And you think traveling is easy?

This are just some of the books that I read (pretty much cover to cover) in the six months leading up to my trip. There is no such thing as “too much knowledge”, as long as you recognize that traveling (“the real thin”) will always be a richer, more exciting, and more dynamic experience than any text could convey.


Personally, the more I know about a location, the safer and more prepared I feel. There are many people who would disagree with me; they get more enjoyment from learning as they go. Of course maintaining a fine balance between preparation and on-the-spot cultural education is probably the best way to truly have a succesful traveling experience. Fine art, culture, and history is often better appreciated through reading, research, or a good tour guide. Of-the-cuff experiences such as eating in a local restaurant, being invited into someone’s home, or attending a community function are likely to be unresearched, spur-of-the-moment and split decision experiences.

The hardest part about reading so many different books, was to pick which one would accompany me into the field. Eventually I settled on Africa (lonely planet), because it is an all-encompassing book which covers the first 8 months of my travels.

A close runner-up was First-Time Around the World, although I have to be honest: I didn’t completely mesh with the book. At one point, it suggests eating food off other people’s plates (in a pizza restaurant) or sleeping on park benches to avoid paying accomodation fees. I honestly feel that if a backpacker regularly follows this advice, you are verging on the edge of being  a homeless burden on the society that you are visiting. If you don’t have enough money to at least cover your food and accomodation expenses, you are hurting local restaurant business or crowding beautiful parks…all because you want a “cultural” experience. Not to mention, you are probably exacerbating negative impressions of Western culture (or wherever it is that you hail from).

Ok, stepping off the soap box :-)

Anyway, the point is: For me, research is the key to my travel happiness. I had to invest a lot of time and energy to at least feel like I had an elementary understanding of the history, culture, and environment of the countries on my itinerary. Properly planning pre-trip self-education is vital to getting the most out of your trip! :-)

Tomorrow is the day it all begins.

Hey Guys,

Just a little update: Tomorrow I’m leaving on the start of my 2 1/2 month volunteer position/expedition on Bioko Island. I’m very excited, nervous, and curious about the experiences I will be having there. I know that it will be an amazing opportunity – the people are wonderful, the staff has been so helpful, and the biology is one-of-a-kind. Hopefully I can share this with all of you, and hopefully my pictures and words will at least partially convey how wonderful this trip will be.

During the time I will have very limited internet access. I have written several posts about my time in Germany, which will be posting sporatically…so keep checking back if you’re interested in that. Also, it has been discussed that we (the four volunteers) will take turns hiking to a nearby village and catching a ride to the research station where we can take a night to read emails and take a hot shower.

Tomorrow will be pretty unique because we will have a chance to see the island from an ocean-perspective. Apparently the scenery is absolutely stupendous. To get to the southern end of the island, we will be transported on a large, corporate barge/ship, and then ferried to the beach on smaller boats. The beaches aren’t great landing sites, so we will likely be wading up onto dry land ourselves, and then work in a team to slowly unload piles and piles of gear and food.

Anyway, I love, love, love reading all of your encouraging comments and questions…so leave me something to read for the few days when I can extract myself from the jungle. I hope everyone is having a fantastic new year – see you in a few weeks :-)


Bucket List…of sorts :-)

In the next few months I will be traveling through much of southern and eastern Africa, and like any traveler, I have a wish list for my trip. Rather than listing every single tourist attraction I’d like to see, this is a list of personals feats – both mental and physical. After all, traveling isn’t about where you are…but how you change and what you learn, because of it.

1)      Correctly identify at least one species of animal during my stay.

2)      Learn how to play traditional music – doesn’t matter where, as long as it’s authentic and not a (total) tourist trap!

3)      Witness the World Cup in South Africa…and actually learn something about football!

4)      Learn how to cook local foods…and be able to *try* and do it again at home (in Florida!).

5)      Travel by myself, successfully!

6)      Stop at a random town, and just look around.

7)      Resist the urge to do adventure sports…expect for scuba diving, that is!

8)      Climb a big scary mountain. Preferably something that takes several days. The longer it takes, the harder it is….right?

9)      Become more sure of myself!

10)   Eat everything without asking what it is beforehand.

11)   Volunteer through the WWOOF program at an orphanage…away from internet access and modern day convenience.

12)   Camp…in the wild…and stay positive about it (Hello, Equatorial Guinea).

13)   Pretend like I actually know what’s going on at border checkpoints, and therefore avoid unnecessary trouble.

14)   Not be scared to talk to people and meet people.

15)   Accept help from strangers, and (hopefully) not become too jaded by a few bad incidents.

16)   Not calling family too much – nothing spurs homesickness like talking everyday to people at home.

17)   Finish the ENTIRE trip…without ending early.

18)   HAVE FUN!

I’m sure there will be moments when I wonder why the heck I’m traveling alone, with only four sets of clothing, and in a country seven or eight time zones away. This list will help remind me that life isn’t, in fact, as bad as it may seem.

Any of these strike a chord with you guys? I’d be interested to know what you think!

Packing Schmacking. How I fit my whole life into a 45 liter bag.

Yesterday was the day all of my trip planning would come to a peak: would all of my stuff even fit into the backpack I bought?

Trust me, I’ve had my doubts. For a few weeks I’ve been juggling several shopping lists, adding can’t-live-without items, deleting nonsense…and hoping that I will have everything I need, when I need it. Considering that the first half of my trip is basically a three-part occasion, it made the most sense to organize different packing lists for the different parts of the trip.

First things first: camping and hiking in Equatorial Guinea (3 months).

Quick-dry is the name of the game here. Everything from my socks and underwear to my hats needs to be as light-weight and durable. Additionally, camouflage print is illegal in this country, which eliminates half of the backpacking/camping equipment in the greater United States. I’m sticking to the idea that everything will mold and nothing will last, other than the memories and pictures. For those of you who think it’s impossible to get a complete quick-dry wardrobe, you are mistaken! Athletic socks claim to stay breathable, sports bras/tops/shorts/pants are the epitome of dryness, with bathing suit bottoms rounding up the outfit for a non-cotton sense of existence.

Next in line: Trekking in a South African Reserve (3 months)

For my second job, I’ll be jet-setting down to South Africa. Here I will be following and observing several different monkey troupes and recording behavioral data. While I still need light-weight clothing, I need to focus more on sun-cover than keeping dry. For this, darker/dreary colors are what it’s all about. Many hats, light-weight shirts, and long and sturdy pants make up this part of the wardrobe. Thanks to a 12-hour stop over in Frankfurt (where my family lives) I will be able to give them (or throw away) my clothes from Equatorial Guinea, and replace them with clothes for the rest of the trip.

Last but not least: Tourism and Volunteerism (4.5 months)

During this part of my trip, I will be traveling through cities, hiking up mountains (literally!), and volunteering at an orphanage. Conservative clothing is my prime objective. For this, my wardrobe is easy: Two tanktops (for layering in the cold, and sleeping in), one black T-Shirt, two long-sleeved thin cotton shirts, a thin fleece, a pair of khaki shorts (long: bermuda style), one pair of jeans, one pair of lightweight athletic pants, one long skirt.

How do I fit it all in? Packing…the final frontier:

Golden rule: NO space-saver bags. You know the ones I’m talking about; infomercials of women gasping at efficiently packed comforters and fluffy sweaters. Great for home, even better if you want to carry enough clothes to break a mules back. Space-saving bags are the easiest way to over-pack. I only take what naturally fits in my backpack… and my spine thanks me.

Moderation is key. In my backpack (45L), I can fit between three to five days worth of clothes, although that truly depends on the type of clothing. Unless you are going to a cold environment, take only a fleece and a raincoat. Don’t pack for a bunch of  “what if’s”.

My ‘average’ packing list includes:
My camera and two lenses,
A backup digital camera,
My netbook (in a protective case),’
Five pairs of underwear,
Three pairs of socks (I’m a sandals kind of girl and hardly wear close-toed shoes),
One bra,
One long skirt (black),
One long pair of pants,
One pair of sports pants (very light to carry, takes up almost no space, and is great for times when you need to hike or if you want to sleep in something less revealing),
Two tank tops (for layering in the cold or a beachy area that requires conservative dress),
Three t-shirts (I am taking one short-sleeved and two long-sleeved shirts, but that depends on where you are traveling),
One fleece,
One rain coat,
One pair of sandals (I’m taking crocs which look like ballet flats),
One pair of hiking/running shoes,
One cotton sleep sack,
Toiletries (no make-up, no perfume, using camp soap instead of real soap so I can wash my clothes on the go),
Iodine pills to sterilize water,
Nalgene bottle,
Water-proof 5L bag (if my clothing gets wet and doesn’t dry before I have to pack up),
Bathing suit (one-piece),
Two quick-dry towels (one small one protects my camera in it’s water-proof case, the other is for personal use),
Emergency flashlight,
Swiss army knife (with built in compass),
Multi-purpose climbing clip,
A handful of gallon-sized zip-lock bags.
Additional items packed when I’m camping:
Emergency blanket,
Sleeping bag,
Blow-up camping pillow,

Doubtful that it all fit into my backpack? Thankfully it did…and it was light too! I was truly astounded at how easily I was able to pick up my backpack and walk around with it. Now, I just have to make it onto my plane :-) Why hast thou forsaken me?

Although it took them two months to get me my student discount card, I really wanted to buy my flight through the STA site. Their customer service is impeccable, they have great reviews, with an easy to use layout, and customizable flights/trips. PLUS (my favorite): their website has a lot of information geared specifically towards people wanting to do an around-the-world trip.

That was all fine and dandy…until I got my airfare quote yesterday evening: $2821.00

What’s more, this didn’t even include my final flight home (which my agent guessed would be in the $800 range), thereby bringing my STA quote to: $3621.00

Honestly, it’s not the price that is shocking; I’ve done plenty of research and expected a cost somewhere in this vicinity. What’s really bugging me is that in twenty minutes (using AirBerlin and Expedia), I was able to find a price quote (for the exact same flight days and airports) that was $468.4 cheaper than the quote.

$468.4 is a lot of money to people like me (backpackers). That’s 1.5 netbooks, or a snazzy website design, or heck…several awesome massages (and I sure need one of those!).

Some of you might be thinking: Not so fast! What about the “price beat guarantee“?

Unfortunately, two of the three legs in my trip do not qualify because my cheaper price was found using different airlines carriers (the terms and conditions on the “price beat guarantee” stipulate that the flight carriers must be identical). I am unable to determine whether the third part of my flight itinerary is eligible for a discount, because I was not sent a price itemization for the individual parts of my RTW flight.

Anyway, in the spirit of trying to support a good travel company, I am going to call my STA agent on Monday and try to get a cheaper deal on my tickets. I felt I had to post this because I want to be able to write about my good and my bad experiences with travel companies. I want other travelers in my boat to make sure that they aren’t getting the raw end of a deal.

It makes me wonder whether using a travel agent is really saving me money, or even that much time.

OK, enough of this! My backpack arrived in the mail today and I can’t wait to play with it! :-)


Planning, planning, planning – bioko island, vaccinations, and goodwill donations :-)

Hey Guys!

Today I did the unthinkable – I started going through my clothes so I can donate them goodwill! It’s just under two months until I leave and I’m starting the process (slowly) of decluttering, organizing, and packing. After my second glass of wine I decided that unworn clothes should be the first to go. I’ve been promising myself I will “one day” fit into about five pairs of jeans…and now they were the first articles thrown into the plastic trash bag. Sayonara lumpy sweaters and high school prom shoes!

So now that I’ve heaved my garbage of unwanted clothes to the front door, I’m nursing a glass of German sparkling wine (sounds so elegant!) courtesy of my German family, and I’m considering the next steps in my trip preparation.

Tomorrow: Travel clinic appointment AND the final round of interviews for my possible job position in Equatorial Guinea (which I found through the Ecolog listerv, mentioned in this post). By tomorrow night my left arm should be covered in little sore spots (thanks to my vaccinations) and I will hopefully be booking my flight to work for the BBPP on Bioko Island.

Speaking of Bioko Island, I feel like Equatorial Guinea is so off the backpacking trail – I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the online blogs or in African itineraries, despite its almost pristine biology. I finally did some research into Equatorial Guinea and what the political and historical situation is like on this island; thankfully it seems to be pretty sound. I’m expecting the occasional bribe, but by all accounts, the BBPP is well respected, and I’m hoping to avoid most trouble by associating myself with it.

Thanks to my helpful comments on my previous post I’ve decided to take the plunge and buy a netbook! Ideally, I’ll be able to use it (and extra memory) to store my pictures and I’ll also be able to keep a computerized journal, making it much easier to blog when internet does become available.

Coming up this month, I’ll also be buying my camera!!! Both my sister and my dad have amazing Nikon cameras (which were also suggested by a reader) so I’ll be buying something when I find a good Christmas special. I’ve been practicing my photography skills, so hopefully I’ll be able to post some nice “artistic” pics :-)

Alrighty! It’s back to the wine and a delicious spaghetti dinner. I’ll be armchair traveling to Africa tonight…who is coming with? :-)