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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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 a sickness, disease or hospitalised.
    3. Feeling overly lonely.

I hear these three common fears ALL of the time. They are very normal and most women travellers 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 time 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 traveller…

 

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 travellers 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 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 no where, 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 head ache, 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 was 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 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 to 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 9pm-5am.

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. 

,

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

 

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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

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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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