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Making the spontaneous decision to cancel our trip to Iguaçu Falls was the quite possibly best call I made in all of Brazil. Within seconds of deciding to skip our flights and spend two leisurely extra nights in the State of Rio de Janeiro instead, I felt a weight lift off of me. But I still had one major decision left to make: where to spend the last leg of my trip, after Heather’s departure left me solo.

I’d been waffling big time. I fully intended to make a decision before I ever arrived in Brazil, but kept putting it off and putting it off until literally less than twenty-four hours before Heather’s departure. After a blissful bonus night in Buzios, we’d decided to spend our last night and day together in style — splurging on a night in a beachfront hotel in Copacabana. For about $80 each we’d have a rooftop pool overlooking the beach, a fancy hotel gym, a lavish hotel breakfast, and welcome champagne — sold! We’d never actually made it to Copacabana Beach over our previous week in Rio, favoring Ipanema instead, so we were excited to see what all the fuss was about.

Porto Bay Rio International

Rio Flag Canga on Copacabana Beach

Um, this spontaneous-and-indulgent-decision-making thing? Amazing! The rooms at our hotel, , were nothing special — but the views? Worth every real we’d payed for them.

Over bubbly on our rooftop pool, Heather and I went over options for my next move. Together we’d tackled São Paulo, Paraty, Ilha Grande, Rio, and Buzios — and now I had all of Brazil to choose from. In fact, I even considered flying down to Argentina and spending a week with a friend of my sister in Buenos Aires (too cold, I determined in the end.) Slowly I dismissed several of my other ideas. Another week in Rio in a lively hostel? (Actually, I was eager to check out somewhere new.) A trip to the contemporary art wonderderland of Inhotim and the colonial mining towns of Minas Gerais? (Didn’t seem like the most fun place to travel solo.)

Aerial View of Copacabana Beach

Aerial View of Copacabana Beach

Finally, I narrowed my options down to three and turned to my Facebook page for advice. And y’all ! I got tons of great feedback when I asked for help deciding between these three:

• Brasilia: I’ve always been fascinated by the architecture of Brazil’s capital city, and it was incredibly cheap and simple to get to.

• Jericoacoara and the Lençóis Maranhenses: My heart was telling me to go here, despite the fact that it was logistically difficult, expensive, and pretty much as far away as I could get from Rio. But this beach girl just loved the idea of saying goodbye to Brazil on the sand!

• Bonito and the Pantanal: It was best time of the year to go to these top wildlife spotting destinations, though they are expensive destinations and mildly logistically difficult to plan. Mostly I was drawn by the freshwater diving possibilities.

Now guys, I have to confess something to you. I tried to change my flight to go home early. It’s no secret that I was really struggling with some of the miscommunications and frustrations we’d faced in Brazil, and so for the first time in years and years of being full-stop obsessed with travel, I tried to just throw in the towel on a trip and head back to New York to see my family. Brazil had turned out to be way more overwhelming than expected, and I just wasn’t sure I could do it without Heather to at least laugh along the way with.

In the end, the ticket change fee was over a thousand bucks and so price pretty quickly knocked that out of the running. Looking back, I am so, so grateful I couldn’t change that ticket — because what came next ended up being the highlight of the trip.

View from Porto Bay Rio HotelPhoto by

View from Porto Bay Rio HotelPhoto by

View from Porto Bay Rio HotelPhoto by

In the end, one thing made the decision for me: the fear of loneliness.

I’d been warned that Brazil was a tricky place to travel solo if you don’t speak Portuguese, as most hostels are filled with domestic travelers (very cool if you do speak the local language!) and Brazil is skipped over by many backpackers who are scared off by the higher prices and more stringent visa requirements than those of neighboring countries.

I kind of brushed off those reports before arrival, but over time I was bowled over by how accurate they were for us, as well. Listen, I love my solo travels — but I have never been more grateful to have Heather by my side! The more I looked into Brasilia and Bonito, the most convinced I was that I’d end up feeling quite isolated and spend my trip more or less completely in my own company. In some cases, that would be exactly what I was looking for. In this particular moment though, it just sounded lonely.

I booked a flight for less than twenty-four hours later to Fortaleza, Brazil — the gateway to Jericoacoara.

View from Porto Bay Rio HotelPhoto by

Porto Bay Rio Rooftop PoolPhoto by

To celebrate my decision, we headed down to the beach!

One thing I wasn’t celebrating? The price of my flight. Brazil is not very conducive to spontaneous travel — flight prices were extremely reasonable when I was researching a few months out but absolutely skyrocketed closer to departure date, leaving little room to wing it. One of the things that really pushed me to cancel the Iguaçu Falls trip was that I waited too long to book a flight away from the falls, and by the time I really needed to make a decision on where to go next, they were just painfully astronomically priced! As in literally, the day before we cancelled I started looking up flights and actually burst into tears. And um, yeah, considering the distances between Iguaçu and anywhere, anything but air travel was an automatic no.

Flights from Rio were luckily a bit more reasonable but also had gone way, way up since my initial searches. Thankfully I had the resources available to stretch myself but it definitely would have been better — from a financial perspective, anyway — to book ahead. If you want flexibility in Brazil, it appears you really will have to pay for it.

Copacabana Beach

Vendors on Copacabana BeachPhoto by

Once again, I felt a massive relief after making my choice. I think I felt like because I’m a scuba diver, I should go to Bonito. Because the flights were cheap, I should go to Brasilia. Instead I chose the least practical, most expensive and most logistically difficult option of going to Jericoacoara.

But dang, it just felt right to follow my heart.

Rio Flag Canga on Copacabana BeachPhoto by

Vendors on Copacabana BeachPhoto by

Fishing Boat off Copacabana BeachPhoto by

After a beautifully lazy day spent beach and poolside, we headed out to toast to the last night of our trip with tapas at . Unfortunately I am a full-blown failure at reading restaurant’s opening hours, and we soon found ourselves wandering the streets looking for a stand-in. Lo and behold, we stumbled onto , another absolutely fabulous tapas restaurant that our Barcelonian friend confirmed via my live-text stream of our meal was incredibly authentic.

Granted, we didn’t do much with our final 24 hours in Rio. But in contrast to our jam-packed first week, it was bliss. Personally, I wildly preferred hip Ipanema to more touristy Copacabana, but they are both beautiful stretches of sand. (Want to learn more about Rio’s beaches and Brazilian beach culture? Go here next!) Our treat-yourself-palooza was the perfect end to the latest chapter in Heather and I’s globetrotting friendship!

Porto Bay Rio Champagne Welcome Drink

And with a long, sad goodbye hug, I was off to tackle Northern Brazil — solo!

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20 Comments...
  • Cate
    April 4 2017

    Good for you going with your heart! Sometime the price tag is well worth it, and a once in a lifetime experience. Facing your fears is even more important- and I’m sure it payed off. That looks like a great place for a nice evening
    Cate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      It really was! I always love to end a trip with a splurge 😉

  • That photo of you toasting in your lounge chair is one of my favorite ever! I totally know that feeling of frustration that makes you want to throw in the towel; I’ve researched flight options home early myself, and usually don’t wind up pulling the trigger due to hefty fees. Glad it was worth it in the end!
    Kristin @ Camels & Chocolate recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      Yeah, that was a really tough one! In the end I’m grateful for the four figure change fee (nearly double what I paid for the original flight, LOL) because it didn’t allow me to even really consider the option. But dang, I did have a full breakdown crying that day wishing I could — right around the time my laptop charger broke and I found out they cost $250 in Brazil. Eyeroll! (Thank goodness for Heather who let me Amazon Prime one to her parent’s house for $60 where she was headed next and left me with hers!) Poor guy at the Apple Store watching me sob about how I wanted to be leaving too, ha ha.

  • As someone who currently meticulously plans out every bit of my 5 weeks paid vacation, it’s fun to read about spontaneity. Not sure I’m capable of it, but I’ll find out in 4 months!
    Leigh | Campfires & Concierges recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      Ha, I am such a meticulous planner when I get the chance! The crazy part is my spontaneous trips (rare) or trips someone else plans (also rare) are often my favorite. I know that and yet I cannot help myself 😉

  • Jo-Anne the crazy lady
    April 4 2017

    Going with ones heart is generally speaking a good thing, we need to do things that make us happy and feel good about life
    Jo-Anne the crazy lady recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      Indeed! it is rare to regret following one’s heart.

  • Mike
    April 5 2017

    We had issues with the transfer to Casas Brancas and also happened to stay at Rio Porto Bay. Average room, but the rooftop pool is well worth admission. Agreed that we enjoyed Ipanema a lot more though. Tough to communicate without at least some Portuguese in plenty of situations there. Travelers, cabs, some restaurants.

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      What a coincidence Mike! Casas Brancas wasn’t to blame for my transfer issues (it was arranged by a third party) but that is pretty wild. And yes, communication was a struggle. I’ve been to thirty-something countries — will have to look at my list for the exact count! — and I’ve never had a harder time with communication.

  • becky hutner
    April 5 2017

    I LOVE that you give this under-covered aspect of travel some air time! I never knew the special pain of deciding “where to go next” until my first extended trip. Flash back to hours-long meetings with my boyfriend in hotel bars, pulling my hair out over flight options, weather considerations and terrible wifi! First world problems I know, but frustrating all the same!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      For sure! I love hearing about other people’s travel decision making processes, so I am trying to share a little more of mine here and there. Actually, another post on this topic going up today!

  • Rachel Clarke
    April 5 2017

    I understand the struggle! It can sometimes be overwhelming trying to choose your next destination!But I find that sometimes a bit of spontaneity makes the final choice all the more exciting – Like you found!

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      Indeed — it led to probably the most fulfilling stop on my entire trip! (Though there was a lot of competition.)

  • Dominique
    April 5 2017

    I’m so happy to hear that your decision in terms of where to travel made you happy!! It’s terrible being stuck somewhere when you’re not in the right frame of mind to enjoy it.
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 6 2017

      Yup, and hopping on that plane (my first flight within Brazil) totally shook me out of my negative mindset. So glad I did!

  • Ijana Loss
    April 7 2017

    Yes, you made the right choice! I always do the same thing where I try to justify something by the affordable price, but sometimes you just gotta follow your heart and pay more. The Lencois Maranhenses has appealed to me forever too, I can’t wait to read your coverage!!

    • Meihoukai
      April 9 2017

      I find that after a lot of agonizing, I’m usually a follow-my-heart girl when it comes to travel <3

  • Marni
    April 14 2017

    On my trip to South Africa, I had the option to add on an extension to Mozambique. When booking, I scoffed at it because it would have almost doubled the cost of my trip. Once in South Africa, though, I regretted my decision immensely. Sometimes you have to ignore the cost and just follow your heart, especially when the alternative could mean sacrificing happiness.
    Marni recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      April 18 2017

      It’s funny how those costs always seem insignificant when you’re on the ground, right? I just paid a ton to change my Bali flight by a few days — if I’d considered that price ahead of time I would have totally scoffed, but once I was there in the moment it was easy to pull out the credit card!