Surviving Malaria COMPLETELY Alone in Liberia

If you ask most people out there, the thought of traveling alone is NOT exactly the most appealing idea. Many like the idea of exploring the world, but with the comfort of a friend, family or significant other by their side.

However, COMPLETELY ALONE…..that raises too many fears and doubts, right? 

The talk about fears as a solo traveler comes up ALL the time in my conversations, especially when people find out how much I actually travel.

Just to get the perspective from other women, I like return the question and get their personal opinion of travel, especially in regards to going alone, and find out what holds many of them back.

When I ask non-traveling women, or ones that have the desire to venture out on their own (but are too nervous to make that decision, I typically hear three main fears:

    1. Getting abducted by some crazy stranger
    2. Being stuck abroad, completely alone, with sickness, disease, or hospitalized.
    3. Feeling overly lonely.

I hear these three common fears ALL of the time. They are very normal and most women travelers have had at least one of these fears at some point or another while on the road, whether it was before they started, or during the time that they are gone. I have had all three of these fears many times throughout my time abroad.

Unfortunately, in April 2019, one of these three fears actually happened to me.

Without a doubt, I can say this one experience (until now) has been one the scariest things that has ever happened to me as a traveler…

 

So, let me start off with how it all started……

In early 2019, I was looking for a new kind of experience. I was going through a stage where I was completely bored with European travel. I had finished a long trip through Southeast Asia about 6 months prior and was saving South America and the Caribbean for another moment.

My adventurous side was calling out my name. I searched endlessly for a wild experience that I had never had before and something most solo female travelers would never think about doing. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I just knew that there had to be some sort of exciting adventure that I could have that was totally off the beaten path.

I looked up routes all over the world and FINALLY ended up finding my next adventure: Overlanding West Africa.

Traveling West Africa has its own share of challenges. When I made this plan, I had just finished 6 months of physical rehabilitation, due to a bad motorcycle accident I had over the previous summer in Thailand. The doctor had just given me the approval to get on the road and the pain was finally under control to the point that I could carry a backpack again on my newly healed collar bone.

I bought a one-way ticket to Nouakchott, Mauritania and started making my way south by public transportation. All I wanted during this time was pure adventure: staying with local families in their homes, public transportation (some hitchhiking) and an authentic immersion into the African culture, that would place me WAY outside of my comfort zone.

During this time, it was was just me, myself, and I.

No plan.

No expectations.

No time frame.

No travel partner

Everything was truly going PERFECT….

I was having a genuinely great experience, meeting incredible people, and visiting places that I did not even know existed on the map.

I continued on with my positive experience into Liberia, visiting a beautiful Eco Lodge right outside of Monrovia, called Libassa. The location of the lodge was perfect. My cozy eco cabin was located on in the middle of the woods, only a short walk from the white sandy beach. I literally had the best of both worlds!

I quickly unpacked my bags and anxiously walked around to get familiar with the area, which would be my home for the next three days.

Out of nowhere, the first symptom hit hard: an overwhelming feeling of exhaustion.

I had just traveled hours to get to the lodge, in the hottest part of the day, so I blew it off and took a small nap. I woke up shortly after feeling unrested, so I took a brief walk and decided to call it a night.

I woke up feeling better the next day, just knowing that all I needed was a good night’s rest in order to feel myself again.

During the day, I relaxed and then visited their private animal sanctuary. I was able to see the rescued animals and learn about all the positive work they are doing to save and protect wild animals in Liberia. I felt completely normal!

As the evening crept in, the new symptoms appeared: bursting headache, a thirst that felt like not even 100 bottles of water could quench, and absolutely no appetite (which is not normal for me).

I laid down in the bed and felt anxious and restless. I tossed and turned and continued to drink water, telling myself it was ONLY dehydration. On the second night I was unable to sleep. I felt all of the muscles in my back aching and no matter which way I turned, I could not get comfortable. I went through moments where I felt like I was on fire, followed by uncontrollable shivering and chills.

On day three, I woke up so weak that I could barely walk. I knew something was seriously wrong at that point and it was WAY more than just dehydration.

After days of ignoring the signs and thinking I would just get better on my own, I decided I couldn’t go on any further.

I could literally hold myself up to get to the reception of the hotel.

Everything from that point was an absolute blur. My knees were weak and shaky and I urgently called a taxi to take me to the international hospital. Honestly, I barely remember that long ride there. All I remember is stepping foot in the hospital and collapsing on the floor the moment I walked in.

The doctor gave me one look up and down and said,  “WOW, you look terrible!”

He took my blood, gave me some tests and within minutes told me that I tested positive for a bad case of malaria. Without even asking, he told me that I would be instantly admitted into the hospital.

The local doctor looked at me in shock and asked me over and over, “Why did you wait to come in? Miss, did you know that this could’ve EASILY killed you. You are so lucky.”

At that point, his words did not really sink in. I felt worse than I had ever felt in my entire life.

The symptoms only grew worse and I honestly felt like I was out of my mind. The doctor put an IV in my arm and told me to not panic and a few minutes I found out why he had given me that warning.

A strong sense shock took over my body. The medicine started to kick in all at once and it was simply too much for my small body to handle. Frightened, I called the doctor and told him that I was having an adverse reaction. I could not think or see straight and I felt so much anxiety that I thought I was going to rip off the IV and jump out the window. He assured me that all of the feelings that I was having were completely normal.

I sat up in the hospital bed, shaking profusely, while frantically looking at the clock and waiting for time to pass.

The more I let my mind roam, the more anxious I felt. I was there all alone, with no family, friends or contacts, and honestly doubtful if I was going to make it out alive from this living nightmare.

Those were some of the worst hours and thoughts that I have ever had in my life, but in the end, I made it.

I was released from the hospital and agreed with the doctor that I would finish my medications by mouth over the next three days. Keep in mind that most people that get malaria can get rid of it by just taking medication at home by mouth during three days.  My situation was more serious and I needed a double dosage, which is why I had to continue taking the medications after being released from the hospital.

My Couchsurfing host was traveling outside of Liberia at the time, but he allowed me to stay at his house while he was gone so that I could continue on with my recovery.

I just assumed that I was going to get better from that point on, but I was COMPLETELY wrong….

In the middle of the night, after arriving at the apartment, my fever spiked again out of control. I did everything the doctor told me to lower a high fever, but no matter what I did, I could not seem to get it down.

I admit, I panicked.

All I could do was cry hysterically. I was in pain and I was so terrified that I would not wake up the next morning. No one was around to check on me, which only made that fear grow stronger by the minute.

During those long weeks getting over malaria, I lost all my strength and looked like a bag of bones. In a given day, I was lucky enough to force down a mango or avocado.

Despite it all, I continued to look forward and stay positive.

The day finally came that I woke up feeling better, but it was a long process towards a fully recovery.

I had to reevaluate my plan and quickly decided to end my West African trip shortly after. All of the malaria medications destroyed my body, messed up all my blood levels and left me with very bad anemia.

The road to recovery was VERY slow. Even after 6 months, I did not feel my normal self…

Traveling the world can be such a beautiful and rewarding experience, but there are some serious dangers out there, especially regarding health safety.

I’m writing and sharing my story with you the midst of a national health emergency with Coronavirus. I am trapped inside my Airbnb in Ecuador, unable to walk the streets (unless I have a good reason) and with a strict curfew of 9 pm-5 am.

The world is in a state of panic right now and this time being quarantined inside has given me time to reflect on my life experience and this awful health scare that I had just 11 months ago.

I want to urge you to NEVER ignore any odd symptoms that your body may be having, ESPECIALLY while traveling to a country where disease and infection are common.

When you notice a change in your body, go to the doctor and get checked, especially if you are traveling in a country with malaria.

There are more than 195 million cases of malaria each year and over 500,000 deaths.

What I learned from this horrible experience is that strange, out of the ordinary symptoms are NOT something to play around with.

The moment you these symptoms, you should immediately visit the doctor to get checked:

  1. High fever
  2. Shaking/chills/sweating
  3. Headache
  4. Unusual muscle pain
  5. Nausea/Vomiting

Unfortunately, if you have malaria and wait too long to get tested, it might just be too late.

Malaria DOES and WILL kill you…..

 

Don’t forget to also check out:

IS SOLO TRAVELING WEST AFRICA WORTH THE EXPERIENCE?

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

THE ONE THING THAT YOU SHOULD NEVER TRAVEL WITHOUT

 

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Is Solo Traveling West Africa Worth the Experience?

While other people see traveling alone as an act of courage, I now consider it normal. That could not be further from the person that I was in my late teens, that frequently mentioned, 

“I would NEVER consider traveling all alone. That would be too dangerous and scary!” 

Just the single thought of traveling alone years back, without the comfort of a friend or boyfriend by my side, brought me severe anxiety and an over whelming feeling that I could not even think about facing. 

Sure, traveling across Europe and North America is not so scary, right? 

While there are dangers to be found in any part of the world, for the most part, many European countries tend to be safer than other locations, with easy transportation and up to date infrastructure, allowing for trouble free travel between the countries.    

Let’s face it…there is an obvious sense of comfort to be found while traveling to more organized and developed countries. You still get that sense of adventure, but it’s less risky.

HOWEVER, that comfort easily diminishes the further you travel off the normal path, especially to parts of the world where most travellers do not step foot, like West Africa. 

West Africa is known as one of the most difficult areas of the world to travel to overland. Lack of infrastructure, unpaved roads, unsuitable conditions for the public transportation (I have no idea how there are not more wrecks with how old and run down the taxis and mini busses are) and a lack of connection between countries, which makes it very difficult to travel with ease across borders. 

After many years of traveling, I became addicted to this lifestyle. After becoming a “true addict,” I decided that I wanted to travel to every single country, and from that point I set off to make that goal become a reality.

In 2019, the time came to plan my next adventure. I was contemplating many places close to Europe and the thought came to my mind to organize an independent overland adventure across West Africa (no tour), something that you cannot find much credible information on while searching online. 

I honestly had NO idea what I was getting myself into.

All that I had in mind was the time in which I wanted to go, the countries that I wanted to visit, and I told myself I would plan the rest along the way. I bought a one way ticket to Nouakchott, Mauritania from Spain and my plan was literally unplanned and up in the air the rest of the way. 

The lack of information online can cause even the most experienced traveler a bit of discomfort, ESPECIALLY for a solo female. 

I decided to face a huge fear of mine and try to make the long journey from Mauritania all the way to Angola (I will save that dramatic story of why I didn’t make it all the way there in another article). 

This overland path would entail crossing by foot across some of the most corrupt borders in West Africa, such as Rosso, Mauritania to Senegal. Other borders that I was planning to cross did not even have a single piece of information online to direct me and in many cases I eventually found out that some of the plans I originally had in my head of how I was going to get from one point to another, was completely ridiculous and unsafe. 

I often had to change my plan, especially the further south that I got, towards Guinea Bissau–Guinea–Sierra Leone—Liberia. 

Given that there is such little information available, I felt like the majority of my trip was trial and error and that I was literally planning each border crossing and experience day by day, depending on the advice I got from local people that I asked along the way. Obviously, I listened to the locals advice in many situations, but it was very common to hear,

“Ohh, it is SO safe here- do NOT worry. The people here are really nice and never hurt anyone.” 

Sure, maybe they would not hurt or rob their own people, but a solo American female, with a nice back pack (people tend to think of $$$), could possibly be another story. I am not out to think that people are out to get me, but I do understand that a locals experience is sometimes a bit biased. 

I have to admit, the unknown kept me up at night (especially on days when I was exhausted, alone for countless days without an interaction with another person or traveler or had a bad travel day), wondering and reflecting on all the possibilities.

What if someone kidnaps me at gunpoint?

With all of the ridiculous drivers, what if I get in the hands of the wrong person?

What will I do if someone tries to violate me?

What happens if I am in the wrong place at the wrong time? 

When people see my travels across the world on social media, they often think that I am some kind of fearless traveler because I do unordinary things. The truth is that I fear on a daily basis, especially when I allow my mind to take control.

However, one truth that I stand behind is that:

No matter how much fear that I have, I will never allow it to hold me back and be a barrier between me and my dreams. I have taken on the motto for my life, “Feel the fear and do it anyways!” 

Regarding my route across West Africa, it consisted of this: 

Mauritania — Senegal — Gambia — Guinea Bissau — Guinea —- Sierra Leone — Liberia — Ivory Coast — Ghana — Togo — Benin

When major hardship took over my travel and I realized that I was not going to make it all the way to Angola, I decided to turn around in Benin and return to Togo and back to Ghana, before flying to the island of São Tomé and Principe. 

During this wild four month journey, I decided to do everything by public transportation. When we talk about public transportation, we’re not thinking about these big elegant, coach buses that you see in in western countries.

 

NOOOO WAY!! 

What I’m talking about is traveling in awful, run down cars/vans, which are prone to break down every few hours, crammed full of sweaty strangers/animals, in the boiling heat, stacked one on top of the other.

In some countries the transportation was better than others. Strangely enough, if you risk your life and ride on the top of the SUV in some places, you can actually get half off your ticket price. 

Hmmmm…….

While the West African countries are quite small, especially in comparison to other countries in the world, it does not take away the fact that the distances are extremely long, especially in the old, broken car. I can’t tell you how many days I spent 13 + hours crammed on top of an old lady or man (or vice versa), in 95 degree heat (obviously, with no air) and crammed to the point that I thought I was going to explode.

It brings you quite a big of anxiety just reading this no? (I feel anxious just writing and thinking back on this myself) 

Most recommend that you should avoid overland travel at all costs, due to the fact that accidents occur on a regular basis from the crazy drivers (lots of drunks on the road).

In fact, it is a known belief within the locals that you are more likely to die from traveling by car than you are in disease in this part of the world ( and there are A LOT of disease) —  I am not sure if this is actually true, but this is what the locals swear by. 

Looking back on all of this (and lucky to be alive), the experience was one that changed me from the inside out and took my ability to travel as a solo traveler to the next level.  It gave me a new sense of confidence in myself that I never knew that I had and literally pushed me outside my human limits.

It was NOT easy.

In fact, it was quite exhausting, but it was hands down one of the most rewarding journeys that I have ever taken. 

So, was it really worth the risk, you might be asking? 

 

To be honest, I left the experience feeling completely empowered, knowing that I faced a huge fear and did something that most people would never dare to do. It’s easy to have an idea in your mind of what you want, but quickly get discouraged and convince yourself of all of the things that could possibly go wrong, like I did in the beginning of my trip through West Africa. 

But that’s what life is about: RISK

It´s about daring to do something outside of the box and going down paths that the majority of people wouldn’t even think about going down (this is applicable for life, not just travel). 

There is a sense of empowerment in these types of experiences and honestly this feeling helped me to power through on those difficult days of traveling throughout West Africa, when my body and mind were both screaming,

JUST GIVE UP!!!

 

Over those four months of traveling,  I wanted to throw in the towel and give up on many days. I was tired, exhausted, lonely, fearful, frustrated and anxious in so many different occasions. But, I tried to keep in mind that those were JUST moments, like the passing of a big storm in the night. This helped me to realize that if I just stuck to my goal, then this uncomfort would die down soon enough. 

So the question you are probably asking yourself is, “Why in the world would you EVER put yourself through that? Where is the fun?

Still to this day I have not been able to find a good answer to this question.

In a twisted way, there was something so beautiful about being outside of my comfort zone and completely terrified to the point that I thought I literally could not go forward.

There was some sort of twisted beauty as well about being crammed in the back of a small shared taxi in the torturing heat, with children and chickens sitting on my lap and a sense of dirtiness that seemed like not even 100 showers could clean off me. 

Despite the difficult moments that I had in this adventure, I truly felt more connected to humanity than I had ever felt in my entire life.

Sleeping on hard floors/beds every night, using a small hole in the floor to go to the bathroom, having a small cold bucket for showering daily and traveling thousands of miles in terrible public transportation humbled me as a person and genuinely put me in my place.

Those late nights eating from a big shared bowl on the floor, in the pitch dark, with a family of Africans, were unique experiences that connected me more with others and gave me a deep sense of pleasure, realizing that happiness is truly something that you can find in the most simple and ordinary things. 

My thought for anyone reading this: The next time you think about taking an adventure across the world, don’t always go for the most comfortable and touristic destinations.

 

Dare to do something different.

Dare to step outside of your comfort zone and see where life takes you.

Dare to live an experience that greatly challenges you.

Dare to directly feel the sensation of uncomfort and fear. 

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If you open your heart and mind to new experiences and chances, each and everyone of us has the possibility to be transformed and completely alter the lens in which you see the world and humankind.

Would I return to West Africa? Absolutely

Would I do the whole thing by land again? NO WAY! 

Do I recommend this experience and this route to other travellers? Without a doubt

 

Get outside of your comfort zone and take the road less traveled. 

 

……

Don’t forget to also check out:

10 MOST COMMON QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ON TRAVELING ALONE TO SAUDI ARABIA

WHAT TRAVEL ELECTRONICS & ACCESSORIES DO I USE?

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

 

adminIs Solo Traveling West Africa Worth the Experience?
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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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CouchSurfing: What Exactly Does That Mean?

Traveling is an adventure that truly can change your life and make you richer in body, mind and soul. My experiences traveling have changed me and have truly opened my eyes to the world around me.

As a person who grew up in a small town in Arkansas, this experience of stepping out into the big world and exploring has given me an insight that I would’ve never had staying comfortably back in my life in America.

While living in Spain in 2013, I was introduced to CouchSurfing for the first time. When I first heard the name I laughed, thinking it was some sort of sport. However, after my friend explained the concept to me I laughed even harder and said, “that is the most ridiculous and dangerous thing I have ever heard. I would NEVER do that!”

 

How does CouchSurfing work?

 

Couchsurfing is a service that is offered online that connects people from all over the globe together.

There are three main ways in which you can get the most out of this service:

  • Exploring and connecting with people in your own city.
  • Offering your home without cost to a traveler that needs a place to stay while visiting your city.
  • Finding accommodation or a person to meet up with while you are personally traveling to a different city.

 

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Couchsurfing host: Bandung, Indonesia

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How can I get started?

 

The first step is to open your mind to such a foreign idea and just give it a try. Start by completely filling out a profile, which will consist of you writing in detail more about who you are, what you like to do, places you have visited, pictures, a description of your home if you are going to host, time of availability etc.

Once you have that completely filled out, then you can start exploring. There will be local discussions, events and easy access to contact the people that live within close distance to you.

 

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Couchsurfing host in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

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What is a typical experience like using CouchSurfing?

 

Every experience I have had has been completely different, which is what makes the experience so exciting and addicting. A typical experience of mine usually consists of talking by email, phone or Skype with the possible host during a span of 1-2 weeks, depending on if it’s last minute or not.

After I gain some trust with the person, we plan the travel details and I give them the date and place of arrival. Upon arrival the host will either pick you up or give you specific directions on how to get to his or her home.

Once together the activities might include: talking and getting to know each other, a tour of the city, being introduced to the host’s friends or family, trying different traditional foods, cooking together, going on a small trip, concert, or seeing whatever may be going on in the city in the dates you are there.

If the visit is during the week, it’s common that the host will have to work. In that case he or she may decide to give you the keys or will tell you the time in which he or she finishes work so that you can enter in the house. Talk with you host beforehand and work out the little details in order to avoid any kind of complications or misunderstandings.

Read more: COUCHSURFING: A CROATIAN SURPRISE

 

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Couchsurfing: Jakarta, Indonesia

How do I know who I can trust and not?

 

There are millions of users on Couchsurfing from all over the world. With that many users, it’s inevitable that there will be people that are not using it for the right reasons, so safety is priority. First and foremost, reading someone’s complete profile is a must.

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If you find that someone does not have certain areas filled out and it looks a little sketchy, automatically eliminate them from the search and move on.

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Look for people that have an active profile and that seem to have similar hobbies and interests to you. On your profile you are able to add as many pictures as you want, so take a look at the other person’s pictures and get a feel for what he or she likes to do to see if you think you might be compatible.

Both hosts and travelers can obtain references from other hosts, friends and guests and for me this is my lifeline when choosing my hosts.

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As a solo female traveler,  I would say that my biggest suggestion to reduce the risk of problems is by choosing a host with more than 10 positive reviews from both girls and boys. I often look for comments from girls that say “I am a single traveler and I felt safe in his home.”

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If someone has over 10 references saying positive comments, you can drastically reduce the risk of something happening, although you can’t completely avoid it.

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Read more: COUCHSURFING: TRUST YOUR GUT

 

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Couchsurfing: Dubai, United Arab Emirates

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Is Couchsurfing Safe?

 

Just like anything in life, you have to be careful and listen to your heart. I have used Couchsurfing more than 100+ times alone without any kinds of problems. I am aware of the dangers in each and every place that I go and if I have any sort of hesitation I do not ignore it.

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CouchSurfing can be an experience that truly changes your life and can introduce you to amazing friendships from all over the world.

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If you take the safety measures while using this service, you will have the opportunity to meet and connect with all kinds of different people from all over the world and create memories that last a lifetime.

 

Read more: Couchsurfing- Safely Choosing a Host 

 

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Couchsurfing: Chennai, India

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Don’t forget to also check out:

7 FEARS TO CONFRONT AS A SOLO FEMALE TRAVELER

DETAINED BY IMMIGRATION OFFICERS

PHILIPPINES: A WALK INTO PARADISE: KAWASAN FALLS

 

Sarah - thenomadicdreamer.comCouchSurfing: What Exactly Does That Mean?
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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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