hike down to Cathedral Cove. It was beautiful. That night we had a big barbecue at the hostel and got to know some of the other people from our bus.

The next morning we were up bright and early headed for a little town called Raglan which is known for amazing surfing beaches. Unfortunately, when we arrived the surf was flat and it started to rain. So instead of paying to rent surf gear we decided to hike down to an awesome waterfall.

That night we stayed at a place called Solescape. It was up in a forest area with a funky vibe. The room we stayed in was an old train caboose car. However, the room didn't exactly keep the bugs out, so we had a couple visits from some critters throughout the night, but luckily escaped unharmed.

The next morning we were in for one of the best adventures we've had on our trip. Some friends of ours, Beth and Steve from back home, had told us that we absolutely had to go black water rafting. We had been looking forward to it since it was one of the options on our tour. The Waitomo caves in New Zealand have water that run through them and also have lots of glow worms that light up the insides of the caves like stars. So, we signed up for the rafting which basically consist of floating through the caves in the dark on some tubes and looking at glowworms. Well, it would be our luck that it rained the entire night before flooding out the cave used for tubing. However, the company offered us another option to do a repelling/caving/rock climbing adventure in another cave filled with waterfalls. We were a little nervous at first since neither one of us had ever done any of the previously mentioned activities, and they warned that it could involve crawling through some pretty small places (I would not recommend this activity to people afraid of heights or claustrophobia). It turned out to be a blast and we only had a couple minor hiccups with some small spaces.

That evening we were in for a cultural experience. We got to visit a Maori family that hosts stray groups on their Madi(home). They performed some traditional songs and dances for us as we'll as taught all the men the Haka and the women a song and Dance. Dinner was followed by storytelling and a giant slumber party in their traditional meeting room. It was a fun time. They especially loved Scott and insisted on calling him “Alan” because they thought he looked like the guy from the Hangover. They also took about fifty pictures with him.

The next day we headed to a fun town Roturua, where we decided to hop off the bus and stay a couple days. This is where we said our goodbyes to our new buddy Splash. We thought it would also be goodbye to the friends we met on the bus, but it turns out we would end up meeting back up with everyone further on the tour.

Roturua was a lively town. We enjoyed going to a mud bath and sulphur spa. The only downside was smelling like sulphur for a couple days, but it felt great to relax in the tub. We also took a tour of Hobbiton, which is where The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed. The hobbit hole doors were meticulously decorated and we got to have a beer in the pub after the tour. It was definitely worth going to for the scenery.

After a couple days in Roturua, we hopped on the next Stray bus that came through town. Our second Stray driver, Weeman, ended up being our best buddy by the end of our trip.

We headed to a lodge that sits on the edge of a beautiful lake, where we were hosted by another wonderful Maori family. It was a very peaceful place. I got to learn how to make Maori fry bread. We were served a huge Hangi feast that had been cooked in a fire pit. After dinner Scott went eel fishing.

The next day we headed to a mountain lodge called Blue Duck Lodge (Whakahoro). I opted to do a three hour horse trek up a mountain, while Scott opted for skeet shooting and axe throwing. The scenery was amazing!

The next day we headed to a National Park, where we made a trek across the Tongariro Crossing. It was a 20k, 7 hour trek up a volcano and down the other side. We were sore, but felt accomplished when it was over.

The next day we headed down to Wellington for a last night of fun with our friends from Stray.

The next day we flew down to Queenstown where spent the last few days in New Zealand. We stayed in a beautiful hotel right on the lake. We spent a lot of time unwinding, and also enjoying Fergburgers. Yum!

Our time in New Zealand was amazing, but not quite as amazing as the souvenir we brought home with us!

Baby Achen Coming September 2014!

2014 will definitely be our next big adventure!

 

Hairy Coos and Irn Brus

Our journey from Dublin to Edinburgh started bright and early. I guess technically I should say dark and early, since we had to get a cab to the airport before the sun even came up. Half asleep from the little sleep we had the night before, we threw some clothes on and lugged our bulging backpacks down the stairs of the B&B down to the cab. As we were getting ready to climb in the cab, my brother Brandon randomly got a nose bleed. So there we were, a little delirious and half asleep, just rolled out of bed, Brandon with a tissue stuffed up his nose, all crammed in the back seat of a cab at 4:30 in the morning…I'm sure it was a sight to see. As we were driving, Brandon taps my arm and discretely points to the cab driver who kept bouncing his left shoulder up and down about every five seconds. The cab driver had some sort of twitch. His shoulder twitch almost perfectly lined up with the beat of the music on the radio. It looked like some sort of awkward dance move! We were holding in our laughs to the point where I had tears running out. When we got out of the cab at the airport, we finally burst out laughing. We were already off to an interesting start.

We got on our flight and landed in Edinburgh early enough to still eat breakfast at a little place that Scott used to eat at all the time when he stayed in Edinburgh several years ago.

The city was absolutely beautiful, I'd almost say it was enchanting. Walking up the old cobblestone roads with the castle as a backdrop was so fun. I now understand how J.K. Rowling was able to think up the setting for the Harry Potter books while she was in Edinburgh.

We spent three days in Edinburgh before we toured some other areas of Scotland. The first night, we had dinner at a restaurant called The Last Drop that was in the Grass Market Area, followed by a ghost tour. The ghost tour was actually really cool. They walk you through the city, down into the old underground damp quarters where hundreds of people lived in horrible conditions back in the day. They told us the story about how they had all been consumed by a fire and hundreds of people died down there. Next, we toured the graveyard where there apparently resides one of the most documented poltergeists. Luckily for us, we saw absolutely no ghosts or had no poltergeist experiences on our tour.

The next day, we did a Sandeman's free walking tour that was actually pretty interesting to learn more about the history of the city. We spent the rest of our time Edinburgh exploring the city by foot, and even did a whisky experience tour where we got to try different whiskies.

Our accommodations in Edinburgh were less than par for the course. We stayed in a hostel to save some money so we could splurge a little more when we got back to Paris, but at least we had a place to sleep and shower that was close to everything else.

From Edinburgh we embarked on a three day tour of Scotland that included the Isle of Skye, Loch Ness, and Inverness. We opted to do another bus tour, since we thought it might have been a disaster to try and rent a car and drive on the other side of the road. Tony our tour guide was from Glasgow and had a great sense of humor. Tony and Scott got along great, probably some sort of ginger connection.

There were a few really nice people on our tour bus, the rest were just plain annoying.

Our first major stop of the tour was at the William Wallace monument. Since then, we have been dying to watch the movie Braveheart. It was a pretty steep hike up to the top of the mountain where the monument sits, but totally worth the hike.

During the tour we also got to see lots of hairy coos and tried out the Scottish soda Irn Bru, which is sweeter than any other drink we've ever had.

We also saw lots of castles, did lots of hiking in scenic areas, and did a cruise on Loch Ness where we had a Nessie spotting.

We stopped at Glencoe, which turned out to top our list of most beautiful places we've travelled to. The mountains and valleys were so green, with random cascading waterfalls sprinkled around the mountains. Once again, no adventure would be complete without some sort of mishap. So, before we got to Glencoe, the tour guide told us to be careful when hiking down the slope because it might be a little wet. Well, that was a gross understatement! Scott had packed his sneakers in his backpack which was under the bus with the other luggage, so he only had his sandals to do the hike in. Oh well, how bad could it be? It was bad…very bad. Every other step we took on the hike, our feet squished down into the marsh about two inches allowing muddy, marshy water to freely flow into our shoes making it very slick and extremely uncomfortable. Scott's feet were completely covered in mud and he couldn't take a step,without his feet sliding out of his sandals. He finally took his shoes off and hiked the rest of the way without shoes. On the way back up to the bus we crossed a tiny stream of water where Scott washed the mud out from between his toes and rinsed his sandals. Unfortunately for me, my entire socks and shoes were soaked for the rest of the day, but it was totally worth the pictures We got of the breathtaking views.

 

Every Shade of Green: Ireland

We flew into Dublin from Marrakech, where we would be starting our two weeks in Ireland. It was a nice change in pace having come from chaotic Marrakech. Also, my brother Brandon who is on summer break from college, flew in to Dublin to travel with us for a few weeks.

We spent one full day in Dublin before we embarked on a nine day Paddywagon tour that would take us all around Ireland and Northern Ireland. During our one day in Dublin before the tour, we went out exploring the city. We checked out the Temple Bar area where we had several pints, stopped by the Peterson's pipe store so Scott could buy a new pipe, and then had a full Irish breakfast at a restaurant on Grafton Street…and yes we even ate the black pudding.

The next day we met at the Paddywagon bus bright and early. Our first stop on the tour was the Guinness brewery. Not only was having beer for breakfast fabulous, it was also a great way to start to get to know the other people that we would be spending the next couple of weeks with. It turns out, we ended up with a great group of people on our tour who we became pretty good friends with over the next several days!

As we headed out into the countryside, the rolling green hills of Ireland were absolutely gorgeous sprinkled with random castles and farm animals. We stopped to hike around Dunmase Castle, where we had some amazing panoramic views.

We continued on towards the Dingle peninsula, making a quick stop in a small town called Adare. It was a cute village with thatched roof houses. We then made a short stop at a beach, and also stopped along the way to take pictures of the breathtaking cliffs on the coast.

We spent our first night of the tour in a hostel in a small village called Annascaul. It was pretty rainy and windy outside, so we hunkered down in the Randy Leprechaun pub with our new friends.

The next day we spent some time in the town of Dingle, followed by more hiking on the coast, a visit to the fertility rock, and then made our way down to Killarney which would be our home base for the next couple of nights.

On day three of the tour, we had an early start. We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel, and then headed to the local horse stables for a morning ride through the national park.

 

After our morning ride, we headed out for a scenic drive. We spent the afternoon doing more hiking along the Ring of Kerry, saw another castle, stopped at a delicious chocolate factory, and also did some hiking up to a really pretty waterfall.

The following day we headed to Cork, stopping at the Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Apparently kissing the stone will give you the gift of gab. Scott kissed the stone for the second time in his life…Lord help us! Those that know Scott, know that he needs no help in the gab area.

 

We stayed the night in Cork, where we enjoyed sampling more pubs. The next morning, day five, we headed to the Cliffs of Mohair, stopped off for a pub lunch, and then on to Gallway. The climb up to the cliffs was steep, and the drop off the cliffs was a little frightening, but once we got to the top I couldn't resist sitting on the edge.

When we arrived in Gallway, we settled into our rooms and then went out for a night on the town.

On day six of the tour we headed up to Northern Ireland, starting in the city of Derry. At this point, the tour kind of shifted from all castles and rolling hills, to an interesting history lesson about the less pleasant times in Ireland's past, including the potato famine and the troubles. We stopped at a museum where we learned about How Ireland was affected by the hardships brought on by the potato famine and how it affected the people of those times.

The first night in Derry, we walked decided to have a night in to recover from several nights out at the pub. So we walked down to a local grocery store with a group of friends from the tour and then we prepared a feast in the hostel kitchen. After dinner, we had a last playing several rounds of the card game UNO.

The next morning we did a walking tour of Derry which was guided by a local man who taught us about the history of the troubles, and about Bloody Sunday and the activities that followed. It was a little eerie to think of all of the violence that occurred not so long ago in a town that seems to be so peaceful now.

After lunch we went out to Glenveagh National Park, where we toured a historic castle and grounds. It was a nice mood lifter after such a heavy morning. The grounds and the castle were absolutely gorgeous, unfortunately, the weather was not so gorgeous…typical Irish rain.

The second night in Derry, we strolled around the town, we had dinner at a pub, and then made our way down to watch a local soccer match. On the way to the stadium we passed a group of soccer hooligans we had seen earlier at the pub. As we passed by they started chanting “Alan! Alan! Wolf Pack! Hangover!” Apparently, they thought Scott looked like the guy from the movie The Hangover. Scott played along by pumping his fist in the air and the guys would cheer. It was hysterical! We had a pretty good laugh.

The soccer game was a bunch of fun. We especially enjoyed the group of old timers sitting behind us cracking jokes at each other in their heavy Irish accents. The local team won the match, which made the game exciting.

The next day we packed up and headed along the Northern coast making two major stops at the Giant's Causeway and the Rope Bridge. It was rainy again, but we wouldn't let that stop our fun.

Our last night of the tour we spent in the city of Belfast. Although Belfast wasn't our favorite city, the history of the separation of the Catholics and Protestants was fascinating. In the morning we took a cab tour of both sides of the city that are still separated by a wall. We even got to leave a message on the wall.

On the way out of town, we stopped at the harbor where the Titanic was built and launched. There is now a museum and gift shop.

Our tour ended back in Dublin. There were several of us on the tour that didn't have flights out of Ireland until a couple days later, so we spent the next day in Dublin doing a walking tour and having dinner with our friends from the tour. At the end of our last night in Ireland, we had a big group hug and went our separate ways. Hopefully we will see our new friends again as we make our way across the world to some of the places they are from.

 

Pubs & Pastries

One thing there was not a lack of in London were pubs and pastries. First off, spending a week one block from Harrod's, you can easily become plump in one week. The first floor of Harrod's had an amazing gourmet section for just about any kind of food you can think of along with multiple cafes sprinkled throughout the other four floors. We made multiple trips to the patisserie, two stops to the gelateria on the second floor, and had high tea at The Georgian, which was absolutely beautiful.

Throughout the week we also sampled a few pubs including the Tea Clipper, The Bunch of Grapes, and the Dickens Inn pubs which were good, but not the best fish and chips we've had.

On night two in London we walked down to Roti Chai an Indian cuisine restaurant which was amazing. We ate in the “street kitchen” section of the restaurant which was quite packed for being a Sunday night. The restaurant had the vibe of a downtown Austin restaurant, very laid back and a little hipster-ish. We ordered the chicken samosa as an appetizer, for a main dish we shared a curry chicken dish, little fried chicken thingys with dipping sauces, and a basket of roti. It was so delicious we forgot to take pictures until all of our food was gone. The service was great! After Scott had spilled his entire glass of water on our samosa plate that also had chick peas the manager brought us out an entire new dish on the house.

We also had some of our favorite meals in London by choosing random places that looked good as we wandered by. One morning we had a delicious full breakfast at a patisserie and had one of the best pizzas ever for dinner one night at Jamie Oliver's Union Jack Restaurant.

 

On our last day in the city we opted to have lunch at Laduree (a french restaurant) close to our flat. The presentation of the food was gorgeous! Our meals were good, but overpriced for what they were, but the desserts were worth every penny.


 

Let the Adventures Begin!!!!

We are so excited that our journey has begun! After a long night of packing, and double checking to make sure we weren't forgetting anything, we have made the first leg of our trip.

With backpacks attached, we departed El Paso, TX this morning, had a short layover in Austin, and have arrived in Baltimore, MD. We are staying the night in Baltimore at Scott's sister's house and will be on our way to London tomorrow.

We enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family last night in New Mexico, another wonderful dinner with family tonight in Baltimore, and toasted to the adventures that await us in the morning. Both nervous and excited, it will be hard to sleep tonight like kids on Christmas Eve. Look out world…here we come!

 

Finding Inspiration in Other Travelers: Our Favorite Travel Blogs

We have found lots of great advice and inspiration from other great travel blogs that have helped inspire us to take the plunge and plan our trip around the world. Hopefully our blog will inspire others to travel the world the way some of these other travel blogs have inspired us.

There was one specific blog post, written by Kim from So Many Places travel blog, that resonated with us, and ultimately helped us decide that it was okay to take a leap of faith and follow our hearts. Check it out here.

So here’s the list of some of our favorites:

Blogs:

So Many Places

Getting Stamped

Rickshaw Run Diaries

Sarah Somewhere

Nomadic Matt

Where the Hell Is Matt

Forums:

BootsnAll

Lonely Planet Thorn Tree

Eurotrip