Месечни архиви: August 2016

Adventurous Kate’s Offbeat Guide to Cape Town

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Kate on Table Mountain

Cape Town is one of the most visually spectacular and culturally unique cities I have ever visited. It’s the cornerstone of a South Africa trip and a city you’ll be raving about afterwards to everyone you meet.

Even so, it can take a bit of a learning curve to really get into Cape Town. Its charms beyond its natural beauty aren’t as obvious, and it isn’t as easy to navigate as a typical European city. It actually took three visits (!) before I truly fell in love with Cape Town.

I want it to happen faster for you. I want you to fall in love on your first trip! So I decided to create an extensive guide that will help you have the best trip possible and show you some off-the-beaten-path activities as well.

When putting together this guide, I included the popular activities that most visitors do — like Table Mountain, Boulders Beach, and the V&A Waterfront — along with quirky additions like the District Six Museum and some of my favorite Capetonian designers.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Go to the Top of Table Mountain

This should be your top priority in Cape Town. Why? Table Mountain is often covered in thick clouds — locals call it The Tablecloth — and it’s pointless to go then as you won’t see anything. As soon as you see that it’s going to be a clear day, go to the mountain immediately! You might not have another chance.

The cable car will take you to the top, a well-traversed area where you can explore and take lots of photos. And as soon as you’ll arrive, you’ll be spellbound at being surrounded by 360 degrees of natural beauty.

Table Mountain Cape TownDSCF7024Beth and Kate on Table MountainDassi on Table Mountain Cape TownTable Mountain Cape Town

Keep an eye out for the dassie, a critter that looks like a roly-poly guinea pig. His closest relative is the African elephant! (Don’t actually cuddle or touch the dassie, though. Respect the wildlife up here — both animals and plants.)

You’ll get some of the best pictures of your trip on Table Mountain. You might want to wear something that looks good on you.

Photography-wise, keep in mind that the best views of Lion’s Head and Cape Town are in the morning and the best views of the mountains are in the afternoon.

Table Mountain is free to visit, but tickets on the cableway cost 240/125 rand ($16.50/$8.50) round-trip/one-way. Book your tickets online before you arrive and you’ll get to skip the long line.

You can also hike up Table Mountain. Several trails are available ranging from easy to hard.

Truth Coffee Cape Town

Get Caffeinated with a Steampunk Twist at Truth Coffee Roasting

In downtown Cape Town, you step into what looks like a typical (if enormous) coffee shop and quickly realize that something’s up. Props within the restaurant are pulled from the Victorian era. The staff are decked out in top hats, vests, and peasant blouses with metallic accoutrements. And there’s a giant blimp in the back of the room.

Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Truth Coffee Roasting. It’s a coffeeshop serving up some of the city’s best java — with a steampunk twist. I’m not even a steampunk person, but I loved every minute I spent there.

Truth Coffee Cape TownTruth Coffee Cape TownTruth Coffee Cape Town

Beth and I are coffee people, and we liked it so much here, we came two days in a row. (And during the first time, I got a text from a friend saying, “Go to Truth Coffee!” “I’M LITERALLY HERE RIGHT NOW!” I replied with glee.)

A lot of places have great coffee but a mediocre atmosphere, or vice versa. Truth is the rare place that does both extremely well.

Truth Coffee has coffee, pastries, and a light menu for lunch as well. Don’t miss the bathrooms!

Cape Town Sunset

Join a Trivia Night

I have to give a shout-out to my reader Joshua for giving me this idea. Trivia or pub quizzes are a great way to delve into the local culture, and Cape Town is no exception. I’ve done trivia/pub quizzes in lots of places, but always as the guest of local friends — this was my first time solely as a traveler!

Beth and I joined the Monday night trivia at Oblivion. After getting a perfect score in the first category of Famous Roads (the only team to get a perfect score, and it had two questions targeted at South Africans, and we had chosen that category for double points!), we got a little full of ourselves. “We’re going to win. They’re going to hate us. They’re SO going to hate us,” we whispered to each other, giggling.

Well, then came the categories of South African Craft Beers and Famous Golfers (Beth answered “Tiger Woods, Lion Forest, Panther Jungle, Leopard Sylvain” for those categories), and we did surprisingly bad on World War II history (Me: “I hope there’s a question about Midway.” Beth: “Why?” Me: “You and Alexa did that big project on Midway in high school.” Beth: “Oh, I forgot about that!” Me: “Uh-oh.”).

We ended up finishing in the top two thirds. Not too shabby for a pair of foreigners.

Some of Cape Town’s trivia nights are:

Monday: Oblivion

Tuesday: The Foreign Exchange, The Royal Oak, Beerhouse

Wednesday: JC Brasserie and Pub

Thursday: Firemans Arms

Wherever you choose, make sure to call ahead. Many of these trivia nights are popular and will be fully booked. Some cost money, but rarely more than what you’d pay for a drink.

Cape Town Helicopter Ride

See Cape Town from a Helicopter

Cape Town is one of the best cities to see by helicopter, if not the best. (My other picks: Sydney, New York, London, Hong Kong, and while I haven’t been to the final two, Rio de Janeiro and Vancouver.)

Cape Town is a spectacularly set city, and a helicopter ride will show you new views of Table Mountain, Lion’s Head, the 12 Apostles, lots of beach towns, and that unmistakable stadium.

Just take a look:

Cape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter RideCape Town Helicopter Ride

For this trip, I perused operators and chose to go with NAC Helicopters, then emailed them and they offered Beth and me a complimentary Hopper Tour flight.

The Hopper Tour covers the immediate area surrounding Cape Town, toward the 12 Apostles and back. While there are lots of tour options from NAC, from Cape Point to Robben Island, I don’t think you can’t beat the beauty of a Hopper Tour.

Our captain was excellent, professional and friendly, pointing out sights and telling stories along the way. And when we touched down, we celebrated with a champagne toast.

I highly recommend looking at the forecast and booking your flight for the best weather day possible. For the best light, go in the late afternoon. Our appointment was in July (winter) at 4:30 PM. Ask the staff if you’re not sure which time is best.

You’ll be shooting through glass, so wear dark colors and shoot slightly downward rather than straight ahead to avoid glare.

NAC Helicopters offers a variety of scenic flights. We took the Hopper Tour, which covers the city and prices per helicopter: from 2810 rand ($196) for up to 3 people to 5610 rand ($391) for up to six people.

Camps Bay Cape Town

Spend a Fabulous Afternoon in Camps Bay

I can’t believe it took me three trips to get to Camps Bay — it’s now my favorite neighborhood in Cape Town!

Camps Bay is home to white buildings, super-tall palm trees, and sunshine. Does it sound like Southern California to you, too? Beth thought it looked like Malibu. I got major Santa Monica vibes.

Camps BayCamps Bay Cape TownKate at Camps BayCamps Bay

Camps Bay isn’t a place you come for sightseeing — it’s a place to hang out. For the two of us, that meant ordering some wine and a cheese plate in lieu of a meal.

This was a great place to spend an afternoon, and on my next visit to Cape Town, I hope to stay in Camps Bay. It would be a different kind of trip, that’s for sure!

We stopped at Blues Restaurant for wine and cheese on a balcony overlooking the beach.

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Explore the V&A Waterfront

Cape Town isn’t the kind of city where you fight your way through tourist crowds — but the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront is easily the most touristy place in the city.

The V&A Waterfront is what you’d get if you combined Boston’s Faneuil Hall Marketplace, San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf, and Chicago’s Navy Pier.

DSCF7281Cape Town WaterfrontCape Town Sunset

You can shop for anything, enjoy a variety of restaurants, ride the Ferris Wheel, visit the aquarium, take pictures of Table Mountain if the weather is cooperating, visit museums, jump on a harbor cruise, and get some gorgeous sunset views.

Vovo Telo, on the V&A Waterfront, is a nice bakery for coffee, breakfast, or lunch, with several gluten-free options.

DSCF7167

Take the CitySightseeing Bus

As I wrote in my Johannesburg post, taking the hop-on-hop-off bus can be hit or miss — but I think it’s so worth it in Cape Town because you travel along the gorgeous coastline! Sit on top of the open bus and admire the mountains and crashing waves.

I especially recommend going straight from Table Mountain to Camps Bay, taking a break in the sun, then riding it to the V&A Waterfront, taking in all the beachy neighborhoods along the way.

Citysightseeing Cape Town offers one-day tickets from 170 rand ($12) and two-day tickets from 270 rand ($18). Tickets come with perks like a free harbor cruise, free Bo-Kaap walking tour, and discounts on other tours.

Bo-Kaap Cape Town

Stroll Through Colorful Bo-Kaap

Bo-Kaap is that brightly colored neighborhood that you see all over Instagram! Home to a Cape Malay population, Bo-Kaap is home to mosques, spice shops, and the most colorful houses in all of Cape Town. (Though be warned — they’re a lot harder to photograph than I thought they would be.)

Bo-Kaap Cape TownBo-Kaap Cape Town

While I’ve explored Bo-Kaap independently, it can get a bit dicey, especially in the late afternoon. Be careful with your valuables and keep your camera in your bag unless you’re actively taking photos. Locals keep an eye out for visitors. Even so, I highly recommend going with a tour so you have that added layer of security.

A free Bo-Kaap walking tour is included in CitySightseeing bus tours (one-day tours from 170 rand ($12)). Nielsen Tours offers twice daily free Bo-Kaap walking tours.

Alternatively, take a Cape Malay cooking class from The Bo-Kaap Cooking Tour for 700 rand ($49), or a neighborhood tour and Cape Malay lunch for 400 rand ($28).

Don’t visit Bo-Kaap in the late afternoon; this is a popular time for crime in the neighborhood.

District Six Museum

Check Out the District Six Museum

I love visiting small museums that focus on a specific theme, and the District Six Museum focuses on one Cape Town neighborhood that was destroyed in the name of apartheid.

District Six was a vibrant, multicultural, artistic neighborhood. While the first black South Africans were removed in the early 1900s, it was inhabited by whites, Asians, and coloreds (a non-derogatory term meaning mixed race) until it was declared a white-only area in 1966. More than 70,000 people were forcibly removed and in 1982, the neighborhood was bulldozed.

District Six Museum

This museum is a collection of artifacts and stories of the neighborhood, suspended in time. The most recent photos are from the 1970s, with incredible fashion and hair. I think you’d have to be made of stone if the stories of District Six didn’t climb into your heart.

I found the District Six Museum to be a perfect counterpoint to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. While the Apartheid Museum focused on the complete, unabridged history of apartheid — the macro study of apartheid — the District Six Museum was the micro study, focusing on how apartheid affected one specific neighborhood in Cape Town.

Admission to the District Six Museum is 30 rand ($2) for an independent visit, 45 rand ($3) for a guided tour with a former resident.

It’s across the street from Truth Coffee Roasting, so I recommend visiting both in succession.

Potluck Club Ceviche

Dive into Quirky Cuisine at the Pot Luck Club

If you’re researching restaurants in Cape Town, you’ll likely come across The Test Kitchen — then realize that you have no chance in hell of getting a table. However, a fabulous alternative is The Pot Luck Club, specializing in small plate divided by taste profile (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, umami).

Located in an industrial loft in the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock, this place epitomizes cool.

Potluck Club Springbok CarpaccioSpringbok Carpaccio Potluck ClubPotluck Club BeefPotluck Club Chickpea Fries

Every dish was outstanding. My favorite dish was the Chalmer beef filet with black pepper and truffle café au lait; Beth’s favorite was the Korean fried cauliflower with amansi and miso dip with pickles. The cheese plate was the best we had in South Africa (and, um, we had a lot of cheese plates in South Africa). Other standouts were the ceviche, springbok carpaccio, and chickpea fries…

Our waitress recommended the Pineapple Cosmo and while I rarely go for sweet drinks, it was one of the best cocktails I have ever had. Dangerously smooth.

The kitchen is open here, and having worked in restaurants, I was flabbergasted at how quiet, polite, and civilized it was (kitchens are known for being…let’s say loud). Grab a bar seat in front of the kitchen for great views as they create meals. You’ll soon learn how much of a perfectionist Chef is.

Book reservations online here. Dinner seatings are at 6:00 PM and 8:30 PM only; some days have lunch seatings.

Boulders Beach Penguins

See the Penguins at Boulders Beach

Yes, you can see penguins in South Africa! Boulders Beach, just outside Cape Town in nearby Simonstown, is a protected area home to dozens if not hundreds of penguins year-round. Tourists are allowed to walk along a deck that traverses the penguin areas.

Boulders Beach PenguinsBoulders BeachBoulders Beach Penguins

Penguins are some of the funniest animals to watch. They’re social, they’re goofy, they’re endlessly photogenic — and on this trip, I learned that they can SURF!

Like the dassie, please don’t touch the penguins or invade their space. Capture them with your heart — and camera.

Visiting Boulders Beach costs 65 rand ($4.50) for adults and 35 rand ($2.50) for children.

I recommend renting a car and spending a day exploring the Cape Peninsula. If you’d rather not drive, there are tons of half- and full-day group tours that include Boulders Beach. Do this in tandem with Cape Point.

Cape Point

Visit Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope

We all had that unit in school when we learned about the Cape of Good Hope, that temperamental piece of land that brought bad weather to Vasco de Gama and so many other explorers. Well, Cape Point and the Cape of Good Hope are just outside Cape Town and Cape Point happens to be the southwesternmost point on the African continent!

Cape of Good Hope

Aside from the bragging rights, this is a beautiful place to photograph. You need to be careful, though. As you can see, the light isn’t great in this photo — that’s because I took it in the late afternoon, not long before sunset. For the best light on the Cape of Good Hope, you’re best off visiting in the morning.

Cape Point is free to visit if you walk up the stairs, but there’s also a funicular that costs 48/58 rand ($3/4) for one-way/return trips. Admission to the Cape of Good Hope is 125 rand ($9).

I recommend renting a car and spending a day exploring the Cape Peninsula. If you’d rather not drive, there are tons of half- and full-day group tours that include Cape Point. Do this in tandem with Boulders Beach.

Cape Town Wines

Buy Souvenirs From South African Designers

Forget a t-shirt or shot glass with Table Mountain on it — Cape Town is brimming with excellent designers. Bright colors and vibrant patterns are staples of African design, so this is the place to buy a standout piece of art, fashion, or housewares.

If you’re looking for a gorgeous African souvenir to bring home (or to stock up on Christmas gifts for your family), stop by Carole Nevin‘s shop at the V&A Waterfront. Here you’ll find gorgeous tablecloths, table runners, placemats, napkins (they call them serviettes), aprons, and more.

I picked up some placemats for my home, pictured above. They look like a sunset.

If you’re looking for something for a man (and we all know how hard men are to shop for), check out Nic Harry. He has a collection of bright patterned bamboo socks, plus some other accessories for men.

And finally, check out the Watershed at the V&A Waterfront. It’s full of booths from independent artists. I found the perfect gift for my friends’ new baby — an adorable pink-and-yellow-patterned stuffed elephant.

Carole Nevin is located in the shopping center at the V&A Waterfront; there’s a factory shop in the Eastlake neighborhood of Cape Town as well. The Watershed is one of the outer buildings at the waterfront. Nic Harry has a kiosk in the shopping center at the V&A Waterfront as well as a full store on Wale Street downtown.

DSCF7196

Visit Robben Island

This last one is a wistful addition to the list. I couldn’t fit Robben Island into my first two trips, and on the third, our ferry was canceled due to weather. So I haven’t been yet — but you should make the effort to go as well.

Robben Island was home to a political prison, and Nelson Mandela was imprisoned here for 23 years. Today you can visit the prison — including Mandela’s cell — and hear the stories of your guides, who were once Robben Island prisoners themselves. This is yet another piece of South Africa’s history, and it doubles as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Robben Island tours include the ferry and must be booked in advance. They tend to book up quickly, so be sure to make your reservation ASAP. Tours cost 320 rand ($22), include transportation from the V&A Waterfront, and last three hours.

Camps Bay Cape Town

Other Activities in Cape Town

But wait, there’s more! Here are more activities that I haven’t personally tried myself (with the exception of blokarting) that deserve to be included in a full Cape Town guide.

Go wine tasting in Constantia. I actually recommend spending a few days in the Stellenbosch wine region, about an hour from Cape Town, but if that’s not an option, CitySightseeing offers a wine route where you can taste at a few cellars in nearby Constantia. 1-day tours from 170 rand ($12) for adults; tastings cost extra but are rarely above 150 rand ($10). More info here.

Learn how to Blokart. It’s a hybrid of go-carting and sailing! Vault yourself across the beach in a wheeled cart with a sail you control. (This will always be the place I gashed my knee open in 2012, but follow the instructors’ advice and you should have better luck than me!) 200 rand ($14) for 30 minutes, 300 rand ($28) for 60 minutes. More info here.

Visit a township — but do your research first. While visiting townships can be interesting, most of the tours are designed to showcase the reality of South Africa’s poorest (almost always black) for the enjoyment of the naive, privileged tourists (almost always white). Some companies work in a responsible way, however, and I’ve heard consistently good things about AWOL Tours. Tours from 950 rand ($66) per person.

Go surfing at Muizenberg Beach. Muizenberg is the surf zone of Cape Town — just don’t forget a wetsuit for the chilly waters! Rental shops are available throughout Muizenberg Beach. Lessons available from Gary’s Surf School from 400 rand ($28) per person, and from Surf Shack and Surf Emporium from 360 rand ($25) per person. Get dinner at Tiger’s Milk afterward. Their bacon-avo-feta pizza sounds weird, but it works.

Go paragliding off Lion’s Head. If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, this is the ultimate Cape Town adventure — plus selfies to make your friends jealous! Tandem flights from 1150 rand ($80), photos 250 rand ($17). More info here.

Cage dive with great white sharks. It’s a bit of a ways outside Cape Town, but can be done as a day trip! Jump into a cage in chilly waters and get face to face with these beautiful and terrifying creatures. Packages available from White Shark Diving CompanyApex Shark Expeditions, and White Shark Ventures from 1750 rand ($122), including Cape Town transfer.

Table Mountain Cape Town

Safety in Cape Town

Cape Town is a city where you should have your guard up — more so than in popular American and European cities. That said, you shouldn’t let it scare you away from visiting, even if you’re a solo female traveler.

I personally have had zero incidents happen on my three trips to Cape Town, including when traveling solo, and I attribute that to heeding locals’ advice and being more conscientious than usual. Will you find these tips excessively cautious? You might — but I don’t think you should take chances when you’re new to this city.

While you should practice travel safety wherever you go (see my top 10 travel safety tips), here are my top recommendations for staying safe in Cape Town:

The V&A Waterfront is the only place where you should be walking around at night. This area is heavily policed and has a ton of cameras. Otherwise, take taxis or Ubers. If you’re in a bar or restaurant a few blocks or less from your accommodation, ask a staff member whether you should walk alone.

Know that late afternoon can be a popular time for petty crime. Not everywhere — but some Cape Town neighborhoods, including Bo-Kaap, tend to have more crimes take place during the late afternoon hours. If you’re in one of these neighborhoods, the locals will tell you that you should get going.

Know that panhandlers will often follow you if you don’t give them money. This happens throughout South Africa. Don’t be scared. Just continue walking and ignoring them and they will eventually leave.

Don’t visit a township independently. If you choose to visit a township, only go with a guide.

Get around with UberBLACK. Uber was a game-changer for South Africans — it made it possible to get reliable taxis. While UberX is dirt cheap, UberBLACK is staffed by professional drivers. Rides on UberBLACK cost twice as much as UberX, but they’re still cheap enough to be worth it.

Get a SIM card with data. This will allow you to summon Ubers and find your way around the city. Vodacom stores are everywhere and they provide great coverage within Cape Town. I paid about $20 for 5 GB of data. (I’m a heavy data user, due in part to Snapchat videos, and I tend to go through about 1.5 GB per week.) You’ll need your passport when you get the card.

Lock up your valuables in a portable safe in your hotel room. Fill it with your passport and any valuables you don’t take out with you each day — computer, external hard drive, jewelry, etc. — and lock it to the sturdiest thing in your room, ideally a pipe. This is the one I use. Don’t forget a padlock, too.

Get travel insurance. If you get robbed or injured, travel insurance can cover you in your time of need. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Kate and Beth at the Doubletree Cape Town

Where to Stay in Cape Town

I’ve stayed in accommodation all over the city, at different price points, from backpackery to quirky to posh. This time, I stayed in a place that’s perfect for mid-range travelers: the Doubletree Cape Town (full name: Doubletree by Hilton Cape Town Upper Eastside). We were guests of the hotel.

A sleek, mid-range hotel with lots of cool design, from a giant chandelier in the lobby to pink footsteps outlined on the rugs the Doubletree is so comfortable, which is exactly what Beth and I needed after coming straight from safari. (It wasn’t without a few layout quirks, though — we could never figure out which light switch was which, and it was odd that the outlets took every kind of plug except North American.)

In fact, the first night we just stayed in the hotel and ordered Nando’s delivery! Nando’s, along with other restaurants, will deliver to the hotel through OrderIn.co.za. We got spicy chicken and watched terrible movies. It was awesome.

Doubletree Cape TownDoubletree Cape TownDoubletree Cape Town

The Woodstock neighborhood may look a bit out of the way on the map, but look at that view from our window! Plus, it’s close to the Old Biscuit Mill (for the restaurants) and we rarely paid more than $6 for an Uber ride. They also have a free shuttle a few times per day to the V&A Waterfront. A hot breakfast was included, including custom omelets that we got every day.

And on our last night, we met some excellent wine guys downstairs in the hotel bar. They’re regulars there. If you run into a crazy guy named Dean who reminds you a bit of Rob Corddry and is sipping a Very Sexy Shiraz (it’s an actual wine), tell him Kate and Beth say hi!

Rates at the Doubletree Cape Town from 1500 rand ($104). I recommend signing up as a Hilton HHonors member; it costs nothing, earns you points, and you’ll be on a private floor for HH members.

Some of my other favorite Cape Town accommodation:

Atlantic Point Backpackers

If you’re looking for a hostel or low-budget option, I highly recommend Atlantic Point Backpackers. It’s comfortable, friendly, and a great place to meet fellow travelers.

Cape Town Sunset

If you’re looking for a high luxury option close to the waterfront, the Queen Victoria Hotel ticks all the boxes. Everything is white and cool and I pretend I’m fancy enough to be there.

Grand Daddy Trailer Park

And if you’re visiting in the warmer months, the rooftop trailer park at the Grand Daddy Hotel is the ultimate quirky Cape Town accommodation. I loved staying overnight in my own themed Airstream trailer!

Have you been to Cape Town? What would you recommend?

The Ultimate Offbeat Guide to Cape Town, South Africa - Adventurous Kate

This post is brought to you in part by Doubletree Cape Town and NAC Helicopters. All opinions, as always, are my own.

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How I Choose Where to Travel Next

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Kate in Santorini

“How do you choose where to travel next?”

It surprises me whenever I hear it, but this is one of the most popular questions I get. And as much as I think I just pick a destination and go, it’s actually a more complicated process. Why not write a whole post about it?

(And I’m not the only one! This week, the Traveling Canucks wrote a post on the very same topic. Do check their post out — it’s very different from mine and their blog is one of the best resources out there for traveling with young kids!)

Flam Railway

Start With Your List of Travel Dreams

I have a long, long list of trips I’d like to take someday. (You can see my current top 10 travel dreams in the right margin if you’re browsing via desktop.) If you’re reading this blog, you probably have tons of travel dreams, too!

And truthfully? Those dreams fade in and out. Sometimes I’ll get hooked on a trip idea and research on my laptop until 3:00 AM, my heart thudding rapidly. And sometimes that dream will die. Most of the time they go temporarily dormant, only to resurface when I see a blog post or read a book or admire a certain good-looking Olympic team and get inspired.

Here are some of the biggest travel dreams I have right now:

I want to travel along northern Spain. I want to dive into the food scene in San Sebastian, explore the villages of Asturias, and photograph the dramatic Galicia coastline.

I want to go to the Galapagos Islands. I really got into wildlife photography in South Africa and I’m eager to shoot some giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies!

I want to spend a week exploring the Florida Keys in depth. The pretty Keys and the gritty Keys. The Netflix show Bloodline may have had something to do with that!

I want to explore Western Australia. These are the white sand beaches I dream about the most, from Esperance in the south to Broome in the north.

Those are just a few. If I have the opportunity to take any of these dream trips, I’ll probably jump on it quickly!

Tip: I keep a lot of travel ideas on Evernote, free organizational software. Hell, I keep everything on Evernote. If you don’t use it, you should!

Uluru up Close

Come Up with a Travel Window

I generally plan my trips one to six months in advance. I’ll look over my schedule and see that I have a block available, accounting for holidays, events, and habits. (For example, “I will be sick of the winter by March — I’ll be dying to go somewhere warm by then.”)

It might be two weeks in February. It might be two months in the summer. Spring and fall tend to be filled with conferences and industry events, so I’m more cautious about those time periods. As soon as I know how much time I have, I can figure out what kinds of trips would work best.

Tip: While there is no formula for figuring out the exact cheapest time to buy a flight every time (and anyone who tells you this is lying), the best fares tend to be available approximately six weeks to three months in advance.

Sanctuary Koh Lanta Sunset

Time the Weather Right

Weather is the most critical aspect of how I plan my trips. 90% of the time, I travel in either high season or shoulder season. (One recent exception was my trip to South Africa, which I took in July because my friend Beth is a teacher and needed to travel during the summer. It worked out well, but I haven’t always been that lucky.)

Some travelers are more flexible with the weather than others — you need to find your own comfort level. Britain and Ireland, along with much of Northern Europe, are prone to cloudy, rainy weather and have lots of things to do indoors. Tiny beach towns during monsoon season, not so much.

Personally, if I’m planning a beach escape or trip to an outdoor destination, I’ll never time it during the off-season because I don’t want to be stuck inside as it rains.

Example: Last year I traveled to Koh Lanta, Thailand, in November, the shoulder season. I love Koh Lanta in November because it’s cheaper, it’s less busy, it rains only about every 2-3 days, and the streaky clouds make for better sunsets.

Phantom Forest Outside

Add On to Work Trips

Very often when I get a work trip somewhere, I extend it so I can explore further on my own. 99% of the time, the people flying me out won’t care if I want to fly back on a different date. (Just let them know before they actually book your flights!)

I know many business travelers who do the same thing. If you have a job where you travel, this is an easy way to add on a trip while saving on airfare.

Example: On my first trip to South Africa back in 2012, which was a press trip, I extended my trip an extra week so I could experience the country as a solo traveler. This way I got to experience bus travel, the Garden Route, and the hostel scene in Cape Town — all things I hadn’t experienced on the business part of the trip.

Vicky, Cailin, Candice and Kate in Mallorca

Factor In Spending Time With Friends

The best thing about travel blogging is that I’ve made so many friends around the world, many of them as itinerant as me. So visiting them is a major factor in my travels!

It can also be a cheap option. If you’re visiting a friend at their home, you can often stay with them for free and cook at home for some of your meals.

Example: When I planned an extra three weeks of hanging out in Europe, my friend Cailin invited me to join her at a villa in Mallorca (see her post here). Joining her — and our friends Candice and Vicky — made for a VERY fun week of tapas, cava, and listening to “Hotline Bling” over and over.

Santa Cruz Atitlan Guatemala

Compare Bargain Destinations vs. Spendy Destinations

Cost is one of the most important factors in planning a trip. And it’s not just about how much the flights cost! If you’re based in North America, a two-month trip to Southeast Asia or India could be cheaper than a two-week trip to Europe because the ground costs are so much lower.

I figure out whether I want it to be a cheaper trip or if I can handle a pricier jaunt. Keep in mind that cheaper destinations tend to mean dealing with less development and poorer infrastructure.

Pre-trip costs can be a factor as well. You might spend more on gear for a trek or camping trip, or lens rentals for a photography trip.

And don’t underestimate the joy of finding an error fare or crazy flight deal, or using your points or miles for something awesome!

Example: I was so set on visiting the Caucasus in August, but once I tallied up the cost, I realized it would be more expensive and complicated than I was comfortable with, particularly when it came to flights and the Azerbaijan visa. I decided to cancel it in favor of going somewhere closer and cheaper and settled on Colombia, which was cheaper to get to, cheaper on the ground, and had no visa costs for Americans.

Riga Latvia

Other Factors

Some of the other factors that can affect trips include:

Ease of travel. Some destinations are easier than others, and more challenging destinations can take a lot out of you. A significant language barrier or lack of travel infrastructure can end up affecting how your trip goes. After South Africa and Colombia back to back, which are both a bit mentally taxing, I’m eager for easy European travel this fall!

Distance. Further trips tend to be more expensive and often result in greater jet lag. For this reason, I don’t think it’s worth it to go to the other side of the world for less than ten days. I would be a zombie for most of the trip.

Variety. If you’ve been spending a lot of time in Latin America, you might start to crave Asian food. If you’ve been stuck in cities, you might be up for a trip somewhere rural. And we all know that a few months of a frigid winter makes you want to head for tropical beaches! Before I traveled full-time, I would escape Boston for somewhere warm every winter.

Personal goals. Everyone has goals, whether it’s to hold a koala in Australia or take crazy perspective photos at the Salar de Uyuni. My goals include visiting every country in Europe (so close!), visiting 100 countries before I turn 40, and visiting tons of UNESCO World Heritage Sites whenever I can.

Kate at the Pyramid, Tirana Albania

Travel Blogger-Specific Factors

Travel bloggers have additional factors in choosing where to visit, including but not limited to:

Branding. We round out our brands by becoming experienced in different parts of travel. Sometimes that means becoming an expert in a region, as The Blonde Gypsy is in the Balkans. Sometimes that means planning offbeat or extreme adventures, as Expert Vagabond does. Alex in Wanderland is always covering interesting dive sites around the world.

We plan our trips based on what will play well for our readership and our business. For me, I try to cover solo female travel in popular regions, like Southeast Asia and Central America, in lesser-known places, like Albania and Macedonia, and in countries where women tend to be more concerned about traveling solo, like Colombia.

Photography. If you’re an Instagram star or photography professional, you know what kinds of photos your audience loves. Palm trees. Sunsets. Tropical beaches. Iconic sites like Machu Picchu. Cities people dream of like Paris. Ridiculously photogenic countries like Iceland. And you’ve also got your own personal photography goals.

Conferences and trade shows. Conferences and trade shows take place around the globe, and while we attend them primarily for business reasons, they’re also a chance to hang out with our blogger friends!

Gigs, partnerships, and press trips. Much of the work we do requires us to fly out to certain destinations and experience them first-hand. Some bloggers live off constant press trips; some never take any sponsored travel. Most pros are somewhere in the middle.

Standing invitations. Travel bloggers receive invitations from small businesses on a regular basis — mostly along the lines of, “If you’re ever in _____, I’d love to have you come on my food tour/stay at my guesthouse/take you out to my favorite bar!” And while this will never be the primary reason why I go anywhere, if it’s a cool thing to do, sometimes it influences my decision a little bit.

Mount Titano

Putting It All Together

And then it all falls into place. “Hmmm, I’m doing nothing in the fall so far. Well — maybe I should finally plan my dream trip to New Zealand. That’s when the lupins are in bloom, which will be great for photography. It will be spring but it won’t be too busy. I’d miss all the pre-Christmas craziness at home but return in time to spend the holidays with my family. I can visit Liz and Edna and Bethaney. Let’s look up some fares out of curiosity…OH MY GOD I CAN FLY TO NEW ZEALAND FOR $780 ROUND TRIP FROM SAN FRANCISCO. I’m doing that!”

That trip came together beautifully, but sometimes my decisions can be more random. I have an impulsive side that revels in buying a last-minute ticket to a destination I wasn’t even considering. I think you’ll be seeing more of that next year when I plan fewer trips and have more chances for surprise getaways!

However you choose your destination, you can turn it into a memorable trip. Now, I want to hear from you! Do you think I’m too crazy? Did I miss something major? I’d love to hear it.

How do you choose where to travel next?

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How to Survive Pre-Trip Anxiety

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Cartagena, Colombia

I wrote the first draft of this post on my flight from JFK to Cartagena, and I’m embarrassed to say that I almost didn’t get on the plane.

As the departure date of my Colombia trip loomed, knots grew in my stomach. Was I only traveling because I thought I should be traveling? Did I want to be away from my friends and family in New York for 19 days when I had so many more travels coming up this fall?

Would I be able to get work done there? Would I miss a lot of cool events at home? What was the point of paying rent in expensive New York if I was going to be paying for simultaneous accommodation as well?!

I flipped back and forth a lot. As late as the day before, I told my friends I was split 80/20 in favor of not going.

This happens to all of us — even the pros.

At some point before your trip, you’ll likely feel a few doubts creeping in. Usually at the last minute, within a few days of your departure.

This is completely normal and it happens to everyone at some point.

What can trigger this? Something as innocuous as hearing friends make plans for when you’ll be away. It could be an offhand comment from someone about how your destination is dangerous or boring. Or realizing that you accidentally booked a trip during the Olympics and won’t get to watch them.

Soon, those doubts can snowball into a monster, making you second-guess your thoughts and feelings. But if you plan a strategic defense for this anxiety, you’ll be able to manage it better.

Relax Bay Koh Lanta

Practice Extra Self-Care Before Your Trip

Even if you feel confident, it’s good to guard against anxiety triggers before you go on your trip. This is especially important if you’re trying to finish up big projects at work or home before you leave.

Here are some ways to practice self-care:

Exercise. Whether you’re a fitness pro or couch potato, make sure you break a sweat regularly. I’m a fan of the 7-minute workout app and dance workouts on YouTube.

Take long walks. Save your podcasts or audiobooks for these walks if you need the motivation.

Meditate. I’m a big fan of the Headspace app, which is ideal for beginners.

Read, write, make music, or release creative energy. Have an outlet that lets you express yourself and your feelings, even if indirectly.

Spend time with loved ones. Let them know how much they mean to you, even if you’re planning a trip without them.

Stay healthy. Eat well, get enough sleep, don’t go on any benders with your friends.

Copenhagen

Figure out the source of what’s bothering you.

If your trip is arriving and you’re queasy at the thought of it, try to pinpoint what’s bothering you. Are you nervous about being robbed? Not being able to communicate with anyone? Are you afraid of flying? Or that you’ll be lonely? Do you think you’ll miss an important event at home?

Once you identify the source, see what you can do to remedy it. Would you feel more confident about not getting pickpocketed if you bought a camera bag that locked? If you’re nervous about meeting people, why don’t you post a message on the local Couchsurfing group or book yourself into a dorm or private room at a social hostel?

Sometimes you’ll only be worried about the unknown. Which, again, is totally normal. In that case, it can help to plan out your first day on the road.

Kate in Bangkok

Plan your arrival and first 24 hours on the ground.

I did this meticulously for my arrival in Bangkok in 2010, the trip that kicked off my full-time travels. This was my first time in Asia and although I knew intellectually that Thailand would be an easy region in which to travel, I was nervous about facing an entirely new culture.

Here’s what I planned:

After going through immigration, I would go to the ATM and take out cash.

I would get a taxi to my guesthouse, Wild Orchid Villa, and I had a piece of paper with the address written in Thai as well.

I would check into my guesthouse and email my family to let them know I made it.

I would go to sleep and then walk to Wat Phra Kaew to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho the next morning.

I would get street food somewhere for lunch.

I would meet blogger friends for dinner on Khao San Road that night.

Now, that didn’t all go to plan. The cab driver had trouble finding my guesthouse and kept stopping to ask people for directions. I had to ask for new rooms twice because the doors didn’t lock well. And I didn’t sleep a wink my entire first night due to jet lag. But having that outline kept me focused and comfortable.

I reminded myself of this for my Colombia trip. I didn’t have to have Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park completely figured out before I left. Just a few things to do in Cartagena would be enough. (As it went, I axed Santa Marta and Tayrona completely because I couldn’t stand the humidity on the coast.)

Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh

Give yourself an extra financial cushion.

One of my top tips for travelers, especially solo female travelers, is to financially invest in your safety. That means spending money on a cab if you’re not comfortable walking or taking public transportation at night. Or booking a more expensive hotel if it’s in a nicer neighborhood.

I think the same advice holds if you’re nervous before your trip. If you want to do a day trip somewhere that requires a lot of bus changes, why not book a direct organized tour? It will be easier and you might meet new friends. If you’re not sure whether you can handle a dorm, book a single room for your first few nights and then see if you feel like doing a dorm later on.

Just knowing that the extra money is there to spend it if you need it can be reassuring.

Ometepe Sunset Hacienda Merida

Remember that this is YOUR TRIP.

You can do whatever you want on this trip. You can be adventurous — or take it easy. You can be super social — or solitary. Nobody at home is judging you on just how far off the beaten path you go. (Granted, as travel bloggers, it’s different for us, but most of you reading this don’t have to worry about that.)

And sometimes your dream itinerary won’t work out. If you get to Venice and realize it’s sticky and expensive and overwhelmingly crowded, you have the freedom to leave. (My recommendation? Take a train down to Bologna to explore Emilia-Romagna, or get a ferry to Rovinj in Croatia.) Don’t feel like you have to stay because it’s Venice.

I spend a lot of time sitting in cafes, no matter where I go. That’s important to me. I need a caffeine hit every afternoon like clockwork, and as an introvert, I need that time to get back inside my head. Some people consider that wasted time. But for me, it’s vital.

Castlerigg Lake District Sunset

Err on the Side of Going, But Sometimes It’s Okay to Cancel

There may come a point when you’re considering whether or not to cancel a trip. Most of the time, you should push through your fears and go anyway, but there are occasional instances when canceling is the right decision.

Thinking about the trips that I’ve had to cancel in the past, some of them were for better reasons than others.

I canceled Greece two years ago. I wasn’t in a good spot to travel — I was still reeling from several rough months in my personal life and I needed the extra time to put myself back together before Sri Lanka a month later.

I lost the cost of a TBEX conference ticket and a one-way flight. The worst part was letting down my friends Katie and Becki, as we had planned to rent an apartment together in Athens.

I canceled Burning Man last year. It was July, I had done zero preparation, and it would be expensive and complicated, so it was easier just to sell the ticket. Burning Man is not something you can half-ass. You need to get a vehicle and bring everything you need to survive in the desert, plus costumes and/or art to contribute to the community.

Fortunately, my would-be companion Liz felt the same way, and we had only spent money on the festival tickets. I had a buyer within one minute of posting on Facebook.

I came home early from Thailand last year. It was supposed to be a five-week trip to Thailand and Myanmar; I capped it at three weeks in Thailand. Honestly, as much as I enjoyed my time in Koh Lanta with Brenna, I probably shouldn’t have taken the trip. I was hypnotized by cheap fares and going through the motions of what a traveler was “supposed” to do.

I had secured a super-cheap $550 round-trip flight from New York to Bangkok; the flight was nonrefundable and I had to spend roughly the same amount to get home early. Eek.

I think I made the right decision on Greece and Burning Man; Thailand could have gone either way.

But Colombia? I’m so glad I’m here. The trip is about a week longer than it should have been, I’ll give it that. But it’s so good to be here for both personal and professional reasons. It’s been a while since I’ve been on an adventurous solo trip and I think I’ve got my groove back.

Istanbul

Remember Your Limits Before You Book Your Next Trip

What led to your anxiety in the first place? Write it down and don’t forget it when you’re planning your next trip. If you avoid these triggers, you might have an easier time on your next trip.

Today I know that my anxiety tends to stem from 1) spending too much time on the road instead of home and 2) getting overwhelmed when I have to do too much work for a complicated trip.

Going forward, I’m going to focus primarily on shorter trips (think 10 days or less) that take place far less often and I’m going to remind myself that I need to spend at least two thirds of my time at home in New York. (With my big New Zealand trip this fall, I won’t be able to put this into practice until January.)

I absolutely love travel planning, but trips that require months of intense work stress me out too much. Because of that, I’m probably best off avoiding trips like The Mongol Rally, which involves buying an old car, fundraising for charity, and securing a million complicated visas.

If I do Burning Man in the future (and I’d like to!), I’m going to pay for a camp where they provide the food, water, and shelter so I can focus on costumes and art. Organizing everything from scratch is too overwhelming for me.

Kate in Pollenca

Often, you need to get there before you relax.

99% of the time, you’ll be glad you went. Repeat that to yourself — I’ll be so glad I went on this trip.

But often you don’t realize that until you’re on the ground in your destination. Feeling the different temperature in the air, voices in a different language surrounding you, streets full of different smells and colors — sometimes that’s all you need to remind yourself why you love traveling in the first place.

Put your trust in that feeling, even when you doubt yourself. Almost every time, it will be there when you arrive.

Have you ever canceled a trip last minute? Or do you get nervous before you leave? Share away!

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How to Rock a Trip to Johannesburg

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DSCF5741Carlton Centre

“Is it really worth it to visit Johannesburg?”

Absolutely. I think it’s great for any trip to South Africa, but especially your first. On my first trip to Joburg in 2012, I was absolutely shocked at how much I enjoyed it. So I definitely wanted us to return for our girls’ getaway to South Africa.

This was Beth’s first trip to the country and she gave me a lot of freedom in planning our trip. I quickly decided that we would begin with just a few days in Johannesburg.

Here’s why you should do the same:

Garden at Apartheid Museum

Because it’s a good landing pad.

Johannesburg is a much bigger airline hub than Cape Town. Chances are you’ll land here when you first arrive in South Africa. And unless you’re coming from elsewhere on the continent, you’ll arrive after a very long flight (8 hours from Dubai, 11 hours from Amsterdam, a whopping 16 hours from New York!). You’ll probably be supremely jet-lagged or sleep-deprived (unless you’re Beth, who has the talent of being able to fall asleep anytime, anywhere) and you won’t be able to sightsee at 100% of your usual capacity.

Johannesburg is full of attractions, but not so many that you’ll be heartbroken that you missed them. For this reason, I recommend doing Johannesburg while you’re still a bit tired and saving gorgeous Cape Town for when you’ve got more energy.

Take your time when you arrive in Johannesburg. Plan one big sight to see each day and go at a comfortable pace. Don’t be afraid to spend time hanging out at a cafe or relaxing at your hotel. It takes time to get your energy back.

Apartheid Museum

Because it teaches you about contemporary South Africa.

I think it’s important to learn about a country’s recent turmoil. That’s why I cringe when I see people flying in and out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, without taking the time to visit Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields. It’s difficult to witness, but I don’t think you can understand contemporary Cambodia until you see its atrocities laid bare in front of you.

For Johannesburg, if there’s one place I recommend above anywhere else, it’s the Apartheid Museum. It’s full of information on the history of Apartheid from start to finish and explains how South Africa became what it is today. You’ll have a greater understanding of the country after spending time here.

I warn you that that the information presented is extremely dense. Each exhibit is filled with paragraphs upon paragraphs. You won’t have time to read everything; you certainly won’t retain everything you read. Again, go at your own pace and don’t worry if you don’t read through every part of the museum.

Sterkfontein Caves

Because it’s a surprisingly fun city!

On my first trip, I visited Liliesleaf, Alexandra Township, Soweto, and the World of Beer. You can read about them in this post.

This time was all about the new. We visited the Sterkfontein Caves, also known as the Cradle of Humankind.

Sterkfontein CavesKate and Beth at the Sterkfontein CavesSterkfontein Caves

Located a 50-minute drive out of town, these caves are home to some of the most significant ancient human remains discoveries of all time, including “Mrs. Ples” and “Little Foot.” Tours take you directly into the caves, and while you can’t see the bones themselves, they’re a very cool place to visit.

As a former anthropology major, this was Beth’s first choice. I was delighted to learn that they’re actually part of the Fossil Hominid Sites of South Africa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site!

Johannesburg

The next day, on recommendation from my local friend Kate, we joined the hop-on hop-off CitySightseeing bus tour. I know some people turn their noses up at these, but I think they’re perfect for certain cities — Johannesburg and Cape Town in particular. Johannesburg because it’s not a walkable city and the bus takes you to some of the city’s biggest sights for less than what a taxi would cost.

Carlton Centre

One of our stops on the trip was the top of Carlton Centre, the tallest building in Africa! It’s only 50 stories tall, which puts a lot into perspective.

This was probably the strangest thing we did in Johannesburg. The top floor looked like it hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s or so. There was graffiti and trash everywhere and we swore we saw a bullet hole in one window. And for some reason there was a giant nutcracker.

Carlton Centre Carlton CentreKate and Beth with the Nutcracker in Johannesburg

Beth and I filed the Carlton Centre under “cool, but weird” and went on our merry way.

Kate, Beth, Kate and Alessio

We met up with Kate and her boyfriend Alessio in Parkhurst, my favorite neighborhood in Johannesburg. It’s full of boutiques, restaurants, and sidewalk cafes. Oh, and this is where I learned that people eat outside year-round in Joburg, even in the winter! (Head to Hudson’s for awesome burgers — the bacon jam burger is outstanding!)

Gautrain

We also took the Gautrain, Johannesburg’s foray into a subway. It’s cool, sleek, modern, and super fancy. Security guards wait for each train and food and drink are not allowed on the platform or the trains (Beth and I got lectured by a guard but he let us finish our green juices).

The Rosebank stop is around the corner from our hotel, 54 on Bath, and we took it to Park Station to pick up the CitySightseeing bus. Later we took it to the airport. O.R. Tambo Airport is so far out of the city that I highly recommend taking the Gautrain — it’s nicer, faster, and far more luxurious, yet much cheaper than a Joburg taxi.

54 on Bath, Johannesburg

Because it’s home to a hotel I love.

Honestly, the biggest reason why I wanted to go back to Johannesburg is because I wanted to stay at 54 on Bath again. I stayed here in 2012 and it’s since been one of my favorite boutique hotels in the world.

54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg54 on Bath, Johannesburg

What makes it so great? It just has an incredibly classy feeling to it.

Everything is black and white. The staff is amazing. And they don’t mind if you play the piano in the lobby!

Breakfast at 54 on Bath, Johannesburg

In 2012, I thought the breakfast buffet was the prettiest I had ever seen — and in 2016, I still think so!

Kate at the Champagne Bar

And there’s a small champagne bar in the hotel, too! Thanks to the favorable exchange rate, we enjoyed glasses of Veuve Clicquot for the equivalent of $10! That’s how much a glass of mediocre wine costs in midtown Manhattan.

Turndown Snacks at 54 on Bath

But my favorite part of 54 on Bath? The turndown snacks. We’d come home from a day of sightseeing to be greeted by macarons and passionfruit juice.

54 on Bath is attached to the Rosebank Mall, which is fabulously convenient. The mall is home to a Vodacom store, where we picked up SIM cards for our trip, as well as a drugstore, where we picked up toiletries and various sleep medications to knock the jet lag out of me. Rosebank is one of the nicest neighborhoods in Johannesburg and just outside the mall are several restaurants and the Rosebank Gautrain stop.

Staying at 54 on Bath is a pure joy, and there is nowhere else I’d want to stay in Johannesburg!

Essential Info: Admission to the Sterkfontein Caves is 120 rand ($9) for adults, 65 rand ($5) for children. It’s an hour outside the city and while we took Ubers there and back, neither of our drivers had ever been there! It took awhile to get an Uber driver to pick us up. Lots of companies run organized tours that will pick you up from your hotel.

The CitySightseeing Johannesburg bus costs 170/90 rand ($12/7) for adults/children for one day and 270/180 rand ($20/13) for adults/children for two days. You can add on a Soweto tour for 420/220 rand ($31/16) for adults/children for one day and 520/310 rand ($38/23) for adults/children for two days.

Admission to the Apartheid Museum is 80 rand ($6) for adults, 65 rand ($5) for children. Admission to the top of the Carlton Centre is 15 rand ($1).

Rates at 54 on Bath start at 1805 rand ($134).

While we took the Gautrain a few times, including to the airport, we mostly got around Johannesburg via UberX — it’s very cheap and locals trust it more than taxis. We found out near the end of our trip that Uber Black costs twice as much as UberX, but the drivers are certified professionals. After having one harrowing UberX experience in Cape Town, I would recommend choosing Uber Black whenever possible.

New to Uber? Use the code 9x41m and your first ride up to $15 is free.

The prettiest time to visit Johannesburg is roughly from October to November, when the purple jacaranda trees bloom.

You do need to be a bit more on your toes about safety in Johannesburg. I wouldn’t walk outside at night except on the main street of Parkhurst and the promenade immediately around the Rosebank Mall. Be sure to closely guard your belongings day or night.

Many thanks to 54 on Bath for offering us a complimentary three-night stay. Everything else in Johannesburg was at our own expense. All opinions, as always, are my own.

Have you been to Johannesburg? Would you recommend it?

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Notes from the Brink of Age 32

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Imperfect Selfie: Relaxing in Koh Lanta, Thailand

This week I turned 32. It’s had me deep in thought. 32 isn’t one of the more significant birthdays, but it’s been a while since I went through a year filled with so many changes.

Every year I write a birthday post, talking about where I am now in this part of my life. For this year’s post, I’m illustrating it with several “imperfect selfies” from the past year that never made it off my phone to be published anywhere. They’re not great shots, but they’re as real as they get.

Imperfect Selfie: In Central Park on a warm April day

On a cold winter evening, shortly after moving into my new apartment, I sit down with a cup of wild berry herbal tea. Just me on my groovy purple couch, the magenta-and-indigo Persian-style rug spread beneath it. Spotify’s “Late Night Jazz” playlist wafts through the air because apparently I listen to jazz now. Fuzzy fuchsia Ugg slippers are on my feet.

Slippers.

I’ve had no need to own slippers for a long time.

It’s late, it’s soft, and everything here belongs to me. It’s all mine. I’m so overwhelmed with gratitude that I nearly cry.

And I promised myself, “I need to remember how good this feels.”

Imperfect Selfie: Not-So-Jet-Lagged in Portsmouth, New Hampshire

On Being in Transition

Moving to New York and scaling down my travels was absolutely the right decision. I have zero doubts with that. Sure, I’d love it if the cost of living were more reasonable, but the benefits exponentially outweigh the drawbacks. I have a community and so many close friends in New York. It’s the center of just about every industry. Blogger friends are always passing through.

That said, I’ve been struggling with the transition from full-time travel to being somewhat settled down. I often worry that I’m not traveling as much as I should be, that I’m not experiencing as many new places as I used to.

Sometimes I feel like I’m living two different lives. Take the month of April — it was wonderful. I did a lot of fun things. I had several friends come to visit during the month. And then I realized I had gone a full month without leaving the city. How could I be happy with that?!

If there’s anything I know, when you’re doing two things that are contradictory to each other, you can’t do both well. The better I did with travel, the worse I would do at building a home life. As long as I was at home, my travel life would suffer. So where exactly would I draw the line?

Imperfect Selfie: Still my favorite Wes Anderson movie

And that’s where the public life comes in. It’s hard enough dealing with a major lifestyle change on your own — but what about when 1) you’re living in a fishbowl, the world’s eyes on you as you make this change and 2) your previous lifestyle provides your income, an income that now must be much higher given your new lifestyle?

So these days when I get my Snapchat profile featured in different publications and the description starts with the inevitable, “Kate doesn’t travel as much as she used to, buuuuut…” I panic. Is that me? Is that who I am now?

But it goes both ways. Because then, Jayne of Girl Tweets World writes, “I’ve discovered through Adventurous Kate’s snaps (@adventurouskate) that she’s pretty good at cooking,” and that makes me so happy. (Jayne, come to New York and I’ll make you dinner!)

So I find myself in the middle. Enjoying my new settled life, but wondering if I’ll still be feeling the travel pangs months or years later. I don’t see myself traveling open-endedly long-term for a very long time. Probably not until I’m in a very different stage of life. And when that happens, I’ll probably rent my place out instead of selling everything to travel.

Imperfect Selfie: With the Bird Girl in Savannah, Georgia

What I’ve Learned at 31

Here are two things with which I’ve come to terms in the past year:

Balance is a fallacy. No matter who you are or what you do for a living, you’re never going to achieve a perfect balance between all of the important things in your life. Hell, you’re not even going to get close. While there might be a day where you happen to hit it out of the park, that’s a rarity.

It’s like that for everybody. If you read a handful of travel blogs besides mine, you’ve probably read a few posts saying, “This isn’t working — I need to find a new balance.” Then a few months down the line, the same blogger will often write the same thing. It’s an unending battle.

But that’s fine. I think it’s smart to be at peace with the fact that you’re never going to get it perfect, and instead just try to do the best you can and not beat yourself up about it when you fall short.

Imperfect Selfie: Turns out you can get a photo alone with the Wall Street bull if you go at 1:00 AM!

The second:

There is no financial satisfaction ceiling. There will always be reason to make more money.

I remember sitting speechless in Krabi, Thailand, nearly six years ago, after my friend Cody’s offhand comment that I’d be financially sustainable within a year. (In reality, it only took six months.) All I need is to make a thousand dollars a month — then I’ll be able to live in Southeast Asia, I thought to myself.

Funny how things change! Sure, that $1,000 a month could still work today, even with inflation (you can live in Chiang Mai on far less), but my personal goals changed. Living on the cheap in a developing country would have worked in 2011, but soon I wanted to live in nicer places and travel more often. I had to make more money to support a slightly better lifestyle. And then a slightly better lifestyle than that.

There will always be higher goals. The old me would have been ecstatic that I could make enough money to live in Manhattan without roommates. The current me is wondering how she’ll be able to buy property in Manhattan someday, or if that’s just a pipe dream.

Hell, maybe in the future I’ll be wishing I made just a little more money so I could buy my own yacht instead of renting them all the time!

I know the answer to this quandary is to be grateful for what you have. Which I am. But it’s hard to push away the thoughts of what you could do with just a little more.

Imperfect Selfie: With a Leonardo DiCaprio statue in San Francisco

A New Quest for Privacy

There’s something else. I’ve been wrestling with the notion of privacy lately.

The duality between public figures and their privacy fascinates me endlessly. Like how Kristen Bell and Dax Shepherd campaigned successfully to get the major celebrity magazines to stop publishing photos of celebrity children. How Jennifer Garner and Ben Affleck joined their effort, but only after their strategy of posing for a million “candid” family photo ops to win Ben his Oscar for Argo.

How the Obama girls, despite living in a world of social media, have much more privacy and respect from the media than Chelsea Clinton ever did. How Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin gave interviews about their relationship but refused to be photographed as a couple. How Kate Winslet and Sam Mendes never breathed a word about their divorce and no tabloid published so much as a rumor. How Isla Fisher, Eva Mendes, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and some of my own friends kept their pregnancies secret until the baby was born. How Mark Zuckerberg decides which photos of his wife and daughter to share on Facebook.

Not everyone is a Kardashian. A great many celebrities have found ways to promote their public brand while protecting their private life.

Whether you’re a blogger, a celebrity, or just a regular person with a Facebook account, social media means having your life available for consumption. You get to decide how much you want to reveal.

Imperfect Selfie: at my friend Janelle’s wedding in Connecticut

I admire my travel blogger friends who don’t hesitate to talk about the ugly parts of travel and reveal raw, honest, intimate details about their innermost feelings, details that most bloggers would be afraid to share — and yet never mention that they have a serious romantic partner. That’s the level I want to return to.

A few years ago, I decided to take my romantic life off the blog. And aside from a few ambiguous travel anecdotes from the past, like my love stories post, I’ve stuck to that. I haven’t even breathed a word of my love life on Facebook! The next time I mention I’m seeing someone, well, don’t be surprised if it’s accompanied by wedding photos. I like it this way.

Not only is this fair to my partner, it allows me to keep a major aspect of my life free from commentary from the public.

I keep other things private, too: my finances, most business stuff, and exactly where I live (though obviously I’m open about living in Harlem). The other day, a reader asked in a blog comment what street I lived on, and it freaked me out. I don’t even snap or take selfies on my own street. Where do I live? At 69 None of Your Business St., right between Why Would I Tell A Complete Stranger Ave. and Are You A Rapist Lane.

I recently came across a quote from Glennon Doyle Melton, and although she wrote about it in terms of her marriage ending, I think it’s valuable to all of us who write publicly about our lives:

If I don’t mention something, it’s not because I forgot to. It’s because I desperately have to find the balance here between honesty and a tell-all. Between transparency and responsibility. What I owe you and what I owe myself. There will be parts of this story I (try to) keep for myself…If you can, please resist assumptions, gossip, or asking for details I haven’t provided.

She’s absolutely right. We should all follow suit — as readers and as bloggers.

Imperfect Selfie: At Salisbury Beach, Massachusetts

The Traps That Befall Us

One of the scariest things about starting a career in a new and burgeoning industry is that there are no blueprints to follow. While of course we can always learn from our friends, colleagues, and mentors, there are no people who already went through the Snapchat vs. Instagram Stories debate years ago and can tell you which route to take.

We’ve been soaring blindly, coasting on the faith in our dreams. Or flying by the seat of our pants.

The most common problems I see among travel bloggers are from trying to work too hard and/or travel too hard at the expense of everything else. Lots of people burn out; lots of people run out of money; lots of people neglect their personal relationships, health, and interests outside the world of travel; lots of people sacrifice the quality of their blog to improve the quality (and especially luxury) of their travels.

I’ve even seen these problems leading to bloggers having a full-on breakdown and pull the plug on their site, never to blog again. I don’t want that to happen to me, but I can see how easily it could happen.

I’ve had some serious lows myself over the past six and a half years. As I always say, travel blogging isn’t heart surgery. It’s not coal mining. To be able to travel for a living is a luxury and a privilege. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges.

Imperfect Selfie: After a fresh cut and color in NYC

Travel Goals for Age 32

And on to the fun stuff! Travel goals!

Colombia and New Zealand are definitely slated for this year. Poland and Slovakia are high possibilities. Beyond those trips, aside from a handful of conferences and trade shows in the US and Europe, I have no travel plans for the next year.

But it’s always good to have travel goals. Here are a few of mine:

Keep chipping away at new countries. The last new country I visited was Latvia, over a year ago! I’m holding at 63 now and while I don’t have a desire to visit every country in the world, I’d like to visit over 100 before I turn 40. That said, I don’t like flying in and out purely for the sake of visiting a new country, so this will take some time.

Get closer to visiting every country in Europe. Only 10 remain: Belarus, Cyprus, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, and Ukraine. I don’t count the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) as Europe.

Go on another wildlife trip — hopefully in the Galapagos. I fell in love with wildlife photography on my most recent trip to South Africa, thanks to finally using quality photography gear. I’m craving MUCH more! The Galapagos is at the top of my list, but I’m also dreaming of lemurs in Madagascar, penguins in Antarctica, gorillas in Rwanda.

Visit at least one of my major US travel oversights. Austin, Portland, Nashville, Miami, and Hawaii top the list! (At this point I wonder if I should keep mentioning Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, the most egregious oversight for a professional traveler who lived most of her life in Massachusetts.)

Take a digital detox — or perhaps a creative retreat. Either kind of trip would require getting away from the internet for a few days, something that is highly beneficial yet becoming more and more of a challenge.

Explore a LOT more of New York, particularly the areas that aren’t covered as often in the travel media. I know I’ll have no trouble doing that!

Imperfect Selfie: At a Daybreaker party in NYC

Life Goals for Age 32

I do have some personal goals, but going back to the privacy issue, I think I’d like to keep them under wraps.

In a nutshell:

I will continue what’s going well.

I will improve what’s not going well.

I will continue doing unpleasant things that are good for me, even when they’re difficult.

I will contribute more joy to the world.

Thank you for reading.

I value your readership so much, and having you here means the world to me. None of this exists without you and I never forget that.

But beyond that, I’d love to hear your thoughts on maintaining privacy as a public figure. Share away!

You can check out my previous birthday posts here: 26, 27, 28, 30, and 31. I didn’t write one for 29 for some reason.

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