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February 2017

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5 Quick, Memorable Moments in Tanzania (and what you can learn from them)

I was 22 when I took my first trip abroad, and it was to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

So my traveling-self was a bit of a late bloomer, but when I dived in I REALLY dived in.

What was it like to go from over two decades in a familiar, “safe” Western bubble, to one of the largest cities in Eastern Africa? My strongest memories include:

 

BEING ROBBED WITHIN 3 HOURS OF ARRIVAL

 

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I needed to learn how to be a more self-aware, cautious traveler. I was too trusting (or maybe I just didn’t think at all).

(Obvious) Lessons Learned:

  • Your hotel room might not be the most secure.
  • Especially if your key looks like an old-fashioned skeleton key (it was – the same key unlocked every room in the hotel).
  • Carry your valuables on you at all times.
  • AT ALL TIMES!

 

HOLDING A BABY FOR THE FIRST TIME

 

I was simultaneously in love with this little lady and absolutely terrified of her.

I came to Tanzania with a medical missions group, and my job was to provide childcare while patients saw the doctors and nurses. Traveling as a volunteer is definitely a way to make your trip more meaningful.

 

TRYING TO HAGGLE FOR THE FIRST TIME

 

One day we went to Mwenge Woodcarvers Market to buy some souvenirs, and we were expected to haggle for anything we bought. Not haggling was rude, seen as treating the artisans like a charity.

While I was okay (but awkward) when negotiating over a beautiful hand-carved mancala game, I couldn’t bring myself to ask for any lower than the advertised $1 for some earrings. They were already too cheap!

Another shock to my western worldview: shopkeepers would run to me on the street, grab my arm with barely an introduction, and drag me to their stall. “You shop here, you shop here!”

 

MY FIRST GLIMPSE OF A WILD ANIMAL

 

It was absolutely surreal to see these beasts in wide open spaces, never knowing what kind of creature you’d stumble upon next. Plus there were baby animals – I am an absolute sucker for a baby animal! Who isn’t? 😉

I highly recommend scheduling a safari through Mikumi National Park.

 

SWEET MOMENTS OF GENEROSITY

 

Before I returned back home, I was given beautiful traditional clothing and jewelry from some new friends, which I valued more than any of the souvenirs I bought for myself.

And what I remember most about Tanzania (and about many of the countries I’ve visited since) is the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the people I met there.

I have felt welcome everywhere I’ve gone. There are always people eager to talk to me, more than willing to help when I find myself in trouble, and overly generous with their time and gifts when they want to express friendship and hospitality.

I think about these people often, and I hope that they would receive the same treatment if they were ever to visit a western country.

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.

Travelling Vietnam: A Guide from North to South

VIETNAM

Vietnam is a convenient country to travel through because both major cities, Hanoi and Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), are located at opposite ends of the country. This will make your travel plan simple, as these are natural places to start and end the journey.

Whether you choose a bus route, biker trail or other mode of transport, here’s a little guide to what you could stop and see on the way up or down.

 

HANOI

Hanoi is the Vietnamese capital, and at its heart is the crazy old quarter.

The day to day life of the old quarter.

If you can appreciate a little chaos, you will love these narrow streets full of traders, hotels, bars and restaurants. To immediately get that genuine Vietnamese feel, start here. Although there are minimal tourist attractions to see, this is the perfect place for feeling like you are in a completely foreign land.

It’s unbelievably cheap, and you can just about find anything you want to eat and drink. If you are a coffee drinker, we recommend trying a famous Vietnamese egg coffee. It sounds a little strange, but it’s smooth and sweet, not tasting a bit like egg.

Hovering around Hanoi.

Before heading south it might be worth heading in two other directions first.

 

SAPA

Sapa is a stunning location 8 hours northwest of Hanoi by sleeper train. This mountainous dream is right on the Chinese border. With rice terraces everywhere, you won’t struggle to find plenty of photo opportunities. We never made the journey on our trip, and it’s our one regret from Vietnam. What’s 8 hours in exchange for the beauty as seen below?

Don’t miss this beauty like us. 

 

HA LONG BAY

Before making your way south, head four hours east and visit Vietnam’s most famous landmark, Ha Long Bay. Get your first glimpses of the bay by staying the night on Cat Ba Island, where you can wake up early the next morning and take a boat tour around the limestone karsts.

Spend the night on Cat Ba Island.

The limestone islands vary in shapes and sizes and make for a once in a lifetime experience. Boat tours go out for one day or overnight. We opted for the day trip.

Be sure to get a free lunch and take a kayak to get up close and personal. It’s a truly breathtaking place that simply can’t be missed.

Get up close and personal to the limestone islands.

 

HAI PHONG

This hilariously odd stop off town is worth a look before the long ride to Hue. It’s classic Vietnamese and has an olden creepy vibe to it.

The creepy Hai Phong.

 

HUE

Hue is 15 hours south of Hai Phong. We went straight there, but looking back we recommend that you stop off somewhere inbetween.

Hue is a historical city surrounded by stone walls, palaces and shrines. The imperial city is a main attraction worth visiting. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped into a different century.

While it’s a great place to soak up the Vietnamese culture, it will only keep you busy for a day or two, so plan your trip accordingly.

The historical vibes of Hue.

 

DA NANG

DaNang is the third biggest city in Vietnam and the hub of central Vietnam. Situated on the South China Sea and surrounded by mountains, it is the ideal location for a photo or two.

Since it is a big town, there are many things to keep you entertained. A few recommendations include a visit up a cable car in the Ba Na Mountains or a treck through the cliffs and tunnels of the Marble Mountains.

Cable car up the Ba Na Mountains.

 

HOI AN

Hoi An is a calm, feel-good ancient town in central Vietnam. It’s found just an hour south of Da Nang and it’s well worth a stopover.

Traffic and noise pollution are non-existent, and it’s early days on the tourist trail, making it cheap and friendly. This laidback town is perfect for a relaxing stop off in what is otherwise a hectic country.

The calming town of Hoi An.

 

NHA TRANG

Once you’re relaxed and feeling good, hit the road again and head south to Nha Trang, a coastal town full of energy. This is the place to hit the beaches and enjoy the party. Unlike the main cities, this town doesn’t have a bedtime.

The beach life of Nha Trang.

When waking with a hangover, there is no better cure than a trip to Thap Ba spa where you can enjoy a wide range of mud baths.

Relax in the mud of Thap Ba spa.

 

DALAT

Next stop is Da Lat, a sky town with refreshing clean air and cool temperatures. Your journey there will take you deep into the mountains and passed waterfalls raging down thousands of feet.

We definitely recommend a trip to the crazy house and the Elephant Falls during your visit, a setting which reminded me of the one in Disney’s Jungle Book.

The Jungle Book comparison is clear to see at the Elephant Falls. 

 

 

MUI NE

Mui Ne is a quickly growing tourist town. Stretching along the coast line, the whole town mostly sits in a straight line on one road.

The sand dunes are the big attraction of this town, making you feel as if you are in a desert. Once out of the dunes, head to the beach, where the wind and waves are powerful if you’d like to do some surfing. Rest up here, because your next and final stop will be mad.

Get that desert feel in the sand dunes of Mui Ne.

 

SAIGON (HO CHI MINH CITY)

Saigon is crazy. Motorbikes and scooters are everywhere, and most travelers find themselves caught up in the chaotic city vibe.

Motorbikes and scooters are everywhere is Ho Chi Minh City.

The main recommendation in Ho Chi Minh is a trip to the Cu Chi Tunnels – an eye-opening insight into the Vietnam war that will even interest those who usually skip the historical sites.

Ho Chi Minh City is Vietnam’s most built up area, so if you’re ready to return to a bit of normalcy, a nice western meal, and a fun night out, then this is a great place to spend the end of journey.

 Getting deep into the Cu Chi tunnels. 

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.


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How Travel Changes Your Perspective

“Travel changes you.” Throughout my life this is something I’ve heard countless times. I don’t think any other activity has gained as strong a reputation for opening the mind and encouraging character growth.

Reykjavik, Iceland
A few weeks ago I entered my 20th country (Vietnam), and this milestone got me thinking: How has my time abroad affected me?

I’ve learned that bad feelings are not bad.

While traveling, I have experienced a wide spectrum of emotions. Of course, these include wonder, excitement, curiosity, and inspiration. But I have also felt fear, uncertainty, annoyance, discomfort, and boredom.

And where do you think my best stories come from? When do you think I came home feeling more resilient or more experienced?

When we arrived in Beijing with no return ticket, no hotel booked, and barely enough Chinese to ask for help.

When we spent a night homeless and exhausted in a cold Icelandic bus station.

When I was robbed and ill in Tanzania.

Now, whether I’m home or somewhere out in the unfamiliar, I say yes to more experiences. Whether they are “good” or “bad,” I know I will be thankful for them in the end.

We laugh about this day now: Lost in the Forbidden City. In the rain. Still carrying our bags because we couldn’t find a hotel.
 

I’ve found comfort in knowing that I can ALWAYS adapt.

Unexpectedly, I’ve learned to love the frustrating struggles we encounter with each new country.

It’s satisfying and empowering when something that seemed challenging – chopsticks and squat toilets in China, dressing modestly in the desert heat of Oman, over-the-top spicy food in Thailand, communicating with only charades and body language – finally becomes normal and natural.

We’re already out of water! Dressing appropriately in the Middle East makes you thirsty.
The thing is, I don’t really know myself, and I don’t really want to. Knowing myself is not the goal anymore. I can always change, I will always change, and I like changing. I don’t want to find myself, but I do want to surprise myself.

I’ve accepted that my journey will never be finished.

When I first started traveling, I remember thinking that it would only take a handful of trips overseas to feel as if I had “seen the world.” One or two stops in each continent, and I could claim my title of World Traveler™. Then that always persistent, painfully expensive travel itch would disappear and I’d be ready to find an easier, cheaper, less time-consuming obsession.

But that’s not what happened.

I’ve now accepted that I will probably never be happily rooted to one place, and I’ve learned that the world offers way more variety than I’d ever thought.

A 2-week trip to Asia won’t scratch Asia off the list. Myanmar is vastly different from the Philippines, which is vastly different from Vietnam — and a quick visit to any country will never give me a real grasp on its culture.

The world is best explored slowly and thoroughly, and I now believe I’ll always want to do just that.

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.


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Recommending the Blue Lagoon in Iceland

When we were planning our trip to Iceland, many travel sites warned us that the Blue Lagoon would not be worth it. Instead, they suggested we go to one of the Reykjavik thermal pools, usually found in gyms or community centers.

We are so relieved that we did not listen to these warnings, and we recommend that you also plan a day at the Blue Lagoon. While the thermal pools in Reykjavik are nice, they do not compare to the stunning views and complete relaxation offered at the Blue Lagoon. This would be like settling for a swim in a garden pond over the Caribbean Sea.

The amazing Blue Lagoon, Iceland.
The Blue Lagoon is often described as a “tourist trap,” but sometimes places are popular with tourists for a reason. In this case, the reason is a steamy thermal lake surrounded by mountainous views. In the winter, the picture is perfect with a layer of snow covering the scene.

The snow makes for unbelievable surroundings.
When you go, booking in advance is a must. We met people who waited until the last minute to book, and they could only purchase tickets that allowed entrance for one to two hours before closing. Not only did they not have enough time, they could not really appreciate the beauty of the lagoon because it was already dark when they arrived.
We also encourage you to consider the cheaper packages. We purchased the standard pack and still felt 100% pampered – we also easily found towels and robes to use when we needed them.

Visit the Reykjavik thermal pools for a taste of how the locals live, but don’t miss out on one of the top 25 wonders of the world.

Dont miss out on one of the wonders of the world when you visit Iceland.

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.


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Avoid Sixt Car Rental in Oman

A round trip around Oman is breathtaking. Stunning views of mountains and deserts, long open roads and even the odd camel crossing the road. But renting a car is the only way to get out Muscat, the country’s capital, as buses and trains don’t really exist.

While getting a car is definitely a must, we warn you to be very careful of what rental company you choose. German giants, Sixt, are a massive avoid! Renting the car on arrival seemed quick, cheap and straightforward, which was part of why we chose Sixt over the other companies available at the airport.

The problems began when we returned the car three days later. Suddenly the price had jumped. They had conveniently forgotten to mention a mileage limit, and we had gone over it – drastically.  The fee for this mistake totaled 49 Omani Rial (about 127 U.S Dollars).

When we were left stunned at this turn of events, the Sixt employee asked us, so innocently, with a completely straight face: “Did you leave Muscat? Our cars are really only for driving a little around the city.”

Now, I cannot imagine any traveler arriving in Oman with the intention of just staying in Muscat. There is so much more out there, and honestly not much in the city itself. Trust us, you are doing yourself a grave injustice if you don’t explore Oman from desert to shoreline.

Don’t let Sixt limit you to the city, or charge you huge fees to explore this country the way it deserves to be explored. Other rental companies won’t – we checked with some expat friends who rent a car regularly.

Sixt conned us big, and if it wasn’t for some heavy arguing, we would have left Oman with barely any money left in our pockets.

 

TRAVELERS OFTEN GET ASKED HOW WE’RE ABLE TO FIND THE MONEY, TIME, OR COURAGE TO GO ABROAD.

WANT TO KNOW HOW WE DO IT?

CLICK HERE FOR A FREE GUIDE.

 

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