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African Village: What it’s like visiting the Masai tribe – DOPES ON THE ROAD

African Village: What it's like visiting the Masai tribe -

I was very nervous to go to the Masai village but not due to the reasons most may think. 

The Masai people are an indigenous tribe that lives in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They’re estimated at about one million people and live in local villages throughout the region. Masai are traditionalists and have resisted the urging of the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to adopt a more modern lifestyle. They are one of few groups left in the world that preserves their traditional ways. One of the ways they make money is by providing tours and homestays in their local villages to tourists. 

I’ve been on dozens of village tours before. Most of them are problematic to the point of being nauseating. The poorly run tours come off as human zoos at best and racist caricatures of cultural experiences at worst. We once participated in a village tour that went as far as to have a “put your face in the hole” style cardboard cutout of one of the villagers. They didn’t understand why we hesitated when they suggested we pose for funny pictures with our faces on the cardboard body of the guy standing next to it. That was a hard pass for me. I’ve also been to other village tours that were basically a two-minute look around a 30-minute sales pitch. Neither of those options felt authentic or educational in the slightest bit. 

Needless to say, I was a bit hesitant before this part of the trip even began. 

The night before we had a meeting around the fire pit where our Contiki trip manager told us we’d be separating into gendered groups to discuss controversial issues with the Masai people. 

 

I was immediately nervous about which group Lindsay would go with. As a gender-nonconforming person who is often unidentifiable by gender, I knew it was going to be an issue. We knew the Masai people were reading her as male and knew that the trip leaders knew she was female. We were nervous that the Maasai people would insist on her going with the male group and the trip managers would correct it and create an awkward or dangerous situation. 

It’s illegal to be LGBT in both Kenya and Tanzania and still deeply culturally taboo in both countries. In the deep logical side of my head, I knew that as white tourists the likelihood of us being attested or put in a dangerous situation in front of a tour group was very low but I couldn’t shake the anxious gut feeling I had in my belly. It was anxiety to the extreme from a place of fear for the person I love – but it made me want to opt-out of the experience completely. 

Ultimately, Linds made the choice to go and I stuck by her decision. 

Moses is the deputy chief of the Masai village.

Early the next morning the Masai Chief, Joseph and his deputy Moses arrived to walk us to their village in the middle of Amboseli National Park. As we walked across the rust-colored savannah, kicking up dust in our wake, Chief Joseph explained the traditional uses for the plants and animal droppings along the way. We walked along the road. Well, it wasn’t much of one anymore and ended up winding our way through the bush while impalas, ostriches, and a few giraffes often rushed through the landscape. 

Maasai-Village-tour-house

The village was tiny, consisting of several bomas, which is the name for the Masai houses enclosed in a circular fencing structure. 

The village looks like it’s straight out of the pages of National Geographic. 

I’m not going to sugar coat it – I’m also struggling a bit while writing this article. The coverage of most African countries in the western world is limited, biased, and incomplete. The narratives are almost always revolving around starving children, war conflicts, extreme poverty, and a lack of infrastructures like electricity, plumbing, and freshwater sources. While this is a reality for many people throughout the African continent, it is not true to the whole population. Remember, Africa is huge. You could fit America nearly four times inside the continent. With an area that large, filled with wildly different cultures, it’s unfair to generalize. 

Before I left the US, I promised myself I’d write a fair and accurate reflection of my encounters. I would report the truth of my experiences and not dwell on the typical issues. But then I got to Kenya and witnessed first hand many of the issues I swore I wouldn’t dwell on. The Masai DID struggle with infrastructure issues, food scarcity, political corruption, and poverty. Not only the Masai villagers but many people throughout the ten different regions of Kenya and Tanzania we visited. Being very honest, my month in East Africa was one of the more difficult travel experiences I’ve had. Tourism in East Africa is impacted by hundreds of years of colonial oppression, which has resulted in many white tourists being treated like walking ATM machines. I get it – when your family is struggling, hounding a few tourists to buy your products is a no brainer. Nonetheless, witnessing extreme poverty, struggling with travel-related illness, and being asked for money at every turn makes for a challenging travel experience. 

Massai People

That being said, our visit to the Masai village in Amboseli was one of the most culturally immersive experiences I’ve ever had and I’m a tough critic. I don’t have any judgment for communities that provide less authentic experiences or the tourists that support them but for me contrived and choreographed isn’t for my liking. I’m less interested in the voyeuristic aspects of the villages and more interested in learning about the people and their way of life. 

I chose to participate in this tour because I wanted to support an authentic travel experience and I’m pleased to say that it truly is an immersive experience that supports local entrepreneurship and provides a genuine cultural exchange.

When we arrived at the village after our walk we were told that we were allowed to take photos of whatever we’d like and we’d be introduced to the Masai way of life by contributing to the village through regular chores. I laughed nervously because I thought he was kidding, I’m a city kid through and through I wouldn’t know what to do with a cow if it looked me dead in the eyes – nope. He was serious. 

Upon reflecting on this experience, I loved that we started this way. We weren’t greeted by some dance performance, like other tours do, but were casually introduced to family and friends living their daily life.

Charity leads us through a demonstration of Masai home repair.

Chief Joseph introduced us to a woman in her late 20s named Charity. She spoke English well and was going to instruct us in the art of Masai home repair. Women build houses using tree branches, ashes from the fire and cow dung as a means of binding. They asked us to help demonstrate and most of the group eagerly grabbed a handful of fresh cow turds to fix one of the village homes. It was a great ice breaker and forced the group to reacclimate themselves to a new environment. People in the group were laughing and cracking jokes with the Masai women as they smeared handfuls of cowshit along the cracks in the houses to patch holes. After you’ve taken massive piles of shit to a shit covered wall by hand, you’re really able to reassess your expectations for an afternoon. 

Members of the Contiki group showing off their fresh cow dung.

After Masai home repair 101 we were lead through a goat milking demonstration by Charity and were taken to view the village animals. We learned about the Masai way of life and how villagers live traditionally on meat, blood, and milk. Nowadays, the Maasai are able to trade meat, milk, and goat cheese in the nearest town for vegetables and other foods but for the most part, they still stick to the traditional diet. The one difference is that Elders usually reserve the drinking of cow blood for during celebrations and ceremonies. During the goat demonstrations, we learned about the importance of livestock to the livelihood of the community. We learned that cows are often treated as currency and used in every aspect of the Masai lives. From the cowskin beds to the meat they eat, to the ability to trade animals for dowries and as a means of financial exchange. 

Maasai-Village-Goat-Milking

One of the members of the Contiki group learning to milk a goat.

Masai children start learning to care for and grazing livestock at a very young age. Sometimes as young as 3 or 4 years old in a group of children. At that age, most American children aren’t left alone in a room – let alone free to graze their goats for 10-12 hours. 

Throughout history, the Masai people traveled with their herds to grazing lands but now the government has stopped their nomadic lifestyle and encouraged them to put down permanent villages. This change has resulted in Masai men traveling with the herds to seek grasslands and water while the women and children stay in the village. 

Afterward the goat milking demonstration, the Masai Chief, Joseph lead us through the village and showed us how the men build fires using two sticks and donkey dung to create friction. The guys in our group enjoyed the opportunity to attempt to make fire themselves, let’s just say they weren’t quite as skilled as the warriors. 

Masai tribe fire building 101.

Society for Masai people is extremely gendered and there are few – if any – opportunities for Masai women. After the fire demonstration, we separated into two groups. Lindsay opted to stay with the women while our Tour Manager, Haron smoothed over the gender questions expertly and discreetly. Haron was incredible in this situation and couldn’t have been more amazing.

What came next was perhaps the most interesting part of our entire trip. We sat for just about an hour with a group of roughly 10 Masai women ranging in age from 18-48. The majority of the women were in their late 20s and all of them were married and had children. We were allowed to ask as many questions as we liked and in turn, they could ask us questions. The women were all dressed in brightly colored fabrics over patterned dresses and wearing Masai sandals made of recycled motorcycle tires. Some of the women had small children on their hips and many of the women bore the marks of body modifications and deliberate facial scarring. 

We learned about marriage, childbearing, and typical women’s work in the village. We learned that Masai women make beautiful beaded jewelry during the day and spend their time collecting firewood, water, and taking care of their families. Eventually, the questions became more in-depth and covered issues of sex, women’s rights, birth control, and other controversial issues. 

Maasai marriages may be polygamous, but one-sided, in that a man may take several wives and bare many children, but a woman may not. Eventually, we learned that women are the property of their husbands or their fathers in the village. In Masai culture, cows are the currency. When a man wants to marry, he must pay the father of the bride in cows. The more cows one has, the wealthier they are. They are literally buying and selling women at the whims of the men in the community. While I was listening to these women speak of their lives, they were very nonchalant about being beaten, living in plural marriages, and living an existence of hard labor and childbearing. As I was sitting and listening to these women speak, there was a sting in the knowledge that here in Kenya the divine arithmetic valued one man as the balance for countless women. No matter how hard I try to understand this cultural difference, I cannot justify the lack of personhood and agency of choice that was so apparent in these conversations. 

While many of the questions were factual or deep or hard to hear, some of them were light and funny. 

Contiki Traveler: “Do you have any questions for us?”

Louise – Masai woman: “How do you have sex? Is it in the day or the night? What positions are you allowed to be in? How often? What does the light look like?

For the most part, the questions they asked us were the same questions any group of late 20s and early 30s women would discuss over drinks. They were funny, smart, and insightful. It was a pleasure getting to know them. The conversation allowed us to learn and understand the personalities of these women. It humanized them and made them more accessible as people to our understandings of each other. 

One of the women we talked to was Suzanna – 48 years old and the fourth wife of her husband. After 8 children she was now on birth control. The women said they were content with their lives and lived in the village by choice but also complained with a smirk about forced sexual relations with their husbands and how they don’t enjoy it because they didn’t want to fall pregnant. Even during pregnancy Masai women have to work in physically demanding roles. In a village where there is no electricity, no running water, and illnesses are treated by drinking the blood of a cow or goat, it’s hard to even have a conversation about equality. The question hovering on my lips during this conversation was if the reason they did not enjoy sexual activity was due to Female Genital Mutilation. Traditionally, Masai women undergo a procedure at or around 15 years old that involves surgically removing the clitoris, the labia minora, narrowing the vaginal opening for nonmedical reasons. I couldn’t bring myself to ask about another person genital trauma even when we were talking about other body modifications like ear gauging or the practice of facial scarring of children. 

Contiki Kenya

Masai children at the local elementary school.

While many of these traditions are falling out of practice it’s not for the reasons one may think. For example, plural marriages are less common than they used to be but not because of some women’s liberation spreading through the villages but rather the more wives and children you have the more expensive it is. Another practice that’s falling out is the tradition of young boys hunting a lion as a rite of passage into manhood. Not because the people believe less in the importance of a show of masculinity but because the governments of Kenya and Tanzania have forbidden the poaching of endangered animals. 

Chief Joseph of the Masai Tribe

While we were chatting with Chief Joseph, who spoke impeccable English, we learned that he is dedicated to improving the conditions of the village and modernizing. In one breath he was showing us the medicinal uses for elephant feces and in the next breath, he was talking about the importance of a college education to the children of the village.

When I asked him why he opened his village to foreign tourists, he said, “We do these tours because we want you to go back to your country and talk about what you learned in this community and about my culture. I want to uplift my people and this community through education and exposure to those who are different than us. I made school compulsory for everyone in our village. We’ve already seen the fruits of our work because we have had many children complete their high school and go to Nairobi university and then come back and uplift our village as teachers and nurses and other occupations. One of our biggest issues is that the Maasai cannot work in the [tourist] lodges because few have the education and experience necessary to be a guide or work in tourism. Education is a very big problem for us and tourism is the key to education.” 

While Chief Joseph is obviously passionate and dedicated to his people, it’s hard to shake the clearly misogynistic viewpoints prevalent in the culture. When asked by one of our male Contiki travelers if they’d ever elect a female chief the men laughed and said it would never be possible to trust a woman to lead them. 

Our actual experience ended up being an incredible learning opportunity. While moralistically, I obviously have differing viewpoints on human rights issues, but I tried to view the experience with an open mind. We learned about the daily lives of the people in the village by talking to them directly and participating in their everyday routine. We learned how they repair their houses and how they milk their goats to make cheese. We learned to build fires and talked about their economic systems. While Lindsay did get a few glances and was asked what her gender was,  she was quickly accepted once she took a side.

As we were leaving the village I couldn’t help but wonder how I’d tell this story to an audience of LGBT people in the most privileged countries in the world. In a society where everything is gendered down to who tends the fire and who fixes the houses, how could they relate to being between genders? 

What I ended up discovering is a people at a crossroads between cultures. While the Massai in some areas have limited access to modern facilities. The internet is still more widely available than plumbing. I couldn’t stop watching the modern marvel of a Maasai woman talking on her cell phone while carrying a gigantic tank of water on her head back from the water hole. I was surprised to learn that while electricity is scarcely available and only by solar panels, social media still plays a role in the lives of Maasai people. I naively and perhaps ignorantly assumed that a people living without modern infrastructure would have no time or need for Instagram, but the reality is social media and smartphones have allowed the Maasai people a window outside of their villages and into the broader world. A few of the villagers asked to stay connected with people in our group via Facebook and WhatsApp. Many of us eagerly agreed. Regardless of how isolated we are, the internet provides us an opportunity to connect with others and build an understanding of cultural differences. While not all village tours are created equally, the one I experienced with Contiki showed me a window into another way of life.  If I learned one thing during my trip to the Massai village, it’s that relatability moves us to empathy.

Want more information on Contiki and Africa?

The Ultimate Contiki Review: Do Contiki Tours Live Up to the Hype? – DOPES ON THE ROAD

The Ultimate Contiki Review: Do Contiki Tours Live Up to

Before I started this blog, long before I ever had stamps in my passport or had traveled internationally, I used to stalk Contiki on social media. For years, I thought of international travel as an unattainable desire that only became a reality for those with rich parents or much older people who’d landed big bucks jobs. The Contiki tours were different. The photos were packed with young smiling people in places I’d always dreamed of exploring. While the trips weren’t free, they weren’t millions of dollars or out of the realm of possibility. Contiki was a brand I felt like I could trust because it was relatable to my reality in ways other travel companies just weren’t and had to experience on my own – which is why we headed to Africa the first time around for our Contiki Egypt and the Nile Adventure. Once we had our first taste, we couldn’t get enough. Which is why we signed on to be Contiki’s LGBT ambassadors.

We’ve been brand ambassador’s for Contiki for the last six months and every time I mention them on social media I get an avalanche of questions about the Contiki experience. We work with Contiki because we believe in their product as an ideal gateway to traveling the world. Particularly when you’re visiting areas that are harder to get to or more risky for women and LGBT travelers. In this post, I’ll be taking some time to deep dive into all things Contiki. I’ll be discussing all your questions and will cover everything from accommodations, types of travelers, food, activities, tipping, transportation, and more.

What is Contiki?

Contiki is a powerhouse tour company that takes 18 to 35-year-olds on 350 trips to 60 countries across six continents, with 300 different itineraries and eight different types of tours. Contiki makes travel easier and more social for young people. Contiki travelers have been able to explore remote towns in Peru, spot the big five on safari in Tanzania, explore the Californian Old West, circle around southern India, visit ancient cities in Japan, and go trekking in the jungles of Guatemala. 

Contiki Africa Reviews:

Lesbian couple on camels together in Egypt.

Is Contiki Right for you?

How well you know yourself often impacts how well you choose your travel style. There are hundreds of variables that impact travel preferences. With that, I’ll go through some of the pros and cons of Contiki tours. 

Pros of Contiki 

Contiki is Cheap 

While travel is rarely truly cheap, traveling with Contiki is a more affordable option than many others. They always have last minute booking deals, regularly have sales, and have a variety of budget travel options. Plus they always have lower prices than many of their competitors. 

Great way to make friends 

One of the biggest differences between Contiki and some of the other major group travel brands is the emphasis on creating a Contiki family. In the beginning of the tour, there are usually mixers, ice breakers, and other group activities to really bond the group together. Connecting with like-minded people is one of my favorite parts of the Contiki experience. You get to meet people of a similar age with a shared passion from all over the world which not only opens your social networks but also opens your world view and helps you see from other perspectives. 

LGBT SAFARI

Everything is done for you

One of the hardest parts of travel planning is working out all the logistics. Contiki does all of the annoying details on your behalf. You don’t need to know how much public transit from the airport to your hotel will cost or what the schedule of the local train is because they pick you up from the airport. You also don’t need to pick your accommodations or figure out how to get from point A to point B or know the best times of day to go to your favorite attractions. You just have to show up and they’ve got it figured out. 

Perfect for harder to visit destinations 

There are some destinations that are difficult for independent travel. With a group you’re able to blend into a small crowd, you have help navigating difficult physical and cultural terrains, and you always have a translator on hand should you need one. 

Traveling with a similar age group

While intergenerational travel can be amazing, sometimes you want to see the world with a group of people around your age and life experience. Chances are you’ll have more in common with folks in your age group than say a family of 5 on holiday or a set of retirees. 

Contiki East Africa

Helpful in a bind 

Shit happens when you’re on the road lost luggage, wrong visa form, medical issues – I’ve seen it all. When something goes wrong it’s always nice to have someone on the ground to help you in a bind. Especially when they speak the local language and understand the local culture.

 

Cons of Contiki 

Don’t control your schedule 

While this is a pro for some people, it’s a con for others. Contiki does have some flexibility with their “Me Time Options” but they’re a group tour and thus have a set itinerary. For those with long term flexible travel plans, it can be hard to leave a place you’re having a great time exploring before you’re ready. 

Waiting for other people 

With a group tour, comes group mentality. You’ll inevitably end up waiting for someone or something in a long line. 

Tanzania

Less local food options 

During the tour experience, some of your meals are included. Some tours have more than others included. On both of our Contiki experiences, most of the meals were included but they were mostly buffet-style meals with very few local dishes to choose from. While this makes sense in a Safari camp with no restaurants for hours around us – it’s one of our favorite parts of travel that we really missed on our Contiki tours. 

Contiki Styles of Travel

No two people are exactly the same, which means no two travelers will ever be the same. Which is why Contiki offers different travel styles help you find the perfect experience for you. Some travelers want to see as many different places as possible and some want to explore one location really in-depth. The styles are broken down by the length of trip, speed of travel, number of countries visited, and budget. Ultimately the choice is yours but with 350 different trips to choose from, you can be sure they have something that fits your travel style, budget, and time available. Here are a few of the styles to choose from. 

Contiki Discoverer

The Contiki Discoverer is for adventurers who want to see it all and do it all. These trips are fast-paced and hit lots of destinations in a short period of time. This trip is perfect for those short on vacation days who really want to explore. The Discoverer trips offer more options included in the trip price and visit lots of different locations. 

See Contiki’s Discoverer Trips

In-Depth Explorer

The In-Depth Explorer traveler is for the traveler who wants to spend more time in one region or country and really get under the skin through local explorations. The In-depth trips are culturally rich and really take a deep dive into the destination. 

See Contiki’s In-Depth Explorer Trips 

Iconic Essentials

The Essentials tours are available exclusively in Europe but allow travelers to stretch their budgets. Every day will have planned activities but will also include “Free Time Add-On” activities for those who’d like to purchase additional tours and activities. This leaves the choice up to the traveler and allows you to customize your trip while keeping costs low. 

See Contiki’s Iconic Essentials Trips

Sailing & Cruises 

Want to explore Croatia by land, sea, and surf? The sailing cruises are available in Australia, Asia, and Europe and are a great way to set sail for alternate waters. 

See Contiki’s Sailing and Cruises Trips

Short Trips & Festivals

Short trips and festivals are all about holidays and events. Ever wanted to spend New Year’s Eve in New York City? There’s a short trip for that. Want to experience Octoberfest first hand? There’s a short trip for that. The short trips are for life’s moments and memories and are the perfect add ons to longer trips. 

See Contiki’s Short Trip & Festivals Trips

Ski & Snowboard

Keep it cozy all winter long. The fun doesn’t have to stop during the winter months. Make new pals to ski the slopes with or apre all day. Either way, the choice is yours. 

See Contiki’s Ski and Snowboard Trips

Camping

Sleep under the stars and really cut back on costs with Contiki’s camping tours in Europe and North America. Choose the Original for 46 days of European adventures or visit Alaska and experiences the great arctic north. 

See Contiki’s Camping Trips

Why Go On A Guided Tour?

Group tours are undeniably and easier way to travel. If you’re traveling with friends, all you need to do is pick a tour and then tell everyone else that’s what you’re doing. They can settle payments directly with Contiki and your itinerary is set so there’s no debate on what hotel to stay at and no-nonsense around collecting payments for each aspect of the trip. If you’re traveling solo it’s a great way to meet new people and split costs. It’s also safer in some regions of the world and offers you insight into the lives of people from other countries. 

Contiki Kenya

Who is The Contiki Traveler?

Contiki has a bit of a reputation for being a party bus galavanting around Europe. In some destinations, that’s true. The Contiki Original, for example, is not for the faint of heart. It’s 46 days of camping around 22 countries in Europe. It’s a whirlwind trip where you get to experience a huge chunk of the continent but are doing so at breakneck speeds. During the Original, you’d expect to see most of the travelers in their late teens and early twenties from mostly English speaking countries around the world. 

The age varies based on your destination and style of travel. Both of our trips to Africa were skewed much older. The youngest was 25 and the oldest 35 with the average age hovering around 30. There are a few reasons for that. One safari travel is more expensive than hopping on a bus around Europe. But also, people who are interested in experiencing cultural destinations like Egypt or India are more likely to be visiting because they want to experience the history and attractions more than partying. Don’t get me wrong, folks on both of our trips enjoyed more than a few cocktails but on these trips, nightlife wasn’t the focal point of the adventures.

Contiki Safari

Both of our trips had a solid mixture of introverts and extroverts but some trips are better suited for folks who need more downtime from social interactions. If you’re an introvert try to find a smaller group trip with lots of “Me Time Optionals” so you can choose to allocate your time more effectively. 

Generally speaking, you’ll find more women on the trips than men but the breakdown is somewhere between 60/40 or 70/30 so it’s not as dramatic as you may think. Contiki is an Australian based company so you’ll meet tons of Aussies but also Brits, South Africans, Kiwis, Canadians, and Americans. 

Contiki for Solo Travelers 

One of the beautiful parts of Contiki is the group bonding and togetherness that they emphasize on this trip. For our most recent tour, we had 13 travelers and only two groups of two people came with someone they knew. If you’re traveling by yourself odds are there will be at least half the group on their own or only traveling with one other friend. People go on Contiki tours to make friends and connect with people around the globe. 

Contiki for LGBT travelers 

Contiki has gone out of their way to improve the experiences of LGBT travelers on their trips. They’ve hired an LGBT professional development company to conduct trainings with their national-level staff. They’ve created content centered around the LGBT experience and have worked with tons of LGBT content creators. Contiki is a safe and welcoming option for LGBT people looking to experience group tours but also a great way to explore anti-LGBT destinations or regions of the world that are less welcoming and affirming. 

Contiki Africa

What Are the Activities Like on a Contiki Trip?

Each Contiki trip is a bit different because each destination is a bit different but for the newly added African tours offer a wide variety of activities. Contiki has four new trips to take travelers to South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, and Kenya, and there will be five extension trips to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, visit the beaches of Zanzibar or see the gorillas in Uganda. The tours feature iconic African adventures like spotting the Big Five, witnessing the Great Migration in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, visiting Victoria Falls, river rafting on the Zambezi River, bungee jumping off the bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia. As you can see, the adventures vary widely from beach lounging to adventure sports to nature spots. 

Contiki Kenya

Accommodations 

The accommodations vary widely depending on which trip you’re doing. Most Contiki trips will be booked at 3-star hotels, but some trips will be at hostels or camping if you’re doing a budget trip. For both of our Contiki adventures, we had incredible lodging options. We stayed on a Nile river cruise boat for three nights, had an adventure on a sleeper train car that converted into a hotel room, and stayed at several beautiful resorts. On the East African Safari, we stayed at several gorgeous luxury tented camps and had the opportunity to sleep side in the Savannah side by side with African Safari animals. 

contiki east africa

Transportation

Transportation is always included in the price of the Contiki tour. Generally speaking, you’ll be on a bus between locations. On the upside, you’ll have lots of time to get to know your fellow travelers and you’ll be able to cover a lot of space in a short period of time. On the downside, there is usually lots of bus time. Contiki trips are fast-paced, action-packed trips that do a great job showing the highlights of a destination or region. While the ground transportation is included, the flights to and from your destination are generally not included.  

Food 

Each Contiki adventure is a bit different when it comes to food so you’ll want to read the trip information thoroughly to see what’s included. On both our Contiki adventures, the vast majority of the food was included. Which makes sense when you think about the destinations. There aren’t any restaurants in the middle of the Serengeti. On both trips, the majority of the food was served buffet style and was catering to a western audience. While each buffet had one or two local dishes they seemed to be toned down for the western pallet. This is one area where we’d like to see Contiki improve. We love trying local foods and experiencing the flavors of a destination. 

Contiki Ethics 

Today, we live in a world where climate change is no longer a threat but a reality, communities and ancient traditions are being lost and over-tourism is negatively impacting some of the planet’s best-loved destinations, your travel choices have never been more important. Where we travel, the activities we participate in, and how we treat the locals have dramatic impacts. Giving travelers the chance to make their travels matter is at the very heart of the Contiki experience, which is why they have a range of sustainable travel experiences built into trips across the world. Contiki Cares focuses on supporting people, wildlife, and the planet through their effort to support local organizations of marginalized people, animal welfare projects, and environmentally friendly initiatives. By 2022 Contiki has pledged to rid their supply chain of all single-use plastics. In partnership with ME to WE, Contiki also offers ethical volunteer activities alongside a local community in Latin America or India. Click here to read more about the Contiki Cares initiatives

Tour Managers & Contiki Staff 

On every Contiki adventure, you’ll be partnered with a Tour Manager. Their job is to ride along with you for the entirety of your stay and make sure everything runs smoothly. They act as a tour guide, impromptu translator, and handle all things bureaucratic. From helping you exchange currency to buying SIM cards to getting you through immigration – they’ve got you covered on all the pesky details that come with travel.

In Europe, the guides are from all over the world, but on both of our African Contiki’s we had local guides and local drivers who were able to help us learn more about our destinations. We loved being able to connect with them to learn about the more personal experiences they had growing up in the area and what it’s like for them and their families. 

Contiki East Africa

Cost & Payment Options 

Contiki is well known for its flexible deposit, flexible payment options, no change fees – which is very different than most tour providers. The majority of their trips only require a $200 per person per trip deposit. It varies based on destination though so make sure you read the trip description information when booking. You don’t have to pay for everything all at once. Once you have paid a deposit for your trip, you will be able to pay part or all your outstanding balance through their online portal called “ Manage My Booking”. Contiki accepts all major credit card and debit cards from Visa, Mastercard, and American Express. 

Tipping & Extra Costs 

While Contiki never has any hidden fees, the trip price listed on the website will have detailed information on what is covered. Keep in mind that you’ll need to book your own airfare in advance and that you’ll want to budget in money for visas, vaccinations, souvenirs, drinks, tips, and other personal expenses while on the road. In your Manage My Booking section on the Contiki website, you’ll find all the details for which visas you might need, shots required for the destination, your itinerary, and all the extra booking options for additional activities. In most destinations, you’ll be encouraged to tip your Trip Manager, drivers, servers, and other staff. This varies widely depending on your trip so be sure to ask what’s appropriate for your destination before departure. 

This post was created in partnership with Contiki, as always – all opinions are our own. 

8 Tips for Traveling in Kenya  and Tanzania as an LGBT Couple – DOPES ON THE ROAD

8 Tips for Traveling in Kenya  and Tanzania as an

East Africa is for the experienced LGBT traveler. It’s a region of the world that has been impacted heavily by evangelical colonialism, poverty, and political strife. Any of those three issues would dramatically impact a traveler’s experience but the three of them combined makes for a particularly advanced travel experience. When you toss into the mix legal issues for gay Tanzania travel you’re really diving headfirst into the advanced travel territory. 

Every time I discuss traveling to anti-LGBT countries, folks make the argument that we shouldn’t support countries that don’t support our people. The simple, obvious solution is to avoid traveling to these countries. But if you did that, you’d be missing out on Jamaica, Russia, India, Indonesia, and the Maldives just to name a few. And where do you draw the line on this? What about large countries where the policies vary in different regions? Areas like Texas and Kazakhstan don’t officially have bans on LGBT people, but they do have laws that look very similar to the Russian anti-propaganda laws the world erupted over during the Sochi Olympics.

Limiting yourself to countries that have anti-discrimination laws in place and are supportive of LGBT identity can be a safer solution while traveling, but this solution results in LGBT people missing out on almost 43% of the world. And that’s not right, these regions are rich in culture. Everyone should be able to learn from and enjoy them.

We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have the first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. In many situations, the government of a particular destination is not always representative of the people. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be. This guide is a starting point for your research. I’m not trying to persuade anyone to make choices they’re uncomfortable with, but I would like to empower and equip LGBT travelers with the information we need to be able to make the best choices for each of us individually. 

Understand Local LGBT policies

Both Kenya and Tanzania are anti-LGBT countries. There’s no other way to put it. It’s illegal to be gay there and there are policies in place that can land people in jail if they were discovered to be a member of the LGBT community. That being said, the vast majority of the arrests that are made are of local people. I don’t say this as an endorsement but rather a statement of fact. Tourists are rarely arrested in these situations because even anti-LGBT countries are familiar with the acceptance of LGBT people in western countries around the world. Unfortunately, both Kenya and Tanzania have a lot of work to do in terms of women’s rights and LGBT equality. Society is still extremely gendered. This table shows the LGBT policies in Kenya and Tanzania the only difference is that being LGBT is punishable by life in prison in Tanzania and 14 years in Kenya. This is accurate as of the Fall of 2019 but will hopefully be changing in the near future. 

LGBT-rights-in-east-africa-table

Do you pass as straight/cis?

It’s shitty that I even have to go here, but passing as straight and cisgender can be a huge privilege when you’re traveling through one of the 70+ countries that have anti-LGBT laws. When you pass, you can fly under the radar and don’t have to worry about being identified as a member of the community. Unfortunately, the majority of our community doesn’t have that option. We can’t just turn off our queer identifiers. Have you ever seen a man in a suit and known immediately that he was gay? How’d you know? Sometimes it’s not about the clothing we’re wearing or the length of our hair but about deeper held mannerism, our voices, height, and other attributes we have no control over. Being self-aware and knowing if you can pass or not will help inform your travel choices. 

Consider Group Travel

We decided to travel on an organized group tour with Contiki because they specialize in travel for 18-35-year-olds. We figured that demographic of traveler would be the most accepting and inclusive of us as a couple and we’d be able to blend into a group of other people around our age. The other travelers in our group were very accepting of us as a couple. In fact, ¼ of the travelers identified within the LGBT community. Some of them were very open about it and others disclosed their identity quietly away from the group. It was interesting to see how people felt about disclosing in an area where our identity is criminalized. LGBT issues and our identities were openly discussed without hesitation or fear amongst some of us while others decided to avoid the conversation altogether. 

LGBT SAFARI

Be Cautious with Bureaucracy 

There were a few times where we were nervous and those all involved bureaucracy or extremely gendered spaces. Before we landed in Nairobi, Linds put on eyeliner, mascara, and I asked her to put on lipstick to up her “imma girl factor.” We thought if she was solidly identifiable as a female we’d have fewer issues going through immigration and securing our visas. We’d heard stories of people being turned away at the borders before. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work in the way we thought it would. We were the last people in line at immigration and the immigration officer asked if Linds was my husband despite the hot pink lipstick. How very progressive🤣We got through immigration just fine. One of the officers laughed at Lindsay while gesturing to her and chatting with another officer. But other than that there was nothing unsafe or unusual about the border crossing. For transgender and gender nonconforming travelers, I would not recommend going to Kenya and Tanzania with a passport that doesn’t match your gender expression. 

 

Consider your digital footprint 

Right before we left for Kenya, we had read several reports of people having their tech devices were taken and their social media channels went through at immigration. For us, it would be painfully obvious that we’re LGBT and a couple which would have caused some major issues at immigration. While we knew there was a low probability of this happening we took a “better safe than sorry” approach and wiped our phones and laptops before the trip. It was actually a lot easier than expected. We backed them up to the cloud before we left. Did a factory reset and then when we returned we logged back into our ICloud using apple ID and everything returned just as it had been. While this is extra and probably not necessary for most people, it gave Lindsay peace of mind as we were going through immigration. 

LGBT Tansania

Avoid PDA 

This one seems obvious. 

Pay Attention to Local Gender Norms

In both Kenya and Tanzania society is extremely gendered. Many daily jobs, chores, and daily routines are assigned by gender. There were several awkward conversations that we experienced that were rooted in the gendered aspects of their society. One time, Lindsay said she wanted to see a lion hunt and one of the guides told her that he wasn’t sure if she could handle it because most women cry when they see a lion take down another animal. Another situation was on a farm tour where the guide said a plant was an aphrodisiac but only for women and gay men because they’re basically like women. We opted to avoid that conversation rather than unpack all the levels of problematic. 

Avoid Gendered Spaces When Possible 

Bathrooms, one of the struggles Lindsay usually has wasn’t as much of a problem as we initially thought it would be. All of the accommodations had private bathrooms and a surprising number of bathrooms during game drives had a single-use bathroom available. The only time we ran into an issue was when we visited the Maasai Village and they separated us by gender for our controversial conversations portions of the trip. We had the option to opt-out of the visit to the village, but at the last minute decided not to and I’m really glad we didn’t because it ended up being one of the best parts of the trip. Read more about our trip to Maasai Village. 

Massai People

This post was made possible through a collaboration with Contiki. As always, all opinions are my own.

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48 Hours in Knoxville, Tennessee

48 Hours in Knoxville, Tennessee

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When people think about traveling to Tennessee, Knoxville is usually not the first destination that comes to mind, and Knoxville is often overlooked in favor of more famous Nashville or Memphis. However, you may want to reconsider your travel plans next time you find yourself in the Volunteer State.

I just spent a few days in Knoxville and was surprised how many cool things to do I found in Tennessee’s third largest city. From whiskey to craft beer, hearty Southern cuisine to upscale dining, from street art to contemporary art, from historic architecture to local shops, from kayaking to hiking – there’s something for everyone in Knoxville.

If you have a couple of days to spare, spend two nights in Knoxville – and you’ll barely have enough time to get a little taste of everything the city has to offer. Read on for my guide on how to spend 48 hours in Knoxville – including where to eat in Knoxville, where to drink in Knoxville, where to shop in Knoxville, and what to do in Knoxville.Knoxville Tennessee

3pm: Explore Downtown Knoxville

Start your explorations of Knoxville right in the heart of the city: the historic Market Square. This large, rectangular square was established in 1854 as a marketplace for local farmer and is now a pedestrian area with several independent shops and restaurants.

If you enjoy shopping, make sure to check out Earth to Old City, which has a fantastic selection of unique gifts, accessories, clothes, furniture and decorative items and Earthbound Trading, where you find clothes, jewelry, and some home goods like candles, soaps, glasses and artisanal body care products. Fizz is another shop right in Market Square that is worth a visit, a boutique selling women’s clothes and jewelry. If you happen to visit on a Wednesday or a Saturday, you can also visit the local farmers market and bring back local produce such as honey.Knoville Market Square

Continue your stroll to Charles Krutch Park, just south of Market Square, where you find a number of sculptures – almost like a sculpture garden. Every spring, many of the sculptures are replaced with new art installations, making this an interesting park to check out every time you visit Knoxville. From Charles Krutch Park, turn east towards Gay Street, the main street of Downtown Knoxville. In the mid-19th century, most of Knoxville’s commercial activity took place around here, and many historic buildings have been preserved.

Architecture lovers should take note of the Italianate-style Fidelity building (502 Gay Street), the historic Farragut Hotel (which now houses a Hyatt Place Hotel), the Tennessee Theatre (604 South Gay Street), the East Tennessee History Center (601 South Gay Street), the Bijou Theatre (803 South Gay Street), and the Neo-Classical building that used to house the Holston National Bank, built in 1913, which was the city’s tallest building for a long time (531 South Gay Street).knoxville Gay Street

For a sweet treat, stop at Cruze Farm, a beautiful ice cream shop modeled after an old-fashioned soda fountain. This shop is worth visiting for the creative ice cream flavors, such as blackberry topped with lemon cookies and cheesecake bites, and drizzled with honey. They also have a couple of dairy-free options. Just across the street, a little further north on Gay Street, you find The Phoenix Pharmacy, which is an actual old-fashioned soda fountain serving house-made ice creams, milkshakes, floats and sundaes and is more of a sit-down place than Cruze Farm. The Phoenix Pharmacy is in fact an independent pharmacy in the back of the soda fountain.

If you are a history buff, you’ll want to continue your stroll further south towards the Tennessee River. Just one block from Gay Street on E Hill Street you find the Blount Mansion, designed by William Blount, a signer of the United State Constitution, who was also the first and only governor of the Southwest Territory and who played a significant role in Tennessee becoming the sixteenth state. The mansion is also known to be the first frame house built west of the Appalachians, and one of the oldest houses in the Southern interior, dating back to 1792. Blount Mansion is open Tuesday to Friday from 9:30am – 5pm (March through December) and Saturday from 10am to 2pm. Guided tours run hourly, but note that during the winter months tours are by appointment only.Blount Mansion

Tip: If you are planning to tour more historic homes, consider buying the Historic Homes Of Knoxville Combo Ticket. For $25, you get admission to seven historic homes: Blount Mansion (1792), James White’s Fort (1786), Marble Springs (ca. 1797), Ramsey House (1797), Crescent Bend (1834), Mabry-Hazen House (1858), Westwood (1890).

If you prefer shopping to history, turn west on Union Avenue (south of Market Square) for some shopping: The Tree & Vine has an amazing assortment of olive oils and balsamic vinegar, spices, hot sauces and salsas, as well as kitchenware. The Casual Pint, right next door, is a craft beer market for beer lovers selling rare artisanal beers from small U.S. and global microbreweries, and Union Ave Books is a well-stocked independent bookshop. Coffee lovers should stop for a quick caffeine fix at Pearl on Union, right next door to Union Ave Books, which has amazing espresso creations, including Café Miel, a honey latte.Union Ave shops

6pm: Get on the whiskey trail

For an aperitif, head to Knoxville’s Old City. At the northern end of Gay Street, turn right on W Jackson Ave and you’ll find yourself in what used to be the industrial hub of the city. The former Jackson Freight Terminal (205 W Jackson Ave) is now home to PostModern Spirits. The distillery has a small bar where you can sample handcrafted whiskey, gin, vodka and a liqueur made from natural botanicals, grains and fruits while watching them being made right next door in a large depot.

PostModern Spirits is one of two distilleries in Knoxville that are part of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail, a group of 26 distilleries across Tennessee. You can choose between tastings (they have whiskey, gin and amaretto flights) or classic cocktails. I had my eyes set on a whiskey flight, but ended up going for a cocktail from the seasonal gin cocktail menu, because every single one of the gin drinks sounded divine (and my strawberry gin cocktail did not disappoint!)Postmodern Distilling

7.30pm: Dinner – Burgers & Bourbon

For a hearty dinner, head back to Market Square. At Stock & Barrel, you can combine gourmet craft burgers (made with locally sourced ingredients) with bourbon. The whiskey menu is mind-boggling: in addition to Tennessee bourbon, you can choose from a large range of rye whiskeys, Japanese whiskeys, Irish whiskeys, and Scotch. Stock and Barrel Knoxville

For a more upscale dinner, I recommend J.C. Holdway, which focuses on farm-fresh Appalachian dishes with a unique twist by James Beard award-winning chef Joseph Lenn. The sophisticated dishes – many of which are made using a wood-fire grill – are creative and unique, and I loved the bright dining room with large windows. If you enjoy cooking, sit at the counter facing the open kitchen to watch the chefs – an added treat to a memorable meal. I recommend reserving a table.

JC Holdway
Buckwheat Risotto with Broccolino and Carrots

9pm: Live Music

Nashville and Memphis may be more famous for live music, but do yourself a favor and finish your evening with some live music – this is Tennessee after all! It is worth checking out a listing of live music events on the dates you’re visiting Knoxville, because there is live music seven nights a week, and many artists include Knoxville in their tour itinerary. I was lucky enough to catch Amy Ray live at the historic Bijou Theater, which was a great concert in a beautiful venue, but also check out this full list of live music venues in Knoxville and this Knoxville event calendar to see what is going on where.

For jazz, head to The Bistro at the Bijou, where you can listen to live jazz every evening Wednesday through Sunday while sipping on a handcrafted cocktail. This is one of things to do in Knoxville you shouldn’t miss.Knoxville Live music

If you want to skip live music, head to Peter Kern Library, a speakeasy bar accessed through a little alley next to The Casual Pint on Union Ave (the bar is located inside the Oliver Hotel). The library-themed bar has an exquisite cocktail menu that come in antique books with drinks named after literary characters such as Holly Golightly and Anne Shirley. I loved the intimate feel of the bar itself, which has a fireplace, cozy booths with comfortable couches and bookshelves filled with literary classics.Peter Kern Library

9am: Brunch

Head to The Bistro at the Bijou for a large breakfast in Knoxville’s oldest restaurant – there has been a dining establishment continuously since 1820 in this space, and the Bistro at the Bijou has been open since 1980. The menu combines classic brunch dishes and southern fare, and brunch cocktails are only $3.50.

Bistro at the bijou
Summer omelette with squash, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese at The Bistro At The Bijou

10am: Time for art!

Knoxville has some fantastic art, and the Knoxville Museum of Art, which is free, is the best place to start your artsy morning. The art museum is located on the western side of the World’s Fair Park, which is just southwest of Downtown Knoxville. It focuses mainly on regional Tennessean art and has a small section dedicated to contemporary art.Knoxville Museum Of Art

You can combine your visit of the Art Museum with a stroll through World’s Fair Park, which is where the World’s Fair took place in 1982. The only two structures remaining from the World’s Fair are the Sunsphere, a 266-feet tall tower that houses an observation deck and the amphitheater. The Sunsphere can be visited for free – take the elevator to the top and enjoy a 360-degree view over Knoxville. The park is also home to several fountains and lawns, making for a pleasant stroll.worlds fair park knoxville

Tip: If you happen to visit Knoxville on the first Friday of the month, I recommend checking out the Knoxville ArtWalk. It takes place on each first Friday of the month, and art galleries, artists studios and art collectives offer special evening hours, open houses and artist exhibits. You can find more information here.

12pm: Explore Knoxville’s Old City

From the World’s Fair Park, head back downtown. The northern part of Gay Street is part of Knoxville’s Art District, and there are a number of galleries here. Don’t miss the Emporium – Arts & Culture Alliance, a spacious arts space showcasing art and photography by local artists. The University Of Tennessee Art Gallery is worth a visit, as is Jack’s Of Knoxville, a small shop focusing on locally made items, such as prints, mugs and cards – great for gift shopping.Knoxville Old City

From here, head further north to the Old City, the part of town that became Knoxville’s industrial hub when the railroad arrived in 1850s. Many of the old factory buildings that were abandoned after the city’s significance as industrial center have been renovated and over the past couple of decades, revitalizing the Old City. Most buildings are now home to cafes, restaurants, independent shops, boutiques and art galleries and were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Southern Terminal and Warehouse Historic District.

Take a stroll along W Jackson Drive, where you find galleries and shops, including Rala (112 W Jackson Ave), which is worth a stop for its unique gifts by local artists, and Awaken Coffee (125 W Jackson Ave), which has tasty coffee creations in an artsy setting. Turn right on S Central Street, where you’ll find more restaurants and shops. If you love beer, stop at Pretentious Beer Company to sample some of their craft brews, and to watch them blow beer glasses. Pretentious Beer pride themselves or being the only in the world where you can drink beer made in-house, out of glasses made in-house. But Pretentious Beer would be worth a visit for the names of the brews alone – you’ll find beers with names like ‘Embrace Joy, Dammit!’, ‘Masturdate’, ‘Pillowy Fluff Fluff’ and ‘Basic Beach’ on the menu here.pretentious beer company

1pm: Gas station lunch

If you are already hungry, I recommend having lunch in the Old City. There are a number of great restaurants around here, including OliBea (they focus on breakfast, but also have yummy bowls and tacos, and you can enjoy food from OliBea with your beer at Pretentious Beer next door) or Good Golly Tamale (they have different tamales, including several vegetarian and vegan options).

If you’re not hungry yet, continue your walk to North Knoxville. Walk north on Central Street all the way up to the Central Filling Station, a food truck park on the site of a former gas station. In addition to food trucks, there are games for kids and a large sitting area, and a bar that sells craft beers.central filling station

2pm: Craft Beer Crawl

Speaking of craft beer: there are two breweries right by Central Filling Station: Schulz Bräu, which is modeled off of a traditional beer garden, and Elkmont Exchange, which in addition to beer also has an extensive food menu. Both of these breweries are part of the Knoxville Ale Trail, which is why they make the ideal starting point for a beer crawl. There are around 20 breweries in Knoxville, and many of them are in walking distance of one another: perfect for a self-guided brewery tour.

The Knoxville Area Brewers Association developed a Knoxville Ale Trail Passport which you can get for free in any of the participating breweries and which also contains a map with all participating breweries. In each place you visit you can ask for your passport to be stamped and you can claim a reward at the end, depending on how many breweries you manage to visit: Four breweries get you a sticker, ten breweries a glass, and if you manage to visit all breweries, you’ll be rewarded with a T-shirt.balter beerworks

For a beer crawl, include the following breweries in your tour:

  • Schulz Bräu
  • Elkmont Exchange
  • Crafty Bastard Brewing
  • The Pretentious Beer Co
  • Balter Beerworks

These are all within walking distance from Downtown Knoxville. A little further away, but easy to reach in an Uber, are Abridged Beer Company, Alliance Brewing Company and Last Days Of Autumn.

Alternatively, you can just hop on a guided craft beer tour with Knox Brew Tours – this way, you’ll get to learn more about craft beer brewing and you also get to experience some of the further away breweries.Breweries Knoxville

Alternative afternoon: North Knoxville Antiques Shopping

If beer is not your thing, don’t worry! There are plenty of things to do in Knoxville that don’t require downing beers, and North Knoxville will satisfy shoppers, and especially antique aficionados.

You can start your afternoon with a sweet treat at Wild Love Bakehouse, in “The Happy Holler” district. The bakery sells French pastries, biscuits, cookies and other pastries – and everything is incredibly tasty.

Right next door are Mid Mod Collective, a shop for mid-century modern furniture and accessories, and The Book Eddy, a great used book store. Walk further south along N Central Street, and you’ll pass several other stores worth peeking inside: Chance’s Antique & Auction, Magnolia Records, Chance’s Antiques, and Friends Antique & Collectibles.

If you are a fan of antiques, you will love all of these, and make sure to also stop at Time Warp Tea Room, amazing vintage biker club / restaurant filled with motorbike memorabilia and old motorbikes – a must-visit for any motorbike fan. Across the street from Time Warp Tea Room is the excellent Central Flats and Taps, a restaurant that specializes in flat breads and has, as the name suggests, plenty of beers on tap.North Knoxville Shopping

On the way back to Downtown Knoxville, don’t miss Old Gray Cemetery. Old Gray was established in 1850 and is known for its grand monuments, Celtic crosses, Victorian-era marble sculptures (often angels), obelisks, elaborate carvings on many of the grave markers and headstones. The cemetery was created during a time when it became more popular to create larger, park-like cemeteries, rather than simply placing headstones next to a church. There are weeping willow trees and oaks, making for a beautiful, peaceful atmosphere. Look out for the Horne Monument – an almost life-size Confederate soldier guarding the graves of two Confederate veterans.Old Gray Cemetery Knoxville

Saturday Evening Entertainment in Knoxville

For your evening entertainment, check out the This Weekend events section on the VisitKnoxville website to find the best events – there is always live music, or you could join a Paranormal Adventure Tour, join a sunset dinner cruise or, if you spent the afternoon brewery hopping, continue your craft brew tour.

For dinner, head to Kefi in the Old City for sophisticated Mediterranean food (with a focus on Greek food) or to Cru Bistro & Wine Bar on North Gay Street for a wide variety of wines and shareable small plates.

kefi knoxville
Kefi in Knoxville’s Old City

9am: Brunch

Head to Balter Beerworks for their scrumptious weekend brunch – they don’t only know how to make beer here, but Balter also serves a delicious brunch (some people say it’s the best brunch in all of Knoxville!). In addition to beer, they serve wine and cocktails. And did I mention $1 mimosas and a special $4 beer cocktail named “Baltering Mary”?balter beerworks knoxville

11am: Time to be active – Paddle, hike or zip across the woods

Knoxville has some great outdoors activities, and after eating and drinking your way around Knoxville, it is time to burn some calories.

SUP & Kayak: If you are a water enthusiast, rent a paddle board and do some stand-up paddling on the Tennessee River. I rented a board at Volunteer Landing Marina for $10 per hour, but Billy Lush Boards & Brew also rents paddle boards and kayaks (single kayaks / board are $20 per hour or $31 for two hours; tandem kayaks / canoes are $30 per hour or $41 for two hours). If you want to spend time out on the river with a larger group, consider renting a pontoon at Volunteer Boat Rentals – a half day rental (9.30am – 1.30pm or 2.30pm – 6.30pm) is $217.41; a full day is $272.03 and the boat fits up to ten people.Knoxville Outdoors

Hiking: Another great activity is the hike to Fort Dickerson Quarry. From Downtown Knoxville, this is just a 30 – 40 min. walk, and you can reward yourself with a dip in the turquoise water at the end (depending on the time of year you’re visiting). The hike is pretty year-round, offering scenic vistas over the quarry from a couple of viewpoints along the way.

The most extensive network of trails is a 10-min cab ride from Downtown Knoxville in the Ijams Nature Center. This Nature Center consists of forests, wetlands, an abandoned quarry, wildlife, and 40 miles of trails. No matter if you enjoy walking, kayaking, rock climbing or mountain biking: you will love Ijams.

Canopying: If you are an adventurous traveler, you will love Navitat Canopy Adventures, an obstacle course through the treetops. This is a fun challenge in a beautiful nature setting: you traverse ropes, balance over narrow elevated bridgeways (and some of them include a few hanging chunks of wood, to make it more difficult to get across), zipline between trees – all high up in the air. I thought a couple of hours here would be enough, but I could have easily spent all afternoon challenging myself to all six ample canopy adventure trails.Ijams nature center

1.30pm: Lunch south of the river

Before leaving Knoxville, there is time for one more great lunch. I suggest venturing down to the south side of the river, where you find a number of great eateries (and a couple of breweries, if you’re still thirsty!) along Sevier Street. SouthSide Garage has food trucks and a well-stocked bar with local craft beers, South Coast Pizza has divine pies in a rustic setting, Landing House serves Asian food (with a focus on Cambodian and Vietnamese dishes),

the landing house
Asian-style eggplant frites at The Landing House

Beer lovers will appreciate Alliance Brewing Company and Printshop Beer Company, as well as Hi-Wire Brewing, which just arrived from Asheville, NC.

For dessert, stop at Gelato Brothers, where you can indulge in flavors like lemon pie, mango or Belgium dark chocolate, or enjoy one of their unique coffee creations.

  • The Tennessean – Elegant 5-star hotel in World’s Fair Park, just west of Downtown Knoxville. Named ‘The top hotel in the South’ by Southern Living. Rooms start at $179 per night
  • The Oliver Hotel – Fabulous boutique hotel in a remodeled 1876 building; part of the Southern Living Hotel Collection. Rooms start at around $250 per night.
  • Hyatt Place – Located right on Gay Street in the heart of Knoxville. Great rooftop bar. Rooms start at $195 per night
  • Residence Inn by Marriott – In the center of town, one block from Gay Street. Large suites with a seating area and a flat-screen TV. Breakfast included in room rate. Rooms start at $178 per night
  • Courtyard by Marriott – Shared building with Residence Inn, one block from Gay Street. Courtyard offers less amenities and smaller rooms than Residence Inn, slightly cheaper. Rooms start at $168 per night
  • Holiday Inn – Solid budget choice, located right in World’s Fair Park. Rooms start at $145 per night
the tennessean
The Tennessean and World’s Fair Park

Both the Uber and the Lyft taxi apps operate in Knoxville, and I never had to wait long for a rideshare. But I opted for other modes of transportation more often than I requested a Lyft – because Knoxville also has bicycles and electronic scooters which make it easy to get around the city.

The Pace bicycles are the cheapest option, offering the first 30-minute ride for free and then only charging $1 for every half-hour ride. In half an hour, you can get pretty much anywhere in Knoxville. Download the Pace app and click on the map to find the closest bikes.

As for scooters, you can choose between two companies: Spin and VeoRide. I would’ve used either one – because in some locations I could only see Spin scooters, in others I spotted VeoRide scooters but no Spin scooters – but wasn’t able to take a Spin for a spin because I needed to upload a valid U.S. driver’s license to access the app, which I don’t have. To ride on a VeoRide scooter, a driver’s license wasn’t required.

The scooters are easy to unlock and use via each respective app, but be aware that they only work between 7am and 9pm, and that there are several ‘No Ride Zones’, where the scooters don’t work. Both companies charge $1 to unlock a scooter and $0.15 per minute during the ride.

You can download VeoRide here and Spin here.

If you enjoy walking, it is also possible to visit all of the places mentioned in this article on foot, except for the Ijams Nature Center, which may be a little far.spin scooters knoxvilleFor more ideas what to do in Knoxville, check out Visit Knoxville.com.

The Ultimate Guide to an African Safari: How to Prepare for Your East African Travel – DOPES ON THE ROAD

The Ultimate Guide to an African Safari: How to Prepare

I’ve wanted to go on Safari for as long as I can remember. There is nothing quite like seeing elephants and lions in their natural habitat. When I was asked which tour I wanted to take as Contiki Ambassador, I knew the East Africa Safari was the one that made my heart sing. I wanted to experience the tent camps but I also wanted to see first hand what Kenya and Tanzania were like. I wanted to visit the local villages, taste the local cuisine, and see firsthand what these beautiful countries are like. 

Useful Swahili Words 

Jambo – hello 
Karibou – welcome 
Asanti- thank you 

Quick Facts About Kenya & Tanzania 

  • 70% of the coffee in Europe comes from Kenya 
  • Kenya is also the world’s largest exporter of black tea 
  • Another large industry in the region is the exportation of flowers
  • 43 tribes in Kenya 131 in Tanzania 
  • Swahili is spoken as a common language in Kenya but the national language is English
  • Tanzania national language is Swahili
  • Both Kenya and Tanzania call their currency Shillings

What is Contiki?

Contiki is a powerhouse tour company that takes 18 to 35-year-olds on 350 trips to 60 countries across six continents, with 300 different itineraries and eight different types of tours. Contiki makes travel easier and more social for young people. Contiki travelers have been able to explore remote towns in Peru, spot the big five on safari in Tanzania, explore the Californian Old West, circle around southern India, visit ancient cities in Japan, and go trekking in the jungles of Guatemala. 

Contiki is an Australian tour company focused on travelers aged 18-35 years old. Contiki believes that life’s greatest lessons are learned through travel. That real life doesn’t happen when you color inside the lines. It’s only when you break free, trust your impulse, and intentionally live with your eyes wide open, that you become the person you’re meant to be. This is what it means to live life with no regrets. Their philosophy is so closely aligned with the way that I view travel that I knew I had to experience a Contiki adventure.

Contiki East Africa

Each tour has a standard set of included activities that come with the tour, but they also offer additional activities that you can choose to enjoy for an additional cost or not – it’s really up to you. Contiki offers flexibility through their 8 ways to travel, 5 ways to stay and endless free time and options. Some tours are on a shoestring budget and some are a little more luxe. It really depends on what style of travel you’re most interested in pursuing.

All the tours come with transportation, generally in the form of coach bus travel – but some include inter destination flights as well. Each tour also includes most of the meals and a tour guide with knowledge and experience traveling within your destination.

Contiki Africa 

Contiki has four new trips to take travelers to South Africa, Tanzania, Botswana, Namibia, and Kenya, and there will be five extension trips to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, visit the beaches of Zanzibar or see the gorillas in Uganda. The tours feature iconic African adventures like spotting the Big Five, witnessing the Great Migration in the Serengeti or Masai Mara, visiting Victoria Falls, river rafting on the Zambezi River, bungee jumping off the bridge linking Zimbabwe and Zambia. What makes Contiki’s tours in Africa unique to other tour companies are the small group sizes, premium accommodations, and 18-35 years old. The local guides get you super close to the wildlife in East Africa in the 4WD, seven-person safari jeeps — fitted with pop-up roofs for 360-degree viewing and large sliding windows so you can really see it all.

Contiki Kenya

Contiki Africa Reviews:

What to Expect on an African Safari

Over the course of 13 days, we experienced the great migration. We witnessed a young lioness take down a wildebeest and a cheetah mother protecting her cubs from a pack of hyenas. We saw families of elephants treading through marshes and a group of three male lions so close to the car we could have touched them. We stayed in beautiful safari glamping tents with comfy beds, fresh linen, hot showers, and private bathrooms camped out under the stars of the savannah. While game drives were a large focus of the trip we were also able to experience a baby elephant orphanage, giraffe center, two different village tours, and a visit to a local school. We had the opportunity to connect with Tanzanian people with disabilities through a tour of the Shanga workshop where they train and employ people with physical limitations. And we were offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to take a hot air balloon ride over the Serengeti for wildlife spotting from above.

What Should You Wear on Safari?

We read dozens of blog posts about Safari appropriate gear before we left, it turns out that most of them were bordering on ridiculous. They said everything from “don’t wear color, you’ll scare the animals” to “you’ll need intense hiking boots” spoiler; most national parks in the region don’t let you get out of the car. You can wear whatever you want on Safari and be just fine. We do have a few recommendations for gear, packs, camera equipment, and a few helpful clothing items we do recommend. But please don’t believe that you’re limited to 15 shades of khaki. Click here for more on what to pack for Safari. 

Contiki Safari

Getting to Nairobi

The flight was super long. There’s no way around the super long flights unless of course, you’re from a country in Africa. Our flights from Los Angeles had two layovers and checked in at just over 35 hours of total travel time. Getting through the airports and immigration in Nairobi was super easy because we ordered our Kenyan visas ahead of time. Once we were out of immigration I quickly spotted the Contiki sign and we got our cab without any issue. The ride from the airport to the hotel was about 45 mins but the driver was super friendly and pointed out the sights along the way. 

Is It Safe to Travel in East Africa?

Unfortunately, being from the United States, Lindsay and I have spent most of our lives being exposed to unfair and sometimes blatantly incorrect media representations of African people and culture. We knew it was important to explore areas of the world first hand without making rash judgments about entire populations of people. Which is one of the reasons we decided we wanted to visit Kenya and Tanzania in the first place? Neither country is without their problems. 

Both countries won independence from their respective colonizers in the 1960s and both still struggle with political turmoil, voter suppression, government corruption, terrorism, and extreme poverty. Despite technically being a democratic republic the government of Kenya looks very much like a family dynasty. They have only had four presidents and the current president is the “son of the first president, the political protege of the second president and the grandson of the third president.”

The political corruption and subsequent issues with violence have resulted in a major drop in tourism – which is one of the region’s biggest industries. As you can imagine, the drop in travelers visiting Kenya and Tanzania has resulted in financial struggles for people working in tourism, hospitality, and service-related jobs. People who need money to feed their families behave differently than those who are comfortable and financially stable. 

That being said, Contiki has done everything they can to ensure the safety of travelers. I never felt unsafe during my time traveling with Contiki and there was only one time where Lindsay felt nervous. We had stopped at a local market and a mentally challenged man grabbed Lindsay’s arm while begging. That could have happened in any country but was particularly alarming because of the strength of the man and the lack of language. Being surrounded by people in a large group combined with the yelling and the aggressive sales tactics made the situation very stressful at first but after our guide, Haron spoke to him in Swahili he let go. 

Contiki Safari

At one point, our jeeps pulled up to an entrance gate and we were surrounded by local women from the village. They surrounded our group asking us to buy their trinkets. They pulled the windows open and stuck their hands inside the jeep with their wares and were unrelenting with the sales tactics. They have different ways that they try to get you to buy. All of them are aggressive and forceful from the western point of view. Of course – this isn’t every Kenyan or Tanzanian merchant – these are just some of the behaviors we witnessed while we were there.

According to the US Department of State, East Africa is a risky travel destination – to be fair they also say France is a risky travel destination. But when you’re properly prepared and traveling with a group you’ll avoid most of the risks associated with traveling solo.

Vaccinations & Malaria 

So – this is the part that always gives our relatives a stroke. Until this trip, we’d never had a travel vaccination. We’re also not doctors. This is general information on medical preparations but you should visit your doctor for specific information on your unique needs. 

This may come as a surprise, but other than Yellow Fever, the only required vaccines for entrance into Kenya and Tanzania are part of the regular compulsory vaccines done in most western countries. Most of you will have had these done as infants or small children.

Required Vaccinations for Tanzania:

  • Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis
  • Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Polio
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow Fever*

Getting vaccinated depends on a number of factors:

  • Where you’re traveling to in each country are you visiting a rural or urban area?
  • Recent local outbreaks like cholera for instance?
  • Length of stay?
  • What your accommodation will be a local village, tent camping, or a luxury resort?
  • Activities you’re going to be involved in working with animals, volunteering at a village, drinking local water?
  • Your medical history 
  • Vaccination history 
  • Are you traveling overland borders?

Recommended Vaccines for African Travel 

Cholera

There have been a few isolated incidences of cholera in recent years in Tanzania. It is transmitted via contaminated water and food. It can cause painful stomach issues and is fatal 20-50% of the time. 

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is an STD which is also transferred by means of contaminated blood. There is little risk of contracting Hep B in Tanzania but this is one that many people are required to have in western countries now. 

Rabies

Rabies is prevalent in most countries around the world. Rabies outbreaks do occur from time to time in Africa but the chances of getting rabies from a safari animal are extraordinarily low. But some people get it as a precaution against stray domestic animals like dogs and cats. 

Influenza

If you are planning a gorilla trek as part of your safari in East Africa, you definitely want to get vaccinated against influenza. Gorillas can contract influenza from humans. You don’t want to put these already endangered animals at risk.

Yellow Fever Vaccinations for Travel to Kenya and Tanzania

Unfortunately, we didn’t do our research well enough on the required versus recommended vaccines in advance and ended up having to have the Yellow Fever vaccines at the land border station crossing between Kenya and Tanzania. That was the result of traveling overland between the two countries. If you are traveling by land Yellow Fever is required. If you’re flying from the US directly into Tanzania or coming directly by air from the US into Kenya without crossing between the two or continuing on to another African nation, the Yellow Fever vaccine is recommended but not required. Our vaccines cost $50 USD per person at the land border and took about 10 minutes to have done. While we don’t recommend this because it takes 14 days for the vaccine to be effective in your body, it can get you over the border in a bind. 

How to get a Yellow Fever Vaccination in the US 

Yellow fever vaccine is only available at a limited number of clinics in the United States. The only US-licensed yellow fever vaccine (YF-Vax) is in short supply. All of the North American travelers on our trip had harrowing tales of acquiring their shot. Either via major financial costs or time-consuming processes. One person even had to coordinate the schedules of 8 different people in his hometown because once open, the vial is only good for 30 minutes. In an effort to not waste the vaccine they asked all 8 people to be aggressively on time to their appointments and did all 8 vaccines right in a row. The first step to getting a yellow fever vaccination in the US is checking with your insurance provider to see what travel vaccinations are covered. The second step is determining what vaccines are necessary for you with your general practitioner. The third step is finding a traveler’s vaccination clinic in your area using the CDC’s locator site.

Malaria Medications for East Africa Travel 

Malaria risk is high throughout the year in the whole country. Malaria precautions are essential. Avoid mosquito bites by covering up with clothing such as long sleeves and long trousers especially after sunset, using insect repellents on exposed skin and sleeping under a mosquito net. Check with your doctor about the appropriate antimalarial tablets. Generally speaking, doctors will recommend atovaquone/proguanil, doxycycline, or mefloquine. 

Traveling in Kenya  and Tanzania as an LGBT Couple

Lesbian-couple-tanzania-posing-with-safari-vehicle

Both Kenya and Tanzania are anti-LGBT countries. There’s no other way to put it. It’s illegal to be gay there and there are policies in place that can land people in jail if they were discovered to be a member of the LGBT community. That being said, the vast majority of the arrests that are made are of local people. Tourists are rarely arrested in these situations because even anti-LGBT countries are familiar with the acceptance of LGBT people in western countries around the world. Unfortunately, both Kenya and Tanzania have a lot of work to do in terms of women’s rights and LGBT equality. We’ve written at length about why we choose to travel to anti-LGBT destinations, but I’ll briefly summarize our feelings by saying this if local people have the first-hand experience with LGBT people they’re more likely to think favorably of our community. People cannot be expected to accept that which they have no positive experiences. That being said, not every traveler wants to be an activist and you shouldn’t have to be. For more Check out Traveling in Kenya and Tanzania as an LGBT Couple.

Accommodations 

The accommodations on this trip were beyond anything we could have imagined. I’d split them into two categories, Jacaranda Hotel and Gold Crest Hotel were city hotels with all the glorious fixings you can imagine. All of the other hotels were safari lodges and tent camps. The tents were as far from North American camping as you can possibly imagine – but in a good way. 

Safari Lodge

The city hotels had gorgeous properties with nice spa and gym services. They both had beautiful restaurants with a wide variety of local and western foods. They were the perfect starting point and midpoint for the trip. The Jacaranda Hotel was a very comfortable and relaxing way to start the journey. We arrived a day early so we were able to enjoy the spa, get massages (one hour only $35!) and beat the jetlag before our fellow travelers arrived. The Gold Crest was a week into the trip and much needed. We’d been in the tent camps with spotty wifi service and 4:30-5:00 AM wake up times for the previous week. The day we spent at the Gold Crest was perfect for recharging, enjoying some familiar comforts and checking in with those back home before setting off for another round of game parks. 

Tent camps

That being said, the tent camps were incredible. Our rooms were giant safari tent on concrete. It’s basically a mix of a cabin and a tent and a hotel room. Each tent was fitted for two guests. With large comfortable beds, fresh comfy linens, and bathrooms with hot water showers. All of the tents had gorgeous balcony spaces that were perfect for that early morning cup of tea or evening. journal session. Some of the tents were built on cement platforms and had wooden roofs overhead, while others were just large tents about the size of a regular hotel room. Either way, we loved the tent camps and enjoyed watching the giraffes and zebras graze in front of our rooms. One of the best evenings of the trip was a night where thunder and lightning storm rolled into camp just before bed. Laying under our bed net listening to the sound of rain on the roof of the canvas and wood was so beautiful and relaxing. 

Food in East Africa

On the Contiki East African Safari, the vast majority of the food is included. It’s usually a combination of western dishes and light local fare. We didn’t have a problem finding something to enjoy. Each morning we’d have a buffet of fruit, cereal, pastries, yogurts, sausages, and beans. We’d also have the option to order freshly cooked eggs. I opted for a Spanish Omelette almost every day. The coffee in this region of the world – is astoundingly good. Which makes sense because they’re at the source. Every morning the camps would serve a fresh pot alongside steamed milk – heaven in a mug at 6:00 AM. 

Each day we were served box lunches with more food than one person could possibly eat. Each box had a piece of chicken, mayo sandwich, a packet of crackers, hard-boiled eggs, sweet crepes, cupcake, chocolate bar, yogurt, juice box, and three pieces of fruit. Unfortunately, the boxes were loaded into the car in the early hours of the morning and then sat for the day until we’d eat them around 1-2PM. For the first few days of the trip, we danced around the issue of eating warm unrefrigerated meat, dairy, and eggs. We only had a handful of bathroom stops per day and most folks were worried about getting upset stomachs without the use of the facilities so many people just opted to not eat their lunch or only eat parts of the lunch. By the end of the trip, we had far more “vegetarians” than we started out with. 

Safari Lunch food

For dinner each night there was a buffet-style spread with several options. Some of the camps had a made to order station where they made fresh chapati or garlic butter naan. Alongside several different entree options, some local and some western favorites. The soups at dinner were fan favorites amongst the travelers because they’re freshly made with local veggies, unlike the canned versions we’re used to back home. 

The best food was by far at the Thorn Tree Camp. They went above and beyond to create delicious family-style meals with a wide variety of options. Each meal felt like a feast. 

Some of our vegetarian travelers struggled a bit with the meals because some camps had a better understanding than others. At one camp the manager asked one of our vegetarian travelers if she’d eat fish to which she replied, “uhh not really … but I guess… if I have to..” But other camps were incredible and offered a wide variety of veggie-friendly options. It varied. 

The one thing I will say about the food is that this trip was wildly eye-opening in regards to food privilege. We visited several villages, a school, and witnessed the effects of food scarcity at nearly every turn. While we were enjoying three-course meals, the headmaster of the school we visited down the road, said one of their biggest issues was that the government stopped providing lunch to the students and their families couldn’t afford to feed them. Some students walked as far as 9 miles to get to school each day – without any food. When we toured the classrooms you could visibly see which students were clearly malnourished. It was something that I had known in the back of my mind was a reality of living in this region of the world, but seeing it first hand is a very different experience. 

After we visited the school we started to think differently about food. Each day there was tons of food leftover from our lunch boxes. One day we decided to sort the boxes and hand it out to shepherd boys along the road. In Kenya and Tanzania, children are offered free public primary education. However, less than 30% go on to secondary school and the barriers to accessing free early education are steep. In Tanzania, we saw far more children working in the fields than we did in Kenya but that could have been for multiple reasons. 

After lunch that day, we sorted the food by type and decided to hand it out to the local shepherd boys along the side of the road. We split the 6 boxes into the two cars. Lindsay and I were sitting in the back of the safari car and each had a box. Mine was filled with treats and Lindsay’s had juice and yogurt. We pulled up alongside a field with 7 boys who were working as shepherds tending to sheep and goats. The two oldest were around 7-9 years old and the smallest around three or four. We started handing the food from our window to the boys. They swarmed the windows crying and begging for food. One of the biggest boys started hoarding all the food to himself and cracked one of the other boys in the face with his fist so he couldn’t get to the window. He started stealing the food from the smaller boys as well. He ended up with an arm full of at least ten items while the tiny boys had nothing. He reached his hand into the window and tried to pull more food from the box in Lindsay’s lap. We tried to get food to the other smaller boys but it was getting out of hand so the driver told us we had to leave. While this was our experience, the other car handed out their boxes without issue. 

Market in Kenya

Apparently, it’s illegal for people to accept food from tourists because the government doesn’t want the villagers to become dependent on tourism as a means of gathering food and they were worried that it would result in hungry people circling safari jeeps and scaring away tourists from visiting. Which would dramatically impact the economy of the region. 

To be very honest, this is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen in my travels. I’ll never forget the look of desperation on the faces of the smaller boys. After many conversations amongst our groups, we realized that we all had our hearts in the right place. We saw a need and were trying to fill it, but the reality is – every solution comes with additional problems. The solution to mass hunger is very obviously not a few cupcakes, yogurts and juice boxes handed from rich white tourists in a $70,000 Land Rover. The issues are broader than that – they’re systematic and need to be dealt with on an institutional level, but it doesn’t make it any easier to be able to witness their need and not be able to provide the most obvious solution – food. 

I’m not a sociologist – I’m not an expert in hunger or the socio-political landscapes of the pan-African continent. I can just tell the stories of what I witness. We hope this complicated and important topic gets more attention. 

Water in East Africa

Visitors to Kenya and Tanzania should only drink bottled water. We struggled a bit on this trip because we’d like to limit the number of single-use plastics we consume – but there were few options for water consumption. In Kenya, many of the safari camps we stayed at were owned by the same company which provided glass bottles of water. Many people on our trip brought reusable water bottles with the intentions of filling them from a larger source, but there were no larger sources to fill them. We were each offered two free plastic bottles a day and had the option to pay for additional water at the lodges. In an area of the world where contaminated water literally kills people – it felt rather foolish to make an issue of freshwater in plastic bottles.

Access to clean water is a very large issue in East Africa. The need for more clean, safe drinking water is imperative throughout Africa. By drinking contaminated water, people are at risk of potentially fatal diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and fatal diarrhea. According to the Center for Public Impact, 40% of East Africans live without access to clean drinking water. Being from a country where we flush our toilets and shower with drinking water, I’ve never been more ashamed of my water consumption. It made me really think about what I was using water for while I was in the region and made me be more mindful to never use drinking water for anything other than consumption. 

Safari Vehicles 

Contiki-East-Africa-Safari-Vehicle

The safari vehicles are made to seat 9 but usually only have 7 passengers so everyone has a window. They are equipped with pop-up roofs and large windows for optimal viewing. They also feature raised suspension and engine snorkels for river crossings, with convenient pouches for your on-safari necessities, like camera and bug spray. They’re also equipped with storage compartments for luggage, but be mindful that soft-sided packs are way more convenient. Most people traveled with 50-70 liter travel backpacks which is on the high end of what should be brought. For more information about packing, check out Lindsay’s Safari Packing Guide on what to wear for Safari. 

Things to do in Kenya + Things to do in Tanzania.

Game Drives 

Most visitors come to East Africa to experience Safari game drives. They do not disappoint. The game drives were absolutely incredible. We saw so many animals – warthogs, zebras, elephants, giraffes, ostriches, gazelles, hyenas, and wildebeests were a dime a dozen. You’d see them at every single turn. We spotted all of the big five in the first three days. We even spotted the harder to find animals like leopards, rhinos, and cheetahs. 

Kenya Contiki Safari

The highlights of the trip were passing through herds of elephants traveling through the marshes. Watching the lions eat their prey. Viewing the hippos as they snapped their jaws in the rivers. Seeing a mother cheetah protect her three cubs from a pack of circling hyenas. Seeing herds of hundreds of zebras and wildebeests as they munched on the grass and watching giraffes lazily munch on the trees. One of the most incredible experiences was watching a family of black rhinos cross the road right in front of us. The rhinos have been poached to near extinction for their horns. There are an estimated 5600 black rhinos left in the world in 2019. In 1970 the numbers were around 70,000 – for the mathematicians that’s about a 95% decline in population. It’s extremely difficult to see them in the wild because they’re afraid of humans and tend to stay to themselves. So viewing three, a mother, father, and baby right in front of us is a sight that may not be possible in 10 years. 

Contiki East Africa

Watching the sunrise over the savannah while zebras and wildebeests frolic in the grass was incredible. One morning we stumbled on two lions laying in high grass. One male lion with the giant mane and a female lion tucked under a bush a few feet behind him. We watched them for quite awhile joking about the probability of live lion porn and how it was the one thing we didn’t know we needed on our bucket lists. Unfortunately, we learned that lions mate once every 15 mins over a 5 day period but it’s a pretty rare sight. Can you imagine boning every 15 mins for 5 days? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. 

Parks you’ll visit Maasai Mara, Amboseli National Park, Tarangire National Park, Ngorongoro Crater, and Serengeti

Quick Safari Animal Facts 

Big 5 consists of:

▪️elephant 

▪️buffalo 

▪️lion 

▪️leopard 

▪️rhino 

The Great Migration in Maasai Mara 

The first morning in Maasai Mara, I slept like a rock and woke up at 4:30 AM to the sounds of baboons in the trees outside our tent. It was a mixture of baboons and tree birds and the sounds of the Maasai Mari waking up. While we were in Maasai Mara, the Great Migration was occurring. The Great Migration is when the wildebeest and zebras follow the patterns of the rains in the grasslands. They’re searching for grassy planes for food. They travel in packs and wander until they find enough food for their herds. Every year in July and August they make their way to Maasai Mara. One of the days we made our way to the river to watch them cross. The wildebeests are pack animals which are controlled by one leader. When it’s time to cross the river, the leader determines if it’s safe. If one crosses, the rest of the pack will follow. Unfortunately, the river is filled with crocodiles and hippos that will kill the wildebeests as they cross. We waited and waited for the wildebeests to make up their minds in hopes that we’d see a crocodile lunch feast. Watching thousands of animals make life or death decisions for their herd was surreal. 

 

The Great Kenya & Tanzania Road Trip

Along the road, we saw so many interesting things. We passed the villages were the Massi people lived. We passed shepherds tending to their flocks of goats and sheep and cows. We saw baboons with their babies crossing the road. Donkeys pulling carts and tending fields. Farm animals and wild dogs mixed in with hundreds of people just milling about on the edges of Nairobi. It was fascinating to watch. While the city itself didn’t look that different than other places we’ve visited in the developing world – it was clear that Kenya experiences extreme levels of poverty. 

Contiki East Africa

Lake Elementaita & The Kenyan Village Tour

After leaving Maasai Mara we traveled to Lake Elementaita and stayed at a beautiful lakeside hotel. From our individual bungalows, we were able to view the flamingos on the lake. Moses, one of the hotel workers took us on a tour of his village which sat next to the hotel property. During the tour, Moses showed us some of the plants the local people used for medicine and then took us to the community where he grew up. While walking we stumbled upon a couple of teenage boys who broke their bicycle. Moses and one of the Contiki travelers helped them fix their bike, when they were finished they joined on the tour because all three spoke English and were just as curious about us, as we were about them. Walking through the village they were questions about school, growing up in Kenya, and their community. Slowly, more children joined and followed as we explored. We were invited to see a local house where a family lived and learn about their way of life. 

Contiki East Africa

Giraffe Center 

Giraffe-Center-Kenya

The Giraffe Center is right behind the famous Giraffe Manor which is a bucket list hotel for me. When I come back to this region of the world to climb Kilimanjaro I want to stay there for at least one night. The manor is a hotel where they have giraffes on the property and you get to have breakfast with them and can feed them through the windows of the hotel. It’s currently $900 a night though so it wasn’t an option for us on this trip. It’s sister property, the Giraffe Center is the budget-friendly version where tourists can go and feed the giraffes from a platform. It was cute to get to feed them and learn a bit more about these beautiful majestic animals. The center uses the funds from visiting tourists to help create research and refuge projects for giraffes. I loved the experience because we were able to interact with them, feed them, and even let them take pellets out of our mouths. 

Giraffe-Center-Kenya

Baby Elephant Orphanage 

The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is an orphanage for baby elephants and rhinos. At the core of the Orphans’ Project is the rescue and rehabilitation of milk dependent orphaned baby elephants and rhinos through to their ultimate reintegration back into the wild. Elephants and Rhinos in particular struggle with the threat of poaching for their ivory and horn, and the loss of habitat due to human population pressures and conflict, deforestation and drought. Babies are often the most vulnerable in the wild when they are still milk dependent. Visitors to the orphanage are able to view the babies from a distance as they play and interact with their peers. The trust believes in animal initiated physical contact only – so if a baby elephant approaches you – you’re allowed to touch them from behind the boundaries but only if the animal deems it is okay. Guests get to learn each elephant’s story and watch as they play, eat, and romp around. Visitors are able to adopt an orphan with a $50 donation and are able to come back during the evening hours for one on one time with their orphan as they are put to bed. 

Shanga Community Project 

Shanga is a successful social enterprise which employs people with disabilities to create unique, high-quality, handmade goods using recycled materials. “Shanga” is the KiSwahili word for bead. The project was named for the many glass beads that are made by the workers. glassware, jewelry, blankets, and other products are sold in Tanzania and all over the world, with profits being reinvested back into developing opportunities to employ more people with disabilities. Elewana Arusha Coffee Lodge is the home of Shanga, which comprises of an open workshop for glass-blowing, weaving, sewing, Tinga Tinga painting, bead-making, and metalwork, with a shop showcasing all Shanga’s handmade products. While we were there it was interesting being able to sign with the many deaf employees who work at the facility. I chatted for some time with one gentleman named Malik, he and his wife are both deaf and both employed at Shanga. When I asked him what his experience was like he told me, “I like working here with my wife so we can raise our two young boys together” We took a tour of the workshop and got to watch them weave blankets, blow glass, and create beautiful pieces of jewelry. 

Shanga Project

Hot Air Balloon with Champagne Bush Breakfast 

Hot air balloon rides are exhilarating in any setting, but throw in African safari animals and a ride over the Maasai Mara National Reserve and you’ve got a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Upon landing, you toast your return to earth with a delicious breakfast – complete with champagne, cooked wherever you land. This was one of the few experiences on the Contiki East Africa Safari that was an additional cost. At $450 USD per person in the Maasai Mara and $600 USD per person in the Serengeti, the price is steep, but the experience is incredible. 

Maasai Village Tour 

The Maasai people are an indigenous tribe that lives in Kenya and Northern Tanzania. They’re estimated at about one million people and live in local villages throughout the region. Maasai are traditionalists and have resisted the urging of the Kenyan and Tanzanian governments to adopt a more modern lifestyle. They are one of the few groups that preserve their traditional ways. Read More about our Maasai Village Tour in our extended article.

Massai Village

Amboseli Primary School Visit 

Directly after visiting the Maasai Village, we went to Amboseli Primary School to experience a day for school children. There are 590 students at the school with 14 teachers and 10 classrooms. The courses are taught in English and cover the same subjects that many schools focus on around the world. English, Swahili, science, mathematics, PE, religion, environmental activities, health, and nutrition. Unfortunately, due to lack of funding the classes are very large in size, the largest has 80 students and the smallest class is 51. While we were there we learned that hunger is a challenge for their students. Last year the government provided lunch but was unable to provide lunch this year. The cost of one year of education for a student is $160 USD – they are currently fundraising to build another classroom which would cost $15,000 USD. if you’d like to make a donation you can reach out to the school via email ReceptionAmboseli at Gmail dot com.

Contiki Kenya

Market Tour – Mto Wa Mbu Market 

Mto Wa Mbu Village is very close to Lake Manyara and Tarangire National Park. Mto Wa Mbu means Mosquito River in English – despite its name – there were few mosquitos there. During the market tour, our local guide showed us around the fresh produce stands introducing us to different varieties of familiar and unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. We learned about the different uses for them in Tanzanian cooking before we were lead to a Banana plantation. We were allowed to walk through a small grove of banana and coconut trees and were offered red bananas to sample as they explained the process of farming and distribution of bananas. Our next stop was a local brewery where they created beer and wine from fermented bananas. We got to sample the product and it was delicious. It would have been better chilled but we could still taste the fruity notes in the beer. After the brewery, we head to an artisan shop where we were able to buy local paintings done in traditional styles found around Tanzania. We got to watch as they were painted and were able to wander through the maze of paintings to select our favorites to take home. 

Cost of a Safari  

An African safari costs anywhere between $125 and $1,500 per person per night. It’s at the top of many people’s bucket lists but comes with a steep price tag. One of the great things about Contiki is its ability to minimize the cost without losing quality. While a budget safari with folks sleeping on the ground in traditional tents averages $150 per night, mid-range $350 and luxury $750. The extreme top-safaris can easily go up to $1,500 per night. There is literally a safari to suit every budget but we’ll break down the costs of the East African Safari per person. Some of these expenses will vary according to where you’re from – like the flights and visa fees. Others will vary depending on personal preferences. There were a few people on our trip that spent upwards of $1000 on souvenirs but this is a basic framework for what to expect. We already had most of our gear like camera equipment, travel packs, and clothing so those may be additional expenses to consider. 

Flights$2,000
Contiki Tour$6,000
Kenya Visa$50
Tanzania Visa$100
Vaccinations$350
Water & Snacks$75
Souvenirs$50
Binoculars$50
Tips$150
This post was created through the support of Contiki – as always, all opinions are my own.

18 lesbian sites to bookmark IMMEDIATELY – DOPES ON THE ROAD

18 lesbian sites to bookmark IMMEDIATELY - DOPES ON THE

When I was about nine, I typed the word “lesbian” into Internet Explorer search bar on my parents’ desktop computer after a girl at school told me I looked like one. (It was the week before I was going on holiday to South Africa and being the practical kid I was, I’d asked the hairdresser to cut my hair very short.) What came up were a bunch of ads featuring naked women doing things that I was too young to see.

About three years later, I typed the phrase “am I a lesbian?” into the same search bar after getting a crush on a schoolmate. Some teen sites were helpful and reassuring, but I’m still haunted by the message board where another girl had asked the question and had been subjected to slurs and even a death threat for merely asking the question.

But do you know what I’d have found really useful on both of those occasions? An actual lesbian website. Yes, CosmoGirl did tell me that some girls are gay and there’s nothing wrong with them, but I’d have freaking loved to find a site that was written by queer women. And you know what, I’d still rather check out a lesbian site today. That’s why I’ve rounded up 18 of my favorite lesbian sites for you and I’ve even separated them by category to make it easier to find what you want.

Lesbian Lifestyle

To be honest, the majority of sites included in this section could also be included in any of the below categories, but because these lesbian websites touched on so many sectors, I had to make an entirely new section for them.

 

curve-magazine-lesbian

 

This is the website for the US’s best-selling lesbian magazine, which focuses on celebrity interviews, pop culture, style, travel, entertainment, advice, and news. They do tend to focus on American pop culture, but every once in a while, you can find reviews or recaps of queer media from other countries.

 

autostraddle-lesbian-site

 

It would be a lie to tell you that “the world’s most popular lesbian website” is solely an entertainment site because they cover politics in-depth on the regular. (The personal is political.) However, the majority of the content is focused on film, TV, and relationships. They also have some of the sharpest, funniest TV recaps that I’ve ever read.

 

Lesbian-wesbite

 

This aptly named site has a little bit of everything, from travel to health to music. Lesbian aims to bring together the best of the lesbian world to empower lesbians around the globe. They focus mainly on entertainment and events but dedicate a substantial portion of their site to activism by and for queer women.

Also, they have a chatroom function to allow you to talk to other readers about the article you just read or life in general.

 

QWEAR-Fashion

 

How do you dress like a lesbian? Well, the short answer is however you please, but the long answer requires perusing this queer style site. Want to know how to accessorize a suit? Trying to find the right plus-size jeans? Wondering if you can pull off androgynous clothing? This is the site for you.

 

Queer-Fat-Femme-Lesbian-site

 

 Bevin Branlandingham is the oracle for all things queer, from dating to fashion to art, but all from the perspective of a plus-size woman. Her goal is to help people love themselves, regardless of whether they fit in with society’s narrow standards for female beauty.

 

lesbian-wedding-website

 

Confession time: I have never planned a wedding, but it looks hella hard. I first realized that when I served as a bridesmaid at age 14 and it hasn’t gotten any easier since. If you are looking for some incredible inspiration and support when planning your special day, check out this lesbian wedding blog.

 

lesbian-moms-website

 

It’s a lifestyle site for LGBTQ+ moms featuring parenting advice specifically relating to issues queer women face (“Will this school teach my kids that their moms’ relationship is wrong?”), as well as the universal (“How do I get my kids to do their math homework?”). It also features a hefty dose of news relating to LGBTQ+ parents, like the Appeals Court case on discrimination against same-sex foster parents shown in the image.

Lesbian Entertainment

The vast majority of entertainment caters to straight men, with women and queer folks being considered a niche market. These sites want to point you in the right direction.

 

lesbian-website

 

This lesbian website focuses heavily on entertainment. It was created by a lesbian couple to showcase the diversity of creativity by LGBTQ+ women to boost media representation and increase support for queer female artists.

 

lesbian-website

 

What could be better than lesbian lit? Lesbian lit written by lesbians, of course. This site provides reviews and news about the latest books featuring LGBTQ+ women or written by them. Perfect if you and your gals want to set up a book club or if you’re just looking for a recommendation before your next flight.

 

lesbian-website

 

What could be better than one lesbian book site? Two lesbian book sites. Twice a month, Lesbrary brings together all of the articles written about lesbian literature across the web so you have all the info in one place. Plus, it allows you to search by genre if you’re looking for a recommendation.

 

lesbian-website

 

If you’re looking for a pop culture guide from a lesbian perspective, check out this blog from Autostraddle contributor Dorothy Snarker. She updates daily with short and funny posts about entertainment featuring and/or created by queer women.

Lesbian News

As with most marginalized groups, the mainstream media doesn’t focus too heavily on lesbian news, which is why we have to seek out specialist sites. Sure, [insert newspaper here] might cover Ellen running for President, but they rarely cover the news items that affect lesbians on a daily basis, like a city passing anti-discrimination legislation or an increase in homelessness among lesbians. That’s why I’ve got a roundup of the best lesbian news sites.

(Oh, and just so we’re clear, Ellen is not, as of writing, running for President, but she would have my vote if she did. I wouldn’t even need to hear her policies. Just kidding, I’m not even American.)

 

lesbian-website

 

Well, this site gets right to the point with its name, doesn’t it? The Lesbian News Magazine was founded in 1975, making it the longest running lesbian publication in North America. As you can see, they cover a range of topics, including entertainment, relationships, and “femastrology”, but their primary focus is on news that matters to queer women, whether it’s about us or it affects us.

They cover mainly US news, such as Senators Tammy Baldwin and Tim Kaine trying to pass an act to protect LGBTQ youth against child abuse. However, they do write about a fair amount of international news, like the anti-LGBTQ laws in Brunei.

 

lesbian-website

 

While based in the Emerald City, this online newspaper focuses on lesbian news from all over the US and around the globe. They cover news in a range of verticals from politics to health to sport, with some fascinating columnists as well. (I particularly enjoy Diane Ponist’s blogs about raising a family.)

Lesbian Dating

As we all know, lesbians bars are few and far between, so many women who love women are turning to lesbian dating sites and apps to find the girl of their dreams. This is a complete list of all the lesbian dating sites,  I’m going to run down my faves. (Plenty of girls who are multi-gender attracted gals will also use these because putting your sexuality as bi+ on other sites will involve cis men asking if you’re up for a threesome. Not with you, dude.)

 

lesbian-dating-website

 

This dating site was made by queer women for queer women, with an increased focus on helping you get to know lesbians in your area. That’s right, instead of swiping right or hoping that a personality quiz pairs you up with the right girl, you can meet women IRL at HER-hosted events or chat with them in an in-app community.

 

 

lesbian-dating-website

Let’s get this out of the way first. Yes, their slogan does sound like that pop-up ad from 2004 that downloaded a virus onto your computer. I swear that’s not what this is. It’s designed by queer women for queer women and hopes to eliminate catfishing (I should have known Kate McKinnon was neither on Tinder nor in my city) by encouraging users to upload a video describing themselves.

Don’t worry shy girls, you can still make an account with just a photo and get chatting to ladies near you.

 

lesbian-dating-website

 

This lesbian and bi+ website is a mix of a dating app and a social network, also built and run by a gay-owned company. They want cis and trans women to have the best dating experience and even have a bunch of blogs to help queer women navigate the dating world.

Want more lesbian dating websites and lesbian dating apps? Check out our ultimate guide to lesbian online dating.

International Lesbian Sites

If you’re visiting thing page from outside the US, don’t worry because we’ve scouted out the best lesbian sites for you. (These are also great for American women heading to these countries on holiday or for work, who want to check out the lesbian scene before traveling.)

 

  • Lesbians on the Loose (Australia)

lesbian-dating-website

 

This lesbian site focuses on entertainment, wellness, lifestyle, and news for LGBTQ+ women Down Under. (I feel like there’s an oral sex pun in there somewhere.)

The eagle-eyed among you may notice that LOTL shares a design and a slogan with Curve. That’s because they’re owned by the same parent company. This means they also share some content if it’s relevant to both an American and an Australian audience. However, the vast majority of it focuses purely on Australia.

 

lesbian-dating-website

 

This is the site for Europe’s best-selling lesbian magazine and covers a range of topics from pop culture to news to social issues. But Diva also puts a focus on the things that are tough to talk about, including the problems that queer youth face, mental health for queer women, and racism in the LGBTQ+ community.

Being a British site, they do focus heavily on queer entertainment that is created for a British audience and events happening in and around London.

I hope that this has helped you find some great new lesbian websites to bookmark (and even more to binge on right now). Now, I’d like to hear from you. What is your favorite lesbian site on the list? And which lesbian site have I left off? Or what sector of lesbian life have I completely neglected to mention here? Let me know all that and more in the comments.

My Lesbian Haircut; it’s not just hair – DOPES ON THE ROAD

My Lesbian Haircut; it’s not just hair - DOPES ON

 

My hair is a dark mass of course curls. When left to its own devices it sticks straight up in clumps of wire like swirls. While I was growing up, it was never a priority and was perpetually swept up into the standard issue basketball practice bun directly on the top of my head. Now in my thirties and fully immersed in my identity as an androgynous queer woman, my lesbian haircut is one of the many things that makes me feel – well – the most me. There’s nothing like seeing yourself reflected to really open your eyes. Which is why I was both impressed and excited when Brit, our lovely PR contact from Visit Oxnard, asked me if I’d like to experience The Barber Shop during our time in Oxnard. The Barber Shop is a Victorian-era classic barber run by a queer barber and entrepreneur, Jackie Aldridge. 

Queer person in a barber chair looking at themselves and barber in the mirror

Most markers of masculinity on women have been considered an indicator of queerness for longer than I’ve been alive, but few more so than short hair. Unfortunately, salons and barber shops are intensely gendered. Any gender creative human knows the feeling of walking into a gendered space and not feeling like they truly belong in one gender or the other. We’ve come to expect it in places like restrooms and fitting rooms but there’s something about hygiene and personal care that society plants firmly into the pink or blue boxes as well. I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked into a salon and received the “are you sure you want it that short – you might look boyish?” conversation. Or it’s cousin, the “bad dad haircut” with little to no style in a barber shop fixated on toxic masculinity. 

androgynous person sitting in a vintage barber chair

Which is why I spend so much time scouring the internet for multiple examples of hair inspiration and trendy stylists willing to cross the gender lines. Instagram tends to be my best friend when tracking down the exact vibe I’m hoping for. I also follow an insanely high number of androgynous people, primarily to stalk their haircuts.  When I look into the mirror after a fresh fade – I literally see myself reflected. I know that sounds obvious and overstated but it’s a beautiful experience for a person who spent decades seeing an image reflected that didn’t match my innermost experiences of myself. 

female barber using clippers on an androgynous womans hair

When I met Jackie, we immediately clicked. I loved The Barber Shop because it’s a unique glimpse into the past with upscale retro-style interior décor, including refurbished barber chairs from the early 1900s. Each chair has a story associated with its history that makes for entertaining barber chair discourse. But I also enjoyed the lovely vintage tunes, and the shiny bronze floor which when you look closely you realize is made of thousands of pennies. According to Jackie, the pennies were for good luck in their new business venture. 

a person in heels and a person in bright colored tennis shoes stand toe to toe on a floor made of pennies

The shop offered a unique list of services including shear cuts, haircuts, razor lineups, hot towel shaves and cleanses, and beard trims and a royal shave. Guests are offered complimentary beverages with any barber service. As I received my cut we chatted about all the things I’m normally afraid to chat with barbers for fear they’ll judge me and make my self-care ritual of love an awkward experience. We chatted about our wives and being queer entrepreneurs and our mutual love for what I lovingly think of as lesbian hair. She offered me styling tips as we bonded over our commonalities. 

 

For her, it was just another day at the office but for me, it was a moment of reflection on how far I’ve come in my comfort level with myself and a moment of expression. I deserve a self-care routine that fits who I am without being nervous or afraid to be in a space where I don’t feel welcome. Your style is one of the first things people notice about you. Your style silently speaks your truth to the world. For 20 minutes in Oxnard California, Jackie the barber whittled my truth into my hairline. 

 

 

This post was created in collaboration with Visit Oxnard

 

Globetrottergirls’ quick guide to travel insurance

Leticia Hospital

Last Updated on

My Quest for the right Travel Insurance

We spent most of our first year as full-time travelers in good health and free of robberies/incidents, and rarely thought about our travel insurance policy. Until right at the end of the year-long insurance contract when we both caught a major bug during our house-sit in Germany (we will spare you the details –  trust us, it’s better that way).

Although the company reacted very quickly and accepted our claim over the phone, the high excess waiver fee matched the amount we spent on doctor visits and prescription antibiotics. Imagine our disappointment when we received the insurance claim check for $14. Total. Luckily the out-of-pocket expenses in our case were relatively low, so rather than moaning about it, we simply saw this as an opportunity to re-evaluate our travel insurance needs.

Using what we now know after 400 days on the road about the realities of long-term travel, we are doing massive amounts of research for the best travel insurance packages. What we have found is that there are hundreds of travel insurance providers, but before you make your short list, it is essential to nail down what elements you need your insurance to cover.

How long will you be traveling for?

Annual travel insurance contracts normally cover several short-term trips per year, each up to 30 days maximum. If you plan to travel for over 30 days at a time, look into backpacking insurance, which ranges from three months to a year or even 18 months.

Which countries will you be visiting?

Insurance prices vary greatly depending on the countries you plan to visit. Your insurance quote for traveling in South East Asia, for example, will be remarkably cheaper than if you include the United States in your itinerary. If you do choose to travel through the United States, make sure you have the appropriate travel insurance, as even a basic visit to the doctor can be tremendously expensive, and a trip to the emergency room could eat through your budget enough to cause an early end to your trip.

What kind of a traveler are you?

The price of international travel insurance also depends on the kinds of activities you plan to undertake on your travels. Any adventure or winter sports such as bungee jumping, mountain climbing, scuba diving or skiing and snowboarding will increase your travel insurance quote. If you try to avoid the extra charge and are injured during an adventure activity, the hospital bill will come 100% out of your own pocket, so it is worth it to admit it and pay for the extra coverage up front.

How much are your belongings worth?

Make a list of all the items you are bringing along the trip, and know their value. Knowing how much your belongings are worth enables you to look for travel insurance which offers full liability up to the exact amount of your valuables. Having a list ready (best to be kept in an email so that you can access it if you need it) will also make it easier for you to make a claim that contains all of your belongings along with their value.

What does travel insurance cover?

Regardless of the travel insurance you choose, your travel insurance should cover the following:

  • Accidents
  • Emergency dental treatment
  • Loss of glasses or contact lenses
  • Free evacuation if special medical attention is needed
  • Lost luggage and/or theft
  • Accommodation in case of flight delays/cancellations
  • Loss of passport / other important documents
  • Lawsuits (if someone claims that you damaged his/her property)
  • Evacuation if there are natural hazards, terrorism attacks or armed conflicts
  • Regular & extreme sports/activities (if you choose)
  • Accidents while working abroad if you plan to volunteer or take a job somewhere
  • Cancellation of flights, hotels, etc. in case of an emergency
  • Delays

Take the time: Compare travel insurance companies

Whether you are looking for short-term or long-term travel insurance, make sure to compare several insurance companies using the following criteria:

1. How long does it take for the insurance to reimburse your expenses?

If you have to initially out of pocket for a medical transport or surgery, you don’t want to wait for months to get your money back. Make sure to find a company that promises quick reimbursement of your costs.

2. Can you call your insurance 24/7 to make a claim?

Check the company’s customer service – how do you make a claim? Can you call at any time? This is important as you will often be in a different time zone to the country in which you purchased your insurance. Do you need to provide them with receipts of your expenses before they reimburse you?

3. Does the policy include unlimited medical and hospital cover plus medical evacuation expenses?

Not all travel insurance companies offer unlimited cover, and if there is a limit, make sure sure that it would still pay for transport to your home country if needed, and treatment of severe injuries in all countries that you are planning to visit.

4. Which personal belongings are included in the policy?

Are electronics covered or do you have to pay a surcharge for laptops, cameras, etc? Some travel insurance companies do not include electronics or cameras but ask you to insure them extra. Check that everything you have with you is covered before purchasing a policy.

5. What does the policy say about high-risk travel destinations?

Several travel insurance companies do not offer full coverage for so-called high-risk destinations, i.e. countries which are at war or experiencing political unrest. Check that the countries you are planning to visit are covered by your policy.

6. What is the fee excess of the policy?

Most travel insurance come with an excess, or deductible, which is the amount policy-holders must pay before the insurance kicks in. Make sure you know this before you purchase the policy. In the end, we received $10 back from our only claim, because of the high deductible.

7. Does the insurance cover additional costs resulting from a robbery?

If your passport, cell phone, laptop and credit cards get stolen, you are likely to have additional administrative costs for canceling a phone contract, credit cards, applying for a new passport, plus travel costs to get to your country’s embassy to pick up the new passport – which might be all the way across the country from where your belongings got stolen. Find out just how much of this is covered by the insurance company you choose.

Last but not least…

Cheap is not always the best! International or even domestic travel insurance might not seem essential if you’re young, in perfect health and heading to a fairly safe location, and you may decide for a cheapie policy. However, opting for the cheapest of any type of travel insurance will include major flaws which might not be visible at the first glance, but could end up costing you thousands of dollars in the event of a true emergency. Shelling out the initial cash for quality coverage is worth far more than picking up the tab for your lost laptop or emergency medical expenses. Do the research, evaluate your needs and spend the money on the right insurance policy for you.

Finally, make sure to keep the receipts of all the expenses in case you have to provide them after returning home and keep a good record of all other costs incurred – phone calls, tickets and other fees, in order to be able to make a full claim.

We have been using WorldNomads, one of the world’s leading travel insurers, for many years. Get a quote for your trip now:

 

Lakes, Castles and Beaches: A Northern Germany Road Trip

northern germany road trip lake

Last Updated on

Over the past few years, my visits to Germany have been looking pretty much the same every time I go: I stop in my hometown to my family, I stop in Berlin because I can’t get enough of the city, and I visit friends in Cologne and Munich. But what about the rest of Germany? Even though I spent quite a bit of time traveling Germany when I was younger and still living in Europe, there are still plenty of places I have yet to visit. On top of my wish list: Spreewald (a biosphere reserve consisting of wetlands and forests southeast of Berlin), a northern Germany road trip including the cities of Bremen and Bremerhaven, and Lübeck, which is famous for its brick Gothic architecture, and the coastal region of East Frisia), and a southern Germany road trip along the Romantic Road which covers a bunch of fairytale-like towns in Southern Germany.

When my friend suggested we could meet up in Germany for a few days during my last visit, and asked me to show her Germany beyond Berlin, I immediately started researching possible trips. A quick search for car rentals in Germany revealed that a rental car would cost us less than $25 per day, and that was for a pick-up right in the center of Berlin (note that rental pick-up at one of the airports would’ve cost around $24 per day), which is an amazing rate. Plus, it meant we could bring my favorite furry travel companion along.Northern Germany Road Trip itineraryI decided to introduce my friend to Germany’s nautical side and mapped out a Northern Germany road trip route that is perfect if you have a week to spend in Germany, but which can also be driven in five days. I wanted to include the famous Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, the Baltic Sea, at least one of Germany’s fairy tale castles, a grand Hanseatic city and a smaller town in the countryside.

This kind of trip definitely required a car, since several towns were small and not on the main bus routes (side note: the buses also take the major highways, instead of scenic byways), and taking the train would’ve meant connecting. I created a road trip that had a couple of stops en-route, meaning we would only spend a couple of hours or an afternoon there on the way to our final destination for the day – which is only possible if you have a car. Train and bus travel are solid options in Germany when you just travel from A to B, but to see more of the country and to get ‘off the beaten path’, you really need a vehicle. Luckily, car rentals in Germany are inexpensive and you can get a small rental starting at around $23 per day, or a medium-sized vehicle starting at around $25 per day. And did I mention renting a car meant I’d be able to bring a dog? 🙂

Here’s the map of our route (I excluded highways so that we would only drive scenic country roads):Northern Germany Road Trip Itinerary

Read on for the highlights of this road trip through northern Germany and what not to miss in each of the places you drive through:

My Northern Germany Road Trip Itinerary

Berlin

Germany’s capital has so much to offer, you can easily spend an entire week just there. If you haven’t been yet, get an overview and learn about the comprehensive and complicated history of Berlin during both World War II and the division between East and West Germany on a free walking tour. Go for a bike ride in Tiergarten Park and on Tempelhof airfield, an abandoned airport turned park. Take in the city from above from either Victory Column (only €3, but 270 steps) or the observation deck on top of the Park Inn at Alexanderplatz, right across from the TV Tower (€4).

Eat Middle Eastern food while you’re wandering the streets of Berlin’s trendy Neukölln neighborhood and go flea market hopping on a weekend in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood (don’t miss Mauerpark for the flea market, street food and the largest karaoke event in Germany – every Sunday during the summer months – and the Sunday flea market at Arkonaplatz). Head to the East Side Gallery for fantastic murals, and go barhopping in the vibrant Friedrichshain neighborhood.

Check out my detailed guide to Berlin for more ideas on what to see and do.Berlin

Neuruppin

Drive: Berlin to Neuruppin: 80 kilometers / 50 miles – about 90 minutes

Suggested stop along the way: Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg, a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg just north of Berlin. The visit is a somber but educational experience.

Leave Berlin and drive north towards the lake district. Once you’ve left the city limits behind you, you’ll find yourself driving through lush green parkland and forests, along small rivers and canals. Neuruppin sits right on the shore of Ruppin Lake, and there is a beautiful trail along the lake. The town is known as a garrison town and was mainly built in Neoclassical style – the many pastel colored houses provide gorgeous photo opps. The remarkable minster Sankt Trinitatis, a historic church with adjacent monastery, was built in 1264 (the oldest building in Neuruppin) is the centerpiece of the small town.

If you’re a fan of sauna culture, plan in enough time for a visit to the thermal bath in Neuruppin which is the largest lake sauna for swimming in all of Germany. The views of the Ruppin Lake from the many different saunas are fabulous.Neuruppin Germany

Plau Am See

Drive: Neuruppin to Plau Am See, 90 kilometers / 56 miles – about 90 minutes

The small town is the gateway to the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, and its name translates to ‘Plau On The Lake’. The city was founded around 1235 and has a lovely historic Old Town with half-timbered houses that’s worth a stroll. The main sights include the historic church, the Neo-classical town hall, the ruins of Plau Castle, and a bridge that is vertically lifted every time a boat wants to pass through the channel below. There is also a historic water mill that dates to 1273.northern germany lake district

Schwerin

Drive: Plau Am See to Schwerin, 73 kilometers / 45 miles – about 1 hour

You’ll drive through the picturesque lake district for about an hour before you reach Schwerin, the state capital of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. The city is famous for its majestic palace, Schwerin Castle, which sits on an island in Lake Schwerin, one of several scenic lakes. Until 1918, the picture-perfect fairytale palace was a main residence of the dukes and grand dukes of Mecklenburg, and since 1990, it has been the seat of the state parliament.

Schwerin is the oldest city in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (first mentioned in 1018) and has a well preserved Old Town, including the beautiful Schwerin Cathedral, built in Brick Gothic style (1260 – 1416).

Tip: If you don’t have time for an extended visit, I recommend a pit stop on your northern Germany road trip in Schwerin to see at least the stunning castle. Schwerin Germany

Wismar / Kühlungsborn

Drive: Schwerin to Kühlungsborn, 70 kilometers / 44 miles – around 1 hour and 15 minutes

Recommended stop along the way: Wismar

If you have time, stop in Wismar, about halfway in between Schwerin and Kühlungsborn. It’ll add only 15 – 20 mins to the drive, but you’ll get to see the remarkable medieval buildings of Wismar’s well preserved Old Town, which is part of the shared UNESCO World Heritage site of Wismar and Stralsund (another city on the Baltic coast). Both Wismar and Schwerin were major trading centers of the Hanseatic League, a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and market towns in Northwestern and Central Europe, founded in the late 1100s.

As you drive towards Kühlungsborn you’ll enjoy lovely views of the countryside, little hamlets, forests, and eventually, the azure blue Baltic Sea.kuehlungsborn beach

Kühlungsborn is a famous German seaside resort on the Baltic Sea – the main attraction here is the 4 kilometer (2.5 miles) long beach promenade, one of the longest in Germany. There’s not much to do here beyond the beach, but that’s exactly why 3 million people flock to Kühlungsborn every year: to simply soak up some of the salty sea air, take a dip in the freezing cold Baltic Sea (the water temperature in the summer averages a cool 18°C / 64°F).

Spend a day lounging in a Strandkorb (a sheltered straw ‘beach basket’ seat typical for the seaside resorts along the Baltic Sea coast) on its long and wide sand beach. When you find yourself getting hungry, go for a stroll along the promenade and stop in one of the many seafood restaurants for the Catch of the Day.

If you want to be more active, rent bikes and ride along the ‘Kühlung’, the unique a forested ridge, part of a cycling route along the coast. Worth visiting are also nearby Heiligendamm, Germany’s very first seaside resort, and lighthouse Buk, built in 1878. The views over the surrounding area and the Baltic Sea from the top of the lighthouse are unrivaled.kuehlungsborn baltic sea

Rostock

Drive: Kühlungsborn to Rostock, 33 kilometers / 21 miles – about 40 minutes

Rostock is the largest city in the state of Mecklenburg Vorpommern and used to be the most significant member of the Hanseatic League (see above). The city celebrated its 800th (!) birthday in 2018 and is famous not only for its past as an important seaport in the Baltic Sea, but also its striking architecture (many buildings were built in Brick Gothic style, typical for the Hanseatic cities), several grand churches (dating to the 13th century), the impressive harbor and restored gable houses from the 15th and 16th centuries. You can even still see parts of the medieval city wall.Rostock Germany

Warnemünde

Drive: Rostock to Warnemünde, 10 kilometers / 6 miles – about 12 minutes

If you have time, don’t miss nearby Warnemünde, which is a district of Rostock that is located right on the Baltic Sea (Rostock is further inland, connected to the Baltic Sea via the Unterwarnow, the estuary of the Warnow River). Warnemünde has managed to maintain the character of a small fishing village (population 8,400), despite having become a popular cruise ship destination.

The promenade is lined with colorful houses, hotels, restaurants and little shops, and the main canal, Alter Strom, is lined with beautiful boats. The historic lighthouse, built in 1898, is worth the climb (135 steps) for the glorious coastal vistas.baltic sea boat

Tip: If you haven’t set the dates for your Northern Germany road trip yet, try to head to Rostock and Warnemünde during the second weekend in August, when Hanse Sail takes place. Hanse Sail is a huge maritime festival with up to 1..5 million visitors, celebrating maritime traditions and culture. Around 250 sailing ships of all types and sizes from different countries sail to Rostock for the festival – a truly unique spectacle. (If you’re planning to spend the night – book your accommodation well in advance!).kuehlungsborn strandkoerbe

Final Stretch: Circling Back to Berlin

Drive: Rostock to Berlin, 240 kilometers / 150 miles, about 4 hours

If you decide to head straight back to Berlin from Rostock, it’ll take you about four hours to get back to where you started. If you have time for an additional stop on the way back, I recommend to break up the drive in either of these two places:

Waren

(88 kilometers / 55 miles, about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Rostock; 152 kilometers / 95 miles – about 2 hours and 45 minutes from Berlin)

Waren sits right on Lake Müritz and is known for its historic town center, boasting a large number of historic buildings and monuments. It’s a pleasant city for a wander around town or along the lake. Lake Müritz is the second largest lake in all of Germany and the largest one in the Mecklenburg Lake Plateau, an Müritz National Park stretches the long eastern shoreline of the lake.Northern Germany Road Trip

Neustrelitz

(134 kilometers / 83 miles – about 2 hours and 10 minutes from Rostock; 111 kilometers / 69 miles – about 2 hours from Berlin)

Neustrelitz is also located right in the Mecklenburg Lake District, sitting on the shores of Lake Zierker See. The historic town center is known for its stunning Baroque architecture, with a wide open market square. While the palace of Neustrelitz was destroyed during World War II, the palace gardens are still intact, and they are delightful!Northern Germany Road Trip

And that was our Northern Germany road trip. Have you visited Northern Germany? Which stops would you add to my itinerary?

Globetrottergirls Is Turning Nine – GlobetrotterGirls

year 9

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There are two dates every year that I use to sit down and to look back at the past 365 days, usually pondering how these two dates have changed the course of my life.

The first date is 1 February, which I’ve been celebrating as my ‘Break Free’ date every year for the past nine years. On 1 February 2010, I walked into my London office and resigned. I quit a job that provided me with a steady paycheck but not much beyond that. I didn’t feel challenged, I didn’t feel fulfilled, I didn’t even feel like I was my authentic self when I was surrounded by ‘suits’ five days a week, in the ‘City’, as they call London’s version of New York’s Wall Street.

To be honest, I was miserable. But I also didn’t really have any idea what else I should do with life. Going to travel the world for a year was supposed to give me the answers I was looking for, as I was heading straight into an early midlife crisis at only 29.

The second date I celebrate every year is 30 April. That’s the date I boarded a plane from London to Las Vegas on a one-way ticket, about to start a 2-month road trip through the Southwestern USA, something I’d been dreaming of for years. That day would become my ‘nomad-versary’, the date I officially became a nomad. No more home in London, no more permanent address. I certainly had no idea what life had in store for me when I watched London get smaller and smaller beneath me from the plane window, and that me quitting my job a couple of months prior actually meant quitting my corporate career for good.

london big ben
London, the city that was my home from 2007 – 2010

I had no idea how much the website, whose domain we’d registered only ten days earlier, would change the entire course of my life.

The decision to start a travel blog was a spontaneous one, nothing that we gave a lot of thought. And initially, we didn’t put a lot of time or effort into the blog, which showed. I still cringe every time I look at the first few posts we published – luckily they’re buried deep in the recesses of the internet. Since both of us (my partner at the time and me) were lucky enough to make money in different ways, we didn’t look at the blog as a way to make money – until we received the first email from someone offering us money for advertising space on the website. That’s when we realized that the blog might actually be more than simply a travelogue for us and decided to up our game.

Looking back now and seeing how many opportunities the blog has offered me over the years, I am beyond grateful that I became a blogger. So instead of looking back on my life of travel like I did in previous years, I decided to dedicate this post to this very website.

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a while ago I suddenly remembered that we were already blogging long before Globetrottergirls – albeit very sporadically and on a basic Blogger account. And I had to dig quite a bit to find it, but it turns out that the chronicles of our life in London are still findable on the internet. I guess the recesses of the internet aren’t that deep after all

When we launched Globetrottergirls nine years ago, ‘travel blogger’ wasn’t something people did for a living, unlike now, when people deliberately start travel blogs to make money and look at travel blogging as a career. It took a few years for us to make a considerable amount of money from blogging, but I still remember how amazed I was when I realized that this little website was able to pay for two people’s travels. I should point out though that it was a frugal travel lifestyle, and by no means luxurious.

We were determined though to use Globetrottergirls to keep us on the road and I wanted to quit my other job, which paid well, but which didn’t excite me very much. The term ‘digital nomad’ started to pop up more around the internet, and traveling the world indefinitely sounded like a dream.

Back in 2010, bloggers were not paid to go on trips, but I remember that we heard of people getting free hotel stays thanks to their blogs, and about a year into our blogging journey, when we felt like we had a significant audience, we started reaching out to hotels and Destination Marketing Organizations with detailed proposals of what we could offer them in return for a stay at their property or other perks such as free city passes, tours or free admission to events. At the time, it felt amazing to be able to stay at places we wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise, and go on excursions that were out of our budget.

pool at temple tree langkawi
We felt like we made it when invites to stay in fancy boutique hotels in return for a mention on the blog started to arrive in our email inbox a few months into our blogging journey

But after a while, the novelty wore off, and we went back to paying for everything out of our own pockets rather than having to write about something we may have not mentioned had we not committed to promoting it.

When paid blogging campaigns became more popular and I got invited on my first paid trip I was thrilled though. Not only would I get to stay in fancy hotels and eat for free throughout my trip, but I got monetary compensation on top of it. While I was on that trip I realized, however, that this wasn’t a route I wanted to go down. Having to deliver a certain amount of social media updates and write a specific number of articles seemed forced, and I wanted to tweet what I wanted and when I wanted it instead of being told which hashtags to use.

I decided that monetizing the website that way, going on paid campaigns, wasn’t for me, but I am still grateful for all the places I got to visit thanks to the blog, and at some point I got invitations to more places than I could possibly accept, and would still join a trip if the itinerary excites me and I really want to visit the destination.

I was ecstatic when, in 2012, we were given free admission to a 5-star spa in Costa Rica. Last year, I returned to the spa (which I loved) and splurged on a stay in the onsite 5* hotel, and paid for it myself (even though I’ll write about it – but without any pressure.)

Over the years, I also got more and more opportunities to work with travel brands on campaigns for content, many of which led to other campaigns and freelance writing opportunities. When I started the blog in 2010, I had no idea how many doors it would open for me and how long it would keep me on the road.

However, I have realized that what I enjoy most is blogging about the places I visit because I want to visit them, the things I want to write about, and not the things I’m being told I need to write about. I want to feel that this is 100% my blog and 100% me, and that I have full reign over what you see on the site. (Side note: I sometimes write sponsored content, but when I get paid to write something, I still decide what I write and have full editorial control over it, and make sure it is something that’s actual useful and helps other people plan their travels, like this article).

And I’ve mentioned this many times before: The best thing about starting the blog is still the number of amazing people I’ve met through it – from the very beginning to this day. Fellow bloggers, readers, the people in the travel industry I’ve worked with and the people who organized trips I was fortunate enough to go on – so many of them have stayed in my life and became good friends, and I will be forever grateful for the connections I’ve made thanks to Globetrottergirls.

The most terrifying thing I did in the nine years of running this blog was continuing it by myself after my relationship fell apart. Even though I’d worked on the blog for years, running it alone is a completely different story – being solely in charge for every single business decision, content that goes on the blog, dealing with everything from tech issues to social media and a never-ending flood of emails.

I said many a time that I never set out to start a blog for myself – I do find that blogging can be quite solitary and lonely, and that’s probably why I took up an endeavor that allows me to work with people again in addition to the blog.

After so many years of living solely off the money the blog made me and freelance work I found thanks to the blog, I am finding it a relief to have other income streams now in addition to it which make it easier for me to blog for fun rather than because I have to in order to make a living.

Of course I appreciate every single business opportunity that the blog provided me with, everything it taught me, every penny I’ve made from it, and every single connection I’ve made through it. I’ve now seen several people who started around the same time I started Globetrottergirls stop blogging or even sell their blogs, but that’s something that is unthinkable for me at the moment (although, admittedly, there was a time when I was seriously considering selling the site). Every time I travel, I find so many things along the way that I want to share with people, from practical travel tips to stories about the destinations I visited and photos of all the beautiful places I saw. I wrote twelve articles while I was in Vietnam and am excited to share them.

For now, I can’t see myself stop blogging any time soon (on the contrary – I hope that by the time my next blog-iversary rolls around, I’ll have finally launched my new blog!), and Globetrottergirls is and will remain a big part of my life and my identity. I am already looking forward to celebrate Globetrottergirls’ tenth anniversary next year – a full decade of blogging is definitely something I couldn’t have foreseen back in April of 2010, and I am starting to feel drawn back to the places that I visited during that first year of travels, just to see how they’ve changed since I first went there, and how I feel about them now, as someone who’s also significantly changed and grown over the past decade.

What’s next for me

I’d like to finish this review of the past nine years of the blog with a little outlook of what’s next for Globetrottergirls.

As I mentioned above – I truly appreciate the opportunities the website has afforded me, and the best opportunity in the past twelve months was an invite to speak at a travel conference about LGBT travel blogging. I had been thinking about public speaking for a while, but hadn’t actively pursued it. I enjoyed both preparing the presentation with my friend Adam as well as being in front of people – and I was thrilled when I was asked to return to Travelcon this summer, for its second conference, to moderate a panel on LGBT travel blogging.

If you are looking to start a blog or to take your blog to the next level, i.e. grow your audience, improve your writing skills, or monetize and turn your blog from a hobby into a business, I can highly recommend this conference. Even I still learned quite a few things in the workshops I visited.

You can buy tickets here and get $50 off with the code is 50off (use at check out.)

I was equally as delighted when I was asked to speak at an LGBT conference in New York City this month – at QueerHustle, a conference geared towards lesbian entrepreneurs, I will speak less about blogging but I’ll talk about how to run your business from the road. Being location independent is something I am beyond grateful for and I am excited every time I get an email from someone who is inspired by my digital nomad lifestyle and wants to travel long-term while working remotely. After ‘coaching’ readers by email and sharing my tips on how to take your business on the road of make a location independent lifestyle work for years now, I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with fellow queer entrepreneurs next weekend right here in New York City.

If you’re a queer entrepreneur, don’t have any plans for next weekend yet and want to come to New York City: you can still get tickets for Queer Hustle here (and if you need a place to crash, I have a comfy couch).

As for traveling – I’d like to continue to spend the spring and summer months in New York and then take off again as soon as it gets colder. As of now, I haven’t decided yet where I’d like to spend the winter, but I have half a dozen destinations that I shortlisted. Even after all these years of traveling full-time, I still have so many countries on my travel wish list, and my wanderlust isn’t diminishing.

And while I am currently enjoying having a base here in New York – at least for part of the year – I am not ruling out that I’ll take up the digital nomad lifestyle again one day. I loved my trip to Vietnam so much that when it was time for me to board my flight back to the U.S., I was not ready for it at all and would’ve loved to keep traveling. For anyone interested in becoming a digital nomad, or people already traveling while working online and looking to connect with other digital nomads, I want to give a shout-out to Nomad Summit, the biggest conference for digital nomads and location independent professionals, which will take place in Cancun, Mexico in October. I am not affiliated with this conference in any way, I just think that it is a great event for aspiring nomads to learn, and veteran nomads to connect with like-minded people.

If you’d like to read more about my nomadic life, check out these posts:

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for Globetrottergirls 10th anniversary in 2020 – I’ll have to come up with something big for that 😉

Backpacking Vietnam: My First Solo Trip In Two Years

vietnam dani backpacking

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Hello from Vietnam! It’s been a while since I wrote a personal update, and what better occasion to do exactly that than my first solo trip in two years.

“Two years since my last solo trip, can this really be?”, I thought to myself as I tried to figure out the last time I’d traveled on my own. But yes, the last time I set off on a solo adventure was in February 2017, when I headed to Ecuador, the second-to-last country on the South American continent I wanted to visit (I have only been to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia – but Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname are currently not high on my list – the big one left there is Brazil).

Technically, I set off on a solo trip in September 2017, when I flew from Germany to France to walk the Camino de Santiago, but since I quickly learned on that journey that is actually pretty difficult to get some alone time on this famous pilgrimage across Spain and ended up walking over three weeks of the Camino with someone, I feel like that one doesn’t count. And all the other trips I’ve taken since were with other people. I felt like it another solo trip was long overdue.

Why Vietnam?

So, why Vietnam? Some friends were surprised by the country I chose for my ‘Winter Escape’, but to be honest, Vietnam has been on my travel wish list for a long time. In 2011, when I traveled to Asia for the very first time, I was sure that Vietnam would be part of that trip, but back then, my travels were much more on the fly than they are now. I’d follow the path as it appeared in front of me, without much planning. I lingered in Thailand because it was convenient and easy, I spent more time in Malaysia than I needed to, and before I knew it, I had only three weeks left before I was flying to India for what would be a life changing experience.

Three weeks to squeeze in all of Vietnam, all while working remotely? No way. I didn’t have any interest in rushing through the country, and decided I’d rather leave it for my next trip to Asia, along with the other countries I ran out out of time for (the Philippines, Myanmar and Indonesia). And then, upon returning to Asia three years later, life happened once again, leading me to different places I had anticipated, ticking off only one of the countries on my list (the Philippines).

In the fall of 2016, I planned to return to Asia for the winter, and this time I would start in Vietnam. Yet again, however, destiny had other plans for me, this time in the form of US Immigration, informing me that my final visa interview and Green Card decision would happen in early January in Germany, and not in April or May, as they had previously indicated. Once again, I had to scrap my plans to finally visit Vietnam. And that’s why, when I made the decision to take a big trip this winter, I didn’t have to think about my destination for too long. I would finally visit Vietnam!

Hitting The Reset Button On Life

So how does it feel to be on the road again by myself? The last time I traveled to South East Asia by myself was in 2015, exactly four years ago. I had gotten over a bad breakup not long before that trip, I was happily in love, and I wanted to escape the New York winter. Not much about my situation has changed, I guess, only that I haven’t had to get over any heartaches recently.

The big difference between my last solo trips and this one: I am not nomadic anymore. I packed stuff I thought I’d need for the duration of the trip, and that’s it. For all my precious solo trips, I was carrying everything I owned on my back, in a giant 65-liter backpack.To commemorate the start of this new era of my travel life I decided to treat myself to a new backpack and retire the one I’d used ever since I took up the vagabond life in 2010. One thing that hasn’t changed is that I still can’t pack light – I tried hard to go for a 40-liter pack that I’d be able to carry on in airplanes, but I was quick to admit to myself that this just wouldn’t happen. (This is the backpack I eventually opted for – and so far, I am loving it).

As I prepared for this trip, I realized how much I needed it. I was hemming and hawing over going at all, now that I am more settled in New York and have a home, I find it harder to leave for long trips. There were also worries about money (I never had to pay rent before for a place I wasn’t using while I was on the road, and I’d already paid rent for two months while I was traveling in November and in December/January – a lot of rent for a place to sit empty) and taking too much time off, but then I remembered that I used to be location independent and that I’m still lucky enough to be able to make money while I’m traveling. So I finally clicked the ‘book’ button after having hovered over it for too long. And of course I am glad I did!

This wasn’t just about a ‘winter escape’ though – and the ever-present urge to explore a new country – it was just as much about hitting the ‘Reset’ button and getting away from my busy New York schedule where I rarely get the chance to spend time with myself, to think about what’s happening in my life, about relationships and successes and failures of the past year, and to simply be. After traveling without much of a schedule for the better part of the last decade, I am still surprised how quickly I adapted to city life again, booked up weeks in advance. I felt the same urge to hit ‘pause’ on my busy life when I left to walk the Camino de Santiago in 2017 – and that was after only having been in New York for three months. You can imagine how much I was craving a slower pace now, after having been in New York for a while (even though, admittedly, I hadn’t spent much time there since last October.)

Traveling Solo

Until 2015, I had never traveled alone. I was already in my thirties when I set off on my first solo adventure, always thinking that I was a person who needed someone to travel with. Well, as it turned out, I did not need anyone to enjoy myself. I treasure my alone time, being able to do exactly what I want, when I want, what to eat, when to eat, when to sight see, what to see, when to have a lazy day, when to socialize. I don’t mind eating by myself, I enjoy my own company, and these days I never even get the chance to feel lonely because I am always connected. I usually wake up to a number of Whatsup notifications, which I sometimes even find overwhelming. But I also have yet to go on a solo trip and not make new friends along the way.

Speaking of family and friends afar: Feeling so connected to people all over the world is definitely something that I didn’t experience on my first trip to Asia in 2011, which happened before Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Instagram and all the other ways we have these days to stay connected with our loved ones back home. Back then, people had to wait for me to post a photo on Facebook to see where I was. I had to wait for an email from them to see how they were doing.

These days, I turn on the camera on my phone and take them on a tour of the beach I’m lazing on, while chatting on a chat app. The first time I went to Asia, I didn’t even have a phone (although admittedly, my iPodTouch was pretty much like a smartphone, just without the call function) and had to find a decent enough WiFi connection to make a Skype call back home. These days, the WiFi is so good that it even reached from a restaurant all the way out into the ocean, where I was chatting with someone back in New York while enjoying a relaxed morning as she was getting ready for bed. Oh, the joys of modern technology. While I appreciate many aspects of it, part of me wishes I wouldn’t just be able to pull up GoogleMaps on my phone to look up directions, to just get lost, to randomly stumble on a remote beach instead of just following travel guides that tell much which beaches are the prettiest.

South East Asia Is Changing

Not just the way most of us travel has changed – Asia has also changed. Remote beaches aren’t all that remote anymore, since roads have been paved and more tourists are coming, particularly noteworthy: Chinese tourists. Making beaches more accessible of course also means more crowds, and in places where you would have not found much beyond a few palm trees six to ten years ago, there are now makeshift restaurants and beach chairs. The roaring sound of jet skis breaks into the calming repetitive sound of the clashing waves.

But it is not just off-the-beaten-path islands that now have been discovered by mass tourism: Life in general is changing here, too. The last time I was in Asia, the people you’d see with a smartphone in their hand were usually tourists, but now it seems like everyone has a smartphone, from the fishermen I see in the ports to the children I see play video games on their phones in small villages.

And then there are the cities – Saigon for example, where more and more of the old French-colonial buildings are being torn down to make room for new shiny skyscrapers which spring up like mushrooms everywhere. Most places I’ve visited on this trip feel like giant construction sites, with jackhammers and stone saws and creating a steady background soundtrack from early morning till long after the sun sets.It’s not just Asia who has evolved: So have I. The bright-eyed backpacker who looked at everything in awe when she first came to Asia almost eight years ago – that’s not me anymore. And not only have I turned into a seasoned traveler, I also have a bigger budget now. The $10 room off of Bangkok’s Kao San Road I stayed in during my first Asia stint resembled the room Richard (Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Beach) was staying in when he arrived in Bangkok, more than I am willing to admit. But back then, I was traveling on a tiny budget, following the South East Asia On A Shoestring guidebook religiously, trying to make my money last as long as possible. Did I have less of a great time back then? Certainly not! But I wouldn’t put myself in a room like that anymore only to save a few dollars.

That said, I still consider myself a frugal traveler, and see it as a waste of money to spend tons of cash on a place for just me. When I am traveling with someone – different story. Especially when traveling with a partner, I want it to feel special. And no question: I do appreciate being able to afford the occasional splurge, and I know that it’ll be a completely different feel to sail through Halong Bay (one of the places I’m most excited to visit) on a luxury boat rather than a backpacker barge filled with roaches and mice. I guess I am now what they call a flashpacker, even though I dislike this term.

Getting My Travel Mojo Back

One thing that hasn’t changed is my ability to quickly fall back into a traveler’s life, a life on the road as I lived it for so many years. I fall back into the routine of unpacking my backpack when I arrive in a new place (read: I turn my room into a huge mess in two minutes), laying down on the bed and researching vegetarian restaurants and the best coffee shops in town. Then I head out for a first exploration of the town I am in and plan how many days I want to spend there and how I want to spend them. A few days later, I move on to the next place, rinse, repeat.

Even though I have almost two months to explore this country, which is longer than most people have, I have to admit that I am feeling a bit rushed. Having an end date looming over my trip is something that I am still not used to, and traveling at a rather rapid pace is something I find hard to adjust to. It has happened a few times on this trip already that I found myself in places where I wished I had more time, but had already booked a hotel in the next city, eager to see as much of Vietnam as possible.When I arrived in New York at the end of 2017 after an exhausting year of travel, all I wanted was to take a break from being on the road, and not travel anywhere. Well, I am glad I gave myself this break because leading up to the trip, I could feel my excitement grow each day, consulting my guidebook every night before I went to bed to figure out which places in this huge country I wanted to see, and to map out a route.

I remember that during the last few months of my nomadic life trip planning had started to feel like a chore, and I dreaded the long hours of researching places to stay, things I wanted to see, and finding good food options. When I began to prepare my Vietnam trip, everything got me more stoked for the journey: picking out a new backpack, buying a new bathing suit, making sure all my gear was still in good shape, trying to decide which clothes and tech to bring.

And then, finally arriving in Vietnam, a country I’ve wanted to visit for so many years, felt like a dream come true, as corny as this might sound. I don’t take it for granted that I am able to go travel for such a long time – especially now after meeting so many people in New York who have a very limited amount of vacation days – and in the case of Vietnam, which I’ve been wanting to explore for such a long time, I feel even more grateful that my lifestyle allows me to do this.Expect more Vietnam articles shortly – in the meantime, you can follow my journey on Instagram.