10 Most Common Questions & Answers on Traveling Alone to Saudi Arabia

One of my favorite things about traveling is the opportunity to experience life through my own personal experience, rather than living through the media and the biased opinions of others.

Saudi Arabia has always been one of those taboo places that, until now, has been impossible to visit for tourism purposes.

However, with the new revolutionary changes that have taken place in 2019, Saudi Arabia has now opened their doors, allowing for people to travel and discover their country and culture from all across the globe.

I was one of the very first travelers to visit KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) on the new tourist visa.

Just a side note: my trip was self organized and 100% paid on my own. No one paid me to give an opinion on Saudi Arabia. 

During my stay I was able to explore the country alone for over three weeks and have an experience that was unlike any other that I have had across over 108 countries across the world.

Saudi Arabia has not had the best reputation in the world over the years and many travelers claim that they would never feel safe traveling there.

When I mentioned to the public that I was going to travel in Saudi, I received hateful messages and warnings that I would not come out alive.

Traveling through Saudi Arabia in person is completely opposite than what you see or hear about in the media.

It may be a surprise to you, but I actually I felt safe.

VERY safe….

Okay, that is everything except for the drivers, but that is something that I will discuss later.

Not only did I feel safe, but I truly met some of the kindest and most caring people that I have ever met.

In this article I wanted to talk about and answer the 10 most common questions I received during my solo trip in Saudi Arabia. 

1. Do you have to fully cover yourself up or wear the typical black abaya?

The rules in Saudi Arabia have drastically changed, and one of these rules is not obligating women to wear the black abaya.

It is mandatory that you abide by a very conservative dress code:  covering your shoulders, chest, legs, etc. 

Your clothes should not be transparent or have any inappropriate words or pictures on them.

It is not necessary for tourists to wear a headscarf, unless they are visiting a mosque or a holy place.

I traveled throughout the country with my hair showing. The most important thing here is not about covering your hair, it’s about covering your body.

If you dress appropriately and conservatively, people will respect you and most likely you will have no problem.

My local Saudi host does not cover her head unless she goes into a formal meeting or mosque. This is very common for Saudi women, especially those who have lived or traveled abroad.

It is not mandatory now for local Saudi women to dress with the black abaya like they used to either. Women are free to wear colorful and stylish clothes, but always conservative.

2. Can women travel alone and freely in the country?

Absolutely!

You can travel and drive alone as a tourist and a local. No one gave me a hard time at all as a solo traveler in any part of the country. I met many local girls that travel throughout Saudi and internationally on their own.

After 21 years old women are free to do whatever they want without the approval of their family.

Tourists are free to visit most places, but it is prohibited to travel to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. This is only open to Muslims.

People have been known to sneak in, but I highly discourage this.

3. How can I get around Saudi Arabia?

The bus system is not excellent and it’s quite difficult and time consuming to get around the country.

For example, if you want to travel by land from Riyadh to Jeddah, you will need to go to a bus station that is over an hour away from Riyadh (way more with traffic)!

The worst part is that there is no public transportation that can take you there, so you must have a car or taxi. It is not always easy to find a person with a car that will go one hour there to drop you off and one hour back home again.

There is the option for UBER and Careem, but the distances are very far in the cities, so the price will be quite expensive, especially to the bus station.

There is a train from Riyadh to Dammam, but it’s outside of the city as well, but not as far. This is a good option if going east, but there are no trains to Jeddah.

Without a doubt, the best way to get around is by car.

And yes, local and foreign women can drive!

Riding through Dammam, Saudi Arabia in a Classic Car

If you are not a good or confident driver, it is best to be a passenger. Saudi drivers are some of the worst drivers I have ever seen (if you ask any Saudi person they will most likely agree to this statement).

You truly need to have confidence in order to rent a car here, because it’s a huge risk.

I saw multiple hit and run accidents and totaled cars on the highway. That is not to scare you, but just to be honest.

If you decide to rent a car, the prices will range around $25-$40 per day and a maximum mileage of 300km.

If you are on a time crunch or want the most convenient way to get around, flying is the best option.

The airport in Riyadh and Jeddah are centrally located and will take you anywhere in the country for a low price.

Most airlines will allow you 7 kg of weight with no extra cost. The flight times are short and the prices are excellent. You can fly anywhere between $25-$100 most days of the week.

Thursday and Friday tend to have the highest prices due to it being weekend.

I try to fly as little as possible while traveling, but in Saudi Arabia it is nearly impossible going for long distances without an airplane.

For example, to go from Dammam (in East Saudi) to Jeddah (in the west), it takes 23 hours by bus (only 2 hours by plane)! The price is not much different between flying and the bus, plus the bus station is outside the city and you will need a taxi to get there (it might cost your more for the taxi than the flight).

Keep in mind that a new metro is currently being built in Riyadh and it should be finished in the next couple of years. This will be one of the best thing that will ever happen to the city and it will take more cars off the roads.

4. I am a solo traveler, what is the best way to meet people there?

Without a doubt, Couch Surfing was my favorite way to meet people in Saudi Arabia.

For those of you that are wondering, Couchsurfing is not just for staying with people in their home.

The cell phone app has a feature called “hangouts” where you can find people within your area that are available to hang out in the time you are interested. You can meet up to have dinner, coffee, visit the mall, a short trip and share an experience together.

Hangouts is very quick, easy, convenient and I use it ALL of the time.

The Couchsurfing community is huge in Saudi Arabia and full of kind people. I met some girls, but I have to admit that the majority are men.

I had absolutely no problem with any disrespectful men during my stay. Always read your references and choose wisely and you should have no problem.

5. Is it safe to visit Saudi Arabia?

The news will tell you NO, but the reality is YES.

Like anywhere in the world, there are dangers, so I am NOT saying this is a country that is 100% safe. However, from my experience I never ran into any problems while being there and traveling alone.

The most unsafe part of the country is on the highway. They are known to have many underage kids driving cars or people without a proper license and they can be reckless (this is becoming more controlled).

Just like any place, it’s not always the safest to be outside alone at night by yourself.

As a solo traveler, you will meet people that might stop you, ask questions, and want to hear your story, but I only found very curious and interested people throughout my stay.

6. Are men and women allowed to get hotel rooms without being married?

Yes, you can!

There are no problems for tourists or local people to travel within the country and stay with each other in the same hotel room.

All you need to do is provide your documentation and you can stay together.

Keep in mind that this change is very new and in the more conservative areas you may have someone that tries to give you a hard time, but stand your ground and know that the new rule states that you can share a room.

There are people that are still hesitant and resistant to the change happening in the country, so just be patient with people if they question you or are hesitant to give you a room.

Keep in mind that the rules are still in place for separating men and women in some public places, such as restaurants and sporting events. If you are traveling with the opposite sex there are family sections that you will be able to sit in with separate entrances from the male public.

7. Is alcohol allowed in the country?

Alcohol is prohibited in Saudi Arabia. It is very important that you do not try bringing in alcohol or drugs into the country.

Even if you go to a 5 star hotel, they will not serve you alcohol.

It is possible to get alcohol in more private places, especially being a foreigner.

My suggestion is to give alcohol a break during your trip and don’t go searching for it. And SERIOUSLY don’t mess around with drugs in Saudi. They take this very seriously!

8. Do places really close 5x/day for prayer.

Yes, mostly everything closes in the city (except airports, hospitals etc) 5 times a day during prayer time, lasting about 25-45 minutes each time.

During this time it is important to respect the norms of the culture, such as turning off your music in your car or home and not making loud noise.

This is their time of prayer and we must show our respect.

9. How can I get a visa to travel to Saudi and how long does it last?

I wrote an article on the process of getting a visa. You can click here to read more.

The multiple entry visa costs around $125 and is valid for one year. You can stay in Saudi Arabia for 90 days during the one-year time frame, but if you want to stay longer, you will need a different type of visa.

The visa process takes about 20 minutes to fill out and 1-5 days to receive it by email.

10. Is it expensive to travel inside the country?

Saudi Arabia is not the cheapest country. The official currency is the Saudi Rial, but it’s very easy to pay with a card in most places, especially inside the major cities.

Hotels room can range from $30+

I didn’t see many options that were lower than that price anywhere. For budget travelers, keep in mind that there are no hostels, but Airbnb is available in many places.

If you plan on getting around by Uber, instead of renting a car, this will be one of your highest costs. Just a short taxi ride can cost you $10 and this only goes up in the night time.

Food: eating out in restaurants each day can get expensive. A normal meal will cost you anywhere from $10+ in a mid range restaurant. There are cheaper places, typically ran by Indians, where the price is a bit lower. If you are on a budget, the cheapest way to spend money is to share a local meal at home with other people.

Flights: Skyscanner is the best website in my opinion for finding good prices on flights.

The two budget airlines that I used in Saudi are: Flynas and Flyadeal

Coffee Shops: Saudi people love their coffee shops. A regular medium size ice coffee will cost you around $4.

That is probably one of the lowest priced items on the menu. The more specialized coffee will be almost double the price.

On most days I got invited to coffee shops up to 3-5 times a day.

That would’ve been over $ 400 during my whole trip if I would’ve accepted all of those invitations!

 

 

Don’t forget to check out:

EVERYTHING YOU SHOULD KNOW FOR OBTAINING THE NEW SAUDI ARABIA EVISA

MOST COMMON TRAVEL MISTAKES: PART 3

SUAN MOKKH: 10 DAY SILENT & MEDITATION RETREAT IN THAILAND

 

 

 

Do you have any questions about Saudi Arabia That I did not mention in this article?

Connect with me on Instagram and asked me anything that you are curious about!

Instagram: 1nomadicdreamer

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Everything you Should know for Obtaining the New Saudi Arabia eVISA

Over the last couple of years, rumors have spread across the media talking about Saudi Arabia opening their doors for travelers to freely visit their country for tourism. Multiple media sources have written about specific dates indicating when this change would be made, but in the end, the doors still remained closed.

However, earlier in August 2019, more and more new sources started to write and speak out about a revolutionary change that would take place in Saudi Arabia in September 2019.

This captured my attention, so I decided to follow the news regarding this topic on a weekly basis.

In September, more articles started confirming a set date of a new eVISA that would shortly become available.

This time, it was more than just a rumor!

On September 27th, there was an official confirmation that stated that many nationalities from all across the world would be able to visit the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on a new, easy to obtain EVISA.

Photo: Dammam, Saudi Arabia

Photo: Dammam, Saudi Arabia

 

As soon as this news was released, I instantly bought the new EVISA and started planning my solo trip there.

I can tell you from first-hand experience that getting a visa and traveling there is easier than ever!

In this article I wanted to give you a bit of information and answer some questions that people have asked me every day through social media on obtaining a visa for Saudi Arabia.

Who is elegible for the new EVISA?

  • USA
  • All European counties
  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Canada
  • Asía (Japan, China, Hong Kong, Macau, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan)
  • South Africa

Where do I obtain the eVisa?

The whole entire visa process is done 100% online.

There is no physical place that you will need to go and it is NOT necessary to send your passport or documentation to any place.

There are many different websites that you can apply, but the one that I chose and trust is:

visa.visitsaudi.com

What documentation do I need to present?

You will need to fully complete your application and submit a photo.

It is VERY important that your passport will not expire with 6 months of applying for the visa. You will also need a full page or two for the entry and exit stamp.

Necessary information:  profession, city/country of birth, current address, passport information/expiration date, purpose of visit.

Towards the end of the application it will ask you for your address in Saudi Arabia. It will give you the option for a “residential or relative” or a “commercial accommodation.”

I just put the number and name of a friend in Saudi Arabia, but you can just put a hotel with a contact number. If you plan to travel around a lot within the country, just put the name/number of the first hotel that you are planning to stay in. This name and number does not appear anywhere on the visa and you will not be required to stay at this place during your whole stay.

How long does the visa process take?

The application took me less than 20 minutes to fill out and I received my visa within 24 hours by email.  However, other people have told me that it has taken up to five days to process everything.

The process was SUPER easy. As soon as you receive it by email, just download it (along with your required Saudi health insurance) and take it with you.

Can I use the visa at both land/air borders?

The eVISA is eligible for both land and air crossings. I entered into Saudi Arabia from Dubai and also took a trip to Bahrain by land. Entering and exiting the country was very simple.

The immigration officers will stamp your passport and then you are free to enter and exit the country as you wish.

You do not need to travel with any extra passport photos. You will be required to give your finger prints, take a picture and that is it!

There are no additional costs at the border.

Is this visa multiple entry?

Yes, the visa is valid 1 year and you can enter and exit all you want.

However, you have to be very careful that you do not exceed more than 90 days in one year without an additional visa.

Cost of Visa and Mandatory Insurance

Everything for my visa cost me around US$125, payable by credit card.

When you are getting ready to check out on the visa website, it will take you to a page giving you options for medical insurance. It is required that you have medical insurance during your stay.

I chose the Arabian Shield Insurance, which cost me 35 USD.

On the website you can download a printable version of your policy, including details of your full coverage. Take this with you just in case of emergencies.

Important Reminder

You must show a yellow fever vaccine if you are traveling from high risk countries. There are multiple websites that can show you which countries are considered “high risk.”

 

 

Honestly, it is quite incredible to look back and see how easy this process was! Without a doubt, it was one of the easiest countries to get an online visa that I have ever been to!

My solo trip to Saudi Arabia was absolutely fantastic and I felt VERY safe traveling there. I will share many of my experiences in the weeks to come, so stay tuned!

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

OVERLAND TRAVEL TO LIBERIA, AFRICA: A COUNTRY OF LONG STANDING RESILIENCE

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

SUAN MOKKH: 10 DAY SILENT & MEDITATION RETREAT IN THAILAND

 

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What Travel Electronics & Accessories Do I Use?

I would need an extra large suitcase or two in order to carry all of the camera gear and equipment that I own with me in my travels around the world: cameras, lens, tripods, stabilizers, drone, computer, tablet, iPhones, portable wifi, chargers etc.

However, as a long term, active traveler, I realize how important it is to travel light and keep comfort as a main priority. The majority of my travel is done overland and I tend to walk a minimum average of 6-10 miles a day. Carrying a heavy load of electronics, as well as clothes, can be straining on the body over time, especially given how active I am.

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I have spent countless hours searching online for light weight products, that would allow me to travel comfortably, while maintaining excellent quality, as I venture to every country on Earth.

In this article I wanted to give you an overview of some of the electronics that I love and trust. I have personally used each of these products and everything I write is based on my own personal opinion and experience.

 

iPHONE X.

I have used many different models and brands of phones over the years, but my favorite, and the one that is I use on a daily basis, is the iPhone X (or the newest model of iPhone). However, depending on the part of the world that I am traveling to, I might change my phone to a more basic, less valuable one.

For example, when I traveled to Africa, where the iPhone is more sought after, I carried the more common day to day Samsung phone.

I have learned from personal experience that it is not wise to take a new iPhone to many destinations around the world. I was once robbed at gunpoint in the daylight hours by two big men dressed in all black who caught eye of my iPhone and then robbed me of everything (I will save the details that story for another article).

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The iPhone has excellent quality and I enjoy using it much more than any other brand of phone that I have used in the past.  I use my phone with my stabilizer and as a remote to fly my drone. I love how everything is copied directly to the cloud, which is easy and secure.

Just a side note: I do strictly depend and trust the iCloud, although it has never failed me. I copy all of my videos and images to Google Drive on a weekly basis and that ensures that no matter what happens, I will always have my content saved in a safe spot.

Sometimes there are people who tell me that it is a luxury to own the newest model of iPhone and that they would never spend so much money on that. For me personally, my iPhone is main work tool (aside from my laptop) that I use for mostly everything: taking photos, videos, publishing on social media, audio recordings for my weekly radio program, using my drone, and so much more.

When I take time to see how much I actually use my phone on a daily basis as a digital nomad, it would seem almost ridiculous to not invest in a good quality phone.

Think about it this way:  if you divide the price of the phone between the years in which plan to use it, the prices comes down to less than $ 2 a day if you do the math, which is a great investment.

Surely many people who think they cannot afford it spend more on coffee or tobacco each day…

 

 

 DJI OSMO STABILIZER 

 

This device is excellent for recording yourself in action, as long as the camera that the stabilizer is holding has good quality (another reason why I love the iPhone).  My stabilizer allows me to record steadily while I walk or run, something that I cannot achieve while holding the phone and walking.

It also has many excellent functions. For example, I can place the stabilizer on a tripod, select my image and it will automatically follow me. This setting is perfect for a solo traveler, like myself, who does not have the comfort of having another person there there to take my pictures and videos. In this case, all you have to do is set up the stabilizer and it’s like you have someone steadily recording you.

I am also a HUGE fan of the time lapse setting.  Time lapse basically compresses real time actions over a period of time. The final result is a long experience that is sped up in fast motion.

As a traveler, one might use this setting to show the process of packing their suitcase. A full video of this might be boring to watch, but if you put the time lapse on, you will see the whole process in a short time frame.

Price: starts around $150

 

Cons: The case of my stabilizer takes up quite a bit of space in my backpack. The item is very delicate and it should not be carried loosely without the case. However, there are different models that are much smaller than mine, so that will be a future item I will buy.

There are also stabilizers for professional cameras as well, but they are quite heavy. However, this is something I intend to buy as well for recording videos for short trips, because it’s amazing!

SONY A5100

Without a doubt, this is one of the best cameras that I’ve had. On long trips, this is my ideal camera because it’s light, takes up little space and is easy to carry.

It also has a fully collapsible screen, which makes my life much easier when it comes time to record myself. As of now, I do not have anyone traveling with me, so the flip screen allows me to see myself directly and record.

I checked out many similar cameras, but none of them had the flip screen camera like this one. The model superior to this one, the 6500, has a higher price and similar features, but the screen does not flip, when caused me to not to make that purchase.

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The price of this camera is quite low, especially given the quality of photos that you get with this. The price is around $400, which in my opinion is a steal!

I also love the fact that it has interchangeable lenses, which allows me to change, depending on what I am taking a picture of in that moment.

Cons: there is no jack input for microphones, so I use the external recorder for videos.

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SAMSUNG Nx1

I love the quality and everything related to the Samsung Nx1. However, due to the size and weight of this camera, I only tend to use it on short trip. What I love about the Samsung Nx1 is the 4k video recording. The quality is incredible, but sadly Samsung has stopped manufacturing these cameras.

 

 

 

GOPRO HERO 5

The GoPro is perfect to use while doing extreme sports and water activities. I use it when I go snowboarding, bungee jumping, canyoning, rafting, etc. The camera is very durable and is made to withstand sports or situations in which you might possibly drop the camera.

I am an advanced scuba diver and with my GoPro I can record quality videos underwater.  For deep dives, I use a special protective case that works up until 60m (196ft). There are many underwater cameras on the market, but this is hands down the most popular one among travelers.

The price is only around $300, which makes it even more appealing.

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This is the protective case that I use while scuba diving, which has always worked perfectly for me:

Cons: The quality of videos are great, but I am not a big fan of how the photos turn out.

 

DRONE DJI MAVIC AIR

The DJI Mavic Air has fantastic qualities and features that make for killer video!  Without a doubt, the best part about this drone is the size. Unlike many other drones on the market, the propellers on the Mavic Air easily fold up, fitting easily into a small case, which takes up very little space.

I discover something new every time that I use my drone. Many people tend to overlook all of the built in functions that it actually has. There are many drones on the market, but this one has excellent quality, at a decent price (between $500-800, depending on the extras you get).

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DRONE PHOTO EN SAPA, VIETNAM

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It has very practical functions, such as a mode in which it will actually follow you while while you are in motion, a 360 degree movement, boomerang etc.

I highly recommend this drone!

MICROPHONE

When doing professional videos, I like to use external microphones to obtain better audio quality. The brand RODE has excellent quality, but it takes up lots of space.

The small microphone is very practical for interviews or outdoor recordings. It is small enough that I can fit it inside of my purse and take it anywhere. Of course, the quality is not as good as the big one, but it will still be better than the quality I get recording it directly from the phone or camera, especially if I am in a place with lots of wind or noise.

 

EXTERNAL RECORDER

The external recorder allows you to connect the microphone and record high quality audio. It also has a high quality external microphone which allows you to make independent recordings.

When used for for recording professional audio, it requires synchronizing the audio with the video in postproduction, because they are recorded separately.

Fun fact: Do you know what the famous clapperboard that you see in movies is used for?

The clapperboard is used to synchronize the audio with the video. Once the sound is made it gives a reference of a visual and sound and then you can join the two parts together when you make the assembly.

The recorder is small and portable, so it is very practical for interviews and collecting my ideas and thoughts

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 SPIVA STICK

The Spiva Stick works with the GoPro camera. The stick allows you to change the GoPro’s orientation at 180 °.

With a normal selfie stick you have to constantly turn the camera around with your hand to get a selfie and then turn it again to record in front of you. However, with the Spiva stick the process it much easier because there is a red button that you push and it will do all of this for you.

Cons: It is not foldable and takes up a lot of space for travel. So I don’t take it on long trips, just for sports activities near home.

 

EXTRA BATTERIES

It is very important to have extra batteries for everything (drone, cameras, external chargers for the phone, etc). Keep in mind that there are times when I spend several days without being able to charge, such as when I camp in the desert or if I am in a town without electricity.

There is nothing more frustrating for me than to be in a neat place around the world and not have my batteries charged to capture the moment.

 

TRIPODE

I am always on a search to find a small, light and durable tripode. I love the one that I have, although it still is one of the heaviest items that I have in my bag. Before many of my trips I doubt as to whether or not I should take it, but every time that I decide to leave it at home, I regret it. Having a tripode gives me a full sense of freedom, knowing that no matter where I am, I can get the photos I am desiring to get on my own.

Without a tripode I am constantly trying to find a rock or platform to place my camera on or asking another person to take my photo. I have learned over the years that this does NOT work for me, and after people take my picture, I have to retake it again, because most ordinary people cannot take pictures the way that I like.

 

Resultado de imagen de Andoer Q666The best part about my tripode is that I can set it up, walk away and use my phone as a remote. With just a click, I can snap a photo or start recording. It is as if I had a person traveling with me at all times!

 

MACBOOK AIR

.My Macbook is my prize possession. It is light weight (only 2 pounds) and has a 13 inch screen. I use this EVERYDAY of my life for work and creating content. I refuse to use any other brand besides Macbook, just because I have had nothing but excellent experiences with them. The operating system is very stable and trustworthy and I have never even had a virus, like I had with all of my other computers.

The battery life is excellent on my laptop. I honestly can say that I have never had a better battery life than with my Macbook Air. This is a major plus, especially for long trips.

 

IPAD

The best part about the IPAD is the size. If I ever go on a trip without my computer, I will take this instead.  I have a case with a bluetooth keyboard, which allows me a similar feel to that of my laptop. The battery has a long life, which is great for long bus trips. Nowadays, I tend to use this just for reading or watching movies on long trips.

If you plan to use the IPAD as a computer, keep in mind that you will need to choose one that has enough memory space. The basic 16 or 32 gb IPAD will run out of space quickly. I highly suggest spending a bit more money and getting that extra space.

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What are the most important electronics that you take when you travel?

Connect with me on Instagram: 1NOMADICDREAMER and share your answer! 

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Overland Travel to Liberia, Africa: A Country of Long Standing Resilience

After an incredible three week overland trip across Sierra Leone, I finally reached my next stop, Liberia, country #98.

I have been intrigued about this place since the first time that I heard about it years back. Unfortunately, many people have only heard about Liberia through its tragic past with war and ebola, and to be quite honest, fear often holds travelers back from venturing off to that part of Africa. 

I truly met some incredible people during my stay there, some in which suffered things that you couldn’t even imagine during those dark years of war. 

As I traveled through the country, the word that stuck in my mind was RESILIENCE. It is a country that has had it share of suffering, but somehow they have kept moving forward..

If you are not familiar with Liberia’s past, I will give you a very quick summary….

In 1989, civil war broke out when a group of rebels, led by Charles Taylor entered into the country through the Ivory Coast and began killing off the ethnic groups siding with President Samuel Doe. This war lasted over 7 years. Not too long after, the second civil war began, from 1999-2003.

Sadly, more than 200,000 people died during those years of war and the survivors were sent to neighboring countries to refugee camps. 

Many years later, in 2014, Ebola broke out in West Africa. Liberia was the first in the region to report it, and from that moment there was a downward spiral, taking the lives of over 11,000 Liberians..


Let’s be honest…

 

Fear is the factor that prevents people from visiting new places and getting outside of their comfort zone, especially in parts of the world where war only happened a short time ago.

In the case of Liberia, I would not say that I was fearful, but more hesitant and cautious as I made plans to visit there. Many skeptical people warned me and would say:  

 

“Sarah, you have no idea what you are getting yourself into. Danger is all around and you must stay away from there.”

“It is very unstable and it not a place you should visit, especially as a solo female traveler.”

 

I understand that many people mean well in their concerns for me, but these warnings are the same ones that I heard years back when I first mentioned to people that I was going to travel alone across the world. Everyday during that period of time people would warn and try to instill fear in me, but luckily I did not take their advice and stay home just dreaming about traveling.

I took the the most important step that most people tend to skip: ACTION! 

Fear…

Most people live in a prison of fear…

Fearful of change…

Fearful of the unknown….

Fearful of what COULD happen…

Trust me, I know….

Before traveling, I lived in that overwhelming prison of fear…

In fact, if you would’ve told me 15 years ago that I would be taking a solo, overland trip across West Africa, into Liberia, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. 

Through my years of traveling, my idea of fear has completely changed and my current mission in life is to take on any challenge and go into new situations with an open mind and heart.

That is exactly what I did going on my trip to Liberia…

 

                              Liberia. Country # 98

 

 
                             Country: Liberia                       
                             Capital: Monrovia 
                             Language: English
                             Money: Liberian Dollar

                           Visa: 180 USD (this is what I paid, but this can vary                                       depending on where you get it).

 

I crossed into Liberia overland from Bo, Sierra Leone. According to Google Maps, the trip should’ve taken around 5 hours.

 

After having had traveled from Mauritania-Senegal-Gambia-Guinea Bissau-Guinea-Sierra Leone, and then to Liberia overland by public transportation, I knew without a doubt that the estimation of 5 hours would be double or triple that time.

 

Anything can happen while traveling in West Africa and if you are serious about visiting there, you will need lots of patience and a good sense of humor.

 

If you want to pay half the price, you can ride on top!


Without that, you will NOT survive. 

 

My first stop on my wild adventure to Liberia was in Robertsport. 

 

I must admit, there is no better place in Liberia (in my opinion) to make a stop for rest and relaxation than Robertsport. It has a reputation for it’s beautiful beaches, relaxed environment, great surfing spots and a common place to meet other travelers.

For anyone traveling from Sierra Leone to Libera overland, this is convenient place, not too far off the main road, that you can enjoy and see a part of Liberia that you will not see just visiting the capital city. 

 

HOW TO GET THERE

 

The route that I chose was from Bo, Sierra Leone to Robertsport.

It is important to note that road conditions are not the best in this part of the world. Some parts of the highway are brand new and in perfect condition, but the majority of the roads are not good and it literally feels like you are going on a bumpy roller coaster the whole time.

If you tend to get carsick, this is NOT the place for you. 

Also, the conditions of the shared taxis are quite bad and it is VERY normal to have to get out of the car multiple times during the trip in order to help push the car up the steep hills. 

 

ARRIVING TO THE BORDER

After crossing the border from Sierra Leone there is a motorcycle that can take you to the Liberian border for a small price. From there you can catch a shared taxi going straight to Monrovia.

 

 

If you want to stop at Robertspoint, you will need to inform the driver that you need to get off at the road going in that direction. The driver will drop you off along the highway and there will be motorcycles and taxis waiting that can take you the rest of the way for less than 5 USD. 

I chose to take a motorcycle from the main highway to Robertsport and it took us around 25-35 minutes. 

To continue on to Monrovia from Robertsport, you can get a shared taxi and the distance is around 80km. 

 

ENTERING INTO LIBERIA 

There are many different routes that enter into Liberia from the three surrounding countries:

  • Sierra Leone

  • Ivory Coast

  • Guinea.

If you plan on taking the safer option, you can arrive to Liberia via in their main airport, Robert’s International, but keep in mind that flights tend to be quite expensive to and from there. 

It is very important to get your visa situation figured out before arriving. The immigration officers told me that it is possible to get a visa at the border, but I do not recommend it.

There is not an “official” price, meaning that they can try to change the cost to whatever they want. I can tell you from my own experience that it is much better in most cases (if traveling overland) to get your visa in the neighboring country. 

 

MONROVIA (CAPITAL)

This is the largest city in the whole country, and the capital. It is a city filled with history and an interesting place to go in order to get a better idea of Liberia as a country. Passing through the city you can see the remains of old 19th century town houses that were destroyed from war.

 

 

Given that the war happened in the last 30 years, the results of the war are still seen in many parts of the city and in the areas outside of Monrovia. 

 

Ducor Hotel 

This was West Africa’s first 5 star luxurious hotel and an important symbol of prosperity for Liberia throughout the world years ago. This hotel was built in 1960 and attracted people from all over the world to Liberia, for business and tourism. 

It had a beautiful rooftop, with incredible views of the city, 106 spacious rooms, a large swimming pool, tennis court and many other fantastic amenities.

 

 

I took a trip to the hotel and walked through each floor, until I reached the top. I could not help but think about how the hotel might have been more than 30 years ago. What I learned during my visit there was that the hotel was closed in 1989, the year of the first Liberian Civil War.

The hotel was destroyed and anything of value was taken out. What used to be this elaborate, luxurious hotel, was soon nothing more than a destroyed, empty, abandoned building.

 

 

As of today, the Ducor Hotel is one of the most visited places and all of Liberia.

The climb up is quite steep, but at the top you can get beautiful 360 views of the whole city.

 

 

WHERE TO STAY 

There are tons of options available to stay throughout the country, but there are two places that I visited during my stay in Liberia that I absolutely fell in love with.

If you are planning a trip to Liberia, you do NOT want to miss out on lodging in these places. 

 

Libassa Ecolodge

Libassa Ecolodge is located about 45 minutes outside of Monrovia (easily accesible by private or shared taxi). This is a perfect escape from the busy city capital. 

 

 

It’s located in a beautiful area right in nature and only a short walk away from the beach. 

One aspect that I loved about this place is that it is totally surrounded by palm trees and not a single one of them was cut down in order to build this place. The trees that are used to build the hut are replaced with a new seed, bringing life to a new tree in its place. 

The huts are so orderly and cozy. The water is restricted and each room is limited to 200W of electricity. All the products are recycled and each day they are coming up with new ways to help save the environment. 

 

 

Libassa has the only wildlife sanctuary and the whole country.

Sadly, in West Africa it is a very common to see wild animals being used as pets or sold on the street. They do everything possible here to create awareness, educate and help stop illegal animal trafficking throughout the country.

 

 

As of now, more than 265 animals have entered into their sanctuary and out of all of these 123 have been released back out into the wild.

Going to the sanctuary was a touching experience and I recommend it to anyone. Not only will your see cute animals, such as a little pangolin, but you can also get that feeling of satisfaction, knowing that your $5 entrance into the sanctuary is going for a good cause.

 

 

If you are reading this and are not able to make a visit and are interested in donating to the cause, enter into their website make a donation.

Even one dollar can make a difference into the lives of these innocent wild animals. 

Click here for more information. 

 

Nana’s Lodge 

 

Nana’s Lodge is the very first place that I stayed in when I first arrived into Liberia in the town of Robertsport.

 

 

One of my favorite things about staying here was the chance to wake up to the sound of the ocean. They have many styles of beach side bungalows. The one that I stayed in had two double beds, a fan and a lovely balcony that faces the ocean.

 

 

Also, if you want to camp next to the beach, you can bring your own tent or rent one from them. As I mentioned, I chose to stay in a bungalow and it was definitely a great decision. I totally recommend it!

The lodge is located just steps away from an area that is very popular for surfers. In fact, I heard that Robertsport has some of the best waves in the whole country.

If you wake up early, you can find many surfers of all ages out in the ocean surfing. 

 

 

The lodge also has a volleyball net, large beach beds next to the ocean and reclining chairs to relax and read a book.

 

 

If you are adventurous, you can take a one hour hike along the beach to find a ghost ship wreck.

I must admit, it’s not the easiest hike in the world and you must be VERY careful because you have to climb slippery rocks (it is very hard to do with flip flops), but the experience was SO worth it! 

Click here for more information: 



My Liberian Nightmare….


Traveling the world is not always a fun, pleasant, happy adventure like people might assume it is by watching through Instagram. There are many moments in my travels that I have found myself in very uncomfortable situations, alone and totally lost. 

The obstacles that I have faced while on the road are part of the experience and with every situation that I have lived, I have come out with more wisdom and prepared to not make the same mistake again. 

With that said……..

After an exciting week exploring Liberia, my adventure took a major detour…..

I arrived at Libassa Resort, checked into my cabin and instantly started exploring the area. The lodge is a mini paradise, with a large pool, beach area and completely surrounded by nature. As I was walking around, I felt a strange sensation take over my body that only grew with every step. 

As always, I remained positive and said to myself, “This is only the exhaustion from endless travel.”

The weakness grew over the next two days to the point that I could barely make it from my bed to the bathroom. My stubbornness told me not to go to the doctor and to just keep drinking water and that everything will be okay…

However, it was not….

On the third day I found myself hunched over, weak and barely able to make it through the door of the International Hospital in Monrovia.

The doctor gave me a look of concern, took some quick tests and within 2 minutes diagnosed me with Malaria, a disease spread from mosquitos. 

 

HEALTH 

Malaria is very common in many parts of Africa and throughout the world. 

It can be easily treated if caught in the right time, but if you wait, it can and will kill you. In fact, thousands of people die every single year because of untreated Malaria.

If you plan to travel to Malaria zones, travel with precaution and realize that this is a disease that you don’t to mess around with. 

Don’t hesitate one second the moment you start to feel any sort of strange symptoms, such as unusual back pain, fever, weakness and fatigue.

Quickly find a local clinic or hospital in order to get tested. The earlier the doctors can diagnose Malaria, the quicker you can get the treatment you need in order to continue on with your life.

Unfortunately, my trip to Liberia was cut short after nine days of being there. The rest of the time I was either laying in a hospital bed or alone in the house of my American friend who allowed me to stay there while he was out of the country. 

 

 

It was hands-down one of the scariest experiences that I have had while traveling. It truly was a nightmare, especially being completely alone. 

 

People continually ask me “Why did you not get the vaccination for Malaria?!” 

 

As of now there is no vaccination available. 

Many people mistake the vaccination for Yellow Fever that you must get while traveling to Africa for Malaria. 

There are anti-Malaria pills available that you can take during your travel, but given that I was traveling for 4+ months, this option was highly discouraged by my doctor. The pills are quite strong and over a long period of time it might actually cause major problems. 

 

 

If you plan to travel long term in a Malaria zone like I did…..

 


My Words of Advice:

  1. Load up on mosquito repellent and apply it multiple times a day.
  2. Always pack long pants and sleeves and wear them as often as possible, especially in the evening hours. 
  3. Wear a mosquito bracelet (some people swear by these). 
  4. Wear socks any chance you can. 
  5. Sleep inside of a mosquito net. 
  6. For short trips, take the anti-Malaria mediation. 

 

 

 

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

Top Solo Female Travel Myths EXPOSED: Part 1

10 TRICKS BEFORE SPEAKING ON STAGE

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

 

 

adminOverland Travel to Liberia, Africa: A Country of Long Standing Resilience
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Discovering the Beautiful Island of Sao Tome & Principe, Africa

As we were getting ready to land on the island of Sao Tome & Principe in Africa, the man sitting next to me on the airplane looked over and quietly whispered to me, “you must be going to the island for work, no?”

With a very confused look on my face, I smiled and said,

“No, I am going for tourism. I have been traveling alone in West Africa for the last 3.5 months and this is my last stop.”

He looked at me totally shocked, as if I had told him something that was absolutely absurd and unheard of.

“Look all around us and see if you notice anything in common with the majority of the people”- he mentioned

I awkwardly turned around, looking to my right and to the left. He was right, there was a commonality:  Couples, many, many couples. They were of all ages, the giddiest of them being the elderly couple sitting in the seat in front of us, which were kissing endlessly until the plane hit the ground.

So, what the man next to me was trying to determine with his original question is: why on Earth would someone travel to a beautiful island destination, full of lovers, COMPLETELY ALONE?!

Over my years of traveling, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the typical line: “One day, when I have the love of my life by my side, I will travel to that incredible destination I have always wanted to visit, but until then, I will wait.”

Many people constantly wait until another day, and the sad truth is that many will never actually visit their dream destination because they are constantly waiting on a future change or person to come.

Sure, Sao Tome & Principe is a beautiful island and there are many lovers that visit there, but it’s suitable for all types of travelers, even solo travelers. As I was looking out the window as we were landing I did not get upset by his random question to me, nor did I enter in a depression of the reality that I was there completely alone. In fact, I felt the opposite. I could feel the excitement building as we got closer and closer to the runway, knowing that I had 8 full days to explore this small island, which is the second smallest country in Africa.

Sao Tome & Principe was already on my good list before entering, considering the fact that as an American I did not need a visa for up to 15 days. That was an excellent plus, especially given the amount I spent only in visas in West Africa before arriving. In fact, the no visa applies to all European citizens and in many other parts of the world.

NOTE: Before booking a flight it’s important to check and make sure you need a visa. Many require visas in advance. 

Flying to Sao Tome is quite simple. Portugal and Ghana are the normal layovers to enter into Sao Tome through Tap Air. I was super impressed with the company, which had competitive prices, good amenities on board and good food options for the long international flight.

NOTE: Keep in mind that it is absolutely necessary to have you Yellow Fever Certificate. The moment you get off of the plane there is an officer at the door checking each card individually. 

PRACTICAL INFORMATION 

Language: Portuguese

Dinero: Dobra, euro accepted in many places

This is a cash ONLY country. I made the mistake of visiting with little cash and when I arrived I spent a whole entire day trying to get money transferred in by Western Union.

After spending all day at the bank, the transaction was unsuccessful. I then started to investigate different ways to get money and I was informed that if you really need to take out money with your card then you can visit EcoBank and talk with the person in charge. They will then give you a code, which allows you to take out money from the machine. I obviously did not know this, or I would’ve done this in the first place.

If that does not work, there are small places available that you can transfer money by PayPal with 5% commission. In the end, this was the option that I ended up going with. The transaction was super simple and in an official building.

TRANSPORTATION

It’s quite difficult to get lost on the island. Throughout most of Sao Tome, its one main road, with few turn offs. The road conditions are not excellent and especially the more south you go, the more likely the chance is you will need a 4×4.

Without a doubt, the best way to get around is by renting a car. Public transportation is available (yellow minivans shared with many people), but it only stays on the main roads and will not take you to the waterfalls, plantations and all of the places that are worth the visit.

Renting a car will cost you €40 a day plus gas, and if you want to rent a guide, another €20.

I’ve visited the island half of the time by myself and then the other half with a local guide. Looking back, I am happy that I spent the extra money for a guide and the driver, because the roads were rough and as a passenger I was not responsible for any sort of damages that could’ve happened on the road.

In addition, a local guide can give you lots of interesting information, tell you stories and make the experience even more meaningful.

I was traveling alone in the beginning, but I found an elderly 73 year old man that was also traveling alone. We decided to split the travel costs and have a fun adventure together.

Motorcycles are also available, but you need an international motorcycle license. However, I was told by many people that the police do not ever check your license, but in the case that they do, you would be required to pay a fine.

ACCOMODATION

There are countless options for lodging, ranging from very luxurious, mid range, to budget AirbnB rooms. I decided to try many different places out in order to get a more well rounded opinion on the accommodation options available on the island.

For the low budget travelers, the cheapest option is Airbnb for around $12/night. These options are available more outside of the city, but still within walking distance. However, if you are a solo traveler and are looking to meet people, this is not the best option in my opinion.

GUEST HOUSES 

There are two main guest houses in the city, which can range anywhere from $40-100 a night, depending on how many people you are traveling with. This is an excellent way to meet other travelers, cook and share meals and have a common area to talk and have a community of people around you.

I really enjoyed my stay in the guest houses and if you are traveling with another person, the price comes out to be very reasonable.

The two main guest houses are: Sweet Guest House & Sao Pedro. They both have different atmospheres and are located on different parts of the city, so depending on your taste, you can easily decide which one is best for you.

Both are about a 10 minute walk to the city center and easily accessible by car. I tried both of the guest houses out and I can say with 100% confidence that either one of them are excellent choices.

SWEET GUEST HOUSE 

The best thing about here is the cozy atmosphere, the shared, fully stocked kitchen and common area. I met other travelers there and even learn how to cook some delicious Nigerian food with 2 Nigerian men that were there for work. The common area has a big TV and couches for people to sit and relax, as well as an excellent outdoor area, right off the kitchen, to eat outside.

The vibe is very good there and the rooms are spacious and comfy. Of all the places that I stayed, this one had the best air conditioning, which was a huge plus! The staff was helpful and even organized a trip for another traveler and I to the south of the island.  They did all the work and all we had to do was show up, pay and enjoy the trip.

Breakfast is available in the morning at an additional price, which included tropical fruits, coffee, eggs, etc.

Highly recommended.

For more information, click here

SÃO PEDRO 

The best part about this place, in comparison to the other places that I stayed in the island, was its distance to the beach. You literally walk out the door, down the street two minutes and the beach will be right in front of you. Also, if you plan on visiting the chocolate factory, it as well is just a 2 minute walk.

You can feel the vibes of this place the minute you walk in. The huge pool, surrounded by palm trees gives this place a very tropic feeling. It’s a perfect place to lay out by the pool and read a book, relax or even go for a swim.

This is a good place to meet other travelers, in a location that is ideal and safe. The guesthouse is gated,  so I had to fear in laying out by the pool in the evening or night.

The owner was very helpful in helping me to organize my stay, finding nice places to eat and organizing my transportation.

Breakfast is included in the morning for an additional cost and has a large variety of fruits, cereals and bread.

Overall, I highly recommend this place!

For more information, click here

HOTEL CENTRAL

After visiting the guest houses, I decided to try out a couple of hotels in order to see how they are different in comparison to my experience at the guest houses.

The first hotel that I stayed at was Hotel Central. It gets its name because of its location. It is centrally located, right in the middle of all of the action. It´s just minutes away from the main market and restaurants. Wifi was not available in the rooms, but there is a small couch downstairs where one can sit and use the internet.

The rooms were very comfortable, with air conditioning. A breakfast buffet was included in the morning, which offered eggs, fruits, bread and cereal.

A very great alternative if you want to be centrally located!

For more information, click here: 

SH BOUTIQUE HOTEL 

If you are looking for a place that’s more upscale, then look no further than this hotel. This hotel is just 15 minutes away from the airport, in the area “Vila Dolores.”

The rooms were very modern, spacious and elegant. The hotel had all the nice extra amenities that I love, such as a robe, slippers, hair dryer and a a mini fridge to store my drinks.

This hotel has 24 hour security and a good parking area if you have a rental car. This is a quiet place to go and relax, located 10 minutes by foot by the city center.

Breakfast was included in the morning, with different options of fruits, cereals, eggs etc.

For more information, click here: 

WHAT TO DO

CHOCOLATE TOUR 

If you are a chocolate lover, then this is your place to splurge! Years back Sao Tome & Principe used to be the world’s largest cocoa producer, but from what our guide explained, after the small country became independent, a lot of the plantations throughout the island were abandoned. The cocoa history is quite interesting here and you can learn about it at Claudio Corallo Chocolate Factory.

For just 4 euros you can join a chocolate tasting tour where you get the chance to try all kinds of delicious chocolates and learn about the history.

LOCAL MARKET 

It can get a bit wild, but the market is a great place where you can get a good feel for the local culture of the island. This place is packed full of people selling fruits, fish, meat, and everything you can possibly think of. They can get a bit rowdy in there, so hold on tight to your stuff.

They sell a lot of raw fish and meat, so if you have a weak stomach, you may want to just visit the market from the outside.

I highly suggest buying some Jackfruit and trying it out. It’s not available in all parts of the world, so it’s a fruit that everyone should try at least once.

SAO SEBASTIÃO 

This is a unique 1566 fortress which is now converted into a museum. This is great place to visit in the city center, with rich history and excellent places to take photos.

GASTRONOMY TOUR 

There are so many dishes available in Sao Tome, which are strongly influenced by the Portuguese. One of my favorite activities that I did within the city was visiting different restaurants and trying typical dishes.

The most common food on the island, without a doubt, is fish, banana and rice. Other local dishes that I enjoyed are:

Calulu: a traditional dish prepared with fish, veggies (eggplant, onion, spices and typically served with rice and plantain. This was my favorite dish that I tried.

Barriga de Peixe: traditional grilled fish, with comes served with rice, or breadfruit

Cachupa: delicious dish, made with green beans, corn and broad beans.

 

SOUTH

In my opinion, the south was the most impressive part of the island. Its a straight road to get there and is located about 2.5-3 hours by car from the airport.

I highly recommend spending at least one night in the south, but it is possible to just do a day trip, although it will be a bit rushed.

ROCA AGUA IZE 

This was one of our first stops on our way to the south of the country. This is one of the most original and largest cocoa plantations, which many years ago had thousands of locals employed.

There are many places for breathtaking views from there and it’s definitely a stop that you must visit.

BOCA DE INFERNO (HELLS MOUTH)

I absolutely loved visiting here. There are some amazing views and it’s interesting to see the water pound hard against the rock to create a large blowhole.

Although my guide told me it was not a good idea, I still decided to go down the hill closer to the rocks. Its interesting to see up close and its a better place to get a photo.

PICO CAO GRANDE

This rock is one of the most famous volcanic rocks in the hole world and it’s impossible not to see if you are traveling to the south. You can either take a hike towards the rock or get a nice shot from the road.

JALE BEACH (PRAI JALE)

This was such an impressive beach, with beautiful white sand. Out of all of the beaches that I explored, this was one of my favorites. The area was super clean, white sand and very peaceful.

The roads are unpaved to get there, so it’s recommended to go with an SUV. There are different bungalows available to sleep, which is an excellent idea for at least one night.

This is also a popular turtle beach between the months of September and April. Here you will be able to see female turtles lay their eggs in the sand, which is a pretty neat experience!

PORTO ALEGRE 

I took a long stop here to explore the area where the fishermen were hard at work, bringing in the fish and cleaning their boats. They were all so friendly with me and had no problems with me taking a few pictures.

From Porto Alegre you can visit Rolas Island, which is the area in which you can cross the equator. It takes about 20-30 minutes and will cost anything between 35-45 euros.

I did not make that trip, but I have heard from other travelers that its a beautiful experience!

NORTH

BLUE LAGOON 

On my road trip by car to the north of the island, I came across the Blue Lagoon. There is a very pretty view spot from the road, or you can go down and swim in the crystal blue water.

This is an excellent stop for divers or snorkelers who love to explore the underwater life.

PRAI DOS TAMARINDO 

This has the reputation for being one of the best swimming areas on the island. It easy to reach from the capital and its worth the visit. This is a good place to get some amazing views and to relax on the beach.

NEVES 

This is one of the most important towns on the island. What I loved about visiting this area was going into the town and getting the authentic feel of the people on the island.

I stopped and had a local lunch and had the opportunity to connect with the kids, listen to them sing and put on performances for the International Kids Day.

If you are feeling really adventurous, just outside of Neves you can find the beginning of climbing point for Pico de Sao Tome, which is the highest mountain in the whole island.

 

CENTER 

The center of the country is where one you can explore different waterfalls, see the forest and even bird watch. There are many different endemic species of birds and on a chilled out day, this can be a great option to explore.

MONTE CAFE 

This is the main place that one can go and learn about coffee, processing, harvesting and have a good coffee tasting.

Coffee is a huge part of their culture here and its a must see when visiting. It’s very close to the capital and can easily be done in just one morning.

Here you can also visit some of the plantations. If you are lucky, a cute kid might even come up to your window and hand you a cocoa pod so that you can suck the sweetness out of each bean. It tastes just like candy!

SAO NICOLAS WATERFALL

This is a waterfall that’s about 20 by car minutes from Monte Cafe. I went during the dry season, so it was impossible to swim, but my guide mentioned that many people enjoy swimming there. The waterfall is accessible by car and requires no hiking to access it.

Its located in the forest and the drive getting there is beautiful, but quite bumpy!

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION 

If you have a lot of time it is highly recommended to visit the neighboring country, Principe. At this moment there are not boats that take tourists between the two islands, but flights are available at different times throughout the week.

Prices range from €70-150 one way. Unfortunately I did not get the chance to make this trip, but I plan to go back in the future and check it out.

Don’t forget to also read:

HOW I GRADUATED WITH HONORS IN 1 YEAR WHILE TRAVELING FULL TIME TO 20 COUNTRIES

THE PERFECT DAY GONE WRONG: MOTORCYCLE ACCIDENT IN KO SAMUI, THAILAND

7 GESTURES YOU MIGHT WANT TO AVOID IN OTHER COUNTRIES

adminDiscovering the Beautiful Island of Sao Tome & Principe, Africa
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