Dipping My Toe into the Solo Travel Waters

The freedom of solo travel

The first time I ever traveled solo was the day I stepped off the train into Salzburg, Austria in the fall of 2000. I broke the first rule of solo travel safety by demonstrating that I was an obviously lost tourist as I opened the large noisy map and studied it closely. Thankfully, a small older woman quickly pointed me in the right direction and I was on my way. I loved Salzburg. I had a wonderful time viewing areas I’d been long admiring in the movie The Sound of Music. I returned to Munich and reunited with my friends later that night.

While I’m not quite a solo travel virgin, my upcoming trip will challenge my ability to travel without anyone I know. My first few days, I’ll be on my own just outside of Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve been to the Cape Town area before. It’s a beautiful city where people are very friendly. This is where I have scheduled the cage diving with the great white sharks. There is a BIG smile on my face just thinking about it.

Then, I head to Namibia where I’ll meet up with fellow travelers I’ve never met who are joining me on the safari. There will be a maximum of eight people and our guide. So, my first solo trip isn’t really solo. It was a good compromise to help me begin the adjustment.

My love of travel has taken me to many exotic places, some of them are locations where very few people I know want to go. The trips are usually about two weeks long and can be expensive. I save and plan my vacations around these opportunities to travel. For me, the choice is to learn to travel on my own for those times when my travel buddies can’t come, or to just not go. I don’t consider delaying or missing an opportunity to travel a good option, so I’m on the path for solo travel.

I’m not someone who minds being alone, as a matter of fact, I’m an introvert so I need this time to recharge. I’m also single, so I’m used to doing things alone at times, like eating out and going to the movies. Still, I am a bit nervous about not having someone else to rely on when traveling in other countries.

Luckily, there are women who have already traveled this road and are very happy they did. Here are just a couple of my favorite solo travelers who inspire me and provide great information for those of us on the same path.

Journey Woman

Solo Travel

This trip is an adventure in many ways and I’m excited to get started. Let the countdown continue…

Is solo travel something you’ve ever considered? Any tips?

Ebola and My Trip to Africa

Illustration of the Ebola virus

I’ve been asked numerous times this week whether or not I’m afraid to go on my upcoming trip to Namibia and South Africa with the current Ebola outbreak on the African continent. My answer is no, for the following reasons.

I spoke with Ian from the Africa Adventure Company yesterday to finalize a few details on my trip. I asked him what impact they have been seeing. At this time, he isn’t aware of any travelers who have cancelled their plans, but people are asking if there are specific things they should be aware of while they travel.

Many countries in Africa rely heavily on tourism and if the ebola virus spreads or if travelers panic and refuse to visit, it will be a financial catastrophe for each of those countries. I’m not surprised they are taking it seriously. Not just because of the financial implications, but because they want to protect their citizens.

Will I be taking some precautions? Yes.

  • I’ll be wiping down hard surfaces on the airplane with anti-bacterial wipes. I’m still doing research on which wipes I’ll purchase. I’m not sure if it will help, but it certainly won’t hurt.
  • As always, I’ll be vigilant about washing my hands throughout the trip.
  • There are experts in all these countries that have far more knowledge than I do, so I’ll be listening and acting on the instructions provided at the airport and other locations.

I can’t even begin to imagine the horror and sadness of those impacted by the Ebola Virus in Sierre Leon, Guinea and Liberia. Just following the headlines will tell some of the story. My thoughts and prayers are with everyone suffering from this terrible virus.

Ebola Outbreak Instills Terror in West African Families

As I write about my trip, I’ll be including what I’m seeing and experiencing relating to the impact of this outbreak in the countries I’m visiting. Please sign up to be notified of new posts if you are interesting in following along. 

Driving on the Other Side of the Road

driving on the left side

My International Driver’s Permit is in hand. Watch out world!

It was surprising how easy it was to get. I’m not quite sure what I imagined, but a passport style photo, a valid driver’s license from my state of Colorado and payment were the only requirements. I walked into my AAA office and fifteen minutes later, I had my permit.

Now comes the more difficult part, actually driving on the other side of the road on my trip to Africa. I’ve never done it before. I’ve always been the passenger. So this will be one of the adventures associated with my trip. Not only learning a new way to drive, but doing it alone in another country. So how to begin? By Googling it of course.

Here are the tips I’ve found so far:

  • Follow the other traffic
  • Write a note reminding myself to stay to the left and tape it on the dashboard
  • Confirm I’m driving an automatic so I don’t have to think about using a stick shift on the opposite side at the same time I’m concentrating on staying on the left side of the line
  • Add GPS to the car rental so I easily know how to get to my location
  • Think “hard left, wide right”
  • Keep the center line on the driver’s side

While I’m nervous, I’m also excited. South Africa seems like a great place to start. Once I get used to it there, it will be much easier to drive when I travel to England and Ireland where the roads are much narrower and the rock walls much less forgiving.

Here’s one of the YouTube videos that gave some great tips and pointers:


Have you ever driven on the other side of the road?

I’m About to Experience a Jaws Moment

Jaws Great White Shark
DA…Da

DA…Da

DA…Da

DA…Da

I can hear it. The music intensifies the sense of horror involved when something you can’t see is swimming up from beneath you. I was sixteen years old when Jaws was released in theaters. It was a terrifying movie and I loved every minute. I saw it many times then and I watch it at least once a year when it’s on cable. It’s still a great movie.

I contemplated going to school for marine biology after being introduced to the great white shark. Instead I researched wild life management and then settled on business related classes. Still, to this day, I’m fascinated by the oceans and great white sharks.

So, when I rescheduled my trip to Namibia for later this summer and ended up with a few extra days on the front end, my travel agent, Ian at Africa Adventure Company, suggested cage diving with the sharks as one of several alternative activities. Cage diving with great white sharks off Dyer Island in South Africa? Count me in!!

Cage diving with sharks has always been on my bucket list and thanks to Ian, it’s been booked. It’s more like cage snorkeling, but still, I’ll finally be face to face with the incredibly beautiful and dangerous creatures of the deep. Shark diving at 55? I’ve been waiting a long time. Sounds perfect.

DA…da

DA…da

DA…da

 

Travel Guard Rocks!

Travel InsuranceA month ago, I was packing my final clothing for my trip to Namibia when I had a severe attack of stomach pain and had to cancel. It was frightening and such a big disappointment. The good news was that I had travel insurance through Travel Guard and, yesterday they sent me a check.

What Happens When You are Too Sick to Travel?

The trip is back on for August and I couldn’t be happier. Once I get the final details for the rescheduled trip, I’ll apply my refund and double check my packing list. I have received treatment from my doctor and am back to 100%.

Everyone I dealt with at Travel Guard was wonderful and when I called to check on my claim, each person could easily look up the details of my case and give me timely updates. They were friendly and more than willing to answer all my questions. No long waits on hold.

I have to admit, I was a little skeptical about whether or not I was going to have a battle on my hands. It never developed. I was treated with respect and Travel Guard has earned a customer for life. Thank you!

What Happens When You Are Too Sick To Travel?

Intravenous IV dripI’m sad…

I should be in the Olive Grove Hotel in Namibia, enjoying the very first stage of my big trip. Instead, I’m in my home in Denver writing this post. I can’t help but torture myself by looking at the itinerary and imagining myself there instead of here. Never would I have guessed that less than 48 hours before I was to climb on the airplane, I would be lying on a bed in the emergency room of my local hospital.

Imagine extreme gut-wrenching pain radiating from my stomach and around my rib cage including my back. I was very concerned that I was having a heart attack. Thank goodness they ruled that out immediately. As the pain and vomiting continued, it was clear that I was in no condition to travel or to even begin to attempt 33 hours of four different flights, with layovers, just to get to my first hotel. 

Thousands of dollars of special lenses and photography gear I rented from Borrowlenses, sit on my kitchen island and my almost fully packed bags lay on my bedroom floor. I am so disappointed, I can’t even tell you. I very seldom get sick, so this was a real shock.

What happens when you are too sick to travel? I’m finding out from personal experience.

First, as always, I purchased travel insurance for the trip when I booked it late last year. The policy is with Travel Guard, a company that friends highly recommended. I insured my trip for $13,000 so it included flights and all the on ground transportation and accommodations. My plan does cover sickness of the traveler. As I read the policy in more detail over the weekend, I discovered it would not have covered me if I had traveled with an illness that began before I left the country. It will not, unfortunately, cover the photography equipment rental.

I always buy travel insurance for my international trips. Still, I hate to use it. After all, it means that something has gone wrong. But, that’s why I purchased it and while I couldn’t travel at this time, I hope to reschedule. Namibia is calling and I still plan to answer.

I booked my flights through United Airlines, where I have frequent flyer miles. I called them on Friday afternoon and cancelled the trip. The ticketing agent was wonderful and patient through my emotional explanation. The upgrade fees were immediately refunded and my flights cancelled with the costs credited for future travel. There is usually a $300 cancellation or change fee, but they have waived it because of the unusual circumstances.

Ian from Africa Adventure Company, who coordinated my travel arrangements, was very kind. My costs are not refundable. It’s very clear in the contact I signed and I completely understand. It would not be possible for all of the companies on the ground to fill my slot at such late notice. I love working with Ian and he will definitely be my go-to guy when I’m ready to rebook the trip.

I’ll be completing all of the insurance claim paperwork requesting a refund of $7,205.00 this week and heading back to work on Wednesday. I need my vacation time for when I am able to reschedule my trip. I’m not sure how long it takes to process a claim through Travel Guard, but I’m hopeful they will respond quickly.

While I know it was the right decision for myself and the people I would have been flying and traveling with, I’m still so very disappointed that I’m here and not there. As my sister says, there’s a reason for everything and while I don’t understand it, it will eventually all work out.

I’m not sure when, but soon, I’ll be walking the streets of Windhoek, Nambia, and this disappointment will live only in a post on my blog and as a footnote in my travel journal.

Is Full Time Traveling After Retirement an Option?

Retirement TravelingAs I’ve continued to research life after retirement, I’ve been amazed at how differently it looks for so many people. Retirees leaving full-time jobs have so many options these days, with people living healthier and longer lives. Here is just one example: Lynne and Tim Martin, who retired into full-time traveling. I’m fascinated by this couple who sold their home and spend several months at a time living in different countries. They blog about their travels on HomeFreeAdventures.com.

Lynn and Tim’s story sounded so amazing, I wondered, could I do it? Sell my house and spend the majority of my life on the road experiencing other parts of the country and the world?

Nah…

While it sounds intriguing and I’m planning to follow along on their adventures through their new book and blog, I just can’t imagine stepping into that life.

Why?

I love returning to my house and knowing there is someplace safe, quiet and yes, filled with my photos and other things that make my life so comfortable. I can’t imagine selling almost everything. I like to be surrounded by my stuff. I also love my neighborhood and the convenience of grocery stores and restaurants that are within walking distance.

Family members and friends live fairly close by and it’s easy to spend time together on holidays and spur of the moment kinds of things, like movies and dinner. I know there are single people who travel a lot, but for me it would be difficult living “on the road” by myself.

Bubbaweb

And…just as important to me are my pets, my two dogs Olive and Sadie, and the royal kitty, Bubba. I don’t ever plan on not having animals as part of my life.  Coming home to wagging tails is such a wonderful thing after a long busy day at work and knowing that I can spend more time with them after I retire is a bonus.

I admire how adventurous Lynn and Tim are as they live in different places around the world, many that I plan to visit. Full time traveling is certainly an option, but not one for me. Most of my retirement time will include home, family and furry friends.

Is full time traveling something you’d ever consider?

Sisters’ Trip Update – Planning our Trip to New England

Camden, Maine
Planning for our trip to New England is moving along at a fast pace. 
Once you helped us select the amazing destination two weeks ago, Wendy and I began our research. Our excitement level is high and we’ve discovered that there is simply too much to see in such a short time. It’s been difficult to narrow our choices. I anticipate this is the first of many trips to the area. All of you have great taste!!

The budget for our five day trip is $500 each, not including airfare. I’ve run the numbers for either three or four travelers since we may have one additional family friend (adopted sister) traveling with us. The travel dates have been modified to better fit our collective schedules, so we will be traveling in late September, a perfect time for the area.

Airfare:

We are flying from Denver to Boston on Southwest Airlines at $314 each roundtrip, including the early check-in fee.

Car Rental:

The rental car (full size) from Advantage is $275, including taxes.

Lodging:

After spending an hour or two on HomeAway, we were delighted to find a mother-in-law style apartment near Camden, Maine. It sleeps four people and is a real bargain at $425 for four nights. The ratings are exceptional and the owners are very friendly. We debated staying in two different places during our travel, but after reviewing the options, decided to find one location more central to all the places we are planning to visit. We’ve never used Homeaway before or stayed in a home style rental, so this will be a new experience.

Attractions:

So far, it looks like we will be seeing parts of Acadia National Park, the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the coastline between Bar Harbor, Maine and Boston, Massachusetts. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time for the Ben and Jerry’s tour in Vermont, so I’ll just be buying a pint or three of Chocolate Fudge Brownie Ice Cream and eating along the way.

Preparing our own breakfast and packing lunches and other snacks will help us stay within budget. However, dinner will be out on the town at fabulous restaurants. We plan to take advantage of all the amazing seafood options. I’m not sure how we are going to decide where to eat. Any suggestions?

At this point, it looks like we’re on track and have a little extra money to spare for park entrance fees and unexpected costs.  It has really helped to split the expenses between more than two people. Here is our budget so far.

DRAFT BUDGET

  Three Travelers Four Travelers
Airfare $942 $1,256
Budget $1,500 $2,000
Rental Car $275 $275
Lodging $425 $425
Gas $150 $150
Meals Out $300 $400
Meals In $150 $200
Balance $200 $550

It’s amazing that we can visit so many states in five days. I love planning a trip, don’t you?

Can We Be Truly Objective – Travel Writing

Travel WritingWe had an interesting discussion in my new writing class yesterday. The instructor is a travel writer, previously working for Outside Magazine and then as an independent with articles appearing in the New York Times and National Geographic, among other major publications. So, he’s a pro.

“What is the future of travel writing?”

The question he asked hung in the air for a moment before he began talking about how the internet has changed writing. In the past, writers proposed stories to editors and, if interested, they would be sent out to complete the piece. Travel costs were covered and the writer would be paid for his/her time. Articles may have paid a writer up to $10,000. At that time, writers could get by with 6-8 published articles a year, depending upon their lifestyle.

With the advent of the internet, magazines and newspapers have shrunk in size, some even going out of business. Online reporting is at an all time high. Frankly, that’s where I get my news. Where writers were paid for content before, many bloggers submit articles or posts for free for the “exposure”. The Huffington Post comes to mind, but I’m sure there are others.

Then the discussion moved specifically to travel blogging. There are successful travel bloggers who earn a good living, not many, but there are some. Our instructor believes that blogging may be the future of travel writing, with bloggers earning money from ads on their sites. That brought up another questions to ponder.

“Can you truly be objective if you receive free accommodations, access to activities, meals, flights or other subsidies for your travel?”

In order to be “objective”, magazine publishers would not allow writers to accept “gifts” from businesses they were going to be reporting on. In comparison, travel bloggers may receive free “gifts” that essentially discount their travel in exchange for those businesses being included in the final review.

Most bloggers disclose receiving discounts and free products or services to their readers and mention that their opinions are their own. What happens, however, if the accommodations are horrible and that information is reported in a post? Would other businesses still want that same blogger to write about their product knowing that the writer is brutally honest? And, if you enjoyed your time, could it be because you were treated differently than a regular traveler because the business knew they were being evaluated?

I certainly don’t have the answers to these tough questions. If you are a travel blogger, how else do you get “paid” for your work? It’s definitely a dilemma. As someone who wants to include travel reporting in my blog, I’d love to be as objective as possible, but does that mean I can never be paid for my time?

What do you think?

New Mexico Road Trip Part 3 – Sunrise at the White Sands National Monument

The alarm went off early and in that last daze of sleep, we packed our gear into the truck. It was still dark when we pulled up to the entrance of White Sands National Monument. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for, the sunrise photo shoot.

The ranger reviewed our permit and opened the gate, allowing nine of us full access to the park without another person in sight. I was excited, quickly going over the list in my head. Tripod…memory cards…lenses…and the location I had picked out the night before when we’d made our first visit. I wished I had remembered a head lamp or flashlight. But, it was a bit late for that, so I planned to make do with what I had.

I stepped out of the truck to unload my gear. It was COLD! What was I thinking wearing capri pants for a sunrise shoot? BRRRR! We climbed back in and waited for the blue light to come. Now I was worried. How long could I stay out in the frigid weather?

Then things slowly began to come into focus. The early light that comes before the sun peeks over the horizon had arrived. It was as if the starting gun went off. Everyone was quickly out of the cars and moving in different directions. I grabbed my gear and walked out beyond the first dune. I left the world behind as I forged on alone. The footprints in the sand from the previous day had been wiped away by the overnight winds and the new canvas was just asking to be painted by the morning light.

 

Yucca Moon
For a brief moment I tensed up and wondered, “Are there snakes?” Then I thought about how cool it was and decided that if there were, they wouldn’t be out yet, so I relaxed and moved on.

Planning my route carefully, I walked in areas that wouldn’t show up in the pictures that were forming in my head. I sat down in the sand as I positioned my tripod. I was surprised by how soft and fine the sand was. I scooped a handful and let it run through my fingers. It was quiet and peaceful. I took a deep breath, letting it out slowly as I looked around at the incredible scenery of sand, grasses and yuccas. There was no sound, but a light breeze ruffled my hair. Saying a quick “thank you” out loud, I started trying to capture on my camera, the beauty I was seeing with my own eyes.

 

Sunrise Yucca
The cold didn’t exist as I quickly worked, moving to seek different perspectives. I would stop every few minutes to look around. In the past, I have been known to view my world through a camera lens and to miss the bigger picture. Making it a priority on my travels, I now stop to see, listen and appreciate my surroundings. It’s not all about capturing the “shot” but being aware and experiencing special moments. There is always a second when I can’t believe I’m here and then a feeling of gratitude for the opportunities I have to visit amazing places.

 

dawn grasses
Getting up to reposition my shot, I looked back and saw the imprint of the back of my jeans in the sand. It was so perfect that I’m sure if I looked closely, I would have seen the brand name on the impression left by the snaps on my back pockets. I wondered if visitors later in the day would notice the print of my backside. The thought made me laugh out loud.

 

dawn grass shadows

 

Then the sun made it’s appearance, slowly climbing over the edge of the horizon casting long shadows across the waves of sand. Yucca plants creating shadows five times their length. After a few minutes I removed my camera from the tripod and composed more shots, clicking the shutter until my memory card was full, quickly changing it out so I could begin again.

 

yucca shadows
Before I knew it, my friend Janet was calling my name and the trance I’d been in from the moment I’d stepped out of the truck was broken. Sunrise was over and the group was headed to another area of the park. I stretched, picked up my tripod and walked back to where the vehicles were parked, taking a few last pictures along the way.

 

Sand Dune Shadows
Staying around for a few more hours, this time in more of a group, we wandered around with our cameras. The scenery was still spectacular and it was fun to be with my fellow photographers. We laughed and experimented with different shots, this time adding people into the landscapes.

 

Photographers White Sands
Then, satisfied with a job well done, we climbed back into the vehicles and returned to town for breakfast. It was a magical morning on the white sands.

Related Posts:

New Mexico Road Trip Part 1 – White Sands National Monument

New Mexico Road Trip Part 2- Found Treasures