This week on The Traveler Series, meet Crystal and Francisco of the travel blog, Bay Essence. After meeting in Valparaíso in 2009, spending a semester together and navigating a long distance relationship, Francisco and Crystal are now building a life together in Santiago de Chile. This dynamic duo started Bay Essence to share their adventures, recount their travel experiences and offer up restaurant & food reviews. Here I interview Crystal and Francisco on what inspires their travels, how they came up with their website name and the one thing they cannot travel without.
What inspires you to travel?
Crystal: Coming from a multicultural family, I’ve always been intrigued by different cultures, people, and places. My father traveled and lived abroad for over a decade before moving to the US. As a kid, I loved listening to his stories and adventures in foreign countries which instilled in me a profound desire to one day see these places for myself and create my own memories. When I was sixteen I took my first trip to Europe and lived with a Spanish family briefly. The experience confirmed to me that I had to see what the rest of the world was like, meet people, and attempt to see things through their lens. I think everyone lives in a bubble of some sort, but some people’s bubbles happen to be a little larger. I want to break through these bubbles as much as possible.
Francisco: I traveled to Brazil and Argentina before I participated in an exchange program in the US. Studying abroad was the best decision I have ever made and its positive outcomes are with me until this day (Crystal is by far the most important one!) Throughout our relationship, Crystal has opened my eyes to experience different cultures and, thanks to my job, we had the chance to go on trips often. Traveling is a necessity now–a need to know through seeing it for yourself, experiencing another country’s culture and visiting those places you’d thought you would only see in a movie or through a photograph. The truth is that the need never stops but continues to grow.
For those who don’t yet know you, can you explain your travel style?
C: We try to experience the city as much as possible and for us this means a bit of the local cuisine, wandering around aimlessly, learning though the city and country’s culture and history at museums and meeting locals. We’ve had the chance to visit friends who live around the world and they’ve been kind enough to welcome us and show us around their cities or travel with us during our trips. Some of my favorite places have been to destinations with spectacular natural beauty where it’s always refreshing to just soak up the place without doing much.We try to be flexible so that we have free time within our plan and one of the best skills we’ve acquired is finding a balance between seeing and doing what we want and taking it easy and relaxing.
F: We like to see the things that are the most typical for locals–those places that are only known by the people who live there. Obviously, most of the main attractions are a must on every trip but those turns we took on a random corner or that person we met in a café make the difference between just experiencing the “touristic” part of the city or actually experiencing something that has not been set up for visitors.
How do you afford your travels?
C: Since I started traveling on my own in college I’ve worked and saved up for my trips. I’m always thinking of the next place to explore and it gives me something to look forward to. Now, I work from home and could travel more frequently since I have more control over my schedule. A lot of people think you need a lot more money to travel but I’ve learned that once you get to your destination you can do a lot with very little, which makes visits for longer periods of time possible.
F: My job gives us the opportunity to travel at a low cost. With Crystal, we save every year to make one big trip and couple smaller ones. We are not full-time travelers, just travel enthusiasts as travel is an important part of our life and therefore it’s part of our yearly budget.
Where has been your favorite destination?
C: This is quite possibly the most difficult question to answer because I like different destinations for different reasons. The things that pop into my mind when I get this question is a carousel of images of renown museums, delicious food, stunning natural landscapes, ancient cities and the list goes on. Picking one, it would have to be my trip to various Mesoamerican sites in Mexico. It was not only beautiful with stunning beaches, but there is a lot of history and culture to explore in Southern Mexico. It brought me closer to my family’s culture since my Mother is from Mexico.
F: I can’t tell, it depends on the context. Seeing Paris was literally a dream come true, I always wanted to go but for some reason we couldn’t do it until a couple of years after we originally planned, when we got there I was really happy to finally see it. Lisbon is a place that I’d love to live because I felt so connected to it through its similarities to my beloved hometown of Valparaíso, it was a weird feeling to have such a connection, something similar happened to me with San Francisco. Turkey was a really interesting experience; I loved the people, food, and the perfect mixture of cultures and people.
If you had to settle down in one location forever, where would you choose and why?
C: Ideally, I would settle in either Valparaiso or San Francisco. Although two totally different places, I think they have a similar spirit. Two coastal, hilly cities along the Pacific Bay, there isn’t much I could ask for. I could see myself eventually fleeing to southern Chile’s emerald waters in the lake region near Puerto Varas just to be closer to nature.
F: I would like to end my days in Valparaíso and look at the bay and enjoy fresh air. But I’d love to live somewhere in Germany for a couple of years, definitely I’d love to live in Lisbon for a while.
What’s the funniest or weirdest cultural idiosyncrasy you’ve either witnessed or experienced?
C: Something weird that I noticed in Chile is PDA. You see it everywhere and it’s not weird to walk through a park and stumble upon a couple at every other corner, some of them way too close to each other for comfort and a few practically on top of each other. Granted, they’re usually teenagers but it was kind of awkward to encounter this daily.
F: The ice cream men in Istanbul have these particular costumes and they tease their clients while they serve the ice cream. It’s like something I’ve never seen before. Another thing that I found funny was the pee stations in Amsterdam, it was literally to pee in a corner or a wall but instead it was an uncovered booth.
What keepsake do you have to get at all your destinations? (Whether it’s something free like ticket stubs or brochures, or something you have to buy)
C: I keep my flight tickets, stubs, maps, wine corks and random small things that I associate with different moments. I love maps and globes, especially old ones. I keep telling myself I’m going to do all sorts of creative things with all of the things I collect but I’ve been so busy that they’re just lying around in shoe boxes.
F: We always have to get a small souvenir or token that reflects something typical from the place we visited, like a tile in Lisbon, a cable car from San Francisco or the Tower Bridge of London. Just small enough to put in our shelf and display them to bring back memories from our adventures.
How about the one thing you cannot travel without?
C: Definitely my cell phone! It’s my central place to keep information, download maps, take photos, check my e-mail, and message family. I would be lost without it! Technology aside, I need to take along my journal to jot down my impressions, thoughts, and notes while I’m experiencing different places. You experience so much in short amounts of time and it’s a perfect way to reflect and capture those moments.
F: Right now I really got used to my cell phone, have a map pre-loaded in it to make things much easier and it’s really good to take quick photographs with a more than acceptable quality. I always bring a folder for all the papers (visas, hotel rooms, tickets) and a passport wallet to keep organized. I also make a plan in a spreadsheet where I keep track of our budget and money spent in each place, it’s really important for me to try to have that under control as much as possible.
What is the best piece of travel advice you’ve picked up over the years?
C: Stop stressing and wondering about unknown outcomes, just take the first step and go! If you want to go to a crowded museum, go 1.5-2 hours before it closes to have a more intimate exhibit. Leave your phone on airplane mode to charge quickly and use less of you battery during the day. Wifi and GPS still work!
F: When you visit somewhere you have to accept the fact that you won’t be able to visit everything about the city or its surroundings. This cannot sadden you because you’ll still have a lot of great memories. Who knows, maybe you’ll get another chance to see that museum that was closed because of maintenance or that place that you couldn’t visit because of lack of time.
Why did you begin your website? And how did you come up with your website name?
C: I was working for this NGO and looked into blog ideas for the organization. After reading about it, I decided to try it out with Francisco. It turned into a blog documenting our travels, food reviews, cultural adventures and experiences as an expat in Chile, but it began as a project without much direction. We naturally began writing about those topics and we blog because we love writing and want to share the coolest things we encounter to inspire others to take advantage of what’s around them.
F: It was Crystal’s idea, it started just as a place to write random thoughts but with Crystal’s vision it mutated (in the good sense) to something we could use to communicate with people, tell them about our trips, food, culture and expat experiences we have here in Chile. It keeps growing and I really appreciate the fact of showing some parts of Chile and its culture to people from all over the world, at the same time sharing some of our international experiences with Chilean people.
What is your best piece of advice to budding travel writers looking to start a blog or website?
C: Read and write original content regularly and make it a habit. This will make you a better writer and give your blog sustenance. Be careful, don’t sacrifice quantity for quality! Join travel communities on Facebook and other forums to interact with other bloggers. Part of being a blogger is sharing great articles, which will give you an idea of what’s out there and inspire your storytelling.
F: Find something that differentiates you from everyone else, there are many travel blogs out there, people that really live off of moving from one place to the other. You have to ask yourself what is in you that makes your memories or the way you live things different and translate that into a webpage. As the website feels like yours, it will be easier to keep it updated, growing and appealing to new visitors.
What’s next for you in 2014? (Trips planned, etc.)
C: This year we went on our honeymoon and visited Italy, Greece, Turkey and Germany. I’m heading to the East Coast–NYC, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey this July. Later in the year, we’ll visit Isla Dama with some friends to see the penguins in Chile! I’ll be going back to Pennsylvania for Thanksgiving with the family and planning on making a detour to Canada for a couple days. Next year looks pretty exciting, we’re planning on visiting Iran!
F: We had the main trip of this year already with our honeymoon. I think discovering a little more of Brazil and some places in the south of Chile might be in this year’s itinerary.
Keep up with Crystal and Francisco here: