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a southern yankee abroad

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April 2016

T-Minus 5 Days…

I leave NYC for 3.5 months in just 5 days, and it’s starting to feel real y’all. The nerves are setting in.  Am I prepared to leave my life behind for 3.5 months? Have I remembered everything I need to do beforehand? Am I packing too much? Am I packing enough? Although I‘ve been planning for a few months, I’m starting to feel pretty jittery.

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I’m going to miss NYC!

I had a phone conversation with a good friend earlier this morning about everything, and it made me feel so much better about this entire process. The truth is, traveling and moving involves a good deal of planning and organization that feels unnatural for my spontaneous, “ENFP” self. The chat made me realize that it’s good to discuss the details, and embrace each step in the preparation process. So, below are a few “last minute” things I am taking care of before I leave for Mississippi this Friday, then for Asia on May 10.

A last minute visit to the Bolivian consulate in NYC. I am really kicking myself about this one! Based on prior research, I thought I could get my visa at the border. However, some last minute research and digging while I was out of town this past weekend revealed it is preferable to get your visa in advance. I went to the NYC consulate first thing this morning (Monday) with all of my many required documents that I collected as soon as I got back to NYC yesterday. Fortunately, the staff was extremely helpful and accommodating, and said my visa will be ready Friday after 12 noon, as it takes 5 business days to process. I will pick up my passport on the way to the airport to leave town Friday afternoon…talk about cutting it close!  

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The consulate staff was very helpful and reassuring this morning. Hopefully my passport is ready on time before I leave NYC!

Vaccinations. I had received most of the vaccines I would need before my trip to Africa in December, but I still needed my third and final Hepatitis A&B shot. I was able to find a clinic that does the shot for $100 cheaper than my prior research revealed, mainly because they don’t charge as much for the “office visit.” Timing-wise, I am supposed to get this final shot at the end of May, but I will be in Asia then. So, I took the calculated risk of getting the shot early, as opposed to trying to find a clinic in Vietnam.

I also decided to not get the Japanese Encephalitis shot. The doctor told me that, while there is no absolute guarantee I will not be at risk or contracting JE, most people contract it after spending more than a month in rice fields. As I may spend 1-2 days tops near a rice field, I opted to save the $300 and not get this shot. Another calculated risk, in my opinion.

Pick up malaria tablets. This is one disease not worth the risk to me!

Mail in seat deposit for law school by deadline. I CANNOT forget to do this!!

Final stages of packing and moving. I also picked up a few more (free!!) cardboard boxes this morning, and will finalize all my packing by Wednesday. I also need to visit my storage unit to pick up the keys, and confirm with my movers that I will still see them Thursday morning!

Cancel gym membership, internet service, and electricity in apartment. Return apartment keys to landlord. Super boring, but I can’t forget to do this…

Set travel notices with my banks. Having accounts frozen while traveling is very annoying.

Purchase data plan for cell phone. I may wait to do this once I am home next week, but still an important to-do item on my list.

Final salon visit for next 3.5 months on Wednesday! I’ll be getting the keratin treatment so my hair is easy to manage while on the road.

Last dinners and drinks with friends (for a while). This is where I feel guilty…I am running out of time in the city and I know I am not going to be able to meet up with as many people to say “bye” to as I had hoped or planned. I started this process last weekend, but the truth is there are only so many nights before I leave. I am definitely trying to see as many friends as possible before I head out of the city. As I’ve told everyone already, I don’t want anyone to forget me over the summer! 🙂 I am really going to miss my NYC friends and all the fun stuff that happens over the summer months. I will also miss my friends and family from home..although we are already separated by many miles, being on the other side of the world is going to make it feel like I’m that much further away.

Go for a few more runs in Central Park. I’ve decided to take a break from running over the summer, so I want to get a few last runs in CP before I leave. I know these will be my last ones until August, and the weather is so perfect in NYC now, so I want to make them long and good!

Set mail forwarding address with USPS.
I know I will feel much less anxious once I am in Mississippi this weekend. I will have my backpack ready and the rest of my apartment secure in storage. All I plan to do then is visit family and friends, go for some long runs, eat some good southern cooking, and fish! It’s going to be great. Until then, I am living the hectic NYC life for a few more days while checking items off of my to-do list.

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I can’t wait to spend some much-needed time with family and friends in Mississippi and Alabama! However, I have a long way to go and so much to do before my arrival Friday night.
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Staying Safe and Keeping It Real: Traveling Solo While Female

As I have planned and prepared for my trip over the last few months, I have gotten some concerned comments from family and friends. Is it really safe to travel now, with all that is going on in our world? Is it safe to travel alone as a woman, given there is so much more we have to look out for to stay safe as women? All of these concerns are valid. Yet, my experiences traveling solo before have led me to the realization that common sense goes a long way, whether at home or abroad. Honestly, I am more worried about being a victim of gun violence in the U.S. than I am of dangers abroad. That being said, language barriers, unfamiliarity with new surroundings, and the unique set of issues women face mean that traveling abroad solo as a female is a special situation that requires careful action and forethought. I’ve outlined my tips below.

  1. Trust your female intuition. I am a firm believer in the strength of a woman’s intuition. If a situation doesn’t “feel” right, remove yourself. Always listen to your gut instincts.
  2. Make friends with other female travelers. Other women who are traveling (whether solo or in a group) are in the same boat as you. Why not make new friends who can watch your back, and you can watch their backs in return? Plus, it’s always fun to add to your #squad, international-style!  

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    Even if you’re traveling “solo” as a female, you’re not really solo! You will make friends with other female solo travelers. We are all in the same boat!
  3. Be friendly. While your intuition should always take precedent, don’t automatically distrust everyone you meet. Traveling solo is a great way to get out of your comfort zone and make new friends from different cultures who often have a lot to share in terms of practical advice and helpful insights that can keep you safe and make your trip more enjoyable. A smile goes a long way! That being said, always yield to advice #1.

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    Making new friends in Zambia!
  4. Be smart about your money and valuables. I’ve read advice about keeping a “throwaway” wallet with just a few bills and a cancelled credit card or two. That way if someone tries to mug you, you can throw the wallet away and run in the opposite direction. I find this advice to be well-intentioned, but a bit cumbersome. I find it more workable to keep your money and credit cards split among a few different places on your person and in your bags. Even if the unthinkable happens, chances are you will still have some access to your money.
  5. Be aware of your surroundings. Hang out in public places with large groups of people at night. Keep your hostel/hotel address written on paper and with you. If you’re going out alone during the day, let your hostel/hotel know where you plan to be. Take time to study maps as you go, so even if you get “lost” (which is fun!) you have a general sense of how to get back to your home base, wherever that is. Study maps before you leave, or in a restaurant or shop, but never out in public…you don’t want to appear lost and alone!
  6. Watch what you drink. This advice goes for being at home in the U.S. too. Never turn your back on an open drink, or let someone you don’t know hand you an open drink. Also, don’t drink so much that you’re not always in control of your situation. If it suits you, don’t drink at all.

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    Flaming shots in Italy…keep an eye on your drinks!
  7. Share your itinerary with family and friends at home before you leave. Even if it’s a rough outline, it will give peace of mind to your family and friends, and it will make it easier for them to get in touch with you if needed. Always check in via email/iMessage/WhatsApp once you arrive! I try to check in with family every 1-2 days while abroad, and with friends just as frequently if possible.    
  8. Research how much cab/tuk tuk/etc rides should cost in advance. Look it up on Google, or ask the folks who run your hotel/hostel. This will make you more confident when bargaining over prices with the driver, and will help to prevent you from being ripped off.
  9. What about the monthly visitor?! In an effort to combat the stigma around women’s health issues, I’ve decided to address this issue directly on my blog. The truth is, you will be able to find feminine supplies wherever you are (yes, even in Africa!) These products may not look like what you’re used to, and may be somewhat expensive, so it’s a good idea to pack some before you leave. But, rest assured you will not be stranded. One tool that has become popular among female travelers is the DivaCup. It minimizes the amount of paper/plastic waste you have to deal with (especially if camping) so it’s practical and environmentally friendly. Or, you can consider getting an IUD. With this form of birth control, you will not get a period at all for 5 years (after the first month or two), which is extremely convenient for the long-term traveler. Check with your health care and insurance providers to see if it’s the right option for you.
  10. Fake it until you make it! If you feel lost and alone, don’t freak out. Try your best to look like a local and like you know where you’re going. Appearing lost and alone can make you easy prey…and ain’t nobody got time for that, especially when you’re on an amazing adventure!

The bottom line is that women have every right to travel alone and explore all the amazing things this world has to offer, but we do face a special set of challenges. The key is to remain aware, practice good judgment, and stay in tune with your feminine instincts!

Stuff: Pack it all and stack it all up

Sometimes, even the most mundane details in life become important. Over the past month, I have reflected a lot on my stuff, mostly as a function of planning for my upcoming travels. I will be living for 3.5 months solely out of a backpack, which is both terrifying and exhilarating. Many travelers sell all of their possessions before embarking on such a journey, but it is not my intention to go “full nomad.” After all, I will be returning to the U.S. to start law school in August (location TBD!) so I neither want nor need to get rid of every single thing. However, it is safe to say I have started a systematic downsizing process with my possessions. Such a seemingly mundane task, I’ve found, is actually quite cathartic and leads to a good deal of self-reflection.

In The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo writes that one should ask whether an item sparks joy. If it does not, one should thank it for its service and then discard the item. This single piece of advice has been tremendously liberating. Whether it’s something as small as an extra pair of socks I never wear, or as significant as an old card from an ex I for some reason have kept around forgotten in a drawer, I have been discarding a good amount of my possessions.  Do I really need this huge TV, or did I purchase it to please someone else in my life? Do I really need ALL of these sorority t-shirts from 5+ years ago? I have found Craigslist, the Salvation Army, or even the recycling bins in my apartment’s basement to all be worthy destinations for these items. This process is ongoing. I estimate I am about 75% packed for my move on April 28. However, I now count this chore of packing as an important step forward in my traveling this summer and the new direction I am taking in my career and life.

I’ve loved my studio apartment in NYC, but it’s time to downsize.

Logistically, how does it work to pack up everything you own and live from a backpack? Fortunately for me, I realized my lease in NYC was up at the end of April around the same time I had a life-changing realization that now was the time to take my career in a different direction and finally attend law school (which, for those of you who know me, I’ve been talking about for years. I’m finally getting around to doing it!) I decided the months between the end of my lease and starting law school would be ideal to take the big trip around the world I’ve dreamed about for so long. I would be saving money on rent, but what would I do with my stuff? After some phone calls and Google research, I decided on Manhattan Mini-Storage. They cover the cost of the move into the facility, and offer a discounted rate after a 3 month period (I will be using it for 4). When I come back in August, I will hire movers to transport my whittled-down possessions to one of two fantastic cities (yet to be finalized). In the meantime, I will live out of my trusty backpack. More on how to pack specifically for that later!

I also cut down on costs by making friends with the employees at my neighborhood grocery store. The last two times I’ve moved, I’ve purchased boxes from the moving company or U-Haul. Now that I am looking at a traveler/grad student budget, I just wanted to avoid spending money on cardboard boxes if at all possible. Fortunately, all it took was introducing myself to the team at my local grocery store, being friendly, and explaining my situation. I have been stopping by regularly every few mornings for the past few weeks to get some amazing paper towel and cereal boxes. They’ve even started saving these boxes for me specifically because they know I like them them most! If you’re looking to do this too, be sure to get there before 11am or they may go ahead and crush the cardboard.

The big lesson I’ve learned is not to let my stuff own me. Have you experienced the life-changing magic of tidying up? It truly is life-changing.

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Still working on the clothes…obviously!

Change the Game: The Economics of Saving the Rhino

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If there is such thing as a modern day dinosaur, the rhino comes close. It was like stepping back in time, as I watched these majestically ancient creatures move purposefully under the shade provided by the trees’ small branches. I found myself in awe of their presence. I tried not to breathe very loudly, as the rhino fixed his beady eye on me. If he wanted, the rhino could have plowed through the shade trees, easily uprooting them, before making his way to and through myself and my fellow travelers crouched low in the grass just a few yards away. However, the peaceful and friendly nature of these rhinos put me at ease, and I knew they were content to have me in their backyard, so long as I didn’t make too much noise! I fell in love with these easygoing creatures.

The issue is we are losing these animals.

One of the most magical but least expected highlights of my trip to Africa in December was the day I spent tracking the white rhinoceros near the Matopos with Ian Harmer of African Wanderer Safaris. I have always considered myself to have a respectable level of concern regarding animal and wildlife issues. However, spending a day with the rhinos of Zimbabwe made me passionate about the fight to save the rhino from extinction. I was stunned by what I learned—it is estimated two rhinos are killed each day, and poaching has grown considerably in the last 10 years. In 2007, 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa. In 2015, 1,215 rhinos were poached. At this rate, there will be no more rhinos left in the world within the next 10 years, in the wild or in captivity.

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Snack time!

 

Why are the rhinos dying?

Rhinos across southern Africa are the target of organized poaching schemes driven by the economic forces of the illegal horn trade across Asia. Some Asian cultures believe rhino horn holds special medical power (everything from boosting male virility to curing cancer). The rhino horn can be worth up to twice its weight in gold in these markets. Poachers have advanced systems involving helicopters and infrared technology to track and kill the rhinos, often in the most inhumane ways possible. Ian shared a heartbreaking story from several months back about finding a rhino he had “grown up with” left for dead on the side of the road after the poachers had cut his face off to take his horn. In an effort to protect the rhinos in the fight against the poachers, rangers at the Matobo National Park carry machine guns and are mandated to shoot and kill suspected poachers on the spot.

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With an armed guard in the park

Perhaps the biggest tragedy of all is that rhinos do not have to die or suffer to give up their horns. In fact, cutting a rhino horn is similar to clipping a human’s fingernails or toenails—if done correctly, the process is easy and pain-free. The staff at the Matobo National Park regularly cuts the horns of the rhinos in their park, in order to make them less of a target for poachers. This is unlike the elephant’s tusk, which is essentially a tooth instead of a fingernail. Elephants must be killed to extract the tusk.

How can we save the rhino?

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has been instrumental in working to protect the rhino and eliminate illegal horn trading. CITES meets every three years and has a standing committee specifically focused on the rhino. Recently, CITES has pushed for the government of Vietnam to conduct “consumer behavior research” in an effort to develop strategies to decrease demand for rhino horn, as well as to impose stiffer penalties for those participating in the illegal market.  CITES has also mandated Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe to continue their efforts to coordinate along their borders to stop poachers, as well as to implement penalties for poachers more consistently. For example, in 2013, Mozambique issued a higher number of poaching fines than ever before, yet only 3% were paid.

The challenge is finding a solution that will prevent the rhinoceros from becoming extinct. It is quite difficult to change mindsets and alter economic pressures over a given period of time, and even more so when the time is severely limited given the rate that rhinos are being poached. What if the trade of the rhino horn became legal? Until 2009, domestic trading of rhino horn was legal in South Africa. It was made illegal in 2009 as a response to the spike in poaching. What about international trade of rhino horn? CITES banned this in 1977, in an effort to protect already dwindling rhino numbers. Despite these bans, the poaching issue has become considerably worse over the last decade, and we are now facing the possible extinction of the rhino.

Since it is painless to cut the horns of rhinos (or “dehorn” them), rhinos could be farmed like cattle and dehorned regularly, thus better protecting them from poachers and generating a profit for the farmers and benefitting the local economy. Also, poachers will be de-incentivized, as a legalized trade would increase supply and lower prices. However, there is always the risk that legalizing the trade could have the opposite effect of increasing demand, in which case poachers would still have inducement to poach. Also, given the demand for rhino horn is primarily in Asia, a ban on domestic trade of rhino horn is a non-issue, as there is really no domestic market. It seems a lift on the international trade ban would be the key driver of this solution.

CITES will have their triennial meeting this September in Johannesburg, South Africa. Without doubt, there will be continued debate on what policies would be most effective for protecting the rhino. I hope the leaders at CITES realize the current strategies have been ineffective, and time is running out for the rhino unless we change the game.

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