Месечни архиви: November 2015

My Favorite New Travel Destinations of 2015

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Kate in Aci Trezza

Every year, I love to look back at my travels and choose my favorite new destinations of the year.

In 2014, some of my favorite new destinations were Finland, Sri Lanka, and Savannah, Georgia.

In 2013, some of my favorite new destinations were Japan, Macedonia, and Berlin.

In 2012, some of my favorite new destinations were the Faroe Islands, South Africa, and Costa Brava, Spain.

Some years, I just did a big list. Sometimes, I listed my top three along with the others. I think it’s best to think about the year and do what feels right. So this year, in 2015, I’ll be highlighting my favorite new destination of the year and listing the rest.

Leon Nicaragua

My Favorite New Destination of the Year: Nicaragua

When thinking about my favorite new destinations from this year, you know what comes to mind? Little Corn Island. San Juan del Sur. Ometepe. And, to a lesser degree, Laguna de Apoyo and León.

Loving each of those places so much, how could Nicaragua not be my favorite new destination of the year? And when you consider their diversity, from funky beach towns to undeveloped islands and colorful, chaotic cities, it’s all the more remarkable.

Yemaya Little Corn IslandGranada NicaraguaLaguna de ApoyoOmetepe RoadLeon NicaraguaYemaya Little Corn IslandLeon CathedralLittle Corn IslandView over San Juan del SurSan Juan del SurFinal Ometepe Sunset

I adore Nicaragua. It’s a colorful country filled with kind and welcoming people. I’d go so far as to consider it the most naturally beautiful country in Central America. The food is pretty basic, but there’s something rhapsodic about a perfectly roasted chicken eaten on a plastic stool on the street. And with everything being so cheap, it’s a very affordable trip, especially from the United States.

I do worry for Nicaragua, though. Little Corn Island is in its sweet spot right now, being nice and quiet but just starting to pick up, and I dread the thought of it becoming destroyed in the name of tourism like Koh Phi Phi. At the same time, the Chinese are planning to build a canal through Nicaragua and its eponymous lake, and I shudder at the thought of what that’s going to do to Ometepe and the gorgeous coastline near San Juan del Sur.

Put Nicaragua on your “go now” list for 2016. I’m serious. It might not be this way for long.

Favorite Nicaragua Experiences: Watching the sunset from Hacienda Merida in Ometepe, discovering hidden beaches and wacky island people on Little Corn Island, spending a day at Laguna de Apoyo, the catamaran day trip from San Juan del Sur, rocking the Sunday Funday party in San Juan del Sur, enjoying incredible views from the top of León Cathedral.

Copenhagen from Church of Our Savior

Copenhagen

A bright and colorful city filled with people wearing only black and gray. Everyone is on a bicycle. It’s cool and organized and even the rougher areas are nicer than anything you’ve seen in the US. People give zero fucks in the best way possible.

Looking back, Copenhagen didn’t have any one moment that made me fall in love with it — it was more of a mosaic-like destination, where I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed it until I had been there for a few days. The kind of place where you’re so happy each minute, you suddenly think to yourself, “You know? This place is great.” I often feel that way in Nordic cities.

Sankt Hans Nyhavn CopenhagenCopenhagenCopenhagen

Favorite Copenhagen Experiences: Eating one of the best meals of my life at Höst, celebrating Sankt Hans with bonfires, wandering the open-air museum and deer park, climbing to the spiraled top of the Church of Our Savior, exploring the separatist zone of Christiania, having a party night for the ages starting with street food at Papirøen.

Saranda, Albania

Albania

A country just waking up to mass tourism, Albania is one of the few places in Europe that you can visit as a tourist and feel like you’re on another planet. Futuristic bunkers dot the countryside and buses leave from random street corners instead of stations, even in the capital. Yet the area around Saranda is home to some of the best beaches in Europe and Tirana is fun and funky and even chic.

Albania is the least-developed country I’ve visited in Europe, and poverty here is visible in a way more like Southeast Asia than what you would expect in Europe. That said, the people are very welcoming (if in disbelief that you’re visiting as a tourist) and the country is fascinating.

Tirana AlbaniaKsamil AlbaniaBerat Albania

Favorite Albania Experiences: Exploring the beaches of Ksamil, chilling out in relaxing Saranda, wandering and photographing Berat’s city of a thousand windows, climbing Tirana’s bizarre and broken-down pyramid, having prosecco on top of the tallest building in Tirana at sunset.

El Tunco, El Salvador

El Tunco, El Salvador

Who knew I’d fall in love with a two-street town in El Salvador? The surfing may be for more experienced surfers, and the size of the town may be too much for urbanites, but I found it to be a marvelous escape. My best days in El Tunco followed a solid schedule of enjoying the beach, eating fabulous food, watching the sunset, and heading out to the nightly party spot.

El Tunco, El SalvadorEl Tunco, El SalvadorMonkey La La El Tunco, El Salvador

Favorite El Tunco Experiences: Watching the sunset every night at Monkey La La, enjoying free drinks at every Ladies’ Night event, eating pupusas on a daily basis, spending afternoons in the pool at Papaya Lodge, loving how the town’s feel changes with the influx of visitors from San Salvador on the weekends, swimming through the wild surf.

Sunset in Santorini

Santorini

Finally, at long last, I made my way to the most romantic of Greek isles. Santorini needs no introduction — it’s the kind of place that dominates fantasies. Those perfectly white towns set against the bright blue Aegean Sea. Some of the best sunsets on the planet.

It’s not perfect, by any stretch. It was on the pricey side. As a solo traveler, I felt a bit out of place in couple-dominated Oia. And I happened to be there during the height of the Greek financial crisis, causing panic to many visitors to Greece (though ATMS were stocked and business went on as usual in Santorini). But visiting Santorini was fulfilling a dream.

Santorini Sunset WindmillSantoriniSunset in Santorini

Favorite Santorini Experiences: Watching the sunset in Oia and photographing it from every angle, enjoying a swim and a sunset at Lioyerma bar, eating Greek salads at least once per day.

Chicago Bean Cloud Gate

Chicago

How is it possible that I didn’t make it to Chicago until 2015? Let’s not talk about that. But this great American city was well worth the wait. It was a big city, yet felt far more low-key than East Coast metropolises. The architecture was endlessly interesting. I also got to see a lot of the city spirit when the Blackhawks won the championship and everyone was decked out in gear!

My main reason to go to Chicago was to dive into the food scene, and I probably had the best five-day eating stretch of my life, getting into traditional Chicago deep dish and hot dogs as well as some new high-end spots. Honestly, as far as food goes, you will eat amazingly in Chicago!

Chicago's Hour cocktail at Longman & EagleChicago BrownstonesPequod's Pizza

Favorite Chicago Experiences: Taking a pizza tour, going on an architecture cruise, hanging out in Wicker Park, eating at Longman & Eagle (my favorite restaurant of all I saw in Chicago), having a terrific reader meetup at Hopleaf.

Kate in Caye Caulker

Belize

I actually didn’t have the highest hopes for Belize — it didn’t seem like a very “me” destination — but soon I realized how wrong I was! Belize was a fucking blast. Home to the most perfect turquoise water I’ve ever seen, superb snorkeling, and friendly, laid-back people, I quickly fell into the languid Belizean lifestyle.

Belize SunriseTobacco Caye, BelizeRendezvous Caye Belize

Best Belize experiences: The three-day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia with Raggamuffin Tours, snorkeling the Belize Barrier reef with sharks and rays, exploring the skeleton-filled ATM caves in San Ignacio, chilling out on the Split in Caye Caulker.

Cotswolds Distillery

Cotswolds, England

Despite living in England for a few years, I never made it to the Cotswolds. But even with a brief, less-than-24-hour visit, my interest was whet enough to know that I must return and do it right. I was spellbound while driving through the countryside and enjoying every lazy moment spent in quiet Moreton-on-Marsh.

Afternoon Tea Cotswolds Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds Cotswolds Distillery

Best Cotswolds Experiences: Visiting Cotswolds Distillery and exploring Moreton-on-Marsh, including a quick afternoon tea stop at The Marshmallow.

Riga Latvia

Riga, Latvia

I had heard positive things about Riga, but was delighted by just how much I enjoyed it! I found Riga to be a perfect city to visit for a few days — small, beautiful, and packed with interesting things to do and surprisingly good food and nightlife. Many good things wrapped up in a tidy Baltic package.

Riga ParkRiga CherriesRiga Cafe Flowers

Best Riga Experiences: Taking the free Riga alternative tour (don’t forget to tip!), going to the movies (with lambrusco on tap and an entire fridge of “bacon snacks”), enjoying live music in the basement at Folkklubs, strolling through the parks, trying lots of cocktails with Black Balsam.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Lake Atitlan, Guatemala

There is something very powerful about Lake Atitlan — something that has made it a destination for everyone from the Mayans to 21st century spirituality seekers. On top of that, the lake is stunningly beautiful and is covered with many different villages, one for every taste!

A lot of people talk about the Mayans like they disappeared — which isn’t true at all. They live here today and are among the kindest people that I had the pleasure of meeting in Central America.

San Pedro Atitlan GuatemalaLake Atitlan GuatemalaSan Marcos Atitlan Guatemala

Best Lake Atitlan Experiences: Enjoying small-town life in Jaibalito, relaxing in the pool at Club Ven Aca in Jaibalito, enjoying the scenery and spirituality in San Marcos, shopping and cafe-hopping in Panajachel, partying at Sublime and eating everything in sight in San Pedro.

Kate in Siracusa

Siracusa, Sicily

I wrestled with whether to put Sicily on this list or just Siracusa. I loved Sicily, I really did, but it was so difficult at times that I have a hard time naming it as one of my absolute favorites alongside everything else here.

There was one destination in Sicily, however, that was pure love. That was Siracusa. Its decaying beauty, its ancient ruins, its faded colors, plus the fact that the symbol of the town is a saint with a dagger through her neck. It was the absolute best of Sicily.

SiracusaMussels in SiracusaSiracusa

Best Siracusa Experiences: Exploring Ortigia and taking photos during sunset, dining on fennel and orange salad, wandering around and enjoying the colors just after a big afternoon storm.

What were your favorite new destinations from 2015?

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Scenes from the Cotswolds

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Cotswolds Distillery

Having lived in and traveled extensively throughout the UK, I’ve gotten to know the country well and have been continuously discovering new places to visit. Some of them are still my most-wanted destinations: beach-hopping in Cornwall, hiking in St. Kilda, partying in Newcastle.

One destination that I finally got to visit: the Cotswolds, a region in Gloucestershire, southwest England, famous for its picture-perfect villages.

During my gin trip to the UK, I was scheduled to spend an afternoon at Cotswolds Distillery and in the nearby town of Moreton-in-Marsh.

And while one afternoon wasn’t nearly enough time to discover this region, I feel like I got a taste for this truly wonderful part of England, especially on the drives down the country roads.

Cotswolds Distillery

Cotswolds Distillery was one of the highlights of my trip — definitely my favorite gin distillery to visit. It feels more like a country home than a place of business!

I walked in and introduced myself to the founder, Dan Szor, who had an unmistakably American accent.

I paused. “And where are you from?”

“90th and Madison,” he said with a laugh. Of course. I come all the way to rural England and meet someone from the very city I’m moving to in a few months!

Cotswolds Distillery

Like most craft gin distilleries in the UK, Cotswolds is fairly new — about a year old when I visited. Gin only takes a few days to distill, unlike the three years required for whiskey (which they also make here), so you can have a product ready fairly quickly.

Cotswolds Distillery

Check out those sexy stills!

Cotswolds Distillery

And it’s all set in a landscape that looks just like this.

Cotswolds Distillery

More than anything, I told Dan, Cotswolds gin tastes like the landscape. Soft and rolling and gentle. In fact, I’d probably choose Cotswolds gin as my favorite straight-up gin of the week. It has some wonderful lavender in it.

Cotswolds Espresso Martini Gin

And their special edition espresso martini gin was absolutely FANTASTIC. I could sip that stuff all day.

Cotswolds Distillery

As for the distillery’s tasting room, it feels like a cozy cabin.

The Manor House Hotel Room

After the distillery, I headed to nearby Moreton-on-Marsh and checked into my hotel for the night, The Manor House Hotel.

Normally, this isn’t my style, but how pretty is it? And supremely comfortable. If you have a 5:00 AM wakeup call the next day, might as well sleep in the comfiest bed possible!

Also, I have to love a hotel that comes with a rubber ducky for the bathtub.

The Manor House, Cotswolds

How beautiful is this window? I really wish I had more time to curl up with my Kindle.

Marton-on-Marsh Cotswolds

I hit the ground running in Moreton-in-Marsh, hoping to get a handful of good photos before the sun went down.

Moreton-in-Marsh

I loved the doors and the soft pops of lavender throughout the streets.

Scary Mail Slot Cotswolds

I may have seen that door knocker in my nightmares that night.

Moreton-in-Marsh, Cotswolds

Look how great the sky was that day!

Afternoon Tea Cotswolds

If you’ve spent time in small town England (or, gulp, lived there), you’ve probably been frustrated by how early things shut down. Moreton-in-Marsh

But I did stop in for some tea and savory cheese scones at The Marshmallow Tea Room, one of few places still open after 6:00 PM.

But alas — it was time to hit up my favorite place to dine solo — a pub with character! The Horse and Groom is full of character and I loved settling in next to the fireplace with a glass of cabernet and a fabulous meal.

Horse & Groom Salad

This is one of the best salads I’ve ever had, featuring spinach, feta, chili, and fennel.

Partridge at The Horse and Groom

Partridge. Something you see often in the UK but not so much in the US.

Meringe at The Horse and Groom

And on recommendation from the staff, I got perhaps the most sinful dessert of my life — a giant, melty meringue with maple and brown sugar, served with cream. INCREDIBLE.

If you’re going the full blown yo-diabetes-come-at-me-bro route, this is the way to go. My teeth still rattle thinking about it.

Overall, I hope to return to the Cotswolds and see much more of the region. Just as long as I bring someone with me to do the driving. Any takers?

Essential Info: If you’re visiting the Cotswolds independently, it’s best to have a car. I didn’t and though I was able to get around with taxis, it was a bit of a pain, not to mention expensive.

Cotswolds Distillery is open to visitors and offers tours, which must be booked in advance. You can book tours here. ID is required. You can drop in to their tasting room Monday to Saturday, 9:00 AM-5:00 PM, or Sunday, 11:00 AM-4:00 PM.

Low-season rates at The Manor House Hotel start at 99 GBP ($151 USD).

This campaign was created and sponsored by the GREAT Britain campaign and UK Trade & Investment in partnership with iambassador. Adventurous Kate retains 100% editorial control and all opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to the Cotswolds? Any recommendations for further exploration?

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Solo Female Travelers Over 40

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Solo Travelers Over 40

When I first started blogging in early 2010, solo female travel was a barely trodden topic. The concept of long-term solo travel hadn’t even crossed my mind until I was 22. Solo female travel was especially unusual in my home country, the United States, and women traveling solo were more likely to be seen as reckless than inspiring.

Today? Google “solo female travel” in its various iterations and you’ll find countless women and resources. In fact, google “list of solo female travelers” and you’ll find plenty of round-ups detailing solo female travel bloggers.

There’s just one thing.

In most of these round-ups, women over 40 are consistently overlooked. In many instances, women over 40 are missing altogether.

Why is that? It’s certainly not for lack of value or experience! Some of my dear friends over 40 have travel experiences that will humble you in an instant, knowing that there’s so much more out there in the world.

It seems like so much of the media focuses on the superficial — “conventional” girls with carefully curated Instagrams and bikini shots. Most of the solo female traveler lists focus on young, white, straight women. And, quite frankly, as a 31-year-old straight white woman, I’ve benefited from this privilege enormously.

It shouldn’t be this way — and that’s why I’m introducing you to 16 fabulous women.

Unlike most of the round-ups out there, the women included here range in age from 40 to 75. They come from several countries and a wide variety of backgrounds. They inspire me on a daily basis with their adventurous spirits, gorgeous photography, and meaningful writing. They make me laugh. They provide me with deeply appreciated advice. They encourage me to see the world differently.

In short, they change my lives in little ways every day, and I hope they can do the same for you.

Barbara Weibel, Hole in the Donut

Barbara Weibel, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel

Age: 63

Hometown/Current Location: Barbara grew up in Chicago but currently has no home. She just wanders the world full-time with backpack and suitcase in tow, writing about her experiences. The closest thing she has to a home is in Pokhara, Nepal, where she lives with a local family that “adopted” her five years ago this month.

About Hole in the Donut: For 36 years, Barbara worked in corporate jobs that paid the bills but brought no joy. At the age of 54, having suffered and recovered from a serious illness, she decided to walk away from a career to pursue her true passions of travel, writing, and photography. Since then, she’s been traveling the world, delving deeply into cultures and sharing the stories of her adventures on her blog, Hole in the Donut Cultural Travel.

Specialities: Cultural travel and local home stays, independent travel, solo female travel, travel photography

Read: Officially Adopted By My Yoga Guru and His Nepali Family

Carol Cain

Carol Cain, Girl Gone Travel

Age: 44

Hometown/Current Location: Carol was born in Brooklyn, where she lived till she was 9, then moved to the Dominican Republic all through high school. She now lives in Maplewood, New Jersey.

About GirlGoneTravel.com: Carol is a former public relations professional who turned to travel writing as a way to share her perspective of the world from as a Latina, a New Yorker, and a lover of cultures, languages, and people. Though culturally she was told women were supposed to be home making babies and cooking for their husband, her world-traveling mother taught her otherwise, inspiring Carol to continue the example that her mom (a solo female traveler long before it was okay to be one), set before her. Her blog is a collection of those stories and more.

Specialities: Photography, culture, food, wine, local perspective

Read: From the People of Fiji, With Love

LashWorldTour

Lash, LashWorldTour Travel Blog

Age: 44

Hometown/Current Location: Lash grew up in the USA, in small towns in several states, finally ending up in Pennsylvania. Since 1998, she’s been traveling the world nomadically. She doesn’t live anywhere nor has a particular base.

About LashWorldTour Travel Blog: With 13 years of world travel under her belt, Lash created LashWorldTour Travel Blog to help inspire and educate other hopeful travelers about independent global travel. She writes regular travel tips, destination pieces, cultural insights, travel perspectives and personal travel stories as she continues exploring the world. With a growing love of photography, Lash continues improving her skills and producing a steady stream of photo galleries, photo essays and stand-alone images of landscapes, cityscapes and nature.

Specialities: Independent travel, female travel, travel photography, outdoor adventures, budget travel

Read: How I Afford Long-Term Travel

WanderingCarol

Carol Perehudoff, Wandering Carol

Age: In dog years, not even a teenager.

Hometown/Current Location: Carol Perehudoff grew up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (can you say that in one breath?) and has lived in the UK, Spain, and South Korea. Her current home is Toronto.

About WanderingCarol.com: The line that describes Carol the best is “she is often gripped with a desire to be elsewhere.” A former travel columnist for a major newspaper, Carol brings this same level of expertise to her travel blog, WanderingCarol.com, a luxury travel blog for those who love to laugh. It’s the unpretentious guide to luxury travel — because everyone needs a splurge or two in their life.

Specialities: Luxury travel, spas, outdoor adventure, history (preferably scandalous), and above all, fun

Read: Losing my cool in the footsteps of Coco Chanel in Paris

Claudia Tavani

Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across the World

Age: 40

Hometown/Current Location: Claudia grew up in Cagliari, Sardinia, and is currently based there.

About My Adventures Across the World: A former human rights lawyer and academic, Claudia abandoned her career to follow her true calling, which has taken her on many adventures and misadventures across the world, and has involved rafting down some mighty rivers, hiking to some hidden archeological sites, zip lining across canyons, mountain biking down dangerous roads, camping on desert islands, and trekking to the craters of active volcanoes. Through her blog, Claudia shares her inspiring stories, provides tips for other travelers and occasionally goes on a rant. Her mission? Hiking her way up all volcanoes in the world.

Specialities: Latin America (including Cuba), Sardinia, adventure travel, responsible tourism, volcanoes

Read: Why did I not meet the lovely, friendly Cubans everyone talks about?

Beth Whitman

Beth Whitman, Wanderlust and Lipstick

Age: 50

Hometown/Current Location: Born in Atlanta, grew up in New Jersey, but has lived in Seattle for the past 25 years.

About Wanderlust and Lipstick: Beth Whitman has been traveling the globe for more than 25 years as a solo traveler, businesswoman and philanthropist. She’s the editor of Wanderlust and Lipstick, one of the web’s most popular women’s travel sites, she runs tours through her company, WanderTours, and recently launch a non-profit organization, the WanderWorld Foundation.

Specialities: Solo travel, adventure travel, women’s travel, fitness

Read: Why Turning 50 Doesn’t Have to Suck

Heather Cowper

Heather Cowper, Heather on her Travels

Age: 53

Hometown/Current Location: Heather grew up in London but now lives in Bristol, England.

About Heather on her Travels: Heather’s blog is written for adventurous women aged 40+ who enjoy authentic travel with a little luxury thrown in. She travels widely in Europe and the UK as well as a few worldwide destinations such as India each year. Heatheronhertravels.com covers local cultures, delicious food, hiking and soft adventure and small ship cruising, bringing them to life with travel tales, colorful photography, video, and live social media posts.

Specialities: European travel, culture, food, hiking, cruising

Read: 13 stories from my charity visit to India – going off the tourist trail

Helen Suk

Helen Suk, Not Without My Passport

Age: 42

Hometown/Current Location: Toronto, for both.

About Not Without My Passport: At 41, Helen gave up her home and career for a life of travel, freelancing and blogging as everyone around her settled into marriages, families and mortgages. She shares her experiences on her blog, Not Without My Passport, with the goal of inspiring others to seek new experiences and see the world in a different way.

Specialities: Travel photography, meaningful travel, travel inspiration, offbeat destinations, food

Read: Why I Choose a Life of Travel

Jeannie Mark

Jeannie Mark, Nomadic Chic

Age: 44

Hometown/Current Location: Jeannie grew up in Canada and now lives in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

About Nomadic Chic: Jeannie is a middle-aged woman that hopes to inspire other women to see that age has no boundaries. By sharing her stories through Nomadic Chick, her mission is to show that a life lived passionately exists for all women.

Specialities: Solo travel, women’s issues, writing, managing a creative business

Read: On Aging, Sex and Travel

Leyla Giray Alyanak

Leyla Giray Alyanak, Women on the Road

Age: 62

Hometown/Current Location: Leyla was born in Paris, but she grew up in Spain, Italy, and Canada. She now lives in rural eastern France.

About Women on the Road: Leyla Giray Alyanak is an international journalist who uses her travel website to inspire women about lesser-known places, people and ideas. At 43 she bought a one-way ticket to Cape Town and traveled solo for the next three years. She documents it all on her website, a toolkit for solo women travelers.

Specialities: Culture, food, social issues, world affairs, art

Read: My Accidental Dinner Date with Royalty

Mariellen Ward

Mariellen Ward, Breathedreamgo

Age: 55

Hometown/Current Location: Grew up in Toronto, Canada and lives there now, though she spends almost half the year in India and South Asia.

About Breathedreamgo: Mariellen Ward is a professional travel writer who divides her time between Toronto and Delhi. Breathedreamgo.com, her award-winning travel blog about meaningful adventure travel, is inspired by her extensive travels in India. She writes for many print and online sites, co-founded the Toronto Travel Massive, Delhi Travel Massive and founded the WeGoSolo online community for female solo travellers. She has been featured in India Today, USA Today, Conde Nast Traveller India and on many lists of top bloggers, and she writes for online and offline publications including BBC Travel and Vogue India.

Specialities: Solo female travel, India, Canada, meaningful adventure travel, spiritual/wellness travel

Read: How I Quit My Job to Travel

Mo's Travels

Monique White, Mo Travels

Age: 45

Hometown/Current Location: Monique grew up in Los Angeles, went to undergrad at Notre Dame in Indiana, and law school at Howard University School of Law in Washington DC. She now lives in Holland.

About Mo’s Travels: Monique is a globetrotting mom of two is determined to enjoy every second of the journey, while writing about life as an expat living in Holland, her travels, and her quest to “run the world,” one destination race at a time.

Specialities: Running, family travel, the Netherlands, expat life

Read: Medinas, Minarets, and the Marrakech Half Marathon

Leah Walker

Leah Walker, Leah’s Travels

Age: 41

Hometown/Current Location: Grew up in Texas; now living in Paris.

About LeahsTravels.com: Leah Walker is a France-based luxury travel and culinary writer who has contributor and editor roles with The Daily Meal, Bonjour Paris, Luxe Beat Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, Four Seasons Magazine and is also a travel ambassador for Atout France. When she’s not eating her weight in Tex-Mex and BBQ in Texas or traveling around Europe, Leah can be found writing at a cafe in Paris’ 8th arrondissement or wandering the city’s streets with camera in hand.

Specialities: Luxury, Paris, France, Texas, hotels

Read: Life’s a Trip, then you have a Double Mastectomy

Paige Conner Totero

Paige Conner Totaro, All Over the Map

Age: 48

Hometown/Current Location: Grew up in Richmond, Virginia; now lives in Alexandria, Virginia.

About All Over the Map: From the time she was teenager, Paige Conner Totaro hasn’t just dreamed of exciting, fulfilling travel, she has made plans and put them into action: in high school, she lived and worked with a family of Italian innkeepers; after college, she earned a graduate degree from a Dutch university; as a young mother, she developed a blog and co-authored an e-book aimed at encouraging families to travel; and when her twin daughters were twelve, she and her husband led them on a year-long sabbatical trip through 28 countries. Since then, she has traveled solo to Thailand, Spain, Mexico and Newfoundland. In her latest venture, Paige applies her talent, curiosity and wealth of experience to help others realize their travel dreams through her custom travel planning service, All Over the Map Travel.

Specialities: Family adventure travel, custom family vacations, family gap year travel, first-time travel tips, Europe

Read: A Walk Above the Water

Sherry Ott

Sherry Ott, Ott’s World

Age: 45

Hometown/Current Location: Sherry grew up in Peoria, Illinois, but for the last nine years hasn’t had a home base and has been completely nomadic.

About Ottsworld.com: Sherry has been inspiring wanderlust by blogging about her solo travel and adventures since 2006 when she escaped from corporate America. As a childless 40-something, she regularly takes her nieces along on her journeys as part of the Niece Project. She’s set foot on every continent, and even drove across a number of them in search of living a life less ordinary.

Specialities: Adventure travel, niece/nephew travel, location-independent lifestyle, hiking, solo travel

Read: How to Overcome Travel Fears

Evelyn Hannon

Evelyn Hannon, Journeywoman

Age: 75

Hometown/Current Location: Born in Montreal, presently living in Toronto.

About Journeywoman.com: Journeywoman.com (aka Evelyn Hannon) began blogging from a travelling woman’s point of view back in 1997. Today she is known as “The Grandmother of Women’s Travel.” Her original mandate remains the same: to inspire all women to travel safely and well.

Specialities: Solo travel, travel tips, worldwide tour listings, what to wear, budget travel

Read: How to Cross a Road in Vietnam

Do you know another solo female traveler over 40? Share away!

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Briefly, Belgrade

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Belgrade

During my annual summer hop through the Balkans, I knew that I wanted to visit every Balkan country that I hadn’t yet visited. The final Balkan country to add to my tally? Serbia.

Serbia doesn’t get a lot of the tourism fame that other Balkan countries do — it has a lot to offer, but it’s not as famous as, say, Croatia. This is something that Serbia is working to rectify — in fact, while in Belgrade, I met a group of my iambassador buds traveling around the country to do just that! (Check out some of the very cool resulting posts: Kash’s 40 best photos from Serbia, Becki’s post on the best nature activities in Serbia, and Rob’s post on Subotica and Palic Lake.)

As for me, my time in Serbia was limited. I only had a few days before I had to meet my mom and sister in Latvia, and I was still recovering from post-festival sickness and a haunted apartment in Montenegro. (I know, I know — I’ll write about the ghost eventually.)

My original plan was to leave Kotor, Montenegro, and take the incredibly scenic train to Belgrade from nearby Bar, but after learning that I could fly to Belgrade for about $60 in just an hour from Tivat, the quicker journey won out.

Belgrade

Getting to Know Belgrade

After an evening of strolling the local pedestrian area, I decided to spend my first full day on the Belgrade Free Tour. Local free tours are a great way to get your bearings in a new city.

After the tour, my days were spent simply strolling and spending time with friends. No major agenda. No list of sights to check off. Just letting Belgrade soak into my skin.

Belgrade Bohemian Quarter

My favorite neighborhood in Belgrade was Skadarlija — the Bohemian Quarter. This is Belgrade’s answer to Montmartre — a community of adorable streets home to artists and people who dream of becoming artists.

Belgrade Tables and Flowers

I loved the fresh flowers that grew wildly throughout Belgrade, especially in Skadarlija.

Belgrade Fortress

The fortress, located right on the river, was a spectacular place to watch the sunset. It’s free to wander.

Flat Sausage Belgrade

Being a fan of cured meats but a bit wary of often-too-salty Balkan cured meats, I asked the waiter for a recommendation and he told me to try the flat sausage. Good stuff! Not too salty but with plenty of flavor.

Red Umbrellas Belgrade

Colorful surprises would randomly appear around corners and down alleys.

Belgrade Mosque

Having previously traveled in Kosovo and Albania, I was curious to explore the conflict from the Serbian point of view. Above is the one and only mosque in Belgrade. Relations are still quite tense between the primarily Christian Serbians and primarily Muslim Albanians, including the ethnic Albanians that populate Kosovo.

My guide told me that during Serbia-Albania football games, they station lots of police to the mosque because locals will try to riot or destroy it.

Belgrade Cafes

But most of all, in true Balkan style, the streets were filled with cafes, cafes, cafes. Cafes all day. And just like everywhere else in the region, everyone in Belgrade goes for a walk in the evening — it’s the time to see and be seen.

Every night I’d stroll the streets and pick up a single-scoop ice cream cone for 75 cents. God, I love the Balkans in the summer.

River Barges Belgrade

That Nightlife!

Belgrade is most notorious for having some of the wildest nightlife in Europe. Here, river barges like the ones above are home to clubs that go all night long. There’s something for every taste.

I didn’t make it to a river barge party, but I did have one crazy night out in Belgrade with locals. The kind of night that you look back on fondly but swear never to repeat again.

My main takeaways?

Serbians love rakija.

Serbians love making their own rakija.

If it’s homemade, you probably can’t handle it.

It will be fun. It will be a LOT of fun.

As long as you do not attempt to go drink for drink with Serbians.

That is probably all that should be said.

Kate, Kash, Leah, and Rob in Belgrade

I will say this — it always made me laugh whenever we went out to a cafe or a bar because no matter where we were, we would suddenly be surrounded by a live band! There were accordions and violins and singing and dancing!

Think mariachi — Eastern Europe style!

Dragon's Nest Belgrade

The Dragon’s Nest — Belgrade

I’ve stayed at dozens of Airbnbs over the years, but a Belgrade loft called the Dragon’s Nest became one of my all-time favorites. It’s a unique property in a perfect location offered for a fabulous price, and I’m sure most of you would love it as much as I did!

To get to the Dragon’s Nest, you enter a building and walk into the inner courtyard of a cafe, where you’ll find a door to a loft-style apartment. There’s a kitchen, a bathroom, and an open living/dining area.

Dragon's Nest Belgrade

The two queen-sized beds are upstairs in the loft, making very good use of the extra space. Both the beds and the pillows are extremely comfortable — I had some of my most comfortable sleeps of the summer in this apartment!

The property is in an excellent location, a stone’s throw from the main pedestrian walkway and around the corner from Republic Square and “The Horse,” what locals call the statue of Prince Mihailo atop a horse.

Dragon's Nest Belgrade

Airbnb recognizes extraordinary hosts within the community as superhosts, and Katharina was the first Airbnb superhost I ever experienced. She has well earned the title — not only was she incredibly kind, helpful, and enthusiastic about showing off Belgrade, she met me at the airport with a driver (the pickup was an extra 15 EUR — 1800 Serbian dinars or $16), narrating the landmarks and asking me about myself the whole time, and came along to drop me off at the airport, even though she didn’t have to!

Katharina brought me a package of traditional cookies and the refrigerator was stocked with both bottled water and apple juice. There was also a selection of local magazines and literature with suggestions of what to do in town. These are little things, but so nice when you’re traveling to a new city!

If you’re coming to Belgrade, this is an awesome place to stay! It’s ideal for a solo traveler, a couple, two friends, or a family. I stayed on my own for a few days, then my bud Leah joined me for a few more. Though the property can technically fit four adults, I think that might be a bit cramped for a few days.

All Dragon’s Nest photos via Airbnb.

The Takeaway

Belgrade is a city that I’d love to return to and explore in greater depth, along with more of Serbia. Perhaps I’ll return next summer before EXIT Festival!

Essential Info: Belgrade is home to Serbia’s only commercial airport. You can travel easily overland from Montenegro, Bosnia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, or Kosovo. Some further countries have direct overland routes as well.

Note: Arriving in Serbia via Kosovo, then leaving via a non-Kosovo border, will result in Serbian authorities saying that you entered the country illegally. Leave Serbia and Kosovo the way you arrived. (For example, if you enter Kosovo from Macedonia or Albania, then go to Serbia, that’s okay, but make sure you then go back to Kosovo and leave Kosovo overland.) I had no issues having past evidence of visiting Kosovo in my passport.

The Belgrade Free Tour meets at the Horse (the Prince Mihailo statue in Republic Square) at 10:30 AM Monday through Thursday and 2:30 PM Friday through Sunday. This is a tour based on tips. 1000 dinars ($9) is a good minimum tip.

The Dragon’s Nest can fit up to four people for $35 per night plus Airbnb fees. A two-night minimum is required.

Get $20 off your first Airbnb stay costing $75 or more by signing up here.

Have you been to Belgrade? Is it your kind of city?

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AK Monthly Recap: October 2015

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Kate with Berkeley Square, London

Happy November, everyone! I’ve arrived back at home in Massachusetts after a busy month of jetting around Europe and the United States.

This month proved one thing for sure: at this point in my life, the guiding force in my travels is going wherever I can see my friends. Everywhere I went this month was either because I had a work commitment or I had friends to visit.

I also had the craziest travel week of my life this month. After leaving our villa in Pollença, Mallorca, I spent one night in Magaluf, flew to London, one night in Shepherd’s Bush, flew to New York, three nights in Brooklyn, one night in Manhattan, flew to Los Angeles for EIGHT HOURS (seriously) and turned around and took a red-eye back to Boston.

I did that mostly for the novelty factor, but I think a schedule like that is more doable if you’re in your early twenties and able to bounce back quickly. As for me, after landing in Boston, I spent days on the couch buried in blankets. A travel hangover, if you will.

Copenhagen from Church of Our Savior

Destinations Visited

New York, New York, USA

London, Warrington, Keswick, Castlerigg, Grasmere, Liverpool, Stourton, Moreton-on-Marsh, and Harrington, England

Copenhagen, Denmark

Berlin, Germany

Palma, Pollença, and Magaluf, Spain

Los Angeles, California, USA

Reading, Massachusetts, USA

Pollenca, Mallorca

Favorite Destinations

Pollença. Mallorca may be famous for its beach resorts, but my girls and I were happy as a clam in this beautiful inland town.

Copenhagen. I still can’t explain what this city does to me, but I found it even more vibrant in October.

London. Now that I can fully separate my love for the UK from my past relationships, I feel like London and I are truly kindred spirits.

Rachelle, Kate and Matt with Opihr, London

Highlights

Gin-hopping through the UK. I’ve written about this trip here and here already, and I found my gin trip to be incredibly fun, incredibly interesting, and well worth diving into the intricacies of distilling gin, a subject I knew nothing about. (And it’s always lovely spending time with my buds Rachelle and Matt!)

Doing Copenhagen better (and right!) this time around. I wrote about how I did my summer visit to Copenhagen wrong in many ways — this time, I saw a lot of places I should have the first time around (thanks to Alex, the best guide!), with the bonus of fall colors.

The best, however, was getting into Copenhagen’s world-renowned dining scene. I had a dinner at Höst, which blew my mind. (And for about $130 total including wine pairings, incredible value for money in Scandinavia.) My favorite course: crispy chicken foot, lobster, and pumpkin ribbons with juniper cream, black pepper, and lobster cream. One of the best meals I have ever had.

Taking a train that went on a boat! There are only a few places in the world where you can take a train that goes on a boat in its entirety, and one of them is the route from Copenhagen to Hamburg. Definitely a cool experience.

One night of partying in Berlin. I technically was in Berlin for three nights, but my schedule made it more like one. Of course, I called up my favorite Berlin-living party friend from Boston (Josh) and my favorite Berlin-living party friend from the blogging world (Candice) and we had a crazy night out.

Vicky, Cailin, Candice and Kate in Mallorca

Spending a week in a Mallorca villa with my ladies. Cailin snagged a villa rental in Pollença, Mallorca, and that was all the convincing I needed! Soon, Vicky and Candice flew out to join us. We spent our days relaxing in the sunshine, eating lots of tapas, drinking lots of cava, and when we found out we had friends nearby, we even threw a party!

One not-awesomely-bad-but-just-awesome party night in Magaluf. Candice and I needed to stay closer to the airport for our final night in Mallorca, and I suggested we go to Magaluf — one of the biggest party destinations for Brits. Think Jersey Shore turned up to 11. Well, we went out, received two drinks and six shots EACH for just 5 euros each (!!), and ended up having an amazingly fun, super dancey night out! Well worth coming home at 3 AM to wake up at 6 AM…

Kate and Chris in London

A very fun London reunion. One of my goals of lately has been to spend more time with friends I don’t see often enough, and I was happy to see my travel buddy Chris, whom I met nearly five years ago on Christmas in Sihanoukville. I crashed at his place for one night in London and he and his girlfriend Daisy took me out to the pub, to a cool cocktail bar, and we gallivanted around Shepherd’s Bush and Chiswick. Perfect one-night London stopover!

More time in Brooklyn. I stayed in Boerum Hill this time around, and the more I think about it, the more I think I’m getting closer to finding a neighborhood that’s right for me. Boerum Hill has a great combination of location, amenities, and price. I also did a stay in Brooklyn Heights at the beginning of the month, which is my favorite, but I think I could get more value for money a bit further away.

Gin reunions with my favorite distillers! I went to two British gin parties, one in New York and one in Los Angeles, as part of my #GREATBritishSpirit campaign. The best part was definitely getting to hang out with my favorite distillers again! (And the bottles they so kindly let me take off their hands.)

Kate, Candice and Josh in Berlin

Challenges

The time that I ended up alone in a random neighborhood in Berlin in the middle of the night with no data on my phone. There were no cabs anywhere and because I had no data (and Germans are a bit stingy with public wifi), I couldn’t get an Uber. Hence walking all the way home in the cold and rain. I made it back at about 8:00 AM.

I lost several items of clothing this month. Ugh. Very out of character for me; in the past, the only time I lost clothes was to Thai laundresses on the street. I’m bummed to have lost a few items that I really liked, including the black bebe blazer that I wore to the White House. (I picked up another black bebe blazer in New York — not the same, but still very nice.)

Work was a big struggle this month. I was traveling too fast to get meaningful work done. I’m starting to realize that constant travel is greatly impacting the amount of work that I can do, especially after accomplishing so much in September, which I spent at home. I stayed in Pollença for a week, but our villa and then my phone lost wifi, which kept me from getting anything done.

Getting sick. Why don’t I ever learn? Sleep-deprivation always results in me getting a cold. Three nights of heavy partying in a row (Pollença-Magaluf-London) followed by the hilarious-in-theory, exhausting-in-reality NYC-LA-Boston hop a few days later turned into a heavy cold. I’m mainlining blood orange juice, chicken soup, and Sudafed about now.

Pollenca Eggplants

Most Popular Post

The Criminally Underrated City of Riga, Latvia — Proof that if you do a big post about an underrated city, the locals will find it and will share it like crazy.

Other Posts

On Living in Perpetual Motion — After five years, I’m starting to get tired of the nomadic lifestyle.

On Curiosity, Gin, and Cultivating Interests — What are you curious about? We all benefit when we learn about new things!

Five Years of Travel — The Best Experiences — 150+ of my favorite experiences of the past five years, all in one single post!

The Most Glorious Spirit: A Week of Gin in the UK — The best moments of my gin trip, complete with photos.

I’m Off to Britain to Sample the Gin — My preview of my British gin trip.

Kate McCulley in New York Times

News and Announcements

It finally happened — I got into the New York Times! I was featured in a piece about backpacks. Here’s the part where I’m mentioned. (Couldn’t find it online, sadly — I’ll have to upload a full PDF at some point.) And hilariously, the backpack in the piece was upside down!

Challenge-wise, this month I put myself on a spending diet. I did very well for the most part, not buying any makeup or accessories and only buying clothing to replace what I lost. I hope this helps me restore my previous habits! I’ve also reorganized how I allocate my income and am attempting to live on 25% of what I make as I save up for renting my new apartment (which will probably cost four months rent) plus furnishing it from scratch.

This month’s challenge: every day, I’m going to write down my rose, thorn, and bud from the day. My favorite part of the day, my least favorite part of the day, and what I’m most looking forward to. It’s a small exercise, but I hope it helps me recognize what’s working and what isn’t working in my life.

Let’s take today (as I write this), November 1:

Rose — Listening to all of John Legend’s songs on Spotify and singing along as I work.

Thorn — Finding out I made far less than usual on one particular affiliate this month.

Bud — Going to Thailand soon and seeing two of my buddies, first Brenna and then Jeremy.

Santorini Sunset Windmill

Most Popular Photo on Instagram

Sorry, every other destination in the world — Santorini wins YET AGAIN this month. That place is like the Adele of destinations. I love this photo of the windmill.

I passed 40,000 Instagram followers this month! You can follow me at adventurouskate. Snapchat with the same name, too!

Bathtub Feet Cotswolds

What I Read This Month

Frustratingly, I spent most of the month trying to get through Sense and Sensibility, but made up for it by devouring the two others in the last few days of the month.

Only seven books remain in the PopSugar 2015 book challenge! Single digits! I’m going to do it! I can’t wait to finish and get back to reading books that I genuinely want to read without making sure it fulfills a category first.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen — I’m a huge fan of the movie but had never read this book before. It’s a classic tale of two upper-class sisters on a newly reduced family income trying to find love amid betrayals and miscommunications. Elinor, the older sister, is probably my favorite character of the year; I wish I had a fraction of her pragmatism! (It also made me appreciate how perfectly the film was both cast and adapted for the screen. Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay and played Elinor.)

I’m glad that a classic romance was a required category of the book challenge. It made me realize that even after 200 years, some things don’t change at all — Willoughby basically “ghosts” on Marianne, and she and Elinor then overanalyze every word in the letter that he writes to her. I think we can all relate to that! Category: a classic romance.

Wendy Darling, Vol. 1: Stars by Colleen Oakes — The latest novel from my talented and incredibly prolific cousin, Colleen! This is the fourth book I’ve read by her and it’s my favorite so far. Colleen writes dark retellings of fairy tales and classic stories; this one is a sinister, more mature version of Peter Pan. Have you ever thought about how many attempted or actual murders are in Peter Pan? This book explores that in greater depth.

I love that in this version, Wendy and Peter are teenagers instead of kids. And I can’t believe this, but Colleen actually made Peter Pan sexy. Up until a point, that is. Also, check this post out for who Colleen would have cast in the roles; I had them in mind as I read it (especially Hugh Laurie as Mr. Darling)! Category: a book with magic.

Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix — I avoid horror like the plague, but my sister recommended it for something different, and it did fulfill a tough category. A giant IKEA-like store comes to life with ghosts and unexplained happenings at night that quickly turn deathly.

It wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever read, but I appreciated the creativity, especially in the IKEA-like catalog items displayed throughout the book! It was a quick read and something different — and fun to read on Halloween night. Thanks for the recommendation, Sarah! Category: a book with nonhuman characters.

What I Listened To This Month

Hotline Bling, over and over. Obviously! If you haven’t seen the much-memed video yet, check it out above. Here are some of my favorite memes resulting from the video (the Bernie Sanders vine made me laugh the hardest).

Let’s just say that we listened to this…quite a bit…in Mallorca.

Angel by Stacy Barthe and John Legend. A cover of Anita Baker’s original, and one of the rare covers that is LEAPS and BOUNDS better than the original!

Railay 2014

Coming Up in November 2015

I’ve got two weeks at home in Massachusetts, recovering from a hectic month, spending time with friends and family, and celebrating a dear friend’s bridal shower.

On November 11, I fly to Bangkok! A few months ago, I spotted an absurdly cheap $659 round-trip fare from New York on Air China (it’s usually well over $1000) and it seemed like as good a reason to return as any!

With my resolution to slow down my travels and nomadic lifestyle, things are going to be different. My time in Thailand will be low-key — visiting Bangkok, Koh Lanta, and maybe one or two other Andaman coast spots. Spending my days eating soup for breakfast, working, swimming, and getting foot massages. No emphasis on visiting new places or having a crazy schedule.

Thailand has always been a place where I can go to take care of myself. After the past few months, self-care is something I need to prioritize.

I’ll be in Thailand for five weeks, which means that I’ll need to leave the country at some point for visa reasons. The new country: Myanmar! But that probably won’t be until December.

What are your plans for November? Share away!

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Win a Trip to Africa (With Flights!) From KLM Airlines

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Koolbaai

The following branded content post is brought to you by KLM Airlines. You know I love promoting contests! The prize here is fabulous and I really hope that one of my readers wins.

Three years ago today, I was on safari in Kruger National Park, enjoying my first trip to Africa. My first trip to South Africa was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken (actually, so was my second trip to South Africa), and I consider visiting Africa to be one of the most significant milestones in my life of travel.

I can’t recommend Africa enough — and in particular, going on safari. Africa is an enormously diverse continent, but all over the continent are opportunities for once-in-a-lifetime safaris, whether you choose to go to Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, or beyond.

I yelped in excitement when I saw my first impala in Kruger. (Four days later, I was calling them NADIs, or Not Another Damn Impala, along with my guides.) The first giraffe. The first hippo. The first lion. The first endangered black rhino. All of those moments were magical, bringing me back to childhood.

Which is why I’m thrilled to introduce a contest from KLM for U.S. residents — you could win flights and a safari to Tanzania!

For Americans, getting to Africa can seem daunting. Making it easier is KLM, who offers flights to Africa via Amsterdam from its many gateway U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Miami, Detroit, Houston, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Memphis, Minneapolis, and more.

Where could you go in Africa on KLM? Cape Town. Johannesburg. Nairobi. Dar es Salaam. Kilimanjaro.

With those getaways, there’s quite a lot that you could do.

Addo Elephant Park

Africa is Full of Bucket List Items

Seriously, safari should be number one, front and center. But here are a few other activities that you could enjoy in KLM’s easy-to-reach African destinations.

Boulders Beach Penguins

In Cape Town, you can’t miss a trip to the Cape Peninsula, including the penguin-filled Boulders Beach! Don’t miss Hout Bay, Cape Point, or the Cape Winelands, either.

KHL Kili 2011 Group 2 - 038

Image: Kyle Taylor

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is a life goal for many — and it’s far simpler and more achievable than, say, climbing Mount Everest. Though I’d definitely train for this climb in advance!

Jacaranda tree, Alexandra

Johannesburg was one of the most underrated cities I’ve ever visited. Everything I read told me that it would be boring and dangerous — but it was anything but. Vibrant, colorful, fascinating, and home to some amazing people.

Masaai Warriors

Image: musicfiend

If you love to photograph people and different cultures, you can’t beat the iconic Masaii of Kenya in their traditional red and black checked cloaks.

Zanzibar

Image: Samir Luther

And if you dream of beaches, there’s always Zanzibar! This island in the Indian Ocean is home to some of Africa’s most famous beaches, and it’s just a short hop from Dar es Salaam.

Safari

The Grand Prize

The winner will receive flights for two from one of KLM’s gateway U.S. cities to Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, and a six-day, five-night luxury safari for two from Aselia Africa!

How to Enter

Visit the Pack Your Bags site here. You will be instructed to click on two items to pack into your bag.

Safari animals? A towel and sunscreen? A hiking map? Take your pick!

Next, you’ll be shown the dream Africa trip that fits your interests based on what you packed.

On the final page, you’ll enter your contact information and enter your official ballot.

This contest is open to U.S. residents only. The contest ends on November 17, 2015. Read the full rules here.

Should you enter?

Go ahead! What do you have to lose? It could be the trip of a lifetime for you. I am really hoping that one of my readers wins this contest, so please let me know if you do!

What’s your dream destination in Africa?

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