TRAVEL DIARIES: MEET ABRIL MURILLO
Originally from Chihuahua México, Abril Murillo is a journalist and currently, a bilingual Senior Video and Content Producer for a fortune 10 company. Now, she lives in Dallas, TX with her husband and a wrinkly Shar-pei. “On the weekends love to visit my parents who also live here in Dallas, I am very family-oriented. I love to drive fast cars on the track, dress up for Halloween and Dia de Los Muertos. I am also a foodie; you’ll find me at all new restaurant openings in town”, she tells us.
Abril is an honors graduate student from Southern Methodist University with a major in Journalism and a minor in Film and Media Arts.
“My current work position as a bilingual Senior Video and Content Producer has given me the opportunity to work on live and recorded productions all over the U.S and travel abroad to produce multiple international projects in different countries including Slovakia, Philippines, Czech Republic, Mexico, Peru, Spain, among others. As a journalist, I have worked as a reporter and editor in the United States and in Mexico. In Mexico I worked on stories during tumultuous times such as drug-war and the Mexico 2012 presidential election”. she shares.
In this interview, she shares with Zaftyg her passion for traveling. Pack your bags and get ready to read into her adventures.
What inspires you to travel?
From a very young age my parents instilled in me the love for travel. I continue to be inspired to travel because I am passionate about the new and unknown, other cultures and food so what better way to experience all of that than traveling?
Which countries have you already visited?
Mexico, U.S.A, Peru, Slovakia, Italy, Spain, Japan, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Spain, UK, Belgium, Netherlands, Croatia, France, Hungary, Austria, Czech Republic, Ireland, Dominican Republic and South Korea.
Curious facts you discovered by yourself in the last country you visited?
Puerto Rico was the last place I visited and even though it’s not officially a country, it still behaves like one so here are some cool facts I learned while I was there:
- I stayed at the Hilton Caribe, the hotel where the Piña Colada was created in 1954 by the bartender Ramón “Monchito” Marrero when he was asked to create a drink that captured the flavors of the island. The piña colada is now the official drink of Puerto Rico.
- San Juan has two of the oldest churches of the Americas. The wedding I attended was celebrated in one of them: “San Juan Cathedral” which dates back to 1540.
- I kept hearing at night a strange but cute noise, so I asked one of the hotel staff if it was birds that I was hearing. She informed me that it was actually the coqui frogs. These tiny frogs are native to PR. They are harmless and adorable. At night they make a unique high-pitched song: “ko-kee, ko-kee”, hence the name.
How do you decide where to travel and how do you prepare for it?
It depends if I am traveling for work or for pleasure. If it’s for work, I don’t have much of a choice and if it is for pleasure, several factors affect my decision. For example, when planning my next vacation, I look at airfare first. I make sure that the tickets are at a reasonable price and if not, I look at other options. If I am traveling with a purpose or for an event, then I just look for the best ticket I can find and prepare for the trip by making the most of it to make sure the money is well spent. I never go without doing plenty of research on the destination. I google things to do and try to find a blog by a local influencer or another travel blogger who normally give you nice insight into other non-touristic sites or hidden gems. With COVID I have to add to my research local health guidelines and requirements such as: Do they require a specific test to get in? If so, how many days in advance? Do I have to take the test there or before entering? Do they only accept vaccinated people? Is there a curfew? Etc.
What needs to be in your suitcase…
Depending on where I am going this might change a bit but things that stay pretty consistent are:
-Local currency. Repeat after me “cash is king”. Pretty much everywhere outside the US, the preferred (and only payment method in some cases) is cash. So, I make sure I have around $100-$200 USD in local currency to get me through the first days. If it’s a remote location where I suspect an ATM won’t be as accessible or where it might be dangerous to go to one, I bring enough for the entire trip.
-A jacket. Even if it’s summer where I am going, I bring a light jacket or a pashmina to keep me warm if there is an unexpected temperature drop. I also try to make sure the jacket is waterproof and has a hood to serve as a raincoat.
-My waterproof tennis shoes, they always prove useful when exploring in rainy climates.
-Phone charger. I always carry a charger with converters and adapters of many kinds.
-Sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
What is your favorite country so far and why?
This is always a very hard question. I plan my trips so well that I have always enjoyed all the locations I have visited so far. However, if I have to pick one, it would be Mexico. I look at it without being biased because I am from there, but it really is a top destination. It offers a wide variety of climates and there is always something to do. It is a culturally rich country with very nice people and amazingly delicious food. It has something for all tastes, from the budget conscious traveler to the luxury seeking vacationist.
What is the most important lesson that traveling has taught you?
No matter how much you think you are prepared for a trip, life is spontaneous. So really, the best preparation for traveling is to have an open mind and be ok with changes.
What are the biggest travel mistakes you have learned from?
- Try to be ambitious and include too many cities in a self-created multi-city tour. I learned that is probably best to choose a few to really get to see the city and not be exhausted by the end of the trip and barely have energy to see the last cities on the itinerary.
- Not have my essentials and one change of clothes in my carry-on. My checked bags have been delayed/ temporarily lost before and I didn’t have anything with me to spend the night without it since all of my essentials were in the lost/delayed bag. I now add a change of clothes and everything I will need for a night and the next day while I wait for my delayed bags.
- Arrive to a place without a plan. This has caused a huge waste of precious time and it has also cost me money when there were other affordable options for things such as stays, transportation or attractions.
What was the most challenging trip and why? How did you overcome the difficulties?
Puerto Rico was one of the most challenging destinations. I do want to clarify it had nothing to do with the local people who were very nice but it was mostly due to the current global pandemic. There was a curfew and I feel like I didn’t get to experience the island the same way other people did pre-COVID. Lots of places were unavailable and the typical chinchorro experience was not the same, as you were not allowed to go inside for most of them. You could only order through the window and if you were on the street, it was hard to find a public restroom unless you could find a restaurant with capacity. Also, there was barely a party scene due to the restrictions and if you could find one, you could only enjoy it for a couple of hours. I could not find a single car to rent, everything was sold out, so we had to spend more money on transportation to other beaches outside of San Juan. Everything was very expensive; I have traveled to multiple Caribbean Islands and this one was twice as expensive. I paid luxury prices for under average and in some instances mediocre services. I also struggled to find good food; I did find some good local delicacies but far less than what I was expecting. I was there for a wedding so I tried to make the most of the trip but this is the one location where I need a do-over vacation. The beaches were pretty so the ocean healed the bad experiences of the day and reminded me of the fluidity of life.
How has COVID-19 impacted your lifestyle/travels? If you did travel during the pandemic, did you feel safe?
I just gave a great example of how COVID-19 has impacted my non-work-related travels. My travels for work have simply stopped. I have not traveled internationally for work since February 2020 when I came back from Peru and the last domestic trip was the first week of March 2020 to San Diego. I must admit I do miss traveling for work, I truly enjoyed traveling with my team and visiting my local clients. Since March 2020 my traveling decreased by 80%. On the upside, I have had a chance to be more at home with my family and invest in making my apartment nicer. I have traveled a little bit during the pandemic and have felt very safe following the CDC guidelines. I am now fully vaccinated so this has helped me feel even safer on a plane and other crowded places.
What tips would you give to someone traveling alone for the first time?
- Always keep someone at home informed of your plans, especially if they change last minute. I have never done this but some people in the US even register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
- Plan to arrive during the day when possible.
- I recommend avoiding attractions or tours where you are the only one unless is an established company. Group tours can be a great place to meet people if that is your goal.
- Also, even though meeting new people can be exciting, I never trust the new acquaintance. I am always vague and never tell details that can identify me like: where I live, my full name, where I am staying, my job and I never say it’s my first time visiting the city or that I am completely alone. I recommend saying that you are visiting family/friends, but they are working that day and will meet later. This applies to uber/taxi drivers, tour guides, servers, bartenders and pretty much anyone that might just want to be friendly but it’s better not to be vulnerable by giving too much info. I also block my cell number if I call someone I don’t know for any reason like booking a tour or ordering food.
- I check my maps and directions before leaving the hotel or an establishment so I don’t look lost and on the contrary, I look confident and like I am walking with a purpose.
- In Barcelona Spain, I stopped in a crowded plaza and put my backpack on the floor to get my subway ticket and one guy approached me with the excuse that he needed directions to somewhere. Before standing up I quickly closed my bag and hugged it tightly. The guy looked surprised and looked to the side where I spotted another guy walking quickly towards me. He stopped when I made eye contact. I took a step back because I felt uneasy and that’s when they both started running away. I think they were expecting me to stand up and get distracted when helping the first guy so his accomplice could quickly steal my bag. Nothing happened that time but that’s why I recommend always being aware of your surroundings.
- Keep IDs and money on you, either inside an inner clothing pocket or invest in anti-theft bag. However, even anti-theft bags can be stolen as a whole if you leave it out of your sight while eating or doing another distracting activity even if it’s just a few seconds.
- Don’t use selfie sticks, I’ve seen too many phones being stolen on the streets because people were distracted and exposing their phones.
- Try to not dress as a tourist, especially if you are alone. Dress like the locals if you can. I know in some countries we stick out from the crowd because we might look very different physically but in most touristic metropolitan cities it is possible to blend in.
- Lastly, street performances and crowded subways are perfect opportunities to rob the crowd from valuables. So, keep an eye out for your valuables when engaging in these activities.
Where are you now and what is the next destination?
Right now, I am at home in Dallas, Texas. My next destination is Cabo San Lucas, Mexico in a few weeks. I am excited as I have never been there and will be meeting there with a group of friends.
Share with us one remarkable story of one of your trips.
The story that still moves me every time I tell it is something that happened the first time I visited the Philippines. I was there for work and I had been talking to a contractor for a big show in Manila. We talked through WhatsApp messages the entire time and I had a cartoon Grumpy Cat image as my profile image, so I didn’t realize that the guy assumed I was a man the entire time. When we arrived in Manila, we scheduled the initial meeting and I had two coworkers with me: our billing and production manager who is a tall, robust middle-aged man and my associate producer who is a young woman originally from the Philippines but raised in the USA. When we met the contractor, he first addressed my male coworker as the producer, but my coworker quickly corrected him and pointed him towards me. The shock in his eyes worried me, I immediately thought I would get treated differently for being a young woman. So, we did business as usual that day and the contractor had his young daughter with him who was translating most of the conversation. That’s also when I realized that the person, I was “whatsapping” the whole time was probably his daughter because her English was far better than his, just like the person in the text messages. My associate producer stayed back chatting with them in their dialect as it turned out they were from the same town and I left with my other co-worker to meet the client. In the days that followed, I barely saw the guy and did much of my requests through his daughter. She was inexperienced but very smart. I did think it was disrespectful that he never showed up again because he was working on other productions and most of my questions took a long time to be answered because his daughter had to get an answer from him first since she couldn’t give it to me at the moment. The show had a few technical issues and I was disappointed. It was a good show but not perfect like I wanted.
As a was leaving the venue, I had to put my bag through the metal detector and somehow a bottle of water in a bag exploded and I made a mess inside the bag that had a bunch of electronics and the show recordings. The guard quickly helped me dry my stuff and I moved away from the line that had to be shut down because there was water everywhere and people were slipping and leaving black footmarks all over the white floor. I was done…done, done with the day. I had been awake for almost 24 hours, little food, lots of stress and now the added stress from the water bottle explosion. So, I slowly sat on the floor and hugged my legs to rest my head on them. My associate producer sat next to me and softly told me: “I know this has been an intense few days, but there is something I didn’t get a chance to tell you that I think you should know. The day we met the contractor and I stayed back to chat with him, he told me he was in shock to see such a young producer but even more shocking to him was that you are a woman. He said he was very happy to see that there is a future for his daughter in this field and that he felt very inspired to let her handle the production so she could shadow you and learn from you to gain the confidence to lead the crew with you as the client. So, you inspired this young woman and showed her that the world is changing and what she wants is possible and already happening”. I had never felt more humbled in my life. The whole time I thought the contractor didn’t see me as an equal and didn’t feel the need to be there to handle the production but instead he felt inspired to finally let his young daughter handle a production. I know there aren’t that many young, minority, female producers but I never stopped to think that in some countries is unheard of. This experience gave me a taste of reality that has now become my mission: to help other young girls to pursue their dreams of working in this men-dominated field.
The best urban destination …
Mexico City (Mexico), Paris (France), Amsterdam (Netherlands) and Barcelona (Spain)
The best beach destination …
Tulum (Mexico), Boracay (Philippines) and a hidden beach near Macao (DR)
What is your favorite destination …
Tough question but I am always down to go to the Riviera Maya (Mexico)
Where have you not been and want to go …
I want to visit everywhere. I know some countries were not safe to visit even before the pandemic but maybe one day they will be. I really want to visit Germany, Greece, Kenya, South Africa, Singapore and India, as soon as it is safe to travel to these countries again.
Which countries need to be on a travel bucket list …
I recommend all the countries I have visited so far but at the top of my list are Mexico, the Philippines, Spain, Italy, France, Peru, and the Dominican Republic.
What are the most disappointing destinations …?
Again, nothing to do with the people but Puerto Rico wasn’t a great experience mostly due to COVID-19. I will have to go back when things go back to normal and compare my experience.
Which destination surprised you the most?
Amsterdam, I had never seen so many bicycles in my life. Everyone I met spoke at least 2-3 languages and it is a very open-minded city.
3 favorite restaurants around the world …
- Ramblero in Barcelona (Spain)
- Nori Hand Roll in Dallas, Tx (USA)
- Amaz in Lima (Peru)
However, some of my best meals I’ve ever had were from street vendors and small local restaurants:
- A quesadilla that melted in my mouth in San Miguel de Allende (Mexico) from a lady with a food cart at 3 AM in the morning.
- The most delicious fried fish in Macao beach (DR) from “La Doña”.
- A pot of mussels in the cost of Normandy close to Mont Saint-Michel. I am not even that big of a fan of mussels, but I still have dreams about that dish.
- The famous barbacoa tacos from my hometown Chihuahua (Mexico) more specifically from a street food cart called “El Indio”
- And any dish from “El Cuarto Blanco” in Xalapa (Mexico)
3 favorite spots…
- Chihuahua City (Mexico)- Where I was born. If you visit, try our barbacoa tacos and Chihuahua cheese and take the Che-Pe train to Creel in the Sierra.
- Dallas (USA)- Where I have lived for 13 years. Lots of great restaurants and in the summer, there are many food festivals in all the metroplex and small towns nearby. Very active nightlife (until 2 AM though) and great rooftops around downtown. A very upscale city.
- Cancun (Mexico)- Where I got married. Lots of gorgeous beaches and cenotes nearby. Home to one of my favorite restaurants that I didn’t list above which is “Rosa Negra”. My favorite nightclub “H Roof” is also there.
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