All posts by WeGoEverywhere

We are Emily and Alex and We Go Everywhere. In the summer of 2021, we sold our house and almost everything else we own so that we can travel the world!

Is Home a person, place, or thing? How we found our Home as full-time travelers.

“Where are you from?” “Where are you living now?” “Where is home?” It is usually right up there within the first five questions somebody will ask you in a new conversation or a catch up chat, right? 

When our travel plans in Mexico abruptly changed, we had no choice but to go to Texas for a few weeks and lean on family to help us regroup. And while we love being with my family, we don’t have a great relationship with Texas. It has made for a lot of mental gymnastics over the past month. We were really forced to think about the idea of home and what we are really seeking by becoming nomadic. 

None of us get much of a choice about where we live as children. I was lucky enough as a kid that I didn’t think about the concept of there even being choices about where to live. I felt a concept of home based on the family I was with and I was content. 

Baby Erika and Emily
Baby Emily always looking to big sis.

But, as an adult, that started to change. Without my family being there, I never really loved any place I lived. They all just seemed like a means to an end. Like, I’ll live here until I finish my Associates Degree (Gainesville, Georgia)… my Bachelors Degree (Denton, Texas)… my Masters Degree (Fort Worth, Texas)… 

The first big move

I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina, lived in rural South Carolina and rural Georgia. I’m from the south and once I got an education, I was never particularly proud of that. The first time I moved as an adult was completely my own choice. When I left Gainesville, Georgia to pursue my university education in Texas, I had a large group of close friends and a boyfriend. It was hard to leave. And, honestly, my best friend ended up resenting me for it and it broke up my relationship. But, I wasn’t growing or getting any happier staying in the same place with the same people. And this is something my true family always understood. They knew sometimes I needed space to grow and they wanted me to be happy. 

It’s also important to live through the wrong fit

I lived in Texas from 2006 to 2018. Although I moved around in north Texas, it was the longest I ever lived in the same state. When I traveled, I would often get asked how I liked living in Texas. To which I would always take a beat before replying as diplomatically as I could muster, “It’s fine. I guess it’s ok.”

I wish I could say this helped me admit I was in the wrong place, but it took me a while to really figure that out or do anything about it. And I don’t regret it. I needed that time. I had a great group of friends and I had a job in my graduate studies field. I was afraid to change too much, even if sacrificing a bit of comfort could have improved my overall happiness.

Emily working at Amon Carter Museum of American Art
A photo of Emily working on cataloging Eliot Porter photographs at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, Fort Worth, TX.

When I started working for myself I had the opportunity, for the first time, to reevaluate where I lived. I finally figured out that I must not like Texas because I left every chance I got. I was existing in Texas but, again, only as a means to an end. I just worked toward the next opportunity to go to Disney World or Disneyland. 

The next big move

So, I finally made another big step towards living life for myself and moved to Anaheim, California. Again, I lost some close friends and another relationship. But this time, I also gained life-long friendships that stay with me today. I was learning more about how to change, how to evaluate my own happiness, and how to select new members to add to my family. 

I can say that Anaheim was probably the only place I’ve ever been really excited to live. I could walk to Disneyland or I could drive and be there in 5 minutes. While it was a fun time in my life, I now realize I never really felt at home there either. Once I met Alex about 6 months into living there, he was the first to point out that I never even decorated my apartment. I never really let myself believe I wasn’t just passing through. Part of that is because once I met Alex, I knew my life would change. 

We created our home in each other

Alex had already been working on buying and renovating a house in Desert Hot Springs, California. I moved in with him before I had even lived in Anaheim a full year. We were so eager to create a home together. And we did, but in a very unexpected way. We created a home in each other. And while we were doing that, we realized we still didn’t even like where we actually lived! Alex had created a beautiful space for us and welcomed me and Elvis in with open arms and equal share. But, again, we were leaving every chance we got. 

Our last day in our empty house, Desert Hot Springs, California.

Yes, it is an enormous privilege to get to be able to leave. I do have bouts of guilt wrapped up in being able to change my situation in life. I know other people go through much worse and I do think it is important to acknowledge privilege and good fortune where it exists. We don’t have the power and money to change everyone’s lives, but we do have the resources to change our own. And I realize I do not have to feel guilty about that. I’m working on it. 

But, we decided that we were also willing to work hard and sacrifice some things for the sake of happiness. We compared our stories and acknowledged what we both knew we could lose by leaving California, by selling our house, by paring our lives down to a few suitcases. But, we talked more about what we could gain. 

Now that we have changed our lives, we always get asked, “Where do you see yourself settling down?” And the answer is, we don’t know. And we are ok with that. A big part of this full-time travel journey is to figure that out. We have both moved in the past in hopes that it would solve some problem or answer some questions for us. But, we just end up bored and questioning the new place too. We are in part seeking a place we can call home, but we also fully acknowledge that we may travel the entire world and say, “hmmm, it doesn’t matter where we live!” But we do know, that until (or even if) we decide to set roots, we will not get bored. 

Have we been deliriously happy since we became nomadic? No! We have fought, we have cried, we have yelled, we have been robbed by police officers in Mexico. We have had panic attacks, diarrhea, cleaned up dog pee, and sat on hold with the bank as our blood boiled beneath the surface. We have gone grocery shopping, run errands, cooked dinner, and washed dishes and clothes. We have changed plans, gotten lost, lost money, and made mistakes. And there was more diarrhea. 

You see, changing where we live alone won’t magically make us happy. But, changing where we live (or don’t live in our case) helped us learn how to change and how to deal with change. And learning how to change and how to deal with change can make you happier! 

Getting somewhere new could be a start as long as you just don’t stop changing the things that make you unhappy once they crop up. 

For us, Home became a person. We found our home in each other.

Alex and I may never be satisfied. We will always be seekers. We may never find a place that feels like home, or a place that we want to stay very long. So for us, it is time to reframe the idea of home. Now when people ask where home is, we point to each other. 

Why we left Mexico: The Extortion

Anyone seeking information about traveling to Mexico has undoubtedly heard dozens of horror stories. The U.S. media and government always pick up stories that shed a bad light on the country. If we were to listen to them, they would have us all flying into Cancun and visiting only resorts in Qunitana Roo.

But on the other hand, we have probably all heard stories about expats and retirees flocking to other parts of Mexico. Sure, some do go to the beach towns. But, tell me you haven’t heard about San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca lately. Many people are finding really good lives in more central areas of Mexico. And being newly nomadic, it was our first place of interest.

So, in August of 2021, we set out on a six month road trip to discover Mexico. We fully intended to fall in love with it and buy a condo on the beach.

We lasted two months…

… and the main reason we left was the difficulty we had driving in Mexico.

It seems like the easiest solution would be not to drive, but we wanted to see how it was to really live there. Mexico has a lot to offer in terms of beautiful places, beautiful people, and affordability for foreigners. And we were definitely still interested in seeing the Riviera Maya, but we also wanted to see other things along the way.

We did a good amount of research before we left on our driving trip in Mexico. We knew not to drive at night until we became really familiar with an area. We knew what could happen if you got pulled over by a police officer. We knew that we should have a decoy wallet where we kept bribe money for cops so that they wouldn’t see all of our money in one place and ask for all of it. We knew there were areas best avoided, and we planned our driving route accordingly as to spend as little time by the border as possible and avoid driving through Tamaulipas too much. We also knew the notoriously corrupt “Federales” had been disbanded in 2019 (about two years ago), so we thought maybe it wouldn’t be so much of a problem.

Note:

After we shared our story with our Instagram followers, we heard several stories of this type of bribery happening to people on foot as well. So, just be aware that even though it is less likely, this can occur even if you choose not to drive.

Click above to see our post about driving across the U.S. border into Mexico. This will show you everything we did to get ready to cross without any issues.

It’s easy…until is isn’t.

When it comes to actually crossing the border, it is relatively easy for a U.S. citizen. I was a bit scatter-brained because I was just nervous to get it all right. But, it wasn’t a big deal because we had everything in order. We made it to our first stop in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon for the night with no problems. But, about an hour into our drive the next day we got stopped at a Municipal Police road block.

They “pulled us over” with the pretense of checking our papers, and it soon became clear this person could care less wether we had any of the correct documents. We showed the officer our passports and immigration stamps and they barely got a glance. The officer then asked “do you have anything for the cops”?

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Now, everything I had read had strongly advised to not give in to paying the bribe. Much easier said than done. At first I was adamant. I answered, “Sure, I have my passport and visa stamp, and vehicle permit, and insurance, and driver’s license. That is what I have for the cops.”

Well, you can imagine the cop didn’t like that. He then asked Alex, who was driving, if he would show him what was in the back of the vehicle and on the roof rack. We have a dash cam, so I believe this was a diversion to get Alex to the back of the car and to get off camera (even though we weren’t rolling, but he didn’t know that). Once at the back of the car, the cop straight up told Alex he required $10 to let us go. And because I am a raging idiot, I grabbed the first bill I found and basically threw it out the window. It was $500 pesos, which is like $25 dollars. We were just pushed past the point of any comfort, and that is their goal – to push you until you give in.

And he asked for it in dollars because it is super clear we were American. And that is why we were a target. We were driving a bright red SUV with a blue luggage rack and California plates. We knew this would probably not be the last time this happened, but we weren’t prepared for how bad it felt the next time.

You see, it will never be fun to be extorted, but the encounter with the first officer wasn’t really all that bad. While he did have a large automatic weapon, it didn’t really feel threatening. It felt like what it was. He just wanted money, and not a lot of money, so it was very matter of fact. We had a discussion about wether or not we were willing to experience that again and we decided we could deal because it was more important to us to have our Mexican road trip.

We continued on to San Miguel de Allende and Mexico City, and even drove all the way to Acapulco without any issues.

Our first full day in Acapulco was almost amazing. We drove from one side of the bay to the other and ended up at a secluded local beach with white sand and warm water as far as our eyes could see. We were the only people on the beach excluding two guest of the nearby resort hotel lounging under a palapa.

We weren’t prepared to spend all day at the beach, so we went on to do our grocery shopping all the while talking about the epic beach day we would have the next day.

Majorly excited, and with a car full of groceries we headed back to our rental. Then we saw this:

A motorcycle cop pulling us over in Acapulco, Guerrero Mexico

This photo was actually taken after our encounter was over. Because, again, I froze under the tension. I should have filmed the whole thing.

It is perfectly legal to film an interaction with the police in Mexico, just like it is in the United States.

But, I guess having gone through it one before didn’t really prepare us. Why? Because we expected it to be the same as the first time and that was a mistake. You see, while the first crooked cop wasn’t trying to scare us, this one was.

He asked to see our Temporary Import Permit, which is a document you need in order to drive a foreign car in Mexico. We had this document, but like a fool in love with the beach I had stupidly just unpacked our folder of important documents from the car the night before when we arrived in Acapulco. Like, actual effing Homer Simpson level D’oh.

Luckily, I have all of our documents backed up as electronic files on my phone, so I showed him. He said no, I need a paper. Now, this paper I needed was nothing more than a print out of this electronic document that had been sent to me by Banjercito, the official Mexican Federal Bank issuer of these documents. But, the officer insisted we needed to show him a paper copy or we were in “big trouble”.

I am well aware that we were not in big trouble because of the paper. We were in big trouble because we were in the clutches of a corrupt cop that was going to say anything in order to scare us. As mentioned before, the goal is to intimidate you into giving them the most money possible.

He went on to say that he could arrest us right now, take us to the station, and impound our car…

OR

Get this! Or, we could pay the fine to him now and be on our way. How convenient for us all! At this point I was crying out of fear and frustration. He had been hurling so many threats at us I really had no idea what he would do. All I could think was that he was trying to separate me and Alex somehow, or get us off of the crowded street we were on.

When we asked how much the ticket would cost he said he had to “call it in” and ask. So, he went back to his motorcycle to make a “phone call” while we counted how much money we actually had on us out of his sight. We had MXN $760 (about USD $37).

The officer came back and told us it would be MXN $2100 (about USD $104). OMG guess what? We don’t have $2100 pesos in cash on us because we aren’t total idiots. This is when he offers to follow us to the ATM. But, like I said, thankfully not complete idiots.

We said no. We are not leaving the car. I am in hysterics because he is still trying to separate us. Alex said he will not drive to the ATM, but says we will go into the station and we will pay with a card. Then all of the sudden the officer is willing to negotiate the price of the ticket based on how much money we had.

Again, Alex ends up at the back of the car with the officer where he pretends to make another phone call. Alex said his phone screen was clearly not making a call. This time the officer tells Alex flat out that if he settles this with him, it will be an “illegitimate” deal. Absolutely admitting that this is a bribe. Alex tried to hand him the money, but the officer says no, drive down the road past the red light and then pull over again. I am not exactly sure why he asked us to move the car first. Maybe he knew he was in front of a camera or he was worried about witnesses. But we were still on the same crowded and busy street, so we drove past the light and I shoved the money at him. Then he made sure to warn us that he would be looking for us again and that if we did not have that paper, we would be in big trouble.

Technically it is illegal to pay a bribe, but I think the only illegal actions here were perpetrated by the so-called officer. Alex and I did nothing wrong. We didn’t even break any traffic laws to warrant getting pulled over.

And that is the scariest thing about all of this.

This means that you are at risk even when you are not doing anything illegal. We were at risk by simply just being there. And our only choice is to break the law (of paying the bribe) in order to get out of the situation. That is why he made sure Alex knew it was a bribe. That way, if it ever came back on the officer, they would also have a charge for us.

We really tried to let this one go in the same way we did the first one. But, the next day as we were driving to find another magnificent beach, we passed a road block and freaked out. We didn’t get stopped, but what if we did on the way back? And we had now graduated into complete idiots because we forgot to go to the ATM to get cash after we forked over all but $20 pesos to the police. If we didn’t have enough cash, what would they take from us next? Alex’s laptop? Our car? One of us?

When our day of peaceful beach-going soon turned into a hectic game of find the nearest ATM, we knew we had to re-evaluate. We got some cash and drove straight back to the apartment where we stayed for three days without leaving until we decided it was time to leave Mexico.

Yes, we know the state Guerrero, home to Acapulco, is on the US State Department’s Do Not Travel list. But, we had just spent a month in Mexico City without any safety issues whatsoever. And we had done our research on Guerrero as well and felt convinced by the fact that major criminal organizations don’t bother tourists. We kind of just didn’t realize that the police are a major criminal organization there – or they are at least heavily controlled by one.

Judge me all you want and call me stupid all you want. Believe me, looking back now I feel very un-smart about it. But, as I said, at the moment I was beside myself because being in the actual situation is almost impossible to prepare for. I would like to think that had this happened a third time I would have been so fed up that I would have handled it well. But, that would have all depended on which officer showed up that day and how far they were willing to go to intimidate us. Not a chance I wanted to take anymore.

Like the opening paragraph of this blog says, we have all heard stories that go both ways. What you have to decide is wether or not you are willing to take the risk. And we decided that we were not any longer. We had so much anxiety that we didn’t leave the apartment for a week. What kind of life is that? We were exited to explore and learn so much more about Mexico, but the thought of driving any further made us frozen in place.

Sure, we could have stayed and it all could have been fine. Everything in life is uncertain. There are plenty of situations in life when we have anxiety for unfounded reasons, and we push through that. But, once the anxiety is founded in reason, it becomes really hard to want to push through it. For what result? To prove that Mexico is safe? That isn’t our job and not the hill we choose to die on. We loved so many things about Mexico, but it wasn’t worth our mental health.

Goodbye Acapulco, and Mexico.

One thing remains certain, we have an almost unfair amount of privilege to get to decide to just leave. We acknowledge that we have passport privilege and that traveling to Mexico should not be viewed as a cheap novelty, but as an opportunity to learn. We do not want this article to imply that we dismiss Mexico as a whole. The first thing I said as we walked through Colonial Roma in Mexico City was “I never want to leave”. And just because that ended up not being true, doesn’t mean that moment wasn’t one of the best of my life. Mexico gave us so much. And it made us smarter and tougher. It helped us prove that we can do so much more than we ever thought we could. And it gave me enough beauty to make me smile forever. I felt really lucky for having gotten to go.

Tips for getting pulled over as a foreinger in Mexico:

Note:

We are absolutely not lawyers. We are just people who experienced this and hope our experience can help others.

We are absolutely not lawyers, but here are a few tips we learned that may help if you are ever in this situation:

  • Always have a close friend or family member in the loop. For us, someone has digital copies of all of our documents and we share our live location with people we trust using our phones.
  • Attempt to film the interaction if you feel safe doing so – it is legal in Mexico to film a traffic stop, etc. on a cell phone. But, sometimes you may not feel safe doing so.
  • Tell them you are going to call your country’s embassy and actually do it. Tell the embassy why you are being detained and ask for clarification. They will be able to tell you all the legitimate reasons you could be detained. Add the number to your phone as soon as you can, not after the second time you get extorted like us!
  • Know the reasons it is legal to threaten you with arrest. Again, call the embassy or a lawyer if you have one to ask for clarification. You should only be threatened with arrest for very serious crimes like drugs, alcohol, driving under the influence, disturbing the peace, fighting, weapons, violence, etc., not for a simple traffic violation and especially not for none at all.
  • If you really did commit a traffic violation request a written citation or ticket. There is no need to go with them anywhere unless it is a major offense. A traffic violation just requires a written citation and you can even pay it by mail.
  • Some people say it is best to not speak Spanish, or pretend you don’t know any. But, I also talked to plenty of locals in Mexico that said extortion happens to them as well. So, I don’t think it really matters. I would say speak the language that helps you communicate the best.
  • Never expect the same situation when getting pulled over. Each officer is going to have their own limit on how far they are going to push and take advantage.

Note:

After we shared our story with our Instagram followers, we heard several stories of this type of bribery happening to people on foot as well. So, just be aware that even though it is less likely, this can occur even if you choose not to drive.

Want to read some good things about Mexico? Check these out!

Teotihuacan with Sal from Vibe Adventures

This blog post was made in part through a hosted PR media experience with Vibe Adventures. All opinions are our own and we really do highly recommend booking the tour we enjoyed.

Taking a tour with Sal made me feel so present that I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I usually do, but I don’t even worry for one second that I will forget anything about it. 

Emily from we go everywhere

Ancient sites are so often associated with death. Especially Teotihuacan with its infamous history of human sacrifice. But, being there with someone like Sal makes you realize that the city is more associated with life than death. 


Emily standing on the Avenue of the Dead. The Pyramid of the Moon is in the background.

Our tour started at 8:00am when our guide, Sal, from Vibe Adventures picked us up at our apartment. Having driven around a bit in Mexico City ourselves, we knew having a local drive us an hour outside of the city would save us some stress and peace of mind so that we could really enjoy our day. Having lived in Mexico City most of his life, Sal negotiated the drive effortlessly and pointed out a lot of interesting things along the way.

The flow of conversation was really easy, like talking to an immediate friend. We all bonded over having lived in California before and our passions for travel and history. Sal is fluent in Spanish and English and Vibe Adventures gives you the option to take this tour in either language.


Once we arrived at the site, we didn’t have to worry about figuring out where to park, or even buying tickets. Vibe Adventures took care of it all as it is included in the price of your tour. We were already off to an easier start than if we would have tried to do this all by ourselves.


It should be noted that we visited in September, 2021 and the site was still operating under COVID-related restrictions which require a mask to be worn. Unfortunately because of the pandemic state, access to some smaller spaces like the museum and the Palace of Quetzalpapálotl were closed off. Climbing the Pyramids was also not allowed at this time.


I (Emily) have a Masters Degree in Art History with a focus on Mexican art and I studied a lot of Pre-Columbian art as well. As soon as Sal started talking about the history of Teotihuacan, my memories of my time in University and Grad School started flooding back and we were batting around terms and Nahuatl words and the excitement was palpable for me!

One of the last surviving murals at Teotihuacan is a Puma mural along the Avenue of the Dead

Before you think this is a tour for school nerds only…

Alex, my husband, did not have the history background we had, but he was also amped. I could see it in his eyes how he was taking in everything we said and then related it to something he understood. He had a lot to add to the conversation and was highly engaged the whole time. This is why Sal is an excellent tour guide and after hearing about his career with Vibe Adventures, we could tell that this tour company takes pride in selecting the best guides and grooming them to be the best.

When talking about Teotihuacan, it is important to note that the names we have for its structures today come from the Aztecs who took over the site long after the Teotihuacanos were gone. You see, nobody knows exactly who the Teotihuacanos were, except for a group of indigenous Mesoamericans. Even the name Teotihuacan meaning “birthplace of the gods” was given to it by the Aztec who came centuries after its fall around 550 CE.

Pyramid of the Sun

We started at the Pyramid of the Sun learning how there were child sacrifice victims buried at every corner as a ritual dedication to the building of the Pyramid. It is pretty grim and horrific, but it is a signifier of something majorly important to their religion and culture. It isn’t clear exactly every purpose this Pyramid served. There used to be a temple on top, and in its day the pyramid would have been painted with brightly colored murals, likely depicting animals such as jaguars and snakes.

The one thing that is pretty clear about the Pyramid of the Sun, is that it was a clock and a calendar. You can see from the photo above that the sun hits the apex of the Pyramid at exactly noon. Cosmology was incorporated into all of the city planning as a way for the citizens to track the position of the sun, moon, and stars in order to tell the time and date. The Teotihuacanos and the Aztec placed such a significance on the sun because they truly believed it could disappear if they did not perform these rituals to the sun gods. (Of course there are theories that the political and spiritual elite fed this belief to the masses as a form of population control. You can never assume any system of leadership is completely free of corruption).

Pyramid of the Moon

The Pyramid of the Moon is the one that felt the most monumental to me. It is like you can feel how much death and life was there. The main purpose of this pyramid was to preform ritual sacrifices of food, animals, and humans. You can stand on the platform in front of this imposing structure and imagine the death that spilled from its peak giving life to those watching. Like to opposite forces equally competing to bring a crucial balance to the world.

Many onlookers would have been practicing what was called auto-sacrifice, which meant they threaded large bone needles through their tongues (and, ahem, sometimes other areas of their bodies) to give their own blood and pain to the ritual.

Avenue of the Dead

The name “Avenue of the Dead” was a bit of a misnomer given to the main road by the Aztecs. When they arrived, they assumed the homes along the avenue were burial temples. However, they were the homes of the elite class – political leaders, priests, and even some warriors. The Aztec were not completely wrong however, as these important families did bury their deceased under their homes patios.

There is definite evidence of a social hierarchy at Teotihuacan. The homes along the Avenue of the Dead belonged to the higher classes. Basically, the closer to the Pyramids you lived, the more important you were.

Ancient Apartment Complexes!

One of the coolest things Sal showed me and Alex was the ruins of the group housing complexes. This one is on the Avenue of the Dead, which meant it was probably filled with slightly more important people than the ones scattered up to 30 miles around the cities epicenter.

20-30 families would have lived in this ancient complex.

There are many housing complexes around the area that have simply just not been excavated yet. The government is always seeking to allocate more funds to the excavation and preservation of these ancient sites. But, as with anything, money is limited and it is a huge site so it is slow going.

This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Rio San Juan

As you can see from the site layout, the original engineers of Teotihuacan made their own river. This river served to transport resources and people around the complex.

As you walk down The Avenue, you notice and gentle downward grade. This was deliberate and was made to ensure that rain waters would flow down the drainage systems built into The Avenue to prevent flooding and direct water to the river.

The Citadel

The Citadel was named as such by the Spanish who assumed it was a fort. In reality, it was marketplace and center of commerce.

Temple of the Feathered Serpent

My favorite temple at Teotihuacan was actually ritually desecrated at some point in it’s history. It was burned, covered in earth, and and the Adosada Platform you see today was built in front of it. It is evidence of a huge transition taking place within the city’s rituals and government.

It is my favorite because of its ornate decorations. It has an overall feathered serpent motif with alternating heads representing the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl and the rain and sun god Tlaloc. Archaeologists have discovered that there is a space within the eyes of the figures that would have held obsidian stone, causing their eyes to sparkle in the sun. In antiquity, it also would have been painted with bright blue and adorned with carved seashells. I can just image how beautiful it was.

Over 200 sacrificial victims have been found buried in the Temple and are thought to be mostly local warriors sacrificed for protection upon the Temple’s building and dedication. In 2003, archaeologists discovered a hidden tunnel under the Temple with a a chamber representing the underworld.

Our Experience Summarized:

Everything in Teotihuacan involved an intense desire to thrive and served a purpose. Being there with a well-educated local guide helped remind me why I have been so fascinated with Mesoamerican culture for years.

But, Sal also helped to remind us both of the importance of human connection throughout history and today. With the pandemic, it has been a while since we had a truly nice experience with another human being. We talked about everything from ancient history to our very present everyday lives. We felt like a thread in the fabric of history was weaving a connection to the present. We walked away feeling that Teotihuacan represents the perseverance of life instead of the sacrifice of death.


If you want to book the exact tour we took, visit this link:

This is the exact tour that we booked with Vibe Adventures

Advertisement. Affiliate links. See more tours you can take to Teotihuacan with Viator.

Watch our day at Teotihuacan on YouTube

What is San Miguel Allende really like?

Note: Some links within this post are affiliate links and we may earn a small commission from purchases made using these links.

Emily and Alex at the top of San Miguel de Allende street
Emily and Alex at the top of De La Garita (at the intersection with Real a Querétero, San Miguel de Allende

San Miguel de Allende was just named the Best City in the World by Travel and Leisure readers and its been on the list for years. So, does it live up to the hype?

First of all, it has been over ten years since either Alex or I have traveled outside of the US, and San Miguel del Allende is the first International destination we really spent time in together. So, we were immediately amazed. We would definitely suggest going there if you are given the opportunity.

The Travel and Leisure voted on on cites based on these criteria: sights/landmarks, culture, food, friendliness, shopping, and value, and we will cover our experiences with all of those things.

We do agree with the article that SMA is gorgeous, magical, and easy to navigate. And while we loved it, we wouldn’t necessarily call it the best in the world for us. We feel like most of the things to do there are very consumer-based like shopping, dining, drinking, and going to spas. And after walking for hours, eating a few meals out, visiting the Mercado de Artesanias, and popping into a few shops, we felt like there wasn’t much more to do for us.

Watch our vlog on the pros and cons of San Miguel de Allende on YouTube


Make sure to keep reading to find out the one mistake we made


Our favorite activity in a new city is just walking around and taking in the charm, architecture, colors, and sounds of the city. And the good news is, there is a lot of that to do.

Our best list:

1. El Jardín

This is a gorgeous shady public park with a gazebo in the center of the city. From here you can see some of the most well-preserved examples of Baroque, Neo-Classical, and Neo-Gothic architecture and the most beautiful buildings in the city.

The star of the city center is the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. Its ornate and towering pink sandstone spires have been compared to a wedding cake, but to us it was more like a really beautiful compass arrow . It is one of the reasons that San Miguel de Allende is so easy to navigate. You can often spy the pinnacles poking out of the skyline while navigating San Miguel’s surrounding streets.

2. Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud

While Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel is the main character, Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud seems like the understated underdog… until you get closer. I (Emily) actually love this church a bit more than its big sister. The churrigueresco style is so elaborate and ornamental with the scalloped arch and all the textures that it stopped me in my tracks. It is just a 5 minute walk from El Jardín right off of Plaza Cívica.

3. The colorful buildings and doors

These are just a few of the colorful sights you will see when strolling around San Miguel de Allende. Most of the buildings are ochre, olive, apricot, or cítron in color with a few bright blue mixed in. All the doorways are intricate in some way, wether they are carved wood, vibrantly colored, or draped in floral decorations.

There is something about this level of attention to detail that makes you want to know what lies behind each door. So many of them are mysteries!

4. Mercado de Artesanias

As a maker and crafter, the Mercado de Artesanias was immediately intriguing to me. Once I saw it, Alex could hardly drag me away. Luckily, he had enough patience with me while I picked out a hat and then dragged him back the next day to get a wallet that I regretted not buying the first time.

Mexican handmade embroidered hat and wallet
The handmade embroidered Mexican hat and wallet I selected. You can find similar handmade styles on Etsy.

Note: If you are looking to purchase similar items, Etsy is a great place. Make sure it is a shop that supports fair trade and handmade artisan work and a living wage for the artist. Many traditional styles and items are too often copied by mass produced fashion and this takes wages away from the native artisans that actually created the products (and have been doing for centuries). Here are some shops I recommend for a similar hat and a similar wallet.

Watch us shop at Mercado de Artesanias on YouTube

See where Emily got her hat and watch her shop for her wallet here on YouTube

5. The Fresh Food

American food is trash. I said what I said.

But, in all seriousness, the main noticeable difference between restaurant food in Mexico and the United States is freshness. Every meal we had out was so clearly made with fresh ingredients. Its reputation for gastronomic culture is one of the things that keeps driving visitors to San Miguel de Allende and we can attest it is justified. We didn’t even eat at expensive restaurants and they were all delicious. To get this quality of meal in the U.S., you would pay at least USD $50 a plate (more likely above that) and we paid on average USD $15 a plate. That includes drinks and entrees. Our highest bill was around USD $35.

As you may know, we have food allergies, and we had no issues finding-allergy friendly and vegan options. Here are the places we ate at and loved. They were all able to accommodate dairy/milk, egg, gluten, and nut allergies.

  • Mama Mia, Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias #91, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
  • Manipura Restaurante vegano, Jaime Nuno 1 B, Guadalupe, 37710 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
  • Fenicia Lebanese Restaurant, Zacateros 73, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico
  • Don Taco Tequila, Calle del Dr Ignacio Hernandez Macias 83, Zona Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, Gto., Mexico

6. Truck Full of Broccoli

Emily and a truck full of broccoli, San Miguel de Allende
Emily and a truck full of broccoli, San Miguel de Allende

Ok, I’m kind of joking because I freaking love broccoli. But, part of what can be charming about this city is seeing things we are not used to seeing in most places in the United States.

It pretty much made my life to walk around the corner and stumble upon a pickup truck overflowing with my favorite green veg.

We found this very close to the Ignacio Ramírez Market which is a farmer’s market loaded to the gills with fruit, veg, hot food stalls, and craft venders.


So, how much time does it take to see all of San Miguel de Allende?

We recommend 5 days.

We were in San Miguel de Allende for 10 days total, but some of those were work days. We spent 5 afternoons out and about the city and we felt like that was the right amount of time to spend. We got to do everything we wanted to do in a leisurely manner. And remember, for us that meant taking the time to shoot video content for YouTube as well as do a few reels and photoshoots for Instagram. So, if you are there entirely for vacation, 5 days is definitely enough time to explore San Miguel de Allende.

Stay longer if…

…you like shopping, dining, nightlife, spas, and relaxing.

For us, we get bored and antsy after just a few hours of relaxing. Then, we begin to look for something else to do. That is why we opted out of going to the nearby Mayan Baths. When I inquired about appointments for massages, they told us we had to stay there for 7 hours! OMG NO! Apparently, they only have a few timed entry and exit options (10-5, 11-6, 12-7). And yes, I asked them to clarify, and they said you do have to stay the whole time. And we are not sure how strict they are about it, but we were also not about to find out.

If being “locked” in a spa for 7 hours sounds like your idea of heaven instead of our idea of hell, then you would probably love a little extra time here.

We did take one spa day… err few hours

As mentioned, we typically aren’t big on relaxing “activities” in general. But, when it comes to a day spa for a few hours, we love it.

We visited Float Sano and highly recommend it. We had a couples package with 45 minutes in the infrared sauna and an hour long massage for USD $133.60. Yes, that was for BOTH of us! It was the perfect amount of time for us to spend at a spa.

We then went for a relaxing late lunch and drink at Mama Mia, which had the perfect post-massage atmosphere. Although it offers Mediterranean fare, it also has distinctly Mexican food, decor, and music.

Mama Mia, San Miguel de Allende
Mama Mia, San Miguel de Allende

One mistake we made:

We thought since we had a car, we would save some money by staying in a suburban condo complex about 20 minutes away from the city center. For us, this was a mistake.

We love walking and typically walk miles a day, but the route into the city was not very walkable. Technically, yes it is possible. But, it involved a busy road without pedestrian infrastructure in place.

When we check in to our condo, the guard at thee gate advised us not to try to drive into the city. In fact, we were pretty much warned off of it. When we asked why, he said the roads are small and parking is scarce.

Luckily, the condo offered a free shuttle into San Miguel de Allende. We took the shuttle the first three times we went into the city. While it was convenient, we didn’t like being held to their schedule. The shuttle only operated from 10am-4:30pm and didn’t run on Tuesdays. So, we took our chances and drove our car in. The first day we drove in it was later in the day, so we had to park further out. It was about a 15 minute walk, which was not bad for us. We parked in free street parking making sure we weren’t in a no-parking zone. (no estacionamiento en español). We drive a small SUV, and while the roads are a bit smaller than we are used to in the U.S., but they were totally manageable. It was not difficult and our car was perfectly fine when we returned.

San Miguel de Allende doorway (with no parking sign)
This is what a “No Parking” sign looks like in Mexico. An “E” instead of a “P”.

The next day, we decided to get up early and try to make it into town for a sunrise photo and video shoot. We arrived at dawn and got absolutely premium free parking. So, if you are willing to walk or get up early, it’s not really a problem.

Also, we did not want to drive in the dark, so staying outside of the city center meant that we never got to experience the magic of San Miguel de Allende at night. So, this is definitely something to consider.


Best City in the World?

We love it, but we have other favorites. It is preposterous to think we could all agree on which city is the best in the world. So, we should take these lists with a grain of salt. But, we should pay attention because there are lots of reasons that San Miguel de Allende is insanely popular. I would not pass up any opportunity you might have to find out if you think it is the best in the world.


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Watch us shop for groceries in San Miguel de Allende

Driving across the border from the U.S. to Mexico in 2021.

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by Emily

Can Americans drive to Mexico right now?

Mexican Border Crossing at Progreso International Bridge
United States/Mexican Border Crossing at Progreso International Bridge

With all the news about “border restrictions,” I have scoured every single website and news story about driving to Mexico from the United States, and the only place I could find this question addressed was at the bottom of the story on this page. And this even still felt like hearsay since I didn’t have the direct words of someone who has actually done it.

Since I knew we were going to actually do it, I thought it would be helpful to share what really happened when we crossed the border at Progreso International Bridge on August 20, 2021.

The short answer is YES, you can cross.

While the U.S. is currently still restricting non-citizens from crossing its northern and southern borders, Mexico has not placed any restrictions on non-citizens coming from the United States border – even just for tourism.

That being said, we know that this means we are coming from a place of incredible privilege to be able to cross so easily. We also acknowledge that COVID 19 is still a global issue and we are traveling as safely and considerately as possible because of this. We are following all local guidelines and mandates, wearing masks when out, and not going to large gatherings or crowded indoor places. We are both fully vaccinated, but understand that does not mean we are immune or insusceptible to COVID 19 and its variants. Officials did not perform temperature screenings or require proof of COVID vaccination or negative test results at the border crossing.

What you will need will depend on where exactly you are going.

For us, we drove our own car across the border with the intention of driving throughout Mexico for up to six months. This means we wanted to make sure we could drive anywhere in the country legally for the duration of our stay.

These are the documents we had on hand:

(We had the original when applicable as well as 3 black & white copies of each document. They are also all stored electronically on our devices and with a trusted emergency contact.)

  • Valid United States Passports
  • Valid United States (California) drivers licenses – if you are driving, there is no need for a Mexican drivers license. Mexico recognizes valid licenses from other countries.
  • Vehicle Temporary Import Permit (TIP) – obtained online here. (Note, you do not need a TIP if you are driving only on the Baja peninsula or within the Sonoran Zone.
    • Before filling out the TIP, you will need to complete the Immigration Pre-authorization form – online here. You will beed to enter the “Folio INM Pre-authorization” on the form for the TIP.
    • To obtain a TIP, you must also have proof of ownership of the vehicle you intend to import.
      • We own our car, so we carried the car title and the car registration.
      • If you lease your car you will need a valid leasing contract no older than 3 months and we recommend getting a letter from your lease holder giving you permission to drive the car in Mexico. Contact your lease holder too see if they require permission.
  • Proof of Mexican Car Insurance – you are required to have Mexican auto insurance to drive in Mexico. You can easily obtain a policy online and print out proof of insurance to carry with you. I went through Geico as a broker and purchased a policy from GNP Seguros. (I am not a professional insurance broker or insurance expert. Please check with your provider for any questions.)
  • Proof of U.S. Car Insurance – just in case
This is what the FMM form for Mexico looks like after it is stamped at the INM office.
This is what the FMM form for Mexico looks like when stamped at the INM office.
  • A Multiple Immigration Form (FMM – Forma Migratoria Múltiple) completed online here. Cost approx. USD$30.00 (MXN $594.00) or free if you are staying less than 7 days.
    • VERY IMPORTANT – If you pay for your FMM online, you must keep at least 2 copies of the RECEIPT that is emailed to you. They will ask for this as proof of payment before they stamp your FMM. The receipt must be in printed form – not electronic.
    • Everyone who is not a citizen of Mexico needs an FMM to visit – even if you have a passport. It is a travel permit that functions like the visa stamp in your passport.
    • Please note that authorities will not enforce getting an FMM when you cross the border. So, while you can technically cross without it, it is still a legal requirement and it could cause you a lot more trouble than the $30 fee and waiting in line at INM is worth.
  • Copy of our marriage license – this is absolutely not a requirement for entry. But Alex and I have different last names, and the car title is in my name. So, we may have to prove we are married if anyone questions his right to drive the car while we are here, or in case of an emergency. Hopefully it is never necessarily.
  • Proof of rabies vaccination for our dog, Elvis. We also had a letter from our vet explaining that his subcutaneous adenomas were a common occurrence in older dogs and not caused by any infection. They did not care. (Keep reading for how it went).

Now that we’ve done it ourselves I sound like a real expert, huh?

Before you assume that we were as cool as pepinos and had it all together when it mattered, let me tell you how it really went:

As we pulled up to the “border crossing”, we scrambled with our passports and paperwork and said many cusses about how nervous and unprepared we were. Oh, it’s just a toll booth. That person does not want my passport. They want $4.00. Ok. Literally never heard anything about this toll booth. But there it is. Asking me for USD $4.00 while I’m nervous as can be that I am going to screw all of this up and be banned from Mexico forever.

Next, we come to the actual border crossing. No problem, just wait in line and flash our pass… and nope. They want us to pull over because we have a giant bright red SUV with a metric ton of luggage strapped to the top of it. Of course they have questions.

A very nice agent pulls us over and asks where we are going and what we have with us – in Spanish of course. I gurgle out something that I hope sounds like “we are going to San Miguel de Allende” but also them promptly forget that I have ever learned anything about equipaje or “mi maleta” and just say “luggage” in English. So cool.

Alex also points out that we have un perrito, but the agent has already spotted him among nuestras maletas. I frantically search for his papers because I am sure this is the point where he gets confiscated and quarantined and I never see him again. No, they just really wanted to give him a pitty pat on the head and say how cute he is. He could have all the rabies in the world for all they cared! Come in, you lousy, cute dog!

For the record he is fully vaccinated as stated above. It is important to note that we could be asked for Elvis’s papers at anytime during our visit and this is no indication that you should even think about bringing unvaccinated pets into Mexico.

The agent took a look inside the car and asked Alex to open the luggage rack to prove it was just personal luggage in there. It was all no big deal. Clearly we had nothing to hide and they could tell.

They did not take our temperature or ask for proof of COVID vaccinations or negative test results.

Emily and Alex at the Progreso International Bridge border crossing
Emily and Alex crossing the border with Elvis’s number one new fan.

We were across the border, so what next?

Well, remember that FMM I listed earlier? It was time to go get that stamped. You technically have up to 30 days after your entry into Mexico to get the FMM stamped at a INM (Instituto Nacional de Migracíon) office. But we wanted to go ahead and get everything done and there is an INM office right there at the Progresso International crossing.

We did have to park the car first. Since we had all the luggage on top and Elvis inside, we knew we would have to take turns going back to the office. As soon as we drove past the border gate, there were several people “directing” us to parking. This is all very unofficial. But, they do it in hopes of a tip of a few pesos. We opted to find our own spot which was pretty easy. There is parking all along the streets in Nuevo Progresso and it really doesn’t seem to matter where you park! We found a spot a few blocks away and I walked back to the INM office while Alex waited with our car.

I felt perfectly safe walking the few blocks. It was about 10 am and there were plenty of friendly people on the street. Most of them ignored me and the few who didn’t were just asking if I needed a dentist or a pharmacy. I also walked with an air of confidence and just tried to exude competence. It seemed to work.

Once I was in the INM office, I handed the agent my passport and my copy of my FMM paper that I had printed out previously. He said “ok, good job. Did you pay for this?” I said “of course! I paid online! How else do you think I was able to print out this pdf?” Oh, balls, that proves nothing and he wants my receipt that I left in the car!!!!

Ok, back to the car.

Once I had my 2 copies of the receipt, the agent stamped my FMM and kept one copy for them and handed me one. Easy enough. Also, they have public restrooms in this INM, which I mention because I am constantly in search of where the public restrooms are on my travels.

I went back to the car and told Alex exactly what to do because I am the most expert of experts now on everything. Alex obtains his paperwork with no issues and comes back to the car to tell me I may want to go get my passport since I left it on the INM agent’s desk. Efffffffff me!

One more trip back into the office for my lecture on how I should be more careful. The agent was speaking Spanish and I didn’t have to understand every word to know what he meant. I was being scolded.

As for the TIP?

Nobody asked for the TIP upon entry. But, we know there is a possibility that they can ask for it at any point during our time here. So, just like the FMM, rabies vaccine, car insurance, and marriage license, it is just better to have than not in case something happens.

The TIP cost us USD $53.42 in the summer of 2021, but you can always check the prices here. We also had to pay a deposit if USD $400, which we will get back when we leave Mexico as long as we leave before the time we stated and surrender our TIP at a Banjercito office before we cross back into the United States.

If you follow us on Instagram, you may have seen that we got “pulled over” our second day driving in Mexico.

We did not get pulled over for committing any moving violation. We were swept up in a Municipal Police (Policia Municipal) checkpoint as we were driving from Monterrey to San Luis Potosí.

As mentioned before, a bright red SUV with a luggage rack and California plates will stand out to anyone looking for an easy target. The assumption will always be that we don’t know what we are doing (which may be true half of the time!) and that we have money.

There are often Municipal Police checkpoints between states in Mexico, especially in locations closer to the US border and locations that may see a lot of tourist traffic. Our route had us briefly crossing from Nuevo León into Coahuila and back to Nuevo León. We were driving on HWY 57, when traffic slowed a bit at the state line crossing back into Nuevo León. There was a police car and two armed officers in between the lanes of the highway waving some vehicles on and telling others to pull over. When we saw one officer was currently unoccupied, we knew it was bad luck for us. He waved us over with his automatic weapon. Literally using the gun to point us to over.

It is strange to say, but this person was very nice and polite. Once he began talking to us, we didn’t really feel threatened by him, just incredibly nervous. He asked where we were going and what we had with us. We told him and he asked to see our papers. I began to look for our FMM cards since they are easier to replace than a passport or an ID. As I was doing that he subtly asked Alex if we “had anything for the cops”. We knew what he may have meant, but we also know it is illegal to pay a bride and it is best to play stupid until you are sure that is what they want.

Mexican Pesos
Mexican Pesos

We handed him the papers and he asked Alex to open up the trunk of the car. While back there he basically told Alex he wanted USD $10 and we could go. Alex came to my window to ask me for the cash because he did not want to open up his wallet to show everything he had (although he did not have all of his cash in that wallet by any means). I panicked and practically threw MXN $500 out the window which is USD $25. Dammit, Emily. Learn numbers.

And that was that. It was all a very matter of fact transaction. However, it understandably left us feeling violated. It was the most polite and specific mugging imaginable. Because, lest we forget, he was holding a giant combustable weapon the entire time. It was not a violent interaction, but the possibility of violence was palpable.

We knew this was almost and inevitably when driving through Mexico in an obviously American car. We just weren’t ready for it the second day! When I posted this in our Instagram stories, lots of you sent messages about how this had happened to you or family members too. In fact, we just talked to our neighbors in San Miguel de Allende and they said it has happened to them many times too after having lived in Mexico for a few years. It is a fact of traveling through Mexico. We actually had a pretty straightforward encounter compared to lots of stories we have heard. We know that sometimes they will accuse you of wrongdoing when you have done nothing wrong and then it gets a bit more complicated.

We will keep you posted if anything else like this happens to us in an effort to share how to handle things as we find out more. That being said, we are absolutely fine today and feel incredibly safe where we are staying in San Miguel de Allende for the next 10 days.

Emily and Alex in front of Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud in San Miguel de Allende
Emily and Alex in front of Templo de Nuestra Señora de la Salud in San Miguel de Allende.

Watch our YouTube Video about driving from the border to San Miguel de Allende (below)

Graduate Hall Pass Superlatives

This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Graduate Hotels. However, this post does contain affiliate links and we will earn a small commission from any bookings competed using these links.

When we were lucky enough to score a Graduate Hotels Hall Pass for July, 2021, we knew we wanted to take full advantage of securing a month’s worth of 4-star hotel stays for $500. We planned a cross-country drive starting in Southern California and headed to New York City before turning around again and heading back – this time towards Northern California.

Google Maps July 2021
Google Maps July 2021

We stayed in King Rooms at every Graduate property we visited. They also offer Queen Rooms and accessible versions of each. Some of them even have suites.

Which was our favorite?

This is the number one question we get asked once we tell people we went to 15 hotels in one month. And unfortunately, we don’t have a very satisfying answer! With 15 hotels in 15 different locations, it just leaves you with too many factors to compare. There were obviously locations we liked better and they didn’t necessarily correspond with the hotels we liked best. Overall, our favorite was probably Seattle. It just edged out Roosevelt Island, New York as our favorite location because the weather in July was simply more pleasant there. The room was nice and the view was almost as cool as New York’s!

But, as far as the hotels themselves, there were overall designs I liked a lot better than Seattle’s. My favorite overall design theme was probably Nashville, but the customer service there was awful! Like, so much so that I would suggest just going in to look at the lobby and not pay $220+ a night to get treated like a stale fart.

So, we decided to give you some of the pros and cons we had for each. Our Graduate Superlatives, if you will:


Graduate Tuscon

Emily at Graduate Tucson cactus lamp

Best Lamp – if you saw all of our Instagram Posts (also pictured in this blog post), you can tell that each Graduate property has its own unique theming, eclectic style, and sublime pattern mixing. This usually included a signature lamp, and Tucson had our favorite in the form of a cactus.

Best Shower – this shower just ticked all of our boxes. It was gorgeous, spacious, and already so colorful that we didn’t feel bad washing our vibrant hair in it!

Best with Pets – all Graduate Hotel properties are pet friendly, but Tucson was the only one to go above and beyond with treat and a frisbee for Elvis upon check in!


Graduate Fayetteville

Emily at Graduate Fayetteville pattern mixing

Best Pattern Mixing – first of all, Alex did not agree with me. He could not get past the camouflage carpet. And, while I am not a camo fan either, I have to applaud this boldness in pattern mixing. It’s not for everyone, but someone made me very happy with their choices.

Best Pool – the pool here was the biggest one we saw at any property (they are all pretty small) and it was the coolest because it was half indoor and half outdoor! You could swim under a window and be outside.

Best use of Neon – we saw a lot of neon in the Graduate decor across the country. But none held a cold cathode gas discharge to Fayetteville’s display in the lobby.

Cons – there were some taxidermy animals used as decor, and we just aren’t personally big fans of that.


Graduate Oxford

Emily Graduate Oxford

Best Parking – this was the only Graduate property that had their own surface level parking lot (not garage) that was entirely self-parking and entirely free. The lot was very big and there was lots of room for loading and unloading so valet or bell service is not even needed. This was the only property that did not charge us for parking.

Cons – this was one of the few rooms we stayed in that had a “beverage cooler” instead of a mini fridge. We didn’t really understand why because it was the same size as a fridge, but it didn’t get as cold.

Watch our complete hotel walkthrough video on YouTube:


Graduate Nashville

Emily Graduate Nashville

Best Overall Theming – when you are greeted by a tufted yarn portrait of Minnie Pearl when you walk in the lobby, and a shrine of Dolly Parton above your bed when you walk in the room, it leaves quite an impression. Add drapes that match my dress and my eyes start dancing. Every inch of the decor throughout the hotel was dripping in the perfect balance of decadence and diversion.

Cons – they know they have created the perfect hotel and they are resting on there laurels! The staff cannot be bothered by you. Please stop bothering them. You are positively boring and stupid and doing everything wroooong…. ughhhhh. Look, I am not even a mother and every employee here felt like my teenage child. They did everything from condescending us to flat out ignoring us. The valet was horribly disorganized and slow and then had the nerve to try to charge $40 a night to park our car in the employee lot rather than the secured garage. Also, they gave us a hard time for having too much luggage. I’ve never felt so judged in my life. But god this hotel is soooooo cooooool and I guess I’m not nearly as cool as I thought I was!

Watch our complete hotel walkthrough video on YouTube:



Graduate Knoxville

Emily Graduate Knoxville

Best Bar – almost all of the Graduates we visited had a bar as unique as everything else about them. This one surprisingly had our favorite. It was a surprise because it did not seem like something we would like. And really the best part of this whole experience was being forced to try things we probably wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to do. Otherwise I guarantee you we would not have ended up in Knoxville in the first place.

The bar here is called Saloon 16, and it is not only a dedicated shrine to Peyton Manning, it is his own creation! He was responsible for the decor as well as developing and naming everything on the food and drink menu. We would consider ourselves whatever the polar opposite of football fans are… but let me tell you, it did not matter. Everything about Saloon 16 made you feel like Peyton’s personal guest in Knoxville and that was pretty cool. We found this all out because we had a great conversation with our absolutely wonderful server there. Thank you Saloon 16!

Best Bed – the bed here had the firmest mattress, which is more to our personal taste. But, I have gone on too long about Peyton Manning at this point…


Graduate Richmond

Graduate Richmond Exterior

Biggest Room with best layout for working – this room was the biggest we had out of all 15. Since we got King Rooms everywhere, a lot of the time it felt like the bed took up most of the space and there was no room around it. This room in Richmond had tons of space and a nice layout where you could even walk around the desk. 

Biggest gym – we used the gym in every property we stayed at and 13 out of 15 of them were laughably small. Richmond was the biggest gym by far, followed by Oxford. The rest were full of great equipment, but too small. 

Other good things – there is free street parking on weekends, a game room, and a rooftop pool and bar. 

Cons – the rooftop bar was way too crowded for comfort. The good and bad thing about some of these hotels are that they are some of the coolest places in the towns they are in. And, since anyone can go to the bars, they are sometimes overly crowded or hard to get into for hotel guests. 


Graduate Roosevelt Island

Elvis Roosevelt Island window skyline view

Best View – I mean, c’mon. This hotel is on an Island right in the middle of the East River, so you will get an amazing view of either Manhattan (pictured) or Queens. We all loved this view the best – including our little dog Elvis.

Best towels – yes, you really start to notice these things when you stay in hotels for more than two weeks. The towels here were fluffy and the towels everywhere else were scratchier. This may be because this is one of the newest properties to open and it had only been open a month when we were there.

The newness was a pro and a con. Obviously new means bright, shiny, and clean. But, it also means they haven’t worked out the kinks. The staff had not been fully trained. One of them didn’t know what the room rate was and another told us they would bring a microwave right up to our room. After about 30 minutes of waiting on a microwave, we called back to find out that there isn’t a single microwave in the entire building. But, the staff were super friendly and polite so it wasn’t that big of a deal.

Major CON – this is the only property we visited that did not offer free coffee to guests. It is also the most expensive, so what are you charging me $4 to pour me a cup of regular-ass coffee?


Graduate State College

Emily Graduate State College
Emily in King Room – we moved this chair from across the room for this photo!

Best Hallway – These hotels are themed right down to the hallways, and State College had the best one. It had wallpaper that looked like a library shelf and it was repeated up and down the entire corridor. It made it feel like a dimly lit academic labyrinth and that felt very on brand for the milder half of my personality.

Cons – this property was under major construction when we stayed and it was not disclosed before we booked. The air conditioners were barely working anywhere. We couldn’t even use the gym because it had no A/C. Also, the walls here were paper thin.

Graduate State College Hallway
Hallways in Graduate State College

Graduate Cincinnati

Emily and Alex King Room Graduate Cincinnati

Most Fun Decor – the designers of the Graduate Cincinnati invented a new oxymoronic style I will dub “contemporary nostalgia.” Everything in the lobby and common areas here reminded me of another time in my life and made me feel like I was re-living it in the present.

Cons – the A/C vent is way to close to the thermostat. Now, this is one that never would have occurred to us to even think about before we lived this month in hotel rooms. Hotel rooms are small spaces, and when the thermostat is right above where the A/C blasts out, it is never going to be able to read the true temp of the room. The room never got very cool… except that corner.


Graduate Bloomington

Elvis Graduate Cincinnati King Room
Elvis took the hot seat this time.

Prettiest College Campus – Graduate Hotels call themselves Graduate because they are all on- or very near – college campuses. The romanesque and gothic revival styles of the buildings on campus made me feel like it may be time to look into the PhD in Art History just so I could enroll. I mean, they have their own art museum and gallery on campus!

Indiana University Rose Well House Kissing Gazebo
Emily and Alex at Indiana University’s Rose Well House “Kissing Gazebo”

Graduate Iowa City

Emily Graduate Iowa City King Room

Best Welcome – the staff at Iowa City gave us the nicest welcome. They were so excited we had a hall pass and wanted to hear about everywhere we had been. They had even prepared a special welcome package for us when we got to the room which included a reusable water bottle, a drink sleeve, and some treats! They invited us to come chat with them at the front desk anytime. So sweet.

Cons – nothing to do with the hotel, but I was simply so tired from driving that I slept all day the one day we were here and you can see by the photo how much trouble I had getting up and going the next day. I literally don’t even have any further photos of this room or building!


Graduate Lincoln

Emily and Alex Graduate Lincoln King Room

Best curtains – let me clearly absolve Alex of this declaration by stating that he does not agree with me. He argues that he saw so much corn driving through the American mid-west that he now hates it in all forms. But, I think if you are Lincoln, Nebraska you just lean into that and put huge a graphic corn print on your curtains and on the bathroom wallpaper.


Graduate Seattle

Alex window view of Graduate Seattle skyline

Best Location – we love cities. We love the ocean. So, any city near the coast automatically has our attention. We also loved New York, but as mentioned at the beginning of this post, Seattle just has much more pleasant weather in July.

We also love seafood and coffee and cider and, well, Seattle has really good options for all of these things in abundance.

Best Hotel Room Layout – The King Room at the Graduate here was pretty spacious and was the only one with a little hallway from the front door. The bathroom and closet were off the hallway, so it felt a bit like a tiny apartment.

Best Floors – we also liked the big black and white tile floors here. New York also had hard floors, but the rest had carpet. We were not sure if this was a pet-friendly room thing or standard.

Cons – you could hear your neighbors through the walls. Maybe because of the tile floors. But it was loud and clear. Luckily, we didn’t have neighbors until our last day and they did not keep odd hours. I think we actually woke them up by getting up at 6am. Whoops!


Graduate Eugene

Emily Graduate Eugene

Worst Overall – I think I am still mad. Granted, just look at this photo. I am clearly past the point of exhaustion. I had driven about 6,000 miles by the time we stopped in Eugene for one night. First order of business when we got to town was going to the laundromat. You can begin to see why this was not our favorite stop.

Then, Graduate tried to charge me $19 to self park in their garage that wasn’t even secure. There was no gate at the entry and when we went to leave, the gate was raised. When I asked why I paid $19 for parking as a paying hotel guest when clearly anyone off the street could come get free parking they did not have a great answer for me so I got refunded.

I wish I could remember anything else from Eugene other than my sleepy blind rage. I guess this couch was cute… and we had clean laundry.


Graduate Berkeley

Emily in Haunted King Room at Graduate Berkeley

Most Haunted – it may just seem like we are running out of superlatives, but I’m not kidding. There was a ghost in here. I even took this photo as a dramatic interpretation of the events for this blog.

Alex can sometimes feel the presence spirits and he confirmed it in the hallway before we even entered the room. I felt creeped out before he even said anything for some reason.

Well, the first night I felt something touch me. Like, it kind of tried to hug me maybe. It felt like a large dog or a small human putting its weight on me. I then had sleep paralysis for a bit and once I could move again I was chilled to the bone. After about 30 minutes of being terrified, I convinced myself the pressure I felt was just gas and I went back to sleep.

The next night ghosty came back and kept sitting on the edge of the bed. When I would wake up and move my feet, they would go away for a while. But, then I would feel the edge of the bed dip again. And this time I was so hot! Finally, I pushed the covers down and the ceiling fan above the bed started rocking so bad it made a noise that woke Alex up.

Cons – haunted as f**k.


Let us know if you have any questions about Graduate Hotels or our experience in any of these cities. Thanks for reading!

If you want us to earn a small commission from your booking, you can use our Hotels.com or our Expedia affiliate links.

You can also book directly with Graduate Hotels, although we will not earn a commission. We won’t be mad though! We did reach out to Graduate to see if they were interested in working together to provide us with a commissionable link, but we did not hear back.

Was the $500 Hall Pass for a month of Graduate Hotel Rooms really a good deal?

This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Graduate Hotels. However, this post does contain affiliate links and we will earn a small commission from any bookings competed using these links.

Ummm…yes. Yes, it was still an insanely good deal for a month’s worth of hotel rooms at a 4-star hotel. I don’t think that answer necessarily surprised anyone, did it? We all kind of knew that the lodgings would be an outrageous deal for the month. But, I think you are all a bit more curious about how much it really cost us given that we basically drove across the country and back to make it to 15 out of the 30 Graduate Hotel properties open in the United States.

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How much did we really spend?

Total for the entire trip was $5886.88.

You may happen to remember in January when we went on a cross-country road trip where we stopped in Texas and New Orleans before we drove to Florida and spent 10 days at Walt Disney World (link below).

I love this comparison because you can see that we only spent $568.65 more on this month-long trip! Obviously, there are a lot of factors differ between a Disney trip and this one. And this one would have cost tons more if we had to pay full-price for our lodgings. But, it’s a fun comparison to me nonetheless!


Here is how it breaks down (scroll to see full chart on mobile):

Lodging Gas/Fuel (approx. 7,000 miles)Meals/Drinks outGroceries (includes snacks on the road)Transportation (Metro, Cabs, Scooters)Activities OutSouvenirsOil changes
2181.441068.511529.99701.40132.368078.22114.96
Total cost $5886.88

You may look at the lodging tab and realizing it does not say “$500, the end”. That is because the lodging tab includes the $500 we paid for the Graduate Hotels Hall Pass, but also any hotel fees like pet fees, parking and tax. With each stay, we still had to pay the room tax, and any applicable sales tax. We also had to pay $25 a night for Elvis to stay with us. (So, if we didn’t have a dog we could have saved $725). And almost every hotel had an additional parking fee. We only scored free street parking in two places. In some cases it was cheaper to pay for street parking than to pay for hotel parking/valet. For instance, in New York, we parked at a garage 0.75 miles away for $24 a day instead of paying the $60 a night for valet parking at the hotel.

For gas, there is really no way to decide that you are going to spend more or less money on it. You just have to pay the price it is when you need it. Our one tip for gas, though, is to never go below half a tank when making a long drive. Technically, this does not mean you are spending less money, but it does make it feel like you are spending less money every time you fill up. It is cheating your brain, I know. But, I feel better when I see a total on the screen that is closer to $20 than $40. And also, this tip has the added benefit of meaning that you never feel stressed about running out of gas. If there isn’t a station in the next 60 miles, you won’t have to freak out.

In this chart, I separated what we spent on meals out and what we spent on groceries. If you combine them, you can see that at $2,231.39, this is the largest portion of the expenses and where we failed the most 😂. I joke. But, I only say that because I never intended to spend so much on food out. We were really good about just eating sandwiches and snacks from the cooler on the road, but I really expected to do more meals in the room. Being on the road as much as we were, it is no surprise that we relied on takeout and restaurants more than planned.

As you can see, we didn’t spend a lot on activities or extra transportation since we already had a car. We really tried to do free things, or make our outings and activities meal or drink experiences. The $80 spent on activities was $14 for admission to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum (Richmond, Virginia) and $66 for the American Museum of Natural History (New York City). The bulk of the $132.36 spent on transportation is from Metro Cards and one cab ride in New York. We also rented a few Bird scooters to get around once, but we didn’t even use all the credits we paid for!

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What would it have cost at full-price?

If we would have paid full-price for these hotels stays… well, we personally would not have been on this trip! But, in all seriousness, it would have cost about $4426 instead of $500 for the rooms alone. Add fees and parking and that lodging tab would read $6100! That would have brought the grand total of the trip to $9805! And, as much fun as we had, we both agree that we would not pay almost $10k to drive around the country like mad people.

Would we do it again?

Yes and no. Yes, we would *adds to cart* that Hall Pass as soon as we could get our little phalanges pried off of the steering wheel. No, we would not drive across the country and visit 15 properties. We had fun during our self-imposed “nomad boot camp,” but it was fast-paced and whirlwind. If we did this again, we would pick maybe 4-6 locations to focus on.

A screenshot of our July activity from Google telling us how far we drove in the month of July

At the end of July, Google sent Alex this snapshot of our activity for the month (left). You can see how we started in Southern California on July 1 and ended up back in Northern California on July 31. It is kind of unbelievable. We also walked 55 miles! That one mile on a bicycle must have been when we rented those Bird scooters!

You can see a full list of all the Graduate Hotel locations we visited on this blog post.

Also, how did my doodle from the last post hold up to the real route Google just showed us? Pretty good, I’d say

This was my rendering of what our route would look like for the month of July.
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Graduate Hotels Hall Pass

US Road Trip – July, 2021

This blog post is not endorsed or sponsored by Graduate Hotels. However, this post does contain affiliate links and we will earn a small commission from any bookings competed using these links.

We purchased a Graduate Hotels Hall Pass! What is that? Well, the extremely popular, super-speedy-selling-out Hall Pass was a $500 pass to stay at any Graduate Hotel property any night in the month of July. Oh course, there are terms and conditions like having to book all of your stays in advance, only five consecutive nights at any one property, some properties not available on weekends, etc. But, with 30 absolutely unique and beautiful locations within the US to choose from, OMG WHAT A DEAL!

Graduate Hotels are located in university towns across the country (with two even in the UK!). The properties pay homage to the local area are curated to showcase the spirit of each community. The decor aims to provide a sense of nostalgia to those visiting their alma mater and a sense of curiosity to those new to town. The interior design of these hotels is enough in itself to make me drive across the country.

Graduate Tucson
Graduate Tucson

So, we decided to join the frenzy to try to secure a Hall Pass when they went on sale in June. Hall Passes sold out within an hour, so sadly this deal will not be available by the time of this post. However, this is the second year the hotel chain has offered the Hall Pass. The promotion started in 2019, and each Hall Pass was $400 then! For obvious reasons, the Pass was not offered in 2020, but here’s hoping they will do this again next summer. Just be sure to visit graduatehotels.com and sign up for email updates.

When the Passes launched, the Graduate Hotels website had some major technical difficulties. After the online countdown ended, the site got stuck in a fatal loop refresh. I really thought “oh well, it’s not meant to be”. I knew they would sell out fast and I really thought we only had about a 50/50 chance anyway. But, thanks to someone on Instagram who literally cracked the [computer] code, I was able to obtain a direct link to purchase a Hall Pass and it worked!

Graduate Oxford
Graduate Oxford

Once we had the pass secured, we wanted to immediately begin booking our stays before the hotels filled up. They only sell a limited amount of Hall Passes, so naturally, they only allow a certain amount of rooms to be booked under the Pass per night, per property. So, naturally, my dentist called with a last-minute cancellation and I had been trying to get in before we left.

We knew going in that if we were going to do this, we were going to treat it like a challenge in a way. We wanted to visit as many properties/cities and use our entire month of included lodging. Our plan of action was to make sure we spent at least three nights at the properties we were the most excited about – Nashville, Annapolis, New York, and Seattle. And then, we would fill in the rest with stops along the way. But, due to the dentist delay, we missed out on booking Annapolis. But, other than that, we got everything we wanted!

So, here is the trajectory we ended up with:

A visual trajectory of our trip. don’t worry, we will drive on actual highways!
Graduate Fayetteville
Graduate Fayetteville

It is going to be a fast-paced trip for sure. We did try to find a balance between seeing a much as we can and giving ourselves some down time to work and play. Some places are going to be one-night stays on the way and we may only have time to check out the hotel and get a cup of coffee or a meal. I’m sure that does not mean we will find them any less interesting. We are definitely going to end up in some places we never would have gone to otherwise, which is very cool!

Graduate Hotels are super pet-friendly, so we are able to bring our dog, Elvis, with no concerns. However, we will have to pay an additional pet fee of $25 a night. The pet fee brings our total from $500 for a full months of lodging to $1225. This is still an amazing deal considering that the rooms we were able to book would have a going rate of around $4500 to $6500 if we paid full price for 29 days including the pet fees. Plus, $1225 is less than our monthly bills were at home before we sold the house!

Graduate Nashville
Graduate Nashville

Wait, Emily, you said 29 days and there are 31 days in July… Well, as you can see from the map, there is a long way between Tucson, AZ and Fayetteville, AR (about 18 hours) and between Lincoln, NE and Seattle, WA (about 24 hours). So, those nights we will not be staying at a Graduate property since there are none in between those destinations.

Obviously, there will be other expenses, including gas and food, but we feel like this is a seriously good deal and a fun way to see some cities we may have never seen otherwise! You can expect a blog post, Instagram post, and a YouTube video for each property we stay at. We will keep you up to date on how it goes, if we think it was worth it, and how much we saved with the Hall Pass! (Visit the blog post linked below to see how much we spent on the entire trip).

Graduate Tucson

Graduate Tucson

With a stay at Graduate Tucson in Tucson (West University), you’ll be within a 5-minute drive of University of Arizona and Tucson Convention Center. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage.


Graduate Fayetteville

Graduate Fayetteville

With a stay at Graduate Fayetteville, you’ll be centrally located in Fayetteville, steps from Fayetteville Downtown Square and Fayetteville Town Center. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. Planning an event in Fayetteville? This hotel has facilities measuring 12000 square feet (1115 square meters), including conference space. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


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Graduate Oxford

Graduate Oxford

With a stay at Graduate Oxford, you’ll be centrally located in Oxford, within a 5-minute drive of University of Mississippi and Rowan Oak. Featured amenities include complimentary newspapers in the lobby, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour front desk. This hotel has 3 meeting rooms available for events. Free self parking is available onsite.


Graduate Nashville

Graduate Nashville

With a stay at Graduate Nashville in Nashville (West End), you’ll be steps from Nashville Broadway and Vanderbilt University. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. This hotel has 6 meeting rooms available for events.


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Graduate Knoxville

Graduate Knoxville

With a stay at Graduate Knoxville in Knoxville (Downtown Knoxville), you’ll be a 4-minute walk from University of Tennessee and 9 minutes by foot from Neyland Stadium. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. Planning an event in Knoxville? This hotel has 2370 square feet (220 square meters) of space consisting of conference space and a meeting room.


Graduate Richmond

Graduate Richmond

With a stay at Graduate Richmond, you’ll be centrally located in Richmond, within a 10-minute walk of VCU Institute for Contemporary Art and Altria Theater. Featured amenities include a 24-hour front desk, luggage storage, and ATM/banking services.


Graduate Roosevelt Island

Graduate Roosevelt Island

When you stay at Graduate Roosevelt Island in New York, you’ll be in the historical district, a 1-minute drive from Roosevelt Island and 8 minutes from Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. Featured amenities include a 24-hour front desk and an elevator. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


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Graduate State College

Graduate State College

A stay at Graduate State College places you in the heart of State College, within a 5-minute drive of Pennsylvania State University and Palmer Museum of Art. Featured amenities include a 24-hour business center, express check-out, and complimentary newspapers in the lobby. Planning an event in State College? This hotel has facilities measuring 3957 square feet (368 square meters), including conference space. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


Graduate Cincinnati

Graduate Cincinnati

With a stay at Graduate Cincinnati, you’ll be centrally located in Cincinnati, within a 5-minute drive of Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Burnet Campus. Featured amenities include a 24-hour business center, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour front desk. Planning an event in Cincinnati? This hotel has facilities measuring 23000 square feet (2137 square meters), including a conference center. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


Graduate Bloomington

Graduate Bloomington

Graduate Bloomington is in the heart of Bloomington, within a 10-minute walk of Monroe County Courthouse and Indiana University Bloomington. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. This hotel has 6 meeting rooms available for events. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


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Graduate Iowa City

Graduate Iowa City

With a stay at Graduate Iowa City, you’ll be centrally located in Iowa City, within a 5-minute drive of University of Iowa and University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics. Featured amenities include a business center, express check-out, and complimentary newspapers in the lobby. Planning an event in Iowa City? This hotel has facilities measuring 9070 square feet (843 square meters), including conference space. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


Graduate Lincoln

Graduate Lincoln

With a stay at Graduate Lincoln, you’ll be centrally located in Lincoln, within a 10-minute walk of Lied Center and Sheldon Museum of Art. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage. Planning an event in Lincoln? This hotel has facilities measuring 14082 square feet (1308 square meters), including conference space. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.


Graduate Seattle

Graduate Seattle

With a stay at Graduate Seattle in Seattle (University District), you’ll be steps from Neptune Theater and 3 minutes by foot from University of Washington. Featured amenities include a 24-hour business center, express check-out, and dry cleaning/laundry services. Planning an event in Seattle? This hotel has facilities measuring 5073 square feet (471 square meters), including conference space.


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Graduate Eugene

Graduate Eugene

With a stay at Graduate Eugene, you’ll be centrally located in Eugene, steps from Hult Center for Performing Arts and 6 minutes by foot from McDonald Theatre. Featured amenities include dry cleaning/laundry services, a 24-hour front desk, and multilingual staff. Planning an event in Eugene? This hotel has facilities measuring 30000 square feet (2787 square meters), including a conference center. A roundtrip airport shuttle is complimentary (available 24 hours).


Graduate Berkeley

Graduate Berkeley

With a stay at Graduate Berkeley, you’ll be centrally located in Berkeley, steps from University of California, Berkeley and within a 10-minute walk of Zellerbach Playhouse. Featured amenities include limo/town car service, dry cleaning/laundry services, and a 24-hour front desk. Planning an event in Berkeley? This hotel has facilities measuring 2088 square feet (194 square meters), including conference space. Self parking (subject to charges) is available onsite.