How I Planned A Low-Cost African Safari Tour

How I Planned A Low-Cost African Safari Tour

An African safari tour was a dream experience of mine since I saw the Lion King as a kid. But I always assumed the cost of such an experience would be astronomical. Most safari tours I looked into casually required thousands of dollars. As much as I wanted to have this experience, I really didn't want to go bankrupt because of it! And so the research began!

I'm all about balancing the cost of things when I travel. I'll lay out money for a really extraordinary experience—but it better hit all the marks in all the right places. That's why I spent lots of time researching tour options for my trip to South Africa. Through my research, I found the perfect tour. For a minimum price, I maximized the experience for my first African Safari tour in Kruger National Park. It offered the kind of accommodation I wanted, the right number of days, and, most importantly, the best chance at seeing tons of wildlife!

This post is all about the decisions I made: Why I chose Kruger, why I chose a guided tour instead of self-guided, how I searched for tour options, which tour fit all my needs, and what the actual benefits were. Perhaps the approach I took will help you find and plan your perfect African Safari Tour, too!

One Night in Johannesburg: Staying Safe

One Night in Johannesburg: Staying Safe

Johannesburg, South Africa is often talked about as a pretty unsafe city for travelers. The most common crimes are petty, such as having valuables stolen from your person or your car. But that's the kind of hassle you don't want when you're having a good time on your trip.

Most places in the world are safer than you assume. But realistically, some places are going to be less safe than others. When the facts point to unsafe conditions where you're traveling, you don't necessarily need to avoid the place entirely. You just need to enact some precautions based on local recommendations.

In this post, I describe one night I spent in Johannesburg and my tips for staying safe. I only had to make small edits to my behavior. I chose to stay in a better neighborhood, I walked around with a friend, and I didn't carry my phone with me at night.

The result was an easy going night of listening to local music with a new friend. No issues. No sweat!

Ladysmith Black Mambazo Live in Pretoria, South Africa [Video]

Ladysmith Black Mambazo Live in Pretoria, South Africa [Video]

On June 2, 2018, I had the privilege of going to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform at the South African State Theatre in Pretoria. My friend Puleng got us front row tickets so I could witness their greatness up close!

If you don’t know Ladysmith Black Mambazo, you’re about to fall in love! A little background on them - Joseph Shabalala formed the Grammy award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1960s. The name comes from several aspects of Joseph’s life. “Ladysmith” is the name of his hometown in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. “Black” refers to the oxen, a farm animal he grew up admiring as a young boy. The Zulu word for chopping axe is “Mambazo” which is a metaphor for the group’s strong vocals which cleared the road to their success.

And they’ve been so successful, involving sons and cousins and friends in the group over the years. Their traditional musical style is derived from “isicathamiya.” This music developed among black mine workers who sang to entertain themselves while in poor working conditions away from their families and homes. The group is most famous for their album, Shaka Zulu, which was produced by Paul Simon. Nelson Mandela invited them to Norway when he accepted a Nobel Peace Prize and then they sang at Mandela’s presidential inauguration. Indeed, the concert was titled the Mandela Celebration, to honor his legacy.

In this post, I share video I took from the concert with full songs recorded live, including “Thalaza,” “Lelilungelo Nge,” “Homeless,” and my personal favorite “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain.” Enjoy!

Visiting My Friend in Pretoria, South Africa

Visiting My Friend in Pretoria, South Africa

I am so grateful and privileged to have friends who live all over the world. This not only grants me the opportunity to stay with these friends and minimize travel costs. I also have a built in buddy, whom I share a true bond and connection to, to spend time with and explore a new place.

Puleng, my friend from graduate school, is South African. She was generous enough to show me around her town, which also happens to be the capitol city of South Africa.

I spent two nights with Puleng in which she gave me a specialized, personalized tour. We went to her friend's book reading at African Flavour in Johannesburg. We attended a rare Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert at the South African State Theatre. And we discussed politics and learned about apartheid at the Union Buildings and Freedom Park. Read about these highlights and more in this post!

Diving the Caribbean Sea in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

Diving the Caribbean Sea in Bayahibe, Dominican Republic

I've always wanted to dive the Caribbean Sea! I finally had the opportunity to while in the Dominican Republic.

Diving near the resort on the Eastern, Atlantic side was not ideal conditions. So Ang and I took a road trip down to Bayahibe on the Southern, Caribbean side of the island country. There, I had a most spectacular, personalized tour of 2 reefs with Go Dive Bayahibe.

In this post, I review my experience diving and visiting this new area of the DR. From pristine beaches with crystal clear blue waters to diverse marine life including a squid encounter (!), now I know where to book my next trip to the Dominican Republic!

Dominican Republic: My First All-Inclusive Resort Stay

Dominican Republic: My First All-Inclusive Resort Stay

I am so not an all-inclusive resort type of traveler. I'm the type of traveler who goes camping across New Zealand. I pour buckets of water over me at hostels for a shower in Iceland. I party and couchsurf with locals in South Africa. In general, I adventure travel on a budget with minimal environmental impact and maximum exploration of culture and countryside.

But I got that style of travel out of my system in Africa. This week, I am taking a break from my posts about Africa to fast forward to my trip to the Dominican Republic. I broke all my travel norms to have this romantic, Caribbean getaway with Ang! It was her birthday, so I was down for whatever she wanted to do. And an all-inclusive, adults-only resort was it!

Breaking my own travel norms meant I had the chance to pop many travel cherries on this trip. I had my first resort experience, my first swim-up bar experience, my first Caribbean vacation, and my first visit to an international country South of the United States! Woo! Who knew I had so many cherries to pop after all the travel I've done? Well, this post is my take on all these new experiences, from the good to the not so good.

 Exploring Windhoek and Partying With Queer Namibians

Exploring Windhoek and Partying With Queer Namibians

Who knew Namibia had a queer scene? When I planned my trip to Namibia, I never expected to meet Namibian queer folk—and party with them! But that's exactly what happened through my couchsurf host in Windhoek, Namibia's capital city.

I stayed with Naville, a friend of a friend in the couchsurf community, while in Windhoek. Naville lives close to the city center. So it was super easy to access and explore shops, restaurants, sights, and bars from his place!

In this post, I share everything I squeezed into 1 full day and night in Windhoek. This included ethically shopping African souvenirs from local tribes and learning about local LGBT rights over ciders at a bar.

Despite limited time, I ended up making some great memories and even greater friends!Who knew Namibia had a queer scene? When I planned my trip to Namibia, I never expected to meet Namibian queer folk—and party with them! But that's exactly what happened through my couchsurf host in Windhoek, Namibia's capital city.

I stayed with Naville, a friend of a friend in the couchsurf community, while in Windhoek. Naville lives close to the city center. So it was super easy to access and explore shops, restaurants, sights, and bars from his place!

In this post, I share everything I squeezed into 1 full day and night in Windhoek. This included ethically shopping African souvenirs from local tribes and learning about local LGBT rights over ciders at a bar.

Despite limited time, I ended up making some great memories and even greater friends!

Sesriem Canyon and 5 Namib Desert Highlights

Sesriem Canyon and 5 Namib Desert Highlights

When I travel, I am often pulled to a destination by one feature and then, once I'm there, I fall in love with so much more.

By lunchtime, I had seen what I came to the Namib Desert to see: the Sossusvlei region. So what was there left to see? I quickly learned that the Namib desert has much more to offer than Sossusvlei. I spent my final 24 hours in the Namib desert viewing fantastic scenery and incredible wildlife.

In the morning, I climbed Dune 45 and photographed the sun-scorched trees of Deadvlei. Now, I would scale the walls of a deep canyon. I would spot Namibia's national animal and observe a family of baboons. And I would end my visit to the Namib desert by admiring its shifting colors at sunrise and sunset.

Photographing Namibia's Deadvlei As A Solo Traveler

Photographing Namibia's Deadvlei As A Solo Traveler

Deadvlei (dead marsh or valley) is one of the most famously photographed places in Namibia.

It has sun-scorched camel thorn trees sprouting across a bleached-white clay pan surrounded by looming orange sand dunes. These natural tree sculptures are estimated to be 900 years old! And they were a large part of my motivation to visit Namibia.

In this post, I share with you my tips and struggles through photos and brief commentary. Most bloggers and instagrammers will post only the best photos of Deadvlei. But I share the good, the bad, and the real bad.

Holding nothing back; this is the realness. This is Deadvlei in all its beauty through traditional and creative angles as well as awful selfies and terrible captures.

In the end, Deadvlei is beautiful no matter how you take its picture.

Climbing Dune 45 At Sunrise In The Namib Desert

Climbing Dune 45 At Sunrise In The Namib Desert

I've seen some of the best sunrises around the world and climbed sand dunes, as well. But never have I experienced sunrise views like I did from the top of Dune 45 in the Namib Desert.

Dune 45 is located on the way to the Sossusvlei salt and clay pans in Namib-Naukluft National Park. Deadvlei is another famous highlight of this park that brings in hordes of tourists year round. But views from Dune 45 of the expansive, billowing sand of the Namib desert holds its own—especially at sunrise.

Before I could climb up Dune 45, I had to gain access to the park via the gateway town of Sesriem. In this post, I share my experience getting through Sesriem's gates, climbing Dune 45, and checking out other highlights of this breathtaking natural landscape.

Road-trip to the Sossusvlei Region of Namibia

Road-trip to the Sossusvlei Region of Namibia

Time to head south! I woke up on my third day in Namibia after returning from the north the night before. The Cheetah Conservation Fund fulfilled my desire to see big cats in Africa. Now I was ready to feast my eyes upon some beautiful, Namibian desert landscapes.

The Namib-Naukluft National Park is home to the Sossusvlei (pronounced SAH-soos-vlie) Region of Namibia. Sossusvlei is particularly famous for its ultra high sand dunes and photographic dead trees. But those details (and epic photographs) are coming later.

In this post, I share highlights from the 6+ hour guided drive I took to get there. I map out my path—literally, I include an interactive map! With it, there's information and photos on how I got there, the road conditions, sights along the way, and where I camped at Sossusvlei.

 Visiting The Cheetah Conservation Fund In Namibia

Visiting The Cheetah Conservation Fund In Namibia

As a lover of cheetahs, I was very excited to learn that the "Cheetah Capital of the World" is Namibia. But, with less than 8,000 left in the world, the chances of seeing the endangered cheetah in the wild is very low! Still, I wanted to see these beautiful creatures in person and in the most ethical way possible.

Before I traveled to Namibia, I researched and identified the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF). After carefully assessing their ethical practices, I booked 2 tours with CCF.

In this post, I share a full review of CCF. I include how I got there, what I learned about cheetahs, my experience seeing the cheetahs, and learning about CCF's efforts to save them.

Planning My Budget Trip to South Africa & Namibia

Planning My Budget Trip to South Africa & Namibia

I started planning my trip to Africa when I was 6 years old. Okay, not exactly! I was 6 years old when I saw The Lion King. Since then, I’ve lusted after the country, eagerly awaiting the day I could go.

A great, low-cost trip does not always need advance planning. I planned this trip starting in late January of this year with the majority of the details worked out in March and April.

I don't make a ton of money working in higher education and I live in a high cost-of-living area. So I had to plan this out carefully according to a strict budget. I also had limited time off—about 18 days—to create an itinerary that would hit the highlights. In the end, I managed to cover flights, activities, accommodation, food, and more while keeping the cost under $3000.

I'm in Namibia! A Photographic Sneak Peak

I'm in Namibia! A Photographic Sneak Peak

For the first time in over 2 years, I am overseas traveling a new continent—Africa! Specifically, I am traveling the lovely little country of Namibia (not to be confused with Nambia, Trump's incorrect pronunciation of it).

Namibia has stunning natural landscapes and the wildlife sightings happen left and right without even trying! I fly to South Africa next to see the "Big 5" on safari, but I've already felt incredibly fulfilled by all the wildlife and nature I have seen.

My first stop in Namibia was the Cheetah Conservation Fund. Then I camped in the Sossusvlei region which has the tallest sand dunes in the world and a really unique place to take photographs of 700 year old sun-scorched trees. It's been an amazing trip already and I'm only 1 week into it! Here's a sneak photographic peak at Namibia...

My 8 Favorite Brooklyn Things To Do in Spring

My 8 Favorite Brooklyn Things To Do in Spring

I have spent a lot of time in Brooklyn over the years.

Recently, I've been visiting friends there and getting to know the place from a local perspective. And my favorite time to be in Brooklyn? It's got to be the Spring! Between the warmer weather, the flowers popping up, and the cheerier vibe, I love Brooklyn in the Springtime.

The following are some of my favorite activities for when all the flowers start blooming. But don't worry, I share some activities for other seasons, too.

The Adventures of Wally: A Tribute to My Grand-Aunt

The Adventures of Wally: A Tribute to My Grand-Aunt

This week, I am taking a short break from writing about my own travels to give tribute to my Grand-Aunt Wally. Wally died last week at 98 years old. She was my travel inspiration. And so I was moved to write this post in memory of her.

The photos in this post come predominantly from my visit to Germany in 2014. There I met her half brother, Ludwig, who showed me these photos during my stay with cousins in Rohr.

In this post, I write a little bit about what Wally meant to me. I describe some of the adventures she took part in and I discuss some of the words of wisdom she gave me about life and travel. I hope that her words and her life will inspire you as she inspired me.

Hiking Brace Mountain in Upstate New York

Hiking Brace Mountain in Upstate New York

The last time I posted about a hike in upstate New York it was when I hiked Stissing Mountain. That was shortly after I returned form the trip around the world. Since then, I have been meaning to hike more around my hometown area.

The day after Thanksgiving, my sister-in-law, Kate, and I decided to digest our turkey and stuffing with a local hike! I searched for a hike with the following features: in the Dutchess County region, challenging enough to burn some significant calories, short enough to accomplish in a few hours, and able to deliver some spectacular views.

Brace Mountain (2,316 ft) matched all my criteria! And it was a beautiful, late autumn day for a hike.

10 (More) Things To Do In New York City

10 (More) Things To Do In New York City

In my last post about things to do in New York City, I focused mostly on what to see as first-timers to NYC. I featured mainly the places and activities I chose to show my then-boyfriend from New Zealand.

In this post, I cover different things to do in the Big Apple. You could say these suggestions are suited for second-timers! But really, you can pick and choose from this list or the last list and be totally fulfilled during your visit!

Included are activities I've experienced on my own and with others. As a former resident and frequent commuter to the city, I've included all kinds of recommendations from my New York adventures. 

Weekdays Are The Best Days To Visit Niagara Falls

Weekdays Are The Best Days To Visit Niagara Falls

In late May of 2017, my cousin Lisa and her partner Christoph visited me in New York from Germany. One of the top travel experiences on her list was to see Niagara Falls during her visit. When she told me this, I started planning our 8 hours drive from Long Island to Niagara on the western border of NY.

With stops at my parents', relatives', and brother's house along the way, I strategized our visit to Niagara Falls so that it would fall on a weekday. The weekend we were traveling upstate was Memorial Day weekend. The last thing I wanted to do was wind up on long lines again like I did the year before on July 4th weekend. No way would I put myself through that again!

But I wasn't completely certain that our visit would be without crowds. On a Tuesday attached to a holiday weekend, I thought others might have the same idea. I discovered they didn't. Like I pro, I got to show Lisa and Christoph the beauty and exhilaration of Niagara Falls without the long lines and wait times. I'm happy to say I had an amazing time there, completely making up for the horrible experience I had previously!

I'll Never Do It Again: Bayou Tour In Louisiana

I'll Never Do It Again: Bayou Tour In Louisiana

Compromising my ethical values is something I do not do very often. And it never feels good doing it. But my bestie was coming with me to NOLA for the weekend. So I said yes to a swamp tour I had warned would likely be unethical to the animals. I've never been so upset about being right.

The last time I was in NOLA, I "broke into" the local zoo. Although I didn't pay to get in, walking around there reinforced my ethical standards around animal tourism. I've written about this before, such as with the Monkey Forest in Ubud. Basically, my standards are don't support it unless it's highly regulated and the interaction is as natural as possible.

The Bayou Tours in Louisiana broke these rules. And I say the plural word "tours" because it's more than just the one we went on. While I learned a lot about the wildlife and swamp ecosystem on the tour, I cringed as the tour guide fed marshmallows to the animals. That only scratches the surface. Read on to learn more about why I'll never support tours like this again!