Africa

The Many Gifts of Travel

I've been seriously reminiscing over our trip to Africa a year ago! It was by far my favorite trip I have ever taken and it gave me so many special gifts.

One of the special gifts I received on this trip was a deeper love and appreciation for animals. I've always been an animal lover, but something about the safari experience really transformed my passion.

Ever since I returned from Africa, I've been obsessed with trips with incredible animal viewings. Which is why we are headed to the Galapagos Islands this November and why I am begging my husband to plan a trip to Antarctica. There is something so majestic and special about animals in the wild.

What is the best gift that travel has ever given you?

Giving back on your vacation (even if it's short!)

When you own your own business it can be hard to find time to give back. I dedicated myself to 50 hours of community service this year and it's a struggle just for me to hit my monthly goal. That being said, I think giving back and learning about new cultures is so important. And for me, it is one of the main reasons I travel. Even if you only get one short vacation a year, you can easily add one hour, one half day or one full day of voluntourism to you trip.

When we were in Africa, we took an incredible day tour with Uthando. When I founds out we would be going to Cape Town, I knew I wanted to take a township tour. Townships are home to a huge percentage of the South African population and were built during Apartheid times. I was a little nervous about visiting a Township because I didn’t want to go on an invasive tour where I gawked at people who are less fortunate. Luckily we found Uthando Tours and they provided us with an incredible, unique experience of visiting a township.

Xolani, our tour guide, took us to the Khayelitsha township, which is the largest township in Cape Town. We visited three amazing non-profits within the township: a school, an old folks home and a women’s empowerment program. I was so inspired by the work of these non-profits, which are supported heavily by Uthando. In fact, it was great to see that the money we paid for our tour went to help so many amazing programs. Also, the people…just incredible.

If you have even less time to spare on your vacation, you can also try Pack for a Purpose. You can make a big impact just by saving some space in your luggage and using it to bring school supplies to underprivileged children in other countries.

Once you know your destination, do a quick Google search and see if there are any unique volunteer opportunities available. You won't regret it!

Starting your own business: You don't have to wait for permission

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Before I started my own business I was in a really interesting place. I liked my job, I was learning a lot, but I was also anxious. I knew I wanted to start my own business, but I didn't think that I had the right tools. Was I experienced enough? Was I smart enough? Did I need to fail twenty times before I would succeed? I ended up spending A LOT of time brainstorming what I wanted to do next. I created business plans, created spreadsheets and revenue models, I even considered for a long time that maybe I just needed a new opportunity versus needing to start my own business.

To be honest, I was scared. Really scared. But I soon realized that I didn't need permission from anyone to move forward. I was all in and I knew I couldn't fail.

I get questions from people ALL THE TIME who want advice on starting a business and my best advice is you don't have to wait for permission. Whatever you want is right in front of you, if you truly want it.

Ever since I went to Africa and read Cathedral of the Wild I have been very strongly influenced by this quote in my journey as a small business owner:

"You can from where you stand, make a decision to restore from within, even if your mind screams that it is not possible. Whatever feels unresolved, the animal part of you is already tracking the healing you need. Follow that trail, the medicine will feel like freedom."

No matter how low your confidence level is, no matter how much you feel stuck in your current job, you CAN make a decision to restore from within. And you don't need anybody's permission to get started.

Traveling to Learn on MLK Day

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One of the reasons I truly love to travel as much as I do is because I really love to learn about the world. On my recent trip to Cape Town, one of the most inspirational and eye-opening tours we took was of Robben Island. Robben Island is home to the political prison where Nelson Mandela was a prisoner for over 25 years!  My husband and I arrived in Cape Town ahead of our traveling partners and we added this tour to our schedule on as a whim. You first tour the island by bus, followed by an in-depth tour of the prison by a former political prisoner. It was fascinating to learn about apartheid from his perspective. I really admired the people who were political prisoners during this time for their perseverance and desire for improvement. This is a must do tour if you are in Cape Town. The entire tour takes about 3 hours including the boat ride.

Today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day I am reminded of my amazing trip there and the work of people all over the world who fight for justice. I love travel so much for the way that it opens our minds and our hearts to the realities of others. It's a joy to be able to meet the people of this world.

"No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." - MLK

Adding Wanderlust to your Home Decor

Lately I've been "workin workin workin day and night." The hardest part, for me, about owning my own business is that it makes it nearly impossible for me to plan big trips and take multiple weeks off. In an effort to not go stir crazy, I've been adding some travel decor to my home.

It's been really fun to add a few new items around the house that remind me of my love for travel. Here are a few of the things I've picked up.

1. Bar Ware- You don't typically think of barware as travel related, but the C. Wonder store has some amazing travel related items. After our trip to Africa, I really wanted to add some animal items to our house and this was the perfect way.

The first item I added are these incredible animal safari glasses from C. Wonder. I have a glass bar cabinet so I see them every day and they remind me so much of the amazing animals we saw in Africa. I couldn't help myself so I also bought this safari wine bottle opener.

Just these two items remind me so much of Africa. Of course, I picked up a few wooden pieces in Africa as well, which I have scattered all over the house.

2. Maps- I actually bought this over a year ago for my husband on our first anniversary (paper), but I love it just as much now as when I bought it. This pushpin travel map from Etsy makes me smile every time I walk in the room!

I especially love it because you can keep track with different color pushpins of places you have been together versus separately. Even though we have been A LOT of places, our map looks a little bare (Russia is a huge chunk of the map :)).

3. Books- I have a very extensive travel book collection and I've been adding to it for the last year or so. Even though a lot of information is on the internet, I love having a book from places I have been. Recently I added the following books to my collection (PS some of these are affiliate links):

Humans of New York- Even though this isn't really a travel book per say, this book reminds me a lot about WHY I love to travel. The people, the connections, the moments, the experiences. The book also makes a wonderful coffee table book or gift.

Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home- This book was written by the founders of the safari I went on in September. I bought the book as soon as I got home and absolutely fell in love with it. It's also home to one of my favorite travel quotes: "You can from where you stand, make a decision to restore from within, even if your mind screams that it is not possible. Whatever feels unresolved, the animal part of you is already tracking the healing you need. Follow that trail, the medicine will feel like freedom."

Called Again: A Story of Love and Triumph- For anyone who loves to explore and experience nature, this is a book for you. It tracks Jennifer Pharr Davis as she breaks the record for hiking the Appalachian Trail. It's a beyond fantastic book and always reminds me to get out of my comfort zone when I travel.

I'm always looking to add more decor to my house to make it feel more like the house of a world traveler. Comment below and let me know what else I should add to my house!

Must Eat Restaurants in Cape Town

On our recent trip to Cape Town, I took the responsibility of eating very, very seriously. Here are a few of my favorite restaurants in Cape Town.

1. The Flagship: The most incredible dining experience of my life. Chef Bruce, the incredible owner and chef, has since passed away, but his legacy carries on through a new head chef.

2. PotLuck Club: Highlights were: PotLuck Club Fish Tacos (featured above with Yellowtail), Truffle Quiche, Mussels, Beef Short Rib and Steam Buns and the Korean Fried Chicken.

3. Test Kitchen: 10 courses, a culinary adventure, totally insane.

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I'm still full from my trip over two months ago! The food scene in Cape Town is just incredible and I highly recommend eating as much as you can while you are there!

When traveling breaks your heart

A few months ago I wrote about the most amazing meal I've ever had at The Flagship in Cape Town. What made the experience and meal so amazing was Chef Bruce Robertson.

He was an insanely talented chef and a unique character. Mostly though, I saw him as a bright light.

Today I heard of his unexpected passing. It's amazing how traveling opens you up to care about someone you barely know, who lives halfway across the world, just for the experience they gave you. Sometimes traveling just breaks your heart.

Facing your Fears when you Travel

For someone who loves to travel, I am scared of A LOT of things. I hate flying, I hate heights, I hate feeling unsafe in a new situation and I hate being scared. But I love to explore so I find myself in situations a lot where I have to decide: Should I face my fear or not? On our most recent trip to Africa I had to ask myself this A LOT:

1. Should I fly on a small plane or take a car ride that is much longer?

Here I am on the tiniest plane on earth on the windiest day ever. 

2. Should I swim to the edge of the world's largest waterfall?

3. Should I get close to a lion?

As you can see, I ended up doing all three! I've developed some criteria for facing my fears that helps me assess if there is actual risk or if I'm just making up stories in my head.

1. Is the activity safe? Even though I was scared of Devil's Pool at Victoria Falls, the activity is generally safe and nobody has died there while on an organized tour. I figured that given their safety rate it was a good idea to do the activity even though I was afraid.

2. Will doing the activity make my trip better? I really did not want to take a small plane into our Safari, but taking a car would have added 2+ hours onto our trip and caused us to miss our first and last game drive. If doing an activity will make my trip better, I am willing to do it.

3. Is anyone else scared? Even though this probably shouldn't be a criteria, I often look to others to see how rational my fear is. I was really scared of the lions on our safari, but as I looked around our tracker and guide were not scared at all. I figured if they weren't scared, I didn't need to be scared.

Asking myself those three questions helps me be more brave than I normally would be. Of course, I too have my limits. You won't see my jumping off a bridge or out of a plane anytime soon! And I am totally OK with that!!

Booking a Trip With Zicasso

On our latest trip to South Africa and Zambia, our traveling companions were really excited to introduce us to a travel company called: Zicasso. Zicasso is a company that helps match you with two or three travel consultants who are experts in the area to help you book your trip. Typically I am a "book it yourself" type traveler, but:

1. Our traveling companions for this trip weren't

2. I didn't know anything about Zambia

3. I didn't know any good travel agents who specialize in Africa

In comes Zicasso! We were able to submit a request and were immediately matched with two stellar travel agents. They each provided us with rough itineraries to pick from. It was easy for us to tell that both of them knew a lot about the area we were going to. One of the agents happened to be located in Austin (my hometown) so we were actually able to meet him in person and have our whole trip scheduled and ready to go.

This was our traveling companions third time booking a trip with Zicasso and I totally see why now. The travel agents they match you up with are really much, much more than travel agents. They are explorers and adventurers of where you are going. They know the land, the people, the food and more. This isn't some Disney travel agent who is going to help you get a good deal on park tickets, this is literally someone who is going to take what you want and mold a one of a kind experience for you.

Since I own my own business, which severely restricts the amount of time I get to travel, I always want to make sure that my time spent on vacation is well used. And Zicasso's skills in matching people with agents are just incredible.

How did they know to set me up with a travel agent who knows one of the best chefs in Cape Town, Chef Bruce of the Flagship?

How did they know that a safari would be a life changing experience for me?

I'm not entirely sure, but they set us up for the trip of a lifetime. Next time we book a trip to an exotic location or are in a time crunch where we can't plan our own trip, I will definitely be using Zicasso again.

PS This is not a sponsored post at all (mostly because I'm not important enough). I just really like this service and think it is a cool, unique travel product. 

The joys of travel: Connecting with people

To say that I act differently when I travel is a HUGE understatement. When I'm at home, I like to be at home, work, visit with my friends and generally live a quiet, homebody-ish life. Because I work from home, I often really crave human interaction outside of my employees and my husband. Yet, when I'm home in Austin I still have trouble connecting with new people. I find when I meet new people I often don't spend much time getting to know them. For some reason, it's really hard for me to connect with people when I'm home. When I'm traveling, it is a totally different story. I crave meeting and getting to know people. I actually seek out actively connecting with new people. Like Armando, the owner of a sandwich shop I ate at everyday the entire six months I was in Italy.

Or these schools girls in China, I met during my trip through Shanghai. Even if we don't speak the same language I love just seeing them interact and experience life.

I also love learning from new people, like our tracker from Londolozi, Derek.

Derek helped us find and experience the most amazing animals while we are on safari. He also somehow talked me into taking a picture right by the hippos (an animal I am very, very afraid of). He promised to bring the rifle with him just in case, but as you can see in the picture, he lied :)

I can only hope that on my next adventure I continue to meet new, amazing people who open my eyes to new world views, customs, languages, ideas and more.