My First African Safari Tour, Day 2

My First African Safari Tour, Day 2

The second day of my safari tour in Balule Private Game Reserve marked the first full day I had on safari. The day before was devoted to driving half the day from Johannesburg to the edge of Kruger National Park.

On this second day, I saw tons of wildlife on a 4 hour walk through the bush, spotting some of the deadliest predators in Africa. I even tasted giraffe droppings! A late afternoon game drive proved extremely fruitful when I got to see some of the most quintessential African wildlife all at the same time—elephant, giraffe, and zebra! It was a dream come true!

The day came to a close with an unexpected performance by a local tribe. Then I slept out in the bush under the stars with nothing between me and the predators of the night!

New Years Update: Personal Growth and Travel in 2018

New Years Update: Personal Growth and Travel in 2018

Happy New Year!

This year was amazing for travel—I fulfilled childhood dreams and pushed myself out of my comfort zone. It was a wonderful year for travel opportunities all around!

2018 was also a year that presented some challenges for me personally.

This blog is often a place for deep, personal reflection. I do it in most of my blog posts, but also intentionally through random life updates. I did this on a monthly basis during my extended trip 4 years ago (4 years ago, whaaat?!). Now, I only post updates about once a year around the new year. I love making the celebration of the new year into a time to look back and look ahead in a more intentional way. It's good for the heart, mind, and soul!

For this post, I look back on my travels this year, including my top 5 favorite travel experiences! I also share my reflections on life and personal growth behind all the travels. I do this mostly for me. But I know readers also appreciate the honesty and clarity about what's going on with me!

So here we go! This was 2018.

My First African Safari Tour, Day 1

My First African Safari Tour, Day 1

Finally, the day had arrived for my first ever African safari tour! In early June of this year, after a week in Namibia and a weekend exploring Pretoria, I was pumped to search for and see the Big Five animals (and more) of Africa.

This first day of the tour involved bonding with others on the drive to the reserve, a sunset game drive with tons of wild animals sightings including elephant and lion, and a BBQ dinner in the African bush.

I honestly could not have asked for a more fulfilling first day. Hopefully, this perfect day wasn't going to spoil me for the remainder of my 5-day tour!

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.