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6 Ways to Show a Little Self-Love

Happy Valentine’s Day / Single’s Awareness Day, blog readers! Today is all about love, although I woke up on this cold, icy NYC morning feeling like death (or at least like I had the flu). Somehow, I managed to make it to class on time despite hitting the snooze button for an hour straight (very unlike me, as I am typically an unapologetic morning person). As the day progressed, I really didn’t think about the fact it was Valentine’s Day at all (despite the fact my sweet mom sent me roses and chocolates yesterday…thanks Mom!) img_2252

However, after I got home and curled up under my electric blanket with a mug of tea, I found myself realizing that it was, in fact, almost the end of Valentine’s Day 2017. So I decided to recognize the holiday with a little reflection on self-love.

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Shout out to my besties…y’all know who y’all are! ❤

Last year was the best year of my life in so many ways, but I feel like it was perhaps only setting me up for the year that is ahead. I am so excited to the point I am almost restless for the next few months. Below I’ve made a “list of love” to share the ways I’ve practiced self-love so far in 2017. It doesn’t matter if you’re coupled or single as a pringle—today is also a day to realize you need to love yourself before you can truly love anyone else.

1- Travel! I feel so, so lucky (more so each day) that I am able to continue my traveling this year. I’ve realized over the adventures of the last few years that travel is my first love. I feel fully alive when I am somewhere I’ve never been before. I started off 2017 with a trip home to the South (which honestly feels like visiting another country sometimes) before spending 10 days in Costa Rica. Next month, I am traveling to Israel with a group from NYU Law. We had our first meeting together last night, and I can’t wait to explore with this group next month!

Then, I will be spending 10 weeks in Uganda over the summer as a human rights fellow through law school. And, I may be doing a 10 day safari in Botswana before I start! I feel so grateful to be able to continue doing what I love in the context of my career, education, and research interests.

It’s good to have a taste for traveling alone.

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A shot from last month in beautiful Mexico City. I can’t wait to be on the road again!

2- Getting off Facebook. I made the split-second decision to deactivate my Facebook account a few weeks ago. As I sat scrolling through my Newsfeed full of political posts, I realized that I missed having control of how I received information. And as much as we try to fight it, I feel like Facebook use is correlated with desensitization, as we tend to lose sight of the fact we are interacting with people, and not a computer screen, as we type out messages and send “likes” across the void. While I feel a deep despair at the state of the nation and world right now, I realized participating in the Facebook feeding frenzy was counter-productive for me. Instead of being on full emotional blast in reaction to what’s going on, I need to sustain a slow burn for the next few years. So, I deactivated Facebook for the first time since I got it 10 years ago. For the last decade, I could never have imagined life without this service that allows me to “keep in touch” with so many people, yet I haven’t missed it once. In fact, my head feels so much clearer now. And I have had a lot more time to read and write (which is maybe a bit embarrassing to admit, as it shows how much time I was really wasting on Facebook!)

3- DailyOm. DailyOm is a website that offers online journaling classes with a variety of focuses. Because I love writing so much (if you can’t tell already!), I decided to give their strategy of “focused journaling” a try through their course entitled “Heal Yourself With Writing.” The course centers on self-discovery and empowerment by writing and remembering the past from various perspectives. The course starts off with a Native American parable about a man who says he feels he has two wolves fighting in his heart—one vengeful and angry, and the other loving and compassionate. The man admits that the wolf who wins will be the wolf that he feeds, and he chooses which one is fed.

I’ve found the approach to remembering, refocusing, and writing to be transformational, and I am just a few weeks in. Whether it’s writing, meditation, or another mechanism, I would encourage everyone to take some time for self-reflection now—especially as the world seems to spiral into chaos around us.

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The new website I have replaced Facebook with!

4- A fresh approach to law school. The first semester of law school really was a blur to me. I hate to admit this, but I feel like I just showed up and went along for the ride when I returned from traveling back in August. I don’t think I got enough out of this education I am investing so dearly in last semester. This semester, I feel not only more focused, but more knowledgeable about what I need to do to get the most out of law school. For me, that means 1-handwriting all notes (no computer!), 2- hitting the library everyday (no more going home early, chilling, and getting distracted!), and 3- briefing all my cases (I didn’t think it was worth it last semester, but I’ve changed my mind).

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A nice snowy day recently at NYU. I feel a lot more grounded and connected to school this semester, and I am happy I get to come here everyday.

5- Be careful who you prioritize. As Maya Angelou once said, “Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.” The corollary, I think, would be to be sure to prioritize those people who are important to you so they never have to guess if they are priorities or options. I think this applies to all levels and forms of relationships—friends, family, and dating. For some reason, acting on this lesson of prioritization has become a “priority” for me in the last few months (for lack of a better term!). Not only am I trying to be more discerning about the level of importance I give people in my mind, schedule, and heart, but I am trying to be more intentional in staying connected in certain relationships and establishing firm boundaries in others. After all, if you don’t guard your heart, who will?

6- Take a lot of walks. Those of you who know me well know I used to be adamant about running almost everyday. These days, I like to take walks around Bushwick just about every night. I use this time to think, listen to music, and call friends. There is something about forward motion that’s freeing, no matter what speed you’re going. I surprisingly don’t miss running at all, and that’s ok–there’s a time in life for everything!  I love wandering around, both in big ways (see #1) and small ways (walking around Bushwick). And, it helps me accomplish #5 (staying in touch with friends).

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A pink Bushwick sky

Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all! Hope you’re feeling the love, inside and out! Xoxoxo

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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How Affordable is Traveling Abroad?

 

10338680_10206454388371024_8528537077188326176_o“Travel is the one thing you buy that makes you richer.”

I could not agree more with this statement. Travel (along with education) is the most important investment you can make in your personal development.

But, let’s be real. Traveling is expensive. Once you decide to travel abroad, it helps to have a game plan in place to make the trip a reality. You do not have to have a trust fund or win the lottery to see the world! With some research, extra attention to spending habits, and patience, the world will be yours to see. Below are some of the tips and advice I’ve found to be helpful in the process.

Save, save, save! Once you decide upon a trip abroad as a goal, pay yourself to go. What do I mean? Take a close look at your budget (fixed costs v. discretionary spending). What can you live without? It is really as simple as deciding you can live without certain things, and setting the money you would otherwise spend aside. For example, as soon as I got back from Africa, I was so inspired to save money to travel more that I cut off my cable!

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There was no cable available in my tent in Africa, and I found out I was very happy to live without it!

Websites like Mint can even help you set savings goals for vacations, and track your contributions on a regular basis. Also, most tour companies like EF Tours and G Adventures will let you make payments on the cost of your trip starting several months in advance, instead of paying the amount in full. Once you decide to travel, treat the saving process like paying bills (except this is a fun bill that actually gives back to you!). Remember, tours are all-inclusive (sometimes even including flights to and from), so this can be helpful if you want to work with a hard figure for your savings plan.

If you’re in college, study abroad! Often, financial aid packages will cover the costs of tuition and room and board expenses for study abroad, and living in a foreign country can be equal to (if you’re careful) or less than living in the US. My one regret from college was not pursuing a study abroad opportunity. All my friends who did it says it was a life-changing experience. At least visit the travel abroad office to investigate your options. It never hurts to ask!

Be on the lookout for flight deals. Flying is not as expensive as you’d think it might be! The growth of low-cost airlines has been a boon for budget-minded travelers, especially in Europe where they’ve been around a while.

I use Kayak to search for flight deals. It is a “metasearch” engine that searches for good deals across multiple search engines, so it’s better than just using Expedia or Priceline. It also includes a lot of deals from low cost airline providers.  You are more likely to find a good deal on a flight if you can be flexible with your schedule (I recommend using the “flexible dates” function to compare prices across a range of workable departure and return dates). I also really like using Skypicker. Often, their results will show up in a Kayak search, but sometimes I like cross-checking against their website just in case (just be careful, because all Skypicker sales are final!)

For my upcoming long-term summer travel, I’ve managed to lock in my intercontinental flights (US to Asia to South America to Europe to US) for a much cheaper rate using Kayak/Skypicker than I found when searching for an around the world (“RTW”) flight ticket. However, this type of ticket may be sensible for you if you have a firm schedule for long-term travel. I highly recommend doing your research on Kayak and comparing it to RTW ticket prices you find on Airtreks.

Tip: I have no idea if it is true or if it is just me being superstitious, but I always search Kayak in “incognito mode” on Google Chrome, so as not to inflate prices on multiple searches. Maybe it is me being silly…but passing along, just in case!

Be as flexible as possible. As mentioned above, be flexible with your dates as much as you can be when searching flights by departure and return date (for example, it is often cheaper to leave on a Wednesday than a Friday). Also, be flexible with your airport of departure if you can. For example, searching a round trip ticket from Atlanta to London yields a price $910, while searching a round trip ticket from Birmingham, AL to London shows a price of $1,625…big difference!

Track “small” expenses. Something as basic as your passport will cost you $30, which is important to keep in mind as these small but critical expenses add up. Some countries will charge you for a visa to enter (anywhere from 35 USD for Zimbabwe to 80 USD for Vietnam to 135 USD for Bolivia), but many if not all European countries and some South American countries will grant US citizens a free visa for a period of time, usually less than 90 days.

Try to avoid foreign transaction fees and currency exchange rates. Keep an eye on foreign transaction fees as you book transportation and accommodation overseas in advance, as well as when you use your credit card abroad. It is best to try to open a checking account with Charles Schwab (reimburses ATM fees) or obtain a credit card with no foreign transaction fee, such as a Chase Sapphire or Capital One card. Bank of America charges a 3% foreign transaction fee for each purchase made outside of the U.S. or Mexico…ouch! Try to use ATMs instead of currency exchange kiosks once abroad, as they will charge you exorbitant rates. You can usually order currencies from your bank ahead of your departure for a much lower rate.

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Beware of foreign transaction fees and currency exchange kiosks!

Stay in hostels. This advice is especially true if you’re young and single (yeah!), but I’ve also found some family-friendly hostels in my search process. Hostels provide dorm-like conditions for the budget-minded traveler at costs as low as $8/night (this is what I am paying each night in Chiang Mai before I meet with my tour group in Bangkok). The trick is to make sure you reserve a hostel with a reputation for being clean and safe, as well as one that provides extra perks like free wifi, free breakfast, and a washing machine. I used Hostelword as well as word of mouth from friends when planning my hostel stays for this summer. Hostelworld features good, detailed reviews for each hostel. I also like their “flexible booking” system, meaning you can pay an extra $1 to receive a credit back on your deposit to use for another reservation should you cancel or change your reservation. This has proven very handy, as my plans have already fluctuated multiple times even a few months out!

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The Man in Seat 61…he’s awesome!

Research the train system. I’m actually very excited for this tip, as I have yet to master the rail system in Europe (I’ve heard it’s great though!). While I am using low-cost airlines for some travel within Europe, I will be using the train for much of my travels. I recommend crunching the numbers to see if it is more cost-effective for you to buy a Eurail pass, or just buy tickets as you go. For me, I will just be buying tickets as I go along. The point is…don’t assume a “pass” is the cheapest option! Visit The Man in Seat 61 for awesome advice regarding train travel.

Enjoy and appreciate destinations closer to home. In the meantime, enjoy your home and the surrounding area as a destination! I’ve met plenty of people on my travels who have never visited the US, so take time to appreciate what is unique about the place around you. When it comes down to it, we all live in and are from a great travel destination…so own it!

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I love being a tourist wherever I live! This shot is from Memphis, Tennessee when I lived there a few years ago.

I hope my tips have helped you realize traveling can become a reality with some planning ahead. Do you have any additional tips or questions about saving money to travel abroad?

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A riverboat on the Zambezi in Zambia, which reminded me of Memphis!

 

Johannesburg, South Africa: The Somber History of Apartheid

1404816_10206454516374224_4149021129424623718_oMy visit to South Africa last December included a visit to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. I went in with a general understanding of apartheid as a system of institutionalized racial segregation in South Africa in the late 20th century, mostly gleaned from brief overviews in a high school history class. However, I quickly realized how much more there was to learn from this painful chapter in history. The Apartheid Museum serves as a reminder that the struggle for equality still exists, in South Africa and around the world.

Below are a few facts I learned for the first time during the visit.

-Apartheid permeated every detail of a person’s existence. Each citizen was legally classified as white, black, Indian, or “coloured,” and was required to carry an identification card denoting this. This classification affected details as small as what alcohol you were allowed to drink (black people had to drink the lower quality “Bantu beer” as mandated by the government) and as big as where you could live (3.5 million black South Africans were removed from their homes and forced into segregated neighborhoods over the course of 2 decades).

-Mahatma Gandhi lived in South Africa early in his life, and was a victim of the discrimination that served as a precursor to the apartheid system. In 1893, Gandhi purchased a first-class ticket for a train traveling from Pretoria. A white passenger complained about sharing the car with Gandhi, and Gandhi was forcibly removed after refusing to move to third-class. Gandhi became active in fighting discrimination in South Africa, and called this incident among the most important in his political career. Gandhi continued his work in South Africa until 1914, when he returned to India as Mahatma, meaning “a great soul.”

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Gandhi as a young lawyer in Johannesburg, c. 1905

-The Soweto Uprising of 1976 saw schoolchildren, some as young as 13, come together to protest inequality in the education system. Essentially, the government led by the pro-apartheid National Party passed a law mandating all children be educated in the Afrikaans language. However, black South Africans spoke English. As Desmond Tutu said at the time, black South Africans viewed Afrikaans as “the language of the oppressor.” Can you imagine going to school and trying to learn math, history, and language in a language that was completely foreign to you, in your home country? This was exactly the problem faced by black South African students and teachers, who were now forced by law to communicate in Afrikaans only with English-speaking students. (It probably goes without mentioning, but the schools themselves were completely segregated along racial lines, and the black schools received much less funding.)

The students stood up for their right to an equal education. On June 16, 1976, 20,000 students and protesters marched in the streets and were met with violent backlash from the South African military, who used machine guns, dogs, and stoning to attack. It is estimated up to 700 protesters died during the uprising. June 16 is now Youth Day in South Africa, to honor the memory of these protesters.

As a former teacher of high school students, learning about the Soweto uprising shook me at my core. What are we doing in the US to fight for all students to have an excellent education? How are we empowering youth to stand up for their rights without fear of repercussion?

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Schoolchildren protest oppression in education, Soweto Youth Uprising, 1976

-The “toyi toyi” dance/military march was adopted as a symbol of protest and unity among black South Africans after the 1976 massacre. The museum had several very moving video clips of the toyi toyi used in protest. I’ve included one from You Tube below. Although this is fake footage from a movie, it can give you an idea how powerful it was to see actual video footage of this.

Toyi Toyi as protest to apartheid in South Africa

-Nelson Mandela was released as a political prisoner on February 11, 1990 after 27 years of confinement, much of it in solitary confinement. While this is a pretty widely known fact, it still blew my mind to be reminded that this happened during my lifetime (I was 8 months old and in diapers when he was released!).

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The South African flag was redesigned and adopted in 1994 to represent unity in a post-apartheid era.

-My tour included a visit to the Soweto neighborhood (a syllabic acronym for Southwest Township), where hundreds of thousands of black South Africans were forced to move after being forcibly removed from their original homes during apartheid. This is separate from the visit to the Apartheid Museum, but my hotel was able to arrange both tours and provide transportation. This neighborhood features the only street in the world with the addresses of two Nobel Peace Prize winners—Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

 

My visits to the Apartheid Museum and to the Soweto neighborhood were informative, inspiring, and humbling. I highly recommend the tours if you find yourself in Johannesburg.

 

To Tour or Not to Tour: Planning the First Solo Trip

 

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“Sailing ’round the world in a dirty gondola…” – The Band

Going abroad for the first time can be a daunting experience, especially when you’re traveling solo. However, if you have no one else who can travel with you at that time, it may be the only option you have. I have traveled alone on both trips to Italy and Africa. When I left the comfort and familiarity of NYC to board the flight to Italy alone almost 2 years ago, I was practically shaking with anxiety. However, as soon as I arrived in Rome, it took almost no time to realize that living independently in NYC for nearly 1 year had more than prepared me for the streets of Italy’s most fantastic cities!

If you are traveling abroad for the first time solo, meeting with a tour group may help alleviate some nervousness. However, depending on your destination, you may be able to self-plan your trip to cut costs and fit in more of what you want to see and do without having to cooperate with a strict group schedule.

For my first trip abroad to Italy, I was scheduled to meet up with a good friend I had taught high school with in Memphis, as well as one of her friends from college. My friend had arranged for the 3 of us to travel with EF Tours, with the majority of our group being from the Memphis area. I would fly solo from NYC to Rome to meet my friend and the group there. Given my lack of experience in foreign travel, I willingly agreed to this plan…at that time, I did not know the first thing about planning a trip in Italy! However, my friend had to drop out of the trip just a few days before our departure due to family circumstances, and I found myself traveling across Italy with a group of relative strangers. I grew to enjoy the company of the group, but often found myself splitting off to see more sights at my own pace.

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Climbing the Duomo in Florence, a solo feat! Not for the claustrophobic…

There were both pros and cons to using an organized tour company for my first solo trip:

Pros:

  • I knew I had a group waiting on me in Rome and expecting my arrival. This was reassuring, just in case the unforeseen happened!
  • Pre-arranged transport and accommodations between all the major cities on our agenda (Rome, Florence, Venice) as well as some less-visited towns (Assisi, Spoleto, Bologna) proved extremely convenient.
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Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi…a beautiful and moving visit I may not have made if I were traveling completely solo, since it’s a little off the beaten path! This painting spells “peace” in every language.
  • Several accommodations were outside of the main cities, meaning I was able to see a different side of Italy that was less touristy. For example, dancing with these nuns we stayed with outside of Venice was definitely a highlight of the trip! They also served very good wine. You can visit their website here.

Cons:

  • Several accommodations were outside of the main cities, so I felt like I had less time than I desired in places like Rome and Florence.
  • The tour ran on a very strict schedule! There was little time for wandering on my own (although, I sometimes created this for myself by splitting off from the group when I knew there was something else I wanted to see or do).
  • Once I got the hang of being in a foreign country after the first few days, I realized I could have planned the entire trip on my own, cut down on costs by staying in hostels and traveling by train, and seen more of the sights I wanted to see!
  • Most of the meals were pre-arranged, which was a real bummer. Although it was included in the tour price (wine was always extra though), this did not allow me the opportunity or freedom to explore as many restaurants as I wanted. I feel like I need to go back to Italy to experience more authentic dining!

All things considered, I still booked my trip to Africa last winter through a tour company. This time, I used G Adventures, based on a friend’s recommendation (thanks DJ!). Even though I was much more comfortable with the idea of solo travel at this point, G Adventures (contracted through Indaba Explorations) provided the overland vehicle for transport, camping equipment, and meals cooked over the campfire each night, making it a sensible decision. This time around, I actually thoroughly enjoyed being in a tour group—everyone was in the 23-35 age range, we had amazing local guides (shout out to Joslin and Francois!), and there was plenty of free time (when we weren’t on an organized safari of course). More on how much I loved my Africa travel group later 🙂

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On safari with new friends in Zimbabwe

This summer, I will be using G Adventures again as I travel through Southeast Asia. However, I will be backpacking in South America with a good friend from NYC, and taking on Europe completely solo for 7 weeks (I will share more on my itinerary later)!!

Have you ever used a tour group for solo travel? If so, what was your experience like?

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