If you talked to me three years ago, I would have told you that I am not interested in traveling internationally because I can’t fathom sitting on a plane for more than 4 hours. To be honest, the world seemed really big and scary to me, and only speaking English (and the few French words I remember from taking it in high school), I couldn’t imagine being able to find my way around a different country. Fast forward to today, and I can’t experience enough new places. I am in the process of planning my fourth big trip in 2 years, and have to admit that I’m getting pretty good at it. I thought I’d share with you some of the details of my trips (I would highly recommend all of the places I’ve been) and also some tips on planning your own trip.
Details from my recent travels:
South Africa– I took this trip in September of 2014 with one of my good friends from college. I did not know a ton about South Africa before deciding to go, but I fell in love with the coast after watching the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”. After lots of research, we decided the best way to fully experience South Africa was to rent a car and drive it. We ended up flying into Port Elizabeth on the East coast of South Africa. There, we started with a township tour where we were exposed to underdeveloped urban living areas and learned all that the government is trying to do to make a better life for those affected by the apartheid. It was surreal to drive through these areas and see how much people are still struggling, but amazing to hear all our tour guide is doing to help enhance education in these areas. We also had the opportunity to experience some adventure in this area by sand boarding, taking a speed boat down the river, riding elephants, and going on a safari. We then embarked on a 2 day road trip along Route 62- driving on the other side of the road and other side of the car down a remote two-lane road. We drove through small towns and stopped at some caverns- we even had time to stop at an ostrich farm and kissed/rode ostriches. We stopped for a few nights in Stellebosch and experienced the luxury of wine country. When we finally reached Cape Town, the view was magnificent. The coast was absolutely gorgeous, and the large city had so much to see. We spent the rest of our trip exploring the city, the botanic gardens, taking a trip to Robben Island, and indulging in great food and drinks, hiking Table Mountain. We could have spent way more than 14 days in South Africa, but had to get back to reality. This is definitely a place I’d love to go back to some day.
Getting used to driving on the other side; Sand surfing/ boat on the Sunday River
Riding/Feeding Elephants; Safari
Ostrich Farm; Caverns
Stellenbosch and Wineries
Cape Point, Cape Town
Boulders Beach- Penguins!
Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens; Eating Bunny Chow at a local market; Robben Island
Conquering Table Mountain
Gorgeous Cape Town Beaches
Costa Rica– I went to Costa Rica with 5 of my girlfriends. After doing research, we knew that we wanted to experience both the adventure of the jungle and volcanos, but also visit the beautiful beaches and have some relaxation. We started our trip in Arenal. We went white water rafting, hiked a volcano, went zip lining, and relaxed in the evening in beautiful hot springs. We had a night on the town where we were able to experience how the locals spend their time. After three adventurous days in the jungle, we hopped in a van for a 6 hour ride to Manual Antonio. There, we rented a house through Airbnb. The house was amazing- the room doors closed, but the rest of the house was open to the jungle. There were monkeys hung out in the trees inside, and we had a few come into the house. It had a gorgeous pool and beautiful kitchen. There was a someone on staff to help us all day with stuff, and we had a chef come for one day to cook us amazing Costa Rican meals, and had a company come in to do spa services for us. We stayed at the house for 4 nights and explored Manual Antonio and the beaches, then went to Jaco to experience a local surfer town for a night. We stayed in a cheap hotel and experienced more of the nightlife culture there before heading to the airport to come home. I loved the Costa Rican way of life and motto of ‘Pura Vida’. No wonder so many people quit their jobs and move there!!
Zip-lining; Hiking the Arenal Volcano; Tabacon Hot Springs
Rafting; Night out on the town in La Fortuna
Our beautiful Airbnb house in Manual Antonio
Monkeys by the pool; Spa day; Amazing meals by a chef
Beach shots- Manual Antonio and Jaco
Finishing it out with a night on the town in Jaco- Chili Guaro is a must when in Costa Rica
Peru- see my previous blog post for this trip details- I went in September of 2015, and it was a trip I’ll never forget.
Thailand- My next trip that is coming up!!! I leave the day after Thanksgiving and get back right before Christmas. More details to come on this trip- half will be exploring the country, half will be volunteering.
Tips on how to plan your own trips:
Tip #1– Getting started is the hardest part. Research, Research, Research! Before starting to plan a trip, you must first understand the lay of the land. Where are the hot spots to visit, where are the hidden gems? How do you travel between places? What can you squeeze in without cutting anything short in the timeframe you have? I do this research through connecting with people I know have traveled/lived there, and also on the internet. After determining must-see places, I spend quite a bit of time on google maps and kayak trying to put together a rough itinerary that makes sense to fit everything in. Once I’m satisfied with the itinerary I book flights/trains as early as possible before prices get too expensive, then figure out the rest from there.
Tip #2– Well rounded trip. In order to have a trip that is both exciting and relaxing, I make sure to include culture, adventure, and relaxation in every trip. Each of these can mean something different to everyone, but I’ve found if you have the perfect mix of all three, you truly get to experience where you are, you don’t fall into the trap of doing all touristy things, and you don’t come back from the trip exhausted needing another vacation. I highly recommend throwing yourself into the culture first thing. It helps you get away from feeling culture shock, and gives you a true appreciation for everything you see afterward. In South Africa we did this by going on a township tour, in Peru we got there and went straight to a homestay experience with a local family.
Tip #3– Street smarts. It’s okay to go somewhere without knowing the language, but I would recommend at least studying a few key words on the plane ride there to get by. I would also research things to know before going about what to watch out for. When we went to South Africa, taking a road trip with two girls could have been risky, but we knew ahead of time to keep everything in the boot (trunk) so there was no temptation for carjackings. In Peru, since we didn’t know a ton of Spanish, we made sure to agree on a fare before we got in any taxi so there was no way they would be able to swindle us. Although this may sound basic, researching different risks and being ready for them before you go anywhere is key.
Tip #4– Staying organized. I keep a spreadsheet for EVERYTHING. It can be easy to get overwhelmed with lots of different people telling you different things to do, and websites giving you tons of ideas. It’s easy to get lost in the internet researching. I recommend developing an excel spreadsheet after you know your itinerary. First, make sure to add all hotels/contact information once you get it, then start adding ideas of what to do in each location. Although a lot of people like to wing their trips, I at least like to have some ideas for everywhere I go ahead of time- since wifi can be spotty, it’s always safe to have a few ideas of must-do’s so you don’t end up regretting not doing something once you get home.
I hope this post has inspired you to start thinking about your next dream trip. Just writing this has got me thinking about where I want my next adventure to be, and I haven’t left for Thailand yet! Happy travels!!