I’m Steph, a Michigander turned (mostly) solo world traveler currently adventuring my way around Latin America, while my home is based in Puebla, Mexico.

But how did I get here exactly?


A day before the flight home from my first trip abroad, to Thailand, I canceled my ticket.

I gave up my comfortable life in favor of unknown opportunities and in search of something…. more.

Was it scary?


It was terrifying!

But I had more faith in my ability to find fulfillment, than belief in the empty promises of the American Dream.

I had my quarter life epiphany, and I didn’t look back.

I had to take a trip around the world to find what I’d had with me all along – myself.

Steph Valle la Luna Chile

My life wasn’t always like this.

In 2011, I graduated from Central Michigan University with degrees in Psychology and Religion. A few months later, I jumped into a marketing career at a great company with a position that was interesting and a boss that listened to me. I also worked part time as a fitness instructor. I had a pretty apartment, big Jeep, good friends, too many clothes, and could buy whatever I wanted (within reason). I was working at least 60 hours a week between the two jobs, and didn’t know why. I was content, but I never realized I wasn’t happy until I went to Thailand.

While many friends were going through quarter life crises, I was having my quarter life epiphany on my first trip overseas.

Railay Thailand Beach Selfie

After I decided to stay in Thailand, I felt exhilarated and like I was dreaming constantly – but I knew it was the right choice.

A few months after backpacking solo through Southeast Asia, I started a new job in Bangkok and rejoined the 40 hour workweek – but with new priorities, perspectives, and goals. I continued to travel every chance possible, achieving my goal to see a new city at least once a month.

A year and a half after arriving in Bangkok, something that I never thought would happen, especially in the city of Sin, did. I met the most amazing, intelligent, sweet, travel-loving man I could imagine. He asked me on a date to an Indian restaurant I’d been dying to try. It was my best (and last) first date. Ever.
Proposal in Rome 3

He proposed in April, in Rome

After Bangkok, we moved to Rio de Janeiro where I studied Portuguese, became an English volunteacher, rediscovered a love for hiking, and quit my remote working job to blog, write, and provide social media services full time.

…all while sneaking in time to travel as much as possible.

Maracuja Caipirinha Rio de Janeiro Leme Brazil

drinking Caipirinhas on Leme Beach

We moved from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Puebla, Mexico (then Mexico City and then back to Puebla!), adopted another dog, started my master’s degree, and got married!

Now? I am based in Puebla, Mexico with my lovely husband and naughty dogs, and I’m continuing to follow my passions for travel, writing, learning, and adventure while growing my freelance writing and social media consulting career – and studying to be a counselor.

Eat Mexico Street Food Tour: Tacos de Canasta La Abuela

Making friends with street food vendors in Mexico City

I love my life, and you can too.

Your life belongs only to you. Getting trapped by the notion that there is only one way to live (the ‘right way’) is the most harmful illusion we can partake in. There are a million ways to make money. Work to live, not live to work.

Choose happiness. Prioritize joy. Make the leap.

You don’t need to be a full time traveler or digital nomad to travel.  Whether you are a freelancer, part-timer,9-5er, or my personal choice: expat!, you can still incorporate travel in your life (or whatever else makes you happy!) by problem solving and planning.

Find your passion, set your priorities, design your own lifestyle, and live your best life – whatever that means to you.

It is my hope that the stories, advice, and guides I share on Joy and Journey will aid or inspire you in taking your own leap of faith in yourself.

Whether you’re looking for information about living as an expat in Bangkok, Rio, Mexico (or in general), destination daydreaming on your lunch break, or considering the path less traveled, I’m here to help.

Whether you have questions, need encouragement, are seeking advice, or really loved a post (or maybe hated it) – just get ahold of me! Send me an email, leave a comment on the blog, or look me up on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter – I LOVE to hear from readers and respond to each and every comment or message.

Caldera Canyon Oasis in Boquete PanamaThe secret of happiness is freedom.
The secret of freedom is courage.

My Travel Manifesto

I believe in travel as a catalyst for change. I believe in travel as a way to open the eyes of travelers (and locals) to other perspectives, cultures, and beliefs… while creating empathy and furthering understanding.

I believe in travel as a way to discover your dreams, to deepen your values… and to question your own beliefs.

My Most Life-Changing Travel Gear

In all of my travels, I ONLY travel with carry-on luggage. This means space is at a premium, and there are a few things I’ve discovered over the years that I won’t travel without, whether I’m lazing on a beach in Mexico, searching for sloths in the Panamanian jungle, or roaming the streets of, well, Rome!

Waterproof, Shockproof Mirrorless Camera

My Nikon 1 AW1 is my best travel buddy. It’s waterproof (you can even take it snorkeling without needing additional underwater housing) and shockproof, so I can bring it along on even the most intense adventure. This thing is also super light and compact and fits in all but the smallest purses. This is a great mirrorless camera for a beginner to learn on, and grows with you. It fits all Nikkor 1 lenses, which is great for upgrading lenses as your budget allows.

Slashproof bag

I love Travelon bags because they are also tamperproof (little zipper clasps make it impossible for anyone to sneakily slide a hand inside) and lockable, making them the perfect choice for any journey on public transport.

I have the Anti-Theft Classic Light Slim Waist Pack, which I’ve converted into a cross-body bag, and I am obsessed with it! It’s just big enough for my mirrorless camera, small iPhone, and a pen and some paper for notes. 

Travel Safe

I LOVE this PacSafe TravelSafe. I use it when my room doesn’t offer an in-room safe (or if it looks sketchy and I don’t trust it), but I also use it to secure my valuables inside my backpack to prevent pickpocketing, and even at the beach or poolside to lock my camera and Kindle to my beach chair when I get up to go into the water.

I use the pictured version of the Travelsafe, which is big enough for my camera and money and passport (and could also fit a small ipad). You’ll want a bigger one (like this) or an entire backpack/bag protector (like this) if you plan to put your laptop inside.

Universal Adapter

I keep this universal adapter and surge protector in my bag for all trips, even if I don’t think I need an adapter (you never know when a janky outlet could fry your Mac book, no bueno). I don’t want to risk it. Besides, it is small, lightweight, and barely takes up space in my bag.


File this under the purchase I thought I wouldn’t like but ended up being absolutely essential. I will not go anywhere, even the grocery store, without my Kindle. The charge lasts forever, it’s lighter than a “real” book, and it has revolutionized the way I feel about waiting. Now, I love long lines (okay that’s a bit facetious) because it gives me the opportunity to catch up on a good read. I thought I’d miss the heft of a book in my hand, the feel of the pages… but honestly, the convenience is SO worth any sacrifice. I read voraciously, and even more now that I have the world’s library at my fingertips. Literally.

Carry-On Toiletry Bottles

While I mostly travel with solid toiletries (read on for more details on THAT), if I travel with any liquid toiletries (like sunscreen), I need to move them into TSA-approved size-appropriate containers. These ones are leak proof and cute.

Solid Shampoo

I’ll throw in a solid shampoo bars have revolutionized my backpack and my showers. The idea seemed weird (like, soap for your hair?) but I am SO sold. No more tossing toiletries when you forget about size restrictions, no more leaked shampoo all over your clean clothes. Try it, you won’t regret it. I like Lush for this, especially the Godiva bar.

Solid Conditioner

When I travel, I usually bring a solid conditioner bar (I like the Big Solid Conditioner from Lush), because I used to go through so much conditioner (before I chopped my hair for Locks of Love), and it tends to leak even more than shampoo. Don’t know why. Solid conditioner bars solve ALL my problems. Or at least, some of them.


Menstrual Cup

While I wasn’t convinced at first, one try of the Diva cup and I was absolutely sold on ditching tampons for a reusable menstrual cup. It is more environmentally friendly, more hygenic, and so much cheaper!



Huffington Post: Female Travel Bloggers On The Rise

Matador Network: 11 Female Travel Bloggers Totally On The Rise

MSN.com : Top Female Travel Bloggers On The Rise


Washington Post – Tourists Really Don’t Know How to Fit in At Rio’s Beaches (to my article on Cangas)

Published Work:

Matador Network

Travel Versed




Travel Jerusalem

Journalist on the Run

The New Travelers

Living Unconventially – Podcast Interview




Worldwide Map


  • Reply
    May 17, 2015 at 9:15 am

    Im living in Tehran and I’m ready to help you enjoy your vacancies in this town
    I leave here my phone number for any things if you Needed you can call me
    See you

    • Reply
      May 17, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks Navid! When I come to Tehran I will definitely let everyone know. Thanks so much for the offer.

  • Reply
    June 1, 2015 at 4:08 am

    Good on you for having the smarts and the guts to dump the must do/should do/ and gotta do world to live a ‘i wanna do’ life. I did it ten years ago and moved to the south coast of Turkey for 4 years, a farm in northern France for 5 years, a cattle ranch in Texas for a year and now my wife and I are back on the south coast of Turkey to build a house. May the sun always shine on you and may even more amazing surprises await you in the future. http://www.southcoastofturkey.com

  • Reply
    June 4, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    This is so true. I was on a similar road to burnout before I decided to leave the country. I’d love to be a full-time traveler but it worked out for me to have a job that allows me to work remotely, within certain parameters and for my husband to ask his company if we could relocate to their office in Brazil to explore another region of the world. We live in a small city and it’s not glamorous but still an amazing opportunity I feel so blessed to have. I’m loving your blog, hence the very thorough stalking 🙂

    • Reply
      June 6, 2015 at 7:30 am

      That’s awesome! Remote working can be great for travel – when I first came to Brazil from Thailand, I was remote working for the first time ever (now freelancing)..
      I think small cities can be even better than the big ones!
      Thanks!!! 🙂

  • Reply
    June 10, 2015 at 11:25 pm

    Hey Steph, amazing that you took that initial leap of faith…! I’m a Brazilian living in Singapore, but have lived in many other places in between (US/London/Belgium/Japan). I love Rio and my heart is still there, so definitely looking forward to reading your experiences as an expat there…!


    • Reply
      June 12, 2015 at 1:42 pm

      Hi thanks!! Yes I live Rio! Cariocas are so friendly and it is without a doubt the most stunning city in the world. The beaches and mountains, wow! Every day I’m still impressed.
      I’ve been to Singapore – quite different from Brazil! How do you like it?
      I’ll be sure to check out your blog and have followed you on IG 🙂

      • Reply
        June 13, 2015 at 10:06 am

        Rio is my favorite city in the whole world, I always think of moving back…! I’m glad to hear they are treating you well!! Singer is quite easy to live in and I don’t have to worry about the things that you have to in Brazil. Will be following your journey as well! x

  • Reply
    September 10, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    I just discovered your blog through the Nestle Linqia campaign and I can honestly say — you are doing it right. My husband and I just returned from 3 weeks in Thailand and loved every second. We call Hawaii home, but are planning to uproot and move in the next year or so. You have a new reader in me!

    • Reply
      September 10, 2015 at 6:13 pm

      Hi Kait! Thanks so much for checking MyQLE out! And thank you for your kind words of support 🙂
      Thailand is seriously my heart home, I can’t wait to move back in 2017! I hope you had a great time?
      Hawaii is on my wander list… I’ve always wanted to visit (it was my mom’s dream) but I haven’t made it yet. It looks so beautiful and natural! But as I’ve experienced in Rio, sometimes a place is much better for visiting than it is for living (and vice versa as it was for me in Bangkok).

  • Reply
    November 11, 2015 at 12:56 am

    First of all, let me say I found your site at probably the most unlikely of locations – via a comment you left on airbnbhell in April 2015…I curiously followed the link at the end of your comment and read the blog post about your experiences in Rome (as I’m an AirBnB n00b, it completely opened up my eyes on AirBnB safety precautions), and then proceeded to check out other posts. Needless to say, you write awesome stuff!!

    I’m a travel enthusiast myself, not wanting the what ifs of life to escape me – I tell myself to make sure I travel at least once a year. I love the holistic view of life and travel you have and completely agree with you that there is no ‘one way’ to life. I’m so glad you’re sharing your experiences with the world via this blog!

    • Reply
      November 11, 2015 at 9:57 am

      Hey! Thanks so much for coming by! And thank you soooo much for the compliments. Yeah my Airbnb experience was definitely pretty eye-opening, and sad because I used to LOVE the platform and be such an advocate for them.

      “Not wanting the what ifs of life to escape me” – that is SUCH a wonderful line and captures the feeling so beautifully! I checked out your blog as well, it is gorgeous and really relatable. I especially like this post

  • Reply
    November 25, 2015 at 10:04 am

    Ahh I love your story! So amazing that you are living the life you want. Can’t wait to check out the rest of your site 🙂

    • Reply
      November 25, 2015 at 10:26 am

      Hi Kate! Thanks so much! I love My Spiritual Roadtrip – I’m so sad you’re done blogging but I look forward to reading your other work… are you going to share links on your blog? Also just followed you on IG, your feed is lovely! I look forward to reading more of your stuff… I’ve been veg for 16 years and am transitioning back into vegan (I stopped being vegan when I moved abroad – I miss Earth Balance and nut milks!!) and also have intense interest in self help and spirituality so finding your blog is a total blessing! 🙂

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