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

 

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. 🙂

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

Why Paris Truly Is ALWAYS a Good Idea

Ask anyone who’s seen my room decor, my notebooks, my cell phone cases, my Pinterest travel board, or my display of (excessive, it’s really way too much) jewelry, and they’ll name a common theme if they have eyes: Paris. I had an obsession with the Eiffel Tower long before I saw it in person; and standing under that magnificent iron lattice only served to multiply my adoration of the structure. 

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Leen & Judith, my favorite adventure buddies.

Any reports you’ve heard about the City of Love are more than likely based on truth: it’s covered in tourists, you’ll be greeted by “rude” French people when you speak English, and you’ll need to pull out a new loan to pay for each meal.

But the vibe of the city makes any hassle you’ll deal with more than worth it. The reasons are endless for Audrey Hepburn’s infamous quote, “Paris is always a good idea,” but no one would have the time to read such a long blog post. So I included my top 9 reasons for why Paris, truly, is always a good idea.

9) There is always something noteworthy going on in Paris.

No matter when you travel to Paris, there will always be a celebration or event (maybe even Paris Fashion Week!) you won’t want to miss. Even if the hype is greater than the attraction itself, as was the case for me this past time, it’s still worth it to be a part of a local event you didn’t plan for.

The first weekend of October happens to be the annual event called “Nuit Blanche” which translates in English to White Night (but really the French meaning is Sleepless Night). Millions of people from all over the world attend, and what I found most interesting is that you have to find out through friends, media, or Google where the event is actually being held. The committee that puts it on chooses new and unexpected neighborhoods all over the city each year, so it’s never known until a few days in advance where you’ll actually be enjoying the “show”. As for the event itself, the music, lights, and colored fog show were a bit exaggerated, and we left shortly after arriving. The red, white, blue, and yellow icicles in a second location were cool for a few pictures, but then we were off into the night once again, wondering what to do next. Thankfully, we were in Paris, which brings me to my next point.

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Dramatized colored fog show for Nuit Blanche.
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Icicles to last only through Sleepless Night.

8) Paris at Night.

When a city comes alive and even more active at night than it is during the day, you know it’s a place you want to be.

New York, Tel Aviv, Athens, Rome, Madrid, and of course Paris are just a few of the ones I’ve been to which can boast such a nightlife. Us 3 girls had no problem enjoying the Parisian sights illuminated in white-gold beams of spotlight and observing colorful characters having a photo shoot in the middle of the road, along with many other antics that only the bravery of night can bring out of people.

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Glorious Paris

7) You Won’t Go Wrong With Any Season of the Year

Fall
Any time of the year in Paris will have its own ethereal sense, so you can truly book a flight for the time that’s best for you and enjoy it!
However, I have to say that Paris in the fall felt like I’d stepped into a vivid dream: leaves on the trees were changing color to vibrant orange, red, and yellow; the crisp autumn air made breathing city air actually pleasant; and bundling up to walk around, dally through an open air market, and then enjoy a caffe latte and croissant to warm up…could anything be more perfect?

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Summer
This is of course the most common time to travel and visit Paris, and I certainly enjoyed it two years ago in July. I happened to visit during France’s Independence Day, so the city was buzzing with even more life than usual. Of course it will be hotter and more crowded with tourists, so keep all of that in mind as you pack and book your trip.

6) Street Performers

Sometimes these guys get a bad rap, but how boring would city streets be without a dance crew tearing it up, a musician playing his heart out on the violin, or an artist telling each passerby they could be the next masterpiece on her canvas? Paris is brimming with talented street performers, so take a moment out of the hustle to stop and enjoy a show! (But don’t stop for the “luck”, three cups, or gambling games. Those are rigged tourist traps, and there are often pickpockets in the crowd.)

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These guys were hilarious and obviously grew quite the crowd on the steps in front of the Eiffel Tower.

5) Open Air Markets

If you want to feel like a local, hear a lot of French being spoken, and maybe pick up a delicious lunch to take to a nearby park for a picnic, don’t miss an open air market in Paris.
They’re all over the city, and don’t worry about missing it one day…there will be 5 more open the next day. Here’s a list of Parisian street markets by day of the week, but you can always google and find them listed by what they sell, their location, etc.

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La Marché Grenelle, right by the metro stop La Motte-Piquet Grenelle and walking distance to the Eiffel Tower.

4) Being the Typical Tourist is SO Fun

When I travel, my goal is to look and act so much like a native that I’m spoken to in the local language or to have a tourist ask me a directional question, thinking that I’m a local. I’ve been fairly successful so far, but when I’m in Paris, I’m so enraptured by the architecture, the fashion, the overall city vibe that I look like a tourist through and through. It’s also the only place I don’t really mind fitting that profile! I take the jumping picture in front of the Eiffel Tower, middle of the road Champs des Élyseès and Arc de Triomphe in the background snapshot, and of course I can never miss the Love Lock Bridge along the Seine River.

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Although the city has now removed all the locks and covered the original Love Lock Bridge railing because it was bending over from the weight of all the locks, this hasn’t stopped lovers visiting the city to place a lock on any bridge they find and to throw the key in the river with positive wishes for their future together.

3) Walks along the Seine.

This will always be a highlight of Paris for any tourist. The city never fails to entertain with life size tic tac toe, mazes and a world map painted on the concrete, chalkboard walls to leave a note on, mini botanical gardens, or tempting hammocks swaying on the dock for weary passersby to take a break from the heat. You may just stumble upon a photography exhibit free to the public from a nearby museum. This was actually a perfect find for me, as I didn’t have time (or funds, really) to see any museums while I was there. Strolling through and appreciating photos of the year for an hour was just the art exposure that I needed!
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Flashback Photo! 2 years ago I made my mark on the chalkboard wall: “Kelli was here”.

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Outside wall of the open art exhibit.

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2) Green Seine Shops.

These unobtrusive green metal boxes attached to the fence may look boxy and pointless when closed and locked up in the evening. When tourists are out and about, you better believe these shop owners are open for business with their vintage books, magazines, and souvenirs. There may be an official name, but I just call them the “Green Seine’s”, and plenty of my business has gone to reprint paintings and postcards at these shops close to Notre Dame.

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1) Paris is PRIME for people-watching!

You’ll never find such mixed diversity in the world, as there are people from everywhere imaginable here. It also might just happen to be Fashion Week in Paris, as it was for me, and observing the bold (to crazy and ridiculous!) fashion on the streets was enough to entertain for hours.

Also, you’re more than likely to make new friends. As Judith, Leen, and I were taking pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, we met the nicest Koreans traveling around Europe. So of course we proceeded to take pictures together as a group!

Korea in Paris

Leave it to the classiest lady ever, Audrey Hepburn, to know where you’ll always find rich culture and make memories to last a lifetime.

stay lovely and enjoy Paris,
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”

Discovering Tuscany: Pisa Edition

Getting lost in these streets is easy. You can explore the wonders down a side street, have a 5th cone of gelato because nothing beats that sweet substance to cool off on a 90 degree Italian day, or lay out on the lawn of Piazza dei Miracoli, mesmerized by the leaning tower. Continue reading “Discovering Tuscany: Pisa Edition”

The Soul Behind ‘the tall girl’

“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.” ~C.S. Lewis

How can you know there’s a real person behind the words on an impersonal screen?

You can’t see me, you aren’t in my presence, you don’t know who’s really behind the blog, telling of her experiences.

Many times when I see a blog post or any social media publication, there’s a hint of doubt about its origin and the author’s intent. It often seems detached and soulless, like a news story to be read and tossed away. That being said, I wanted to share my travel confessions so you know I’m a real, living and breathing human, and not a robot pumping out lifeless posts. Continue reading “The Soul Behind ‘the tall girl’”

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”