Masai Mara Safari

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” -Job 12:7-10

To what can I compare the breathtaking beauty of the wild African savannah?

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With family visiting me in Kenya earlier this month, a 3-day Masai Mara safari was a must!

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Of the Big Five we saw four: lion, leopard, elephant, and buffalo. The rhino’s evaded us, but the wildebeest migration, hordes of adorable donkeys in pajamas (zebras;)), giraffes, ostrich, hyena, hippos, and crocodiles made up for it! The leopard is one of the rarest to see, and it happened to be enjoying its dinner in a tree when we were able to spot a glimpse! (pun intended).

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The four of us will always remember this adventure fondly. Sopa Lodge is a stunning location to relax after each long day, and I can speak very highly for Classic Journeys, our tour guide company!

If you haven’t added African safari to your bucket list yet, be sure to change that! It’s impossible to walk away unmoved, uninspired by the wild beauty around you!

stay lovely,
the tall girl

 

A Handful of L.A. Adventures

It’s been an exhilarating 7 months living in Los Angeles. When I scroll through the photos of memories and moments with these new California friends, I’m filled with a gratitude and nostalgia for everything I’ve been blessed to experience.

SAN DIEGO

Just two yogi’s from Cedar Rapids, Iowa who answered the call on their hearts to move to Southern California!

REDONDO BEACH

Exploring with cousin Jason and his fiancé Kai.

LAGUNA BEACH

When your favorite volleyball coach is in town, you make the drive to see her and her mom and lounge for the day at Laguna Beach. ūüôā

SNAPCHAT’S SUMMER TWILIGHT CONCERT SERIES

This night will always be one of my highlights of Summer 2016 in Los Angeles! Snapchat hosts a concert series on Santa Monica Pier over the summer, and IT IS LIT. The Snapchat ghost was walking around, so I automatically sprinted over to dance with it and get all the pictures. The fun people in the photo are all amazing, driven, awe-inspiring world-travelers I’m blessed to call friends! With the Snapchat ghost from left is Sofiane, sassy Frenchman, Eddie, punny North Carolinian, and Mel, feisty New Yorker.

DISNEYLAND

Sweet Aunt Renee took me with her to Disneyland for a very full day of rides, Princess meetings (mostly on my end, I had to see them all!), and emotional parade and firework shows!

HIKE TO HOLLYWOOD SIGN

It was a must!

BONFIRE ON THE BEACH

Another highlight of Summer 2016! Sorry for doubting your bonfire-building skills, Sofiane. It was lit.;)

SURFING (& SAIRA IN TOWN!!)

BUCKET LIST ITEM #1 WAS COMPLETED THAT DAY. But I’m definitely not done there! It was a blast experiencing this with such an amazing friend, Saira, who came all the way from West Virginia to see me and of course California!

SQUAD. ALL THE SQUAD PICS.

LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE THESE HUMANS!!!

CCV COLLEGE GROUP CAMP AT CARPINTERIA STATE BEACH

God nudged me to just go to the camp, even though I only knew a couple people. Well, that changed quickly because CCV peeps are amazing and so welcoming. I love this church family.:)

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BOAT PARTY

Another highlight! Eddie is the hookup for amazing events!! Always a blast with you!

SANTA MONICA BEACH

BAE’S

MY B’S!! Bridget and Bekah, where would I be without you two?! Love you baesics!

UNIVERSAL STUDIOS

 

Thanks for scrolling through! Always remember to reflect¬†on how beautiful this life is…we get caught up in a comparison game and it sucks the joy out of our own blessings. Please understand this is a highlight reel, and in no way is my life or anyone else’s rainbows and puppies and smiles all the time. It’s a journey of ups and downs, and finding joy in Christ even in the downs is the ultimate goal of it all.

Wishing you a VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR’S CELEBRATION and FANTASTIC 2017!!!

stay lovely,
the tall girl

 

Has My Dream…Come True?

I barely finished reading the subject line on the email before I was dancing around the kitchen like a maniac. The term ‘dancing’ is used loosely, for it would be better described as a combination of jumping, thrashing, and knocking everything over in a 5-foot radius of my flailing arms. The first innocent bystander to see me in that state was my mom. I pulled her into my crazy dance, then looked her in the eyes.

Tears welled up as I told her, “I’m the top blogger for the month of January on StudentUniverse!” I had the shakes, and I hardly managed to read every word of that email by the StudentUniverse blog manager, describing how my blog posts reached over 10,000 views in the respective 9 and 6 days that the 2 were on the site.

There was even triple the average amount of time engaging with the content than with any other blog content in January.

My dream for the last 2 years has been simple: be a travel writer. Breaking that down, this means being paid to write on my travel experiences. (FYI, the top blogger per month on StudentUniverse is paid a nominal amount as a token of gratitude for sharing their travel smarts!) I’m still in absolute shock that this happened, and my praise immediately went to the Lord for orchestrating this and to my support system of friends, family, and wordpress followers (LOVE YOU ALL), who made this happen! Thanks for clicking on that link, reading through those posts, and sharing with your fellow adventurers!

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Me, Anna, & Sky>>>bæs&espresso in Israel

In case you missed them, you can get up to speed on Backpacking Like a Boss on a College Budget OR determine Where to Backpack By Personality Type!

I can’t thank you all enough for reading, enjoying, and spreading the word. There’s someone out there with wanderlust hidden deep down, needing a little encouragement to go out there and see this beautiful world!

stay lovely,
the tall girl

 

 

 

Tales from a Solo/Female Couchsurfer

“Stay with locals for free all over the world.”

What’s your first response to this? Probably asking, so what’s the gimmick?

Those who know what couchsurfing is only in its most basic sense question my sanity for staying in stranger’s homes in foreign countries. They ask,¬†“You really trusted people enough to stay at their place…alone?!”

It’s a valid concern to have for a female solo traveler. What gets complicated for me is trying to explain the underlying concept of couchsurfing.com and attempting to articulate “the spirit of couchsurfing” for someone who’s never experienced it personally.

Safety first is the Golden Rule in couchsurfing. I explain this to anyone who inquires about how I’ve managed so far. Once your profile is set up, and you’ve described yourself truthfully in the About and My Home sections, along with updated and accurate photos, you can expect the same from other users. When searching for a host, you simply read through their profile and references. If they don’t have much information up describing themselves or any positive references, that’s a clear sign not to stay with them.¬†Trust your instincts. If something is telling you no, even if they have a thorough profile and positive references, you don’t have to stay with someone when red flags are waving in your mind.

Once you start requesting to stay with people, you can also pick up their vibe from the private inbox responses. If they don’t seem consistent with their profile, move on to the next option, or take a deep breath and just book the hostel.

Couchsurfing is one of those things that you really do get better at and more comfortable with over time. For my very first go at it, I remember sitting outside McDonald’s (for their free wifi) at midnight in the middle of Athens, refreshing my browser every 10 seconds in case I missed a Facebook message from my host while simultaneously wondering if I’d just been hugely punk’d.

He showed up, thankfully, and I felt especially safe at a couchsurfing ambassador’s home, for those of you still worried about my rationale and propriety.

This leads me smoothly into the “spirit of couchsurfing” you’ll catch onto quickly if you ever participate in it yourself. It really is¬†all about the cultural exchange. Hosts are opening their home and becoming vulnerable to theft or damage from surfers. Many surfers are in it only to save money on accommodation. However, hosts can spot these people quickly based on how personalized the request is or reviewing the individual’s profile, and then they’ll be less likely to host them, just as an FYI.

People that get the most out of couchsurfing are those that are in it to meet others, learn about that particular city through a local pair of eyes, and hopefully have lifelong friends all over the world.

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Enjoying a calzone (of sorts) for breakfast in Rome with our CS host!

You can use couchsurfing.com for more than just finding a sofa to crash on. By using the “Find Events” option, I stumbled upon a meetup in Berlin walking distance from my friend’s apartment. I almost didn’t go because I was “tired” from a long day of watching a German futbol club game and basically doing nothing.

It turned out to be one of the highlights of my trip, meeting interesting people from Portugal, Israel, France, Germany, and Italy, as well as dancing until (dare I say it?) 5 in the morning (dare I confess?) completely sober!

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Nora and I were fast friends! We met up two days after that first CS event, lost track of time, and chatted away for over 3 hours at the coolest Vietnamese cafe in Berlin.

The warmth, generosity, and hospitality you often experience from couchsurfing hosts is incredible, and it sets the tone for an amazing immersion in the new culture. I’ve learned more about cities (local eats, the history, neighborhood vibes, way of life, etc.) through my hosts than guidebooks ever could.

And I’ve experienced more than a few eye-opening, mind-broadening lessons in conversation with the brilliant people I’ve had the pleasure of staying with.

I’m recommending it to all my friends, and I plan on paying it forward by hosting in my home wherever (and whenever!) I settle down.

My History with Couchsurfing the last 2 months (some initials given in place of name for privacy.)

Athens, Greece: A. from Turkey for 2 nights.
We hiked up Lycabettus Hill at night for an awesome view of the city all lit up!

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Acropolis in center of the photo.

Athens, Greece: K. from Turkey for 4 nights.
Great conversations, fun time exploring the marina, and he was just a sweet person through and through.

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Dusk at the marina.

Athens, Greece: Meet up with Christos from Athens, motorcycle ride through the city!

Santorini, Greece: Meet up with Jordi from Barcelona.

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Sadly, there’s no picture with J, but this is a nice photo of the Greek flag in front of a church in Santorini. ūüôā

Rome, Italy: Viky from Hungary for 3 nights.

Nice, France: Max from Nice for 1 night.

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Festival happening in Nice in late October.

Madrid, Spain: Language exchange meetup, met Nikki from Wisconsin.

Paris, France: Alexis from Paris for 1 night and 2 full days of tourist-ing around! We have plenty of inside jokes and even a hand signal for language barrier-related miscommunications.:)

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And he put up with me needing to retake this photo 20 times to get it just right.

Senlis, France: Meet up with Seb and Marie, both from France.

Berlin, Germany: Meet up at local pub where I met Maddalena, Tufan, and Nora, along with many others I sadly didn’t catch the names of.

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Prague, Czech Republic: Dominika from Prague, the proudest American not from America!

I’m already anticipating the day I see my couchsurfing friends again somewhere in the world!

stay lovely,
the tall girl

Top 10 Takeaways of My Time in Italy

When we walk into a new place, meet a new person, or encounter a new situation, we go in with preconceptions. Upon arriving, we make snap judgments to gain a sense of control and organization of the world in our mind.

I can’t explain in words what my preconception of Italy was before traveling there, I only know now that my senses were shocked in the best way by how wrong I was¬†compared to the beautiful place, rich culture, and incredible¬†people I encountered there. Continue reading “Top 10 Takeaways of My Time in Italy”

Discovering Tuscany: Florence Edition

The guidebooks were correct on one thing: Florence is overflowing with tourists. I heard more English or German being spoken than I did Italian in this city of over 360,000 locals.

If tourists are swarming, it must be for good reason. I almost didn’t go because of low expectations and a lingering tiredness from the week prior, hopping quickly from Athens to Santorini to Rome to Pisa. Well, those low expectations led to a dropped jaw and wide-eyed stares at the beauty surrounding me. Continue reading “Discovering Tuscany: Florence Edition”

The Tall Girl’s Essential Guide to Santorini, Greece

If you’re headed to the dreamy Greek island of Santorini or contemplating a journey there, this is my tried and true guide on how to do it well. And on a college graduate’s budget!

CONQUERING SANTORINI

FullSizeRender (8) Continue reading “The Tall Girl’s Essential Guide to Santorini, Greece”

Greece: The Land of Love

Where to begin to talk about this land of love that has
captured my heart and imagination.

I could sit and observe the Greeks go about life for hours on end (and I actually have.)

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“I know more than I say, think more than I speak, & notice more than you realize.”

They’re a mesmerizing people. Their passionate love for others and unflinching loyalty to family reflects their deep-rooted sense of philotimo. Continue reading “Greece: The Land of Love”

Faith to Move

The waves lapped against the side of the boat, lovingly named Sea Note. 53 American students stood transfixed by the scene all around them. A cool, sea breeze was embraced with widespread arms and content hearts after a record-setting day of heat. God himself seemed to breathe out grace and love on this eclectic group brought together on a journey through his purposeful will.

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Hazy sun over the Sea of Galilee.

Looking out across the sea, my minds’ eye created slideshows of Bible stories I’ve known since I was a teeny tot in Sunday School. Jesus calming storms, walking on water, calling his beloved disciples to fish for more than temporary sustenance but for men’s souls.

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I couldn’t help myself. ūüôā #SnapchatGameStrong

The film paused when I thought of Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection (found in John 21). From the shore, his identity obscured by distance, Jesus suggested they throw their nets to the right side of the boat after a long, unsuccessful night with their nets on the left side. Being on that sailboat a few nights ago in the middle of a large sea, rocking slightly to the flux of waves, revealed to me in the most obvious sense how little that slight change could have helped. This man really thought ten feet away in those vast waters would help them catch more fish?

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Praise and Worship on the Sea.

Yet they blindly trust the stranger on the shore and throw the net to the right side. Immediately their faith was rewarded with a full net, too heavy to pull up from the large catch. The disciples on that boat had spent three consecutive years with Jesus Christ, and they recognized one of His miracles when they saw one. In enters Peter. Impulsive, passionate, intelligent Peter, who had denied knowing Christ three times just a few days prior.

I put myself in Peter’s shoes at this moment: the Savior I’ve followed and dedicated my life to for 3 years has died the most shameful death, hanging on a cross. Although I believed undoubtedly who He was, in the face of questioning, I deny any affiliation with Him. I feel guilty, alone, confused, and shocked, overwhelmed with emotion and no idea how to process it all. I would do as Peter did: return to what I know. From John 21:3 we know Peter and the disciples went back to fishing, their occupation before following Jesus. This caused me to pause and wonder what do I return to when I’m guilty, alone, confused, and shocked by what life brings me?

Often it’s the usual insecurities, surrounded by walls of competency so that no one can see the weaknesses within. It’s the search for affirmation from peers or people I respect, usually leading only to disappointment when the praise is scarce or unfulfilling.

The mental movie continued with Peter realizing the mystery man on shore was Christ. He doesn’t hesitate for a moment to jump out of the boat to swim towards his best friend.¬†All of the guilt, the heart-wrenching shame, the loneliness, and the shock are erased in the presence of Peter’s Savior. And we know He didn’t come for just one man, race, or gender, but for all humanity. And in the presence of His unceasing grace and love, we have hope for the future and peace in the present.

As the¬†Sea Note returned to shore, it blasted old worship songs through the speakers. “He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the whole world in His hands, He’s got the WHOLE WORLD in His hands!” brought me right back to my childhood, dancing with my brother to¬†100 Kid’s Bible Worship¬†Songs¬†on cassette¬†for a boisterous¬†audience of mom and dad. And it reminded me to trust.

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Beautiful sight to see these two flags waving together, united.

We spend so much of our lives worrying, but if we would just have faith small enough to move our net from the left to the right side of the boat, to step out of our comfort zones, to trust God’s plan over our own, we’d be much more content and able to more clearly see His will playing out in our lives.

stay lovely,
the tall girl

How To Justify a Backpacking Adventure

Being home in Iowa before jet-setting off has been wonderful to reconnect with people. So many questions have been raised though about the nature of my trip: why am I doing it now, how can I afford it, what about a job? I won’t name any names as to who’s asked these questions, but we’ll give the main culprit the alias of ‘mom and dad’.

I’m not going to lie, there are moments where I seriously question my sanity for wanting to rough it for over 3 months with one backpack of belongings around foreign countries of which I don’t speak the language. I’ll be stinky and bruised and in bad need of a pedicure by the end of it.

But once I calm down from the mini wave of anxiety I realize, why not now?

Health

As I was packing for my upcoming journey, rationalizing it in my mind, I had a flashback to three summers ago hobbling around Phoenix, AZ and San Jos√©, Costa Rica (CCU basketball mission trip) in a big ol’ boot on my left leg after bunion surgery. If I was injured, I wouldn’t be able to do this trip.

God has blessed me with physical strength (for the most part, though I definitely feel the years of sports in my knees and hips…gosh, I’m getting old!) and the mental capacity to figure things out in new places.

I don’t know what my health will be like at any point in the future, I only know I’m able now.¬†And tomorrow is promised to no one.

Money

I’m a college graduate. I’m not rich. But I’m a college graduate. So I’m thrifty and a major saver! I started making travel plans halfway through my Sophomore year, and I’ve been saving my little paychecks from Centennial Institute, babysitting, and graduation money like nobodies business.

I have the Goldilocks mindset about my money for this trip: I don’t have too little that I’ll be calling home two weeks in that I blew it all and need them to buy my return flight; I don’t have so much that I’ll be staying in 5-star hotels and resorts and going on behind-the-scene tours at the major sites.

I have¬†just enough for transportation costs within the various countries I’m going too, food, and sightseeing costs. Thought I missed the part about lodging? I didn’t. I’ll be staying with Workaway families, couchsurfing, friends or connections I have over there, and maybe cheap youth hostels when I feel like splurging.

Job

I love explaining this one, probably because it’s kept me up at night the most! It’s the most common question I receive: What about a job? Well, what about it? Any job that God has lined up for me in his will is going to be there when I’m back in November.

On top of that, the experiences and skills I’m going to have because of these months abroad will set me up for exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. Most college graduates go straight into their career, and all happiness to them. My resum√© will be set apart because I did something unique, out of the ordinary, and risky.

Fear

There’s a healthy enough amount of it that I’m not going to jump into someone’s van offering me a free ride from the airport.

The concept I’ve been pondering is that God is still God and still in charge in Cedar Rapids, Iowa as He is in Athens, Rome, or Paris. “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1

As confident as I am that this is what God has for me right now, prayers are still so appreciated as I venture out! And if you’re considering any traveling coming up, just do it. Life is short, spend money on experiences not things, and for good measure I’ll leave you with the classic “Carpe diem”¬†or in the millenial’s words, YOLO (you only live once). So get going, people. There’s a big, wide world just waiting to be explored by you.

stay lovely, and have a grand adventure today,
the tall girl