Road Tripping Alone Across Croatia During the COVID Pandemic

Croatia is a destination that many travelers dream of exploring. It’s a small bucket list country, with just over 4 million people, with countless places to visit that will take your breath away!

Given the limited number of countries that one can travel to with an American passport during the pandemic, I narrowed my search down to a few of the countries that would allow for my nationality to come in and travel freely: Croatia, Turkey, and Mexico.

To mix things up a bit, I decided to revisit each of them, starting first in Croatia.

I will note that my travel situation is different than others because I have Spanish residency, which allows me to travel freely within Europe, stopping in nearby locations, such as Montenegro. Without my European residency, I would’ve needed a COVID test upon returning to Croatia from Montenegro, even if it was just for a day trip.

If you are planning to travel to nearby countries, check the latest updates so that you do not run into any problems along the way.

How to Get There

I started my road trip from Split, a beautiful coastal city that serves as a perfect access point to many other parts of the country and the Croatian islands.

I flew from Barcelona to Split on Vueling Airlines for around 35 dollars.

I also searched from other destinations and found the country to have many excellent connections to other parts of Europe and the USA, for a very reasonable price.

I always use www.skyscanner.com to find all of my flight deals. This will give you the ability to search all of the dates for the entire month (or year) in order to find the date that has the best fare.

Getting Around

Without a doubt, the best way to get around Croatia is in a rental car. In total, I traveled a bit more than 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by car, which gave me so much flexibility to see everything that I wanted to see and the freedom to stop in the places that are a bit harder to get to by a bus.

I like to book my cars by www.rentalcars.com, which always gives me a good variety of cars to choose from, with excellent and competitive prices.

There are two different options for driving with car insurance. You can either get the full insurance through the company that you rent from, which will be an extra 20-30 dollars a day, or you can get the full insurance through the search engine website for around $75 for 6-7 days.

In total I paid:

Car Rental: $90 dollars (77 euros) for 1 week

Full Insurance through www.rentalcars.com : $87 dollars — (74 euros)

Total: $ 178

Gas is a bit more expensive in Croatia than in other places around Europe, but in total, I paid around $120 for fuel, which was not so bad considering how many miles I drove!

Also, keep in mind that if you are traveling across the country, you will need to budget in the additional prices of the highway tolls, which could be up to $50 in total, payable by card or local currency. If you have more time and do not mind going slower, you could drive the coastal highway, which is free of charge.

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If you are in Dubrovnik and are looking to rent a car for just a few days in order to see some of the surrounding places, such as Bosnia or Montenegro, I highly suggest the local company called, Avax Rent a Car.

The price was about 35 dollars for the entire day, with full insurance included and no extra fee for crossing into the neighboring countries. I picked the car up in the city center and returned it to the airport, which was saved me a lot of time on my path.

If you are unable to travel by car for whatever reason, it’s very easy and cheap to get around by bus, but you will have more limitations.

Choosing the Best Route

If you have around 2 weeks or more, I highly recommend starting with a rental car in Dubrovnik and making your way up along the coast, ending in Zagreb.

This route will give you the chance to stop and see many amazing attractions and towns along the scenic coastline.

I started my journey in Split and then bussed to Dubrovnik. I then rented a car from Sixt car rental and started my road trip from there.

I highly recommend Sixt because if you start in Dubrovnik they will allow you to drop your car off with no one-way fee in Zagreb! I searched almost all of the companies and most were charging hefty fees to drop the car off in another location. If you rent a car in Zagreb and try dropping it off in Dubrovnik, the one-way fee will apply.

Places to Visit
SPLIT

Split should be on the travel itinerary of every person traveling to Croatia. In fact, I loved it so much that I decided to visit a second time and I still found tons of new places to discover upon returning.

The old town is absolutely stunning. It is a UNESCO site and you could walk for hours throughout the streets and never run out of places to explore.

Some popular attractions include:

DIOCLETIAN’S PALACE: Incredible landmark built in the 4th century. If you are passing through the old town, it is impossible not to run into the palace.

SAINT DOMNIUS CATHEDRAL: You can actually climb up the tower to get amazing views of the city, which is highly recommended.

My favorite part in all of Split was the Marjan Hill viewpoint. You will have to walk up lots of stairs to get there, but all of the effort will be worth the incredible views that you get of the city and ocean. There is a walking trail up there if you want to continue exploring, which I highly suggest, especially if you are looking for a good running path.

If you want a good introduction to the city upon arriving, they have free city tours available. This can be an excellent experience to give you an orientation to all the city has to offer and give you the chance to ask a local for all of the best places to see, eat and explore.

DUBROVNIK

This is one of the most popular, if not THE most popular city in Croatia. Just like Split, Dubrovnik has an incredible Old Town, which is said to be one of the most well preserved medieval cities in the entire world!

I walked aimlessly through the Old Town, stopping in all the little shops, exploring the narrow hidden side streets, and indulging in some delicious local food.

I would highly suggest giving yourself at least 3 hours to walk around this area and at least 2 additional hours if you want to pay around 30 dollars in order to climb upstairs and walk the perimeter of the town.

Dubrovnik is a haven for history buffs, Game of Throne lovers, and photographers that are looking for unique photo and video opportunities. The city an excellent mix of has palaces, churches, monasteries, and historic monuments.

ZADAR

This was a nice stop that served as a midway point from Dubrovnik to Istria. I did not spend much time here, but I did get the chance to explore the city, stroll along the water way and see some ancient ruins, historic buildings and medieval churches.

Zadar also serves as a great location if you are looking for a central place to stay in order to be connected to many popular places, such as Plitvice Lakes and other surrounding islands.

PLITVICE LAKES

This is one of the most popular attractions in Croatia, located about 1.5 hours from Zadar or 2 hours and 15 minutes from Zagreb.

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This national park covers over 73,000 acres and is a great place to go if you love the outdoors and are looking for a place to hike. There are 7 different routes you can take, which are easy to follow so that you do not get lost.

The most basic route should take you around 3 hours and the longer ones could take up to 6-7 hours, which will allow you to see everything. There will be a bus and a boat included in the price that transfer you to different parts of the lake.

Important reminder: Drones are not allowed. I carried my drone in my bag, but there are cameras at different locations and many signs indicate that it is prohibited.

The hours are from 7am-6pm

The entrance fee is was 180 kuna (26 USD).

I had read that the park tends to get very crowded before the pandemic, but I barely saw anyone during the time that I was there.

Where to stay: I booked a small guest house from booking.com, which was only about 6 miles (10 km) from the waterfalls. I highly suggest staying nearby so that you can get up and arrive there early.

Accommodation ranges from about $20 + for a private room.

TROGIR

Trogir is located about 35 minutes by car from Spit (50 minutes south from Sibinik). This is an absolute must, especially if you love history and beautiful architecture.

Trogir was labeled a UNESCO site in 1997. There are some beautiful historic sites to visit, the most popular one being the Cathedral of St. Lawrence.

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It is a town that is much calmer than Split and directly on the water. I did not get the chance to spend the night there, but most locals recommend that it is an ideal place to stay for at least one night.

SIBENIK


Sibenik is another charming coastal city, which has 2 UNESCO sites and is a famous spot for Game of Throne fans. On my tour through the town, I was shocked to find that Sibenik is only one of five cities in the entire world to have 2 world heritage sites in it.

Don’t forget to check out St. Jacob’s Cathedral and Sv. Nikola Fort

ISTRIA

Istria was my favorite area that I got the chance to visit in Croatia and the place I decided to spend my birthday.

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This is a perfect area of Croatia if you love gastronomy and wine. In fact, this area is known as the “Tuscany” of Croatia.

I have traveled the world extensively for the majority of my adult life and some of the best dishes I have ever tried were in this part of Croatia.

Istria is a paradise of truffles! White truffles are only grown in two parts of the world, Istria and in another region in Italy. Ordering a pasta dish with white truffles is an absolute must while there.

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In fact, I loved the truffles so much that I even went out hunting in the woods with the dogs! I highly suggest having this experience with Karlic Tartufi. They are a local family that has so much passion, experience, and knowledge about truffles. The experience was very interactive, informative and the truffle tasting after was delicious!

Where to Stay: I highly recommend Roxanich Wine and Heritage hotel.

I stayed there for two nights and I had an amazing experience. The hotel has 32 rooms, all uniquely designed in beautiful and bright colors. The environment is very laid back, quiet and the views around are lovely.

I love the fact that this hotel has a nice outdoor swimming pool, an indoor spa, with 2 saunas and a Turkish bath.

Below the hotel is 4 floors of wine cellars, where they prepare the wine. They have tours available daily, with wine tasting, which was worth the experience!

Where to eat: I had such an amazing experience at Konoba VRH restaurant that I thought it was definitely worth the mention. They offer an excellent selection of traditional Istrian cuisine.

I had a huge dish, with 5 types of pasta and truffles for my birthday lunch and I left feeling so happy and satisfied! They even made me a dessert with a candle for my special day. Highly recommended!

ROVINJ

Rovinj is a popular town in Istria, which attracts around 40,000 visitors a day in the regular season. The town has a very cozy and artsy feeling to it, with tons of amazing photo opportunities for anyone that loves photography.

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This is a great place to spend a relaxing day, exploring the old town, strolling along the harbor, or even taking a boat for the day. There are boats available to Venice, Italy on a daily basis, which only takes about 3 hours.

There was an excellent market in the center of town, which sells local products, souvenirs, and of course, truffles!

Where to eat: I had an incredible lunch at Hotel Adriatic. I ordered sea bass, with a truffles pasta and a lemon tart for dessert and it was all delicious. Highly recommended!

OPATIJA

Opatija, located in Kvarner Bay, was one of my last stops on my road trip across Croatia. If you research information about the area, you may hear it being referred to as the “Pearl of the Adriatic.”

Slatina Beach is the biggest beach in Opatija and is a fantastic place to visit, but my favorite location was the 12 km promenade built in the early 1900s.

The views are stunning as you walk along the ocean. I highly recommend stopping to see the statue of the Maiden with the Seagull, which is the most photographed place in the whole area.

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There are many nice parks, one of them being the Park Angiolina, dating back from the 19th century. This is claimed to be one of the most beautiful parks in the whole country.

Opatija is in an excellent location if you are looking to take a road trip across multiple countries. It is only a 2-hour drive from Slovenia and Italy, so you could visit Opatija and then cross over and see Lake Bled in Slovenia, which is SO worth the trip!

Where to Stay: I suggest the Hotel Navis, which is an upscale hotel, located on the water. I stayed here for 2 nights and waking up to the sound of the ocean waves was the PERFECT way to end my stay in Croatia.

The hotel also has an excellent restaurant, where you can order fresh fish, traditional Croatian dishes, and specialty wines.

Another great place to eat in the Kvarner region that was worth the mention is a place called Konoba Zijavica in Mošćenička Draga, located right on the water.

This a family-run restaurant (over 40 years and counting), that specializes in seafood plates. The shrimp and octopus plates are highly recommended.

USEFUL INFORMATION:

  • Money: Croatia Kuna (6.4 kuna – 1 USD)
  • Language: Croatian, although English is often spoken
  • Visa: no visa (90-day max)

Don’t forget to also check out:

5 IMPORTANT THINGS I HAVE LEARNED DURING SELF QUARANTINE

IS SOLO TRAVELING WEST AFRICA WORTH THE EXPERIENCE?

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

SARAH DODDRoad Tripping Alone Across Croatia During the COVID Pandemic
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Leave the Worry Behind and TAKE ACTION!

I’ve had a lot of worries in my days, most of which have never happened.  Mark Twain

Do you ever find your mind drifting away, either projecting out into the far future or dwelling on some thought or experience from the past? 

It’s so easy to get caught up in our minds and spend the majority of our time focusing on everywhere except for where we are right now. The past and future can be amazing places to visit and excellent references in order to feel more inspired and motivated, but for most people, this is not the case.

Let’s think about the future for a moment…

If you look towards the future in a positive light, you can easily feel excited about your future possibilities, dreams, and all the amazing things that might come to pass one day. While thinking to the future can be helpful in order to get more inspired, it can equally be a place of extreme fear, uncertainty, and doubt, especially if you are not clear on what you want in life, or your dreams seem so big that you are overwhelmed with the question of “HOW am I ever going to reach my big end goal?” 

The future is often associated with feelings of stress and anxiety, given its nature of uncertainty.

Our minds are programmed to dwell and stress about future scenarios, related to health/safety of our family, national, financial and job security, disease, retirement, pandemics, and even afterlife.

….

Given this truth, it is key to do everything you can to center yourself in the NOW and not allow your mind to create a multitude of mental images of all the things that could possibly go wrong in the future. 

Now, let’s take a minute to explore the past…

The past can be an excellent place to look towards in order to feel a sense of gratification for all that you have lived until this very moment. As with the case of the future, it can equally be a dark and lonely place, full of shame and guilt for all the things that you did not do or could´ve done differently.

The present moment is truly the only moment that exists in time and we must plant ourselves there.  

In 2015, I decided to say my goodbyes to Spain and set off on my next adventure. I had already lived two amazing years there, reached my goal of fluently learning Spanish, and suddenly felt deep within my heart that it was time to move on to something bigger and better.

During that time of transition, I reflected on a lot of different ideas for my future, all of which would require me to step drastically out of my comfort zone into the world of the unknown. When it came down to making a final decision, I decided to do something that I had never tried in my life and travel full time during a 6-month time frame, completely alone.

…..

I can remember the sleepless nights building up to my first big trip like it was yesterday. While I tried to keep a peaceful state of mind, I could not resist the negativity and fear that came upon me on some days.

….

I had clear mental images of all the things that could possibly go wrong and found myself always programmed to think to the worst-case scenarios of what could happen to a solo female traveler, which never had a happy ending. I imagined thoughts of getting robbed, kidnapped, or lost in the night and as much as I tried to avoid the thoughts, they just came. This went on for weeks before leaving, to the point that I almost called it quits.

These fears restlessly filled my mind until I reached a breaking point, to where I literally screamed at the top of my lungs:

“Enough is ENOUGH! I am finished with letting my mind take control and lead me into a negative future! I choose today to take action and follow my dreams, despite the intense fear that I have.”

It was on that very day that I decided to walk out the door and start my extensive world trip, which was originally supposed to be only 6 months. One door after another opened as I followed my dreams and this small trip turned into one that has taken me alone to more than 120 + countries across the world, to some of the most dangerous and untraveled areas on Earth.

Was I afraid when I started? More than I can possibly express (keep in mind that I had NEVER traveled a day in my life before Spain, not did I have a passport). 

Do I still feel scared while on the road? Absolutely!

Our goal in this life is not to try and eliminate and avoid fear.
.

This experience taught me the importance of not allowing fear to paralyze and hold you back from what you desire to do.  The best remedy for dealing with fear is centering your life and thoughts in the now taking action towards the unknown path. 

 

Do not let fear hold you back another day from your dream life.

Leave the worry behind and take action today!

 

 

Don’t forget to also read: 

IS SOLO TRAVELING WEST AFRICA WORTH THE EXPERIENCE?

5 POSITIVE ACTIONS TO TAKE DURING QUARANTINE

WAYS TO SAVE ON ACCOMMODATION WHILE TRAVELING

 

Sarah - thenomadicdreamer.comLeave the Worry Behind and TAKE ACTION!
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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 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

 

PaquiSurviving Malaria COMPLETELY Alone in Liberia
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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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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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