Category Archives: Travel Advise

St. John, U.S Virgin Islands: The Ultimate Getaway

I was sort of on a mission.

Turtles! 

After all, my claim to their relevance in my life has to do with being a “turtle” in the Mayan calendar.  That I learned ages ago on my very first trip to the lovely country called, Guatemala.   This is a secret obsession that erupts to the surface whenever I’m near beaches claimed to have the sweet and gentle creatures.

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Anyway, on a practical level, this trip was to avoid the evil cold winter time in DC.  Two of my friends and I ventured out and indulged in some “glamping.”  I did not come up with that idea.  I was all for the mosquito bites and deet perfume 24/7.  In the end, it was a good decision due to the fact that the campground, Cinnamon Bay, was buggy indeed.  Lovely location – Cinnamon Bay beach.  We certainly felt special enough that we had some Bollywood shots taken in and out of the water.  That’s what happens when one of the people you travel with has a …paparazzi tendency 🙂

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So what did we humans accomplish on this trip?  Nothing.  Just lazed around but I’m  proud to say I ran at least once. That included running up steep trails and checking out a bit of the ruins left in the island.  A lot of our time was also spent snorkeling.  Well, we did that each day actually.  You can’t blame us.  Didn’t I say there were turtles?  Yes, and I luckily got to swim with them, stalk them, almost petted them but surely caught them on my waterproof Fujifilm XP camera. The place to do all these is in Maho Bay.  Besides snorkeling, we did kayak to a nearby island.  We were the only ones there so we managed to feel like stranded tourists, albeit not starving, as we had some tuna, nuts and crackers to eat.

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All in all, Cinnamon Bay campground is a decent base for wandering in the northern part of the island.  To get around would require having your own car.  We didn’t rent one.  Public taxis came around but depending on the time, they can be scarce and hard to catch.  So, car rental is a must if you wish to roam around the island.  But for the popular areas like Trunk Bay, Cinammon Bay and Maho Bay, one can manage without.

I do want to air out one thing about St. John.  I am a bit saddened by the fact that people in the island are being outnumbered by tourists.  Many Americans are moving there with the intent to retire.  When we went to the city center, there was a lack of local restaurants.  We ate at one that appears to be the only one left as most of the local joints were being pushed out by American -owned establishments.  Wait, that just sounded like my NE neighborhood in DC… hmm… See, not only is the island being overtaken by foreign retirees, but also by the good old cruise ship people.  They were everywhere, left and right.  But I must say the locals remain friendly despite the tourist take over although they have openly aired out their concern for the future generations of the island locals.  The unfortunate  side effect of the commercialism is the tendency of most locals to leave the island and move to the bigger island of St. Thomas.  St. John is a beautiful island, no doubt but it has become too commercialized.  With commercialism, comes higher costs.  Indeed, it wasn’t a cheap place to visit.  Meals at restaurants average $20 a pop.

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Ah, St. John!  I was in love with it once but never again.  The first time I went there years ago I only had a day to visit but the place left a good impression in my backpacker mind- that I wanted to go back there and…(surprise, surprise) retire.  Well, that’s all changed as the future appears to paint an uber commercialized St. John.  That leaves backpackers like me with having to look for another low key island to consider as future home.  Oh, well, and so it goes.  Nonetheless, thank you, St. John, for the turtles.  It reconnected me back to the importance of patiently enjoying the moment and taking things slow, just like my turtle spirit.

Some practical tips:

  1. If you visit St. John around winter time (Dec-Feb), chances are you may score a great deal on flights. coming from U.S.
  2. There is a public transport on the island but at times you’ll have to wait a while.  If you can afford the extra expense, opt for a car rental especially if you’re staying for only a few days.
  3. St. John is hilly so keep that in mind if you decide to do more walking like we did.  You may try to do some hitchhiking as it’s safe enough since most people are tourists.
  4. Where we stayed at, Cinnamon Bay, is the cheapest place available on the island.  We originally intended to stay in the tents but as it turns out mosquitoes are common.   So, we were glad to have opted for the more luxurious rustic cabins.  You can’t beat the location with a view of the water.
  5. There are grocery stores in the island but you’ll need to pay tons.  I suggest you bring with you in your check in luggage some provisions as the cabin has what you need to cook your own meals.

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Trekking the Inca Trail: Why Go With The Crowd?

It’s no exaggeration.  The Classic Inca Trail has to be on every list of top 10 treks in the world.  

Hence, it can get crowded.   You may even be so unlucky that you lose out on the chances of getting a permit. But, don’t be discouraged!  Take this as a good reason to keep trying to cross this trek  off your bucket list because it’s deemed to be one of the best for a reason.

I organized a group of 30 people to do the classic Inca Trail years back.  Even to this day, we still reminisce about the experience.  Upon reflecting on our journey, we can’t help but feel the same joy we felt while on the trail.  The Classic Inca Trail trek is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable adventures of our lives.

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So, why is the Inca Trail THAT appealing?  Here are 11 reasons why:

1. It’s a short trek – only 4 days

Let’s start with the obvious.  The Inca  Trail trek is in essence akin to a long weekend backpacking trip.  You wake up early on the first day so you can get to the trail head just after the sunrise and start walking on the same day.  On the last day, you wake up early before sunrise to hike to the much awaited highlight of the trek – Machu Picchu.  The trail itself is only 26 miles long.  Hence, a traveler can easily add this trek to his or her itinerary without using up too many days to do so.

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2.  It’s not so high

Although it’s deemed as a high altitude trek, the highest point is only 13, 828 feet.  It’s high enough to feel the altitude but low enough to comfortably trudge on without much of an issue. In fact, my group of 30 consisted of ages ranging from 20s to 60s.  All of us made it to the highest point with no problem.  Of course, you would need to consult with your doctor to make sure there are no pre-existing conditions that would render you unsuitable for high altitude trekking.  For more on how to prepare for high altitude trekking, read THIS.  Please keep in mind that this trek does require hiking up a significant amount of elevation so you have to be fit and in good health!

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3. It’s trekking with a day pack

One of the key factors as to why this trek is easier than most is the fact that you can hike the entire trail with a small daypack to carry only your day hiking essentials.  A lighter weight on your back means a much more comfortable walking experience.  At the same time, this trek has been instrumental in the tourism industry in the Cusco region of Peru, no doubt.  The trek has created jobs for the locals who are hired as porters to carry all your personal belongings.  Typically, you can share the cost of hiring one porter or you can have one porter to be assigned only to you.  Usually, people share porter services as each hiker is allowed to hand over 15-20 pounds of items.  With it being only 4 days, you can easily minimize the weight to under 15 pounds. As a side note, it’s always appreciated when hikers are mindful of the weight they give to the porters to carry so avoid that urge to overpack.

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4. It’s a luxury vacation on the trail

You don’t need to deal with setting up tents, cooking meals and setting up group gear.  As part of the tour, you have the luxury of simply walking from one point to the next and not even have to worry about setting up a tent.  Tours include set up of tents and the meals on the trail.  Once you get to the camp, the time you have there is all yours to do whatever you wish. There are no chores to be done on your end. Your job is to enjoy your rest and the nature that surrounds you.

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5. It’s an easy and well-marked path

The trail is well-maintained and closed part of the year for the purposes of cleaning and overseeing the trail.  There’s nothing technical about it; nor is there scrambling or any tricky parts to the trail except for some sections that may be rockier than others.  In addition, there’s no concern about getting lost on the Inca Trail.  Even if you do find solitude along the way (which can happen most definitely), you don’t need to panic and worry about getting lost.  You’re far from being off the beaten path. It’s a well-trodden trail that even trying to get deliberately lost would be a challenge.  Don’t even try.

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6.  The weather conditions are typically pleasant

Unless you go during the rainy season, this is a trek that poses no concerns regarding any kind of extreme weather.  The area may be prone to rain, but even so, the rain typically doesn’t last long and the amount is rather minimal.  At night, it can get chilly but it’ll never be below freezing.  This means there’s no need for you to buy an expensive high quality sleeping bag.  Most decent sleeping bags will do and oftentimes travelers rent the bags from the tour company, which is the more reason why the trek attracts crowds.  The tour company can essentially supply you all the gear that you need.

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7.  Machu Picchu is at the end of it

Obviously, this is the top reason why Inca Trail is on everyone’s bucket list.  Having been there myself, I can confirm that the majestic nature of this site DOES live up to its reputation.  DON’T MISS IT.  That’s all I have to say.

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8.  You can dip into a hot spring as a reward.

Aguas Caliente, the hot spring and the town with the same name are both amazing treats to hikers.  Who can resist the idea of trekking for 4 days and ending the journey with a dip in a hot spring?  Plus, the town of  Aguas Caliente is full of restaurants and shopping opportunities that attract the tourist side to those who hike the trail.  It also serves as a quick immersion back to civilization.

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9.  You visit Cusco.

For full immersion after the trek, you return to Cusco in the evening on the fourth day – a highlight in, and of, itself.  Cusco is one of the most beautiful colonial towns in South America with such a warm and welcoming atmosphere to tourists of all kinds. There are plenty of restaurants for the hungry hikers of the Inca Trail where you can indulge in local delicacies before heading back home.  As an aside, souvenir shopping can be had in every corner of the town.  Not a bad place to end your trek.

10.  Reasonable airfares

Let’s not forget one other good reason for the popularity of this trek – the reasonable flight costs, especially from the U.S.  If you wish to be creative and are willing to sacrifice time and sleep, it’s possible to book a $200-300 flight round-trip from the U.S.  Be prepared, however, to  deal with long and multiple layovers to get to Lima and back.  Otherwise, on average, the flights can go anywhere from $650-850.

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11.  You can get by without speaking Spanish

Finally, you don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to survive the experience, both on and off the Inca Trail.  English-speaking locals are common in Lima and Cusco.  Once on the trail, you’ll be with an English-speaking tour guide and TONS of English-speaking hikers.  There’s plenty of English to be spoken on this kind of trip so don’t even spend a second worrying about language barriers.  Having said that, it would serve you well to learn some Spanish before the trip and practice it when you get there.  Locals always appreciate the effort.

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In summary, the trek is an ideal experience for all levels of hikers, even those who are new to multi-day trekking and high altitude. As a bonus, it’s also a great introduction to other cultures for those who are first-timers to overseas traveling.  The culture shock is minimal which renders the entire experience pleasurable.

So, coming from a hiker who loves off the beaten path trails, for this one moment in time, I will happily deviate from that to to tell you –

Go follow the crowd!  Seriously, you should.

I did with 30 people and to this day it’s still the best NON-off the beaten path experience I ever had.

As a side note, you can join Brown Gal Trekker’s trekking group for the April, 2017 Classic Inca Trail Trek.  For info, click HERE.

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Is Traveling Merely an Escape from Reality?

Not everyone agrees with everyone’s view on traveling.  For one, the form in which we travel comes in various ranges.  The length of time we disappear from our daily reality is very relative.  The purpose for it is personal and unique for each and everyone of us.

On a peak in the Ubehebe/La Playa of Death Valley National Park.

However, the perception that traveling is merely an escape, you know, from your own reality is a common perception held by many.  The point raised is certainly valid although it paints a negative view of the individual accused of such perception.  I have been accused of that plenty of times myself. But as I explored deeper into my own motivations for seeing the world more frequently than the average person, the defensiveness I held towards the query dissipated.

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Places like this make you feel as if life is unreal.

Surely, I have flown out to places right after a horrible relationship ending to do exactly what I was accused of, that is, escaping reality.  It was an escape that provided me an ideal way of healing, which arguably people will find healthy. Hence, I suppose when people inquire in that manner, they are worried more so that one has turned into a habitual runner from reality by virtue of traveling.  For a while, I was guilty of that but one can only keep running until he or she realizes there really is no such thing as an “escape.”  There, at that very moment, I had an epiphany in which I had to make a choice to turn my traveling into a reality, a supplemental, rather than a Band Aid, to my daily life that includes my career and personal life.  Once that was accomplished, the flow from my personal daily life to my travel life became much more real and connected.  It must be noted that the flow wasn’t created overnight.  One needs to establish a healthy personal life that is sustained by an adequate level of personal satisfaction and happiness. Only then can traveling be relieved of its role as a mere Band-Aid, and accordingly, assume the role of our favorite “teacher of life experiences.”

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There’s a lot to learn about spirituality even in the outdoors. In Yading Nature Preserve, Sichuan Provice of China.

So, those people who are skeptical about the reason why you travel must understand that traveling at its highest enlightened form is a means of self-discovery.  It’s an extension of ourselves that dates back to the time when we were children – a stage in our lives when we unapologetically possessed an undying spirit of adventure and courage.

Traveling is not an escape for there really is no door to exit out of the existence that we hold.  We are only granted an entry into an exploration of ourselves to find the journey that suits who we are at any given moment while the forces beyond us continually turn the pages of our lives each day.

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Kilimanjaro Kills! Here Are 13 Ways to Survive

Kilimanjaro almost killed me.

The first time was no joke.  Lessons were taught by the mighty Kilimanjaro on how not to mess with her without proper preparation and a healthy mindset.  At the last hut, Kibo, was when I had to make the painful decision to turn around.  At that point, the symptoms of altitude sickness had increased tremendously to the point I was experiencing symptoms of High Altitude Pulmonary Edemy (HAPE).   It hurt to decide not to go forward because I was just a few hours away from the summit.  However, surviving the ordeal taught me important lessons in dealing with high altitude trekking and ensuring a non-fatal ascent.

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While many mountaineers aspire to trek up Kilimanjaro for very good reasons, one being the peak is part of the 7 summits, it is prudent to keep in mind the dangers involved in climbing this non-technical trail.  Your number one enemy in this case is the altitude, among other possible deterrents that are mentioned below

Here are 13 ways to survive the dangers on the trails of Kilimanjaro and cross it off your bucket list for good:

  1. Before even flying out to Kilimanjaro airport, learn about the symptoms of altitude mountain sickness (AMS) and the appropriate treatment.  The internet has extensive articles on the subject.  You can dive into it as deeply as you’d like but at the very least, you should know the signs to look for to indicate whether your body is experiencing some negative effects from the altitude.  However, only study the topic to the extent it gives you sufficient knowledge on the symptoms and treatment.  I know some people who scare themselves off from reading too much about it.  Although knowledge is certainly useful in this instance, on the other hand, make sure not to overdo it to a  point you cause yourself unnecessary stress and anxiety.  Your mental disposition is one of the key things for a successful ascent as discussed below.  Hence, find a balance between knowing enough about AMS and knowing about it too much.
  2. From knowing the symptoms follows knowing the treatment.  Diamox is one common medication that prevents and treats AMS.  Make sure to talk to your doctor regarding the appropriate usage in your case as the dosage can depend on each person’s medical history and condition.  These days it is easy to obtain a prescription from your primary care physician, which most health insurance covers.  No need to go to a travel doctor, which can be costly.  While you’re at it, ask for antibiotics for stomach issues.  You’re likely not going to need it but it doesn’t hurt to have it just in case.  Another prescription drug which is used for treating HAPE is some form of steroid.  You can ask your doctor about this particular medication and decide if it’s something you wish to bring with you as a treatment measure for HAPE.  Typically, HAPE is treated by descending as soon as the initial symptoms appear.  If you get to a point in which you’re prompted to use medication to treat HAPE, that usually means you’ve already gone much higher than you should have.  This isn’t a smart way to trek given the risk of death resulting from HAPE.
  3. So, the last point naturally brings me to this – learn to listen to your body and be honest with yourself when it comes to your body’s condition.  Sure, you paid tons of money to conquer Kilimanjaro, but will you allow the mountain instead to conquer you?  And leave you dead?  No. Life is too precious to lose over a mountain. Let’s be honest.  We love the idea of success.  We’re obsessed with the the idea of conquering Kilimanjaro and crossing it from our bucket list of peaks to bag.  But guess who’s the one who makes the call whether you go forward or not?  No, not the ego.  It’s your body.  I witnessed runners run up the mountain like they’re jogging in the city. I’m not sure why they would do that but as days progressed, I realized it was their ego talking.  The ego in their heads told them to go fast so they can be the first to arrive at the hut every night.  Sure, they did get there first.  But once they were above 12,000 feet, they realized the inevitable – your body needs to adapt to the altitude.  Instead of listening to their bodies, they acted against their bodies’ natural state.  Hence, I wasn’t surprised later on to find out that they didn’t make it to the summit.  Kilimanjaro is the kind of mountain that will punish you for being a speedy Gonzales.  Keeping the ego in check will serve you better.
  4. How will the mountain reward you? By going the opposite- “pole, pole,”  which is Swahili for slowly, slowly.  Every local says it, chants it, preaches it, and even yells it at those who refuse to listen. There’s a reason why.  It’s the only style of hiking that will make you conquer Kilimanjaro.  Practice the idea now so when you hear your guides say this, your tendency to go fast will be put on sleep mode by the time you start the trek.  In our hiking lives, we are prone to wanting to go faster.  It’s just in our nature to work on our speed.  In this case, you must throw that idea out the window.  And trust me, it sounds easy but it’s actually hard.  Your adrenaline is pumping.  You see other hikers on the trail and like most people you don’t want to be that last one to arrive.  To reverse that thinking is unnatural.  Hence, I would emphasize one more time- practice your walk now at a lesser than normal speed.  That way you would not have any difficulties adjusting when you’re on the actual trail.  You’ll have one less thing to worry about.
  5. Drink plenty of water. Get into the habit of drinking even if you’re not thirsty.  This is especially important when you are taking Diamox as this medication causes dehydration.  You need to make sure you are drinking enough water.  For altitude, sufficient water intake is also deemed to help.  It’s a general rule in life that is definitely worth practicing on the trail, no matter which peak you’re bagging.  Drink enough water.  Always!
  6. Eat well on the trail.  This is not so much of an issue given that most trekking operators feed you more than enough nutritious food, especially carbohydrates.  Eat enough carbs but don’t overfeed yourself.  Snacking on protein bars is a great way to supplement you with energy so make sure to bring trail bars with you because the town, Moshi, where you spend the night prior to the trek, is devoid of any nutritious trail snacks.
  7. Get good rest and sleep.  I cannot emphasize it enough how important this is.  Enough sleep every night is going to determine your body’s overall functioning the next day.  It’s the best means of preventing or treating any illness on the trail.  Know that it is cold at night so make sure that you bring the right gear to give you enough warmth to allow you to have a restful sleep.  Sleepless nights on the trail can certainly impact your chances of making it to the top.  Likewise, rest is important during the hike each day.  As noted above, you must listen to your body.  If it tells you to stop and rest, then you do so.  When it tells you it’s ready to move, then go.
  8. Do the longest route possible to the summit of Kilimanjaro.  I made the mistake of doing the shortest route, Marangu, which takes you to the summit in 3-4 days.  This is the only route that has huts and so no tenting needed.  It might have been warmer at night time via Marangu but the ascent was suicidal given the elevation that you gain from 1860  meters to 5895 meters in 3-4 days.  The success rate for summiting stands at less than 30% whereas the longest route via the newer trail, Northern Circuit, has a success rate of around 80% as it gives you 3-4 extra days to summit.  Of course, the longer route would mean it’ll be more costly.  One thing I learned from all this though is that climbing Kilimanjaro is such a major endeavor that you should do it properly the first time around.  Otherwise, if you don’t summit, then you do it again which means you end up spending more money than if you did it right the first time.
  9. Get medical and emergency evacuation coverage.  Considering the risk factors of climbing this peak, it’s a no brainer, really.  Make sure you are covered by adequate insurance in case of medical emergencies.  Luckily, in my case, the guide was able to arrange for porters to bring me down the mountain via a stretcher. In other cases, a more immediate evacuation may be necessary and require a helicopter rescue.  It’s worth investing in having the appropriate medical insurance and emergency evacuation for these reasons.  Also, do keep in mind only certain insurance companies offer medical and emergency evacuation for trekking that involves high altitude.  Make sure to check that they cover the activity and the specific altitude as some only cover trekking up to a certain elevation.
  10. Provide any relevant medical information to your guide.  It may not be altitude that gets you on the trail, but allergies of some kind.  Make sure that you inform your guide or trek operator ahead of time if you have medical conditions that should be noted. THIS IS NOT THE TIME TO BE SHY ABOUT IT.  Failure to disclose can cause you your own health, and perhaps, life so be honest and upfront.  Trek operators are expected and required in most instances to ensure confidentiality of their client’s personal information so there’s no need to worry about others finding out.
  11. Work on your cardio and stay active.  Being fit may not keep altitude away from pestering you and causing you to experience symptoms but the fitter you are, the less issues you’ll have on the trail, besides the altitude, that is.  After all, walking up from 1800 meters to over 5000 meters requires tremendous amount of cardio and fitness, and more so at high altitude.
  12. Know your blood type and carry a medical card with said information.  Let’s go back to basics.  If you don’t know your blood type or have forgotten it, find out before your trek.  If any injuries occur that would require blood transfusion, this is a critical piece of information that can save your life.   It’s worth knowing that in some countries, certain blood types are rare to find.  You can find out more about altitude and it’s impact on blood types and about organizations globally that can help with rare blood types via this article:  High Altitudes Can Change Your Blood
  13. Finally, learn to let go of the pressures of making it to the top.  Those who do make it to the top of any high altitude peak are usually calm and deliberate in their efforts to be stress-free in their journey to the top.  If it’s not the altitude that will stop you from summiting, then my next bet would be the mental challenge that is inherent in this endeavor.  I know of people who were physically fine and could easily have trekked up to the top but didn’t because fear stopped them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  Don’t compete or succumb to the pressure of comparing your abilities with others.  Don’t bother questioning who will make it or who won’t or canvassing among your peers who will be the first or last to make it.  Seriously, just don’t.  Their journey on this mountain or any mountain for that matter, is totally different from yours.  Respect that and just focus on your own path.  Preoccupying yourself about others’ abilities eats up energy that you can be using towards hiking up to the top and is merely a distraction that serves no purpose in your own unique journey.   The healthier your mind is, the less ailment and stress you’ll experience on the trail.  Meditate, nap or listen to music to relax you when you get to camp.  While you take care of your physical body by eating and sleeping, your mind also requires the utmost attention while on a trek that is as strenuous as one that will take you to the highest point in Africa.  Yes, so much pressure, indeed.  But your best approach is to stay calm and focus on trekking up that peak, one step at a time.

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With all the above pointers, you’re ready to conquer Kilimanjaro.   Either way, the mountain will always be there.  You, on the other hand, have one life to contend with.  Take care of it, and the peak will show itself to you sooner or later.

And remember, Pole, pole!”

As a side note, Brown Gal Trekker is going for part 2 to trek up Kilimanjaro in February, 2017 via the Northern Circuit route as referenced above.  It’s a 12 day trip with other fellow solo trekkers via her social enterprise, Peak Explorations.  You’re welcome to join her and her group of adventurers. See more via this link: KILIMANJARO (NORTHERN CIRCUIT)

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Trekking Necessity: Knowing Your Blood Type & Why It’s Important

When we talk about trekking, it is critical to be prepared as much as possible. Bringing maps and preparing our gear all come to mind as means of preparation. But do you ever think about finding out your blood type? It came to my attention recently from a fellow blogger that this is something very important to consider. Anyone who is active in the outdoors should know there are inherent risks associated with hiking, trekking and climbing which can lead us, on rare occasions, to sustain injuries that may require blood transfusion. This is when knowing your blood type becomes critical and even more so knowing where to find blood when you have a rare blood type becomes a matter of life and death. For instance, for people who are RH negative, some countries have very limited supply of such blood type. The good news is there are organizations worldwide that work on ensuring there is a supply for those who have a rare blood type. Continue reading Trekking Necessity: Knowing Your Blood Type & Why It’s Important

8 Ways to Mentally Prepare for a Solo Adventure

Being a solo traveler, and even more so, a solo hiker or backpacker can be an intimidating endeavor to undertake.  I cannot emphasize enough the need to be comfortable when partaking in anything serious such as hiking or backpacking in the wilderness by yourself.  The same goes for traveling as it’s just not worth it to feel overwhelmingly anxious to the extent that it outweighs the joy of traveling or trekking solo.

I, too, have gone through anxiety over being alone on my travels or in the mountains in my prior travels/treks in the past 15  years.  Despite being fully prepared, sometimes, the unexpected happens and the best you can do is to stay calm.  That way you can assess your situation more clearly and decide on the  most appropriate action.

But before you even dive into going solo on an extended travel or trek, it’s important to take baby steps to get you to a point where solo hiking/traveling falls within your comfort zone.   Here are some of my tips based on my own personal experience with hiking/trekking/traveling solo that will help prepare you mentally for the solo experience:

  1.  Start small.  If you are completely new to traveling or trekking solo, then start out with a day hike or day trip.  Then, as you feel more comfortable with solitude and organizing the logistics of your hike or travel, you can build that up by adding more days, thereby transforming it into a weekend trip.  There’s no reason to go extremely extravagant on your first time hiking or traveling solo.
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    My first serious solo trek was in the White Mountains of New Hampshire as I hiked up Mt. Washington on a solo day hike along with other hikes in the area.

    Why would you want to spend so much money on a 4-week solo trip only to find out that you dread the experience of going alone?  Avoid regrets and do a test run first.  Start with a day or two, and then build up.

  2. Study your itinerary.  Sure, at some point you will want to be spontaneous. Book the flight and go.  But to calm down that anxiety from going solo, it’s recommended that you do plenty of research on your destination or the trail you wish to hike.   You can never have enough information, especially if the place you’re traveling to or hiking in is a first time destination.  Even with a place you have been to before, I would still recommend doing plenty of research because oftentimes when we go with people, we tend not to pay attention to the logistics the way we normally would when it’s only us that we have to rely upon for guidance.
  3. Get advise and tips from others who have been to the trail or place you are eyeing.  This is part of your research and it’s crucial to take advantage of any resources that are out there for you to learn about the trail or place.  For example, when I went to China, the resources for the trails in that country were hard to find because it was either the trails were still unknown to the western world or the blogs or information were written in Mandarin.  However, still, I managed to find a few websites which turned out to be heaven sent as they helped significantly in planning my trip.  An equally better resource is, of course, an actual consultation with someone who had been to the trail or place of your choice.  The advise given is usually invaluable as you won’t find such information online or anywhere else.  Note that most people are more than happy to share their travel wisdom and experiences so there’s no reason to be shy.
  4. Learn to love yourself.  Somewhere along the way on your trek, travel or both, you will get frustrated with yourself.  You will make mistakes here and there.  Before you venture out on your own, it is important to have a good grasp of self-love.  By that, I mean, learn to be easy on yourself.  Be forgiving of your mistakes and learn to go with the flow of life.  Understand that mistakes are inevitable including yours, and that’s okay.  In addition, loving yourself also means taking care of you.  While on the trail or the road, eating healthy and maintaining a workout routine are critical.
    food2
    Best healthy breakfast in China – a variety of noodle soup each day and some hot buns.

    No one is there to care for you when you’re ill or injured except you.  And, trust me, being ill or injured alone is not something you’d want, so take preventive measures to avoid that scenario at all cost.  Along the same lines, you also have to learn to be your greatest motivator.  Be the cheerleader for yourself.  When you get lost on the trail or in a remote town, positive thinking and encouragement can make a difference.  Finally, meditate.  Now that you are on your own with no one to take away your time and attention, focus on you – the inner part of yourself.  Take a few minutes each day to just close your eyes and clear your mind.  Meditation is the exercise for your brain’s health.  It teaches you mindfulness which exponentially increases the level of enjoyment from your experiences.  Meditation also teaches you how to be in control of your emotions, especially during stressful times.  And, like I said above, the best thing you can do in a bad situation is to stay calm.

    sunset
    Self care sometimes means indulging in sunrises – in the Longji Rice Terraces in Yunnan Province, China.
  5. Provide your itinerary to friends or family.  In the event of an emergency, it is crucial that someone is privy to your itinerary.  You owe it to yourself to have this extra layer of security.  Sure, it is enlightening and somewhat romantic to abandon civilization and go off on your own but that doesn’t mean you should be foolish and not tell at least one trustworthy person about your whereabouts.  If your travel or trek is for a long period of time, make sure to maintain contact with someone regarding your plans.  In this day and age, with the height of social media, there’s really no excuse not to maintain contact with family/friends.  If you are venturing into a remote area with no connection whatsoever, the least you can do is provide your loved one the details of your itinerary and the specific date as to when they can expect to hear from you again.  This gives them peace of mind, and that in turn, makes you feel at peace too. (A  more expensive alternative would be the use of a satellite GPS/locator which will allow you to maintain connection with friends/family even in remote areas).
  6. Learn to smile and be friendly.  This should really be a given even if you’re traveling with others.  But in the world of solo trekking or traveling,  a friendly demeanor can truly save you at times.  A smile can easily attract the right stranger to help you with directions or a fellow hiker who can become your trail friend for days.  At the same time, be mindful of the level of friendliness that you are exhibiting, especially if you are a female who finds herself interacting with a male.  An appropriate level of friendliness is the key.  Practice smiling and chatting with strangers in your daily life and you’ll soon make this a habit that will carry over to your solo adventure with ease.
    friend and me
    I met a fellow solo traveler along the Tiger Leaping Gorge trek in Yunnan Province, China.
    dogrevised
    My doggie friend in Gobi desert, Mongolia, who guarded the yurt day and night.

     

  7. Practice fine tuning your intuition.  Expect chats and interactions with strangers when you venture on your own.  It’s part of the adventure, and in most instances, it’s really the highlight.  Oftentimes, the people you strike a conversation with in far away places or in the middle of nowhere are exactly the ones that become your long time friends.   At the same time, learn to pay attention to your intuition.  You have it for a reason.  Your intuition is your imaginary friend – it knows better than you at times even though the actual circumstances in front of you may not clearly support the sense of danger that your intuition is warning you about.  So, listen to that intuition the same way you listen to your body when you feel pain.  It is nagging you for a reason.
  8. Disregard all the above preparation and go for it (assuming you keep an open mind).  Having said all the above tips, you can still opt to disregard them all and just take the leap into the abyss of solo traveling/trekking.  By doing so, you will learn at a faster rate all the above.  It’s a crash course that can potentially maximize the lessons learned in a little bit harder way.  As long as you are aware of the risks, then, sure, why not just go for it all at once?

So, there you have it.  This list is just a start.  Preparing your mind for that solo adventure is as important, if not more, as the things you put in your backpack.  So, take the time to prep!

Do you have tips to add?  Share them in the comment section below.

 

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