Buon Natale in Italy!

Hey World,

As you know, I take off in a few short days for my whirlwind 36 hours in Istanbul, Turkey. I have a lot on my to-do list, but not much organized -- I think I'll do a lot of my plotting on route or in the moment!

What I have been trying to make arrangements for is the second leg of the trip: Italy!

I'll be meeting Mother Dearest in the Rome airport on the 20th, and then we've got 9 days to travel to 4 cities around the country, celebrate Christmas, and see some of the highlights of what Italy has got to offer (and by highlights, I mainly mean wine).


The Itinerary:

Dec 20: Rome
Dec 21-22: Naples + Pompeii
Dec 23-24: Florence
Dec 25-26: Siena
Dec 27-28: Rome

Much like Istanbul, we will rarely have more than 36 hours to spend in any one place -- meaning that we'll see only the things that interest us the most, and fill up on as much delicious Italian cooking as we can get our hands on. 

We'll be moving between cities by train (!) and thanks to a few GREAT Airbnb apartments, we'll be right in the thick of it all in Naples, Florence and Siena -- meaning a lot of points of interest are mere minutes away from our doorstep!

I'll be making a concerted effort to over-document this trip, and the first week of January, relay our adventures over this blog. However if you're looking for live updates, I'll be posting to my instagram where you can follow the hashtag #ParmesanOnEverything :)

If I don't catch you before Christmas:

Happy Holidays
Krismasi Njema
and
Buon Natale!

xoxo,
M


Two Weeks Until Turkey!

Hey World,

In exactly 14 days, I'll be heading to Istanbul, Turkey for 36 hours of exploration before continuing on to my final destination, Italia. 

Both of these countries have been on my travel bucket list for such a long time, and I cannot wait to cross them both off before the end of the year!

Istanbul has a wealth of things to do all across the city, and it's going to be my mission to cross off as many sites and experiences as I can in a limited amount of time (and money).

Here are some of the things I have my eye on:

--> Taste kumpir (loaded baked potato) and doner (kebab)
--> Check out the Valens Aqueducts
--> Buy some glass lanterns for Casa Iringa (home)


--> Ferry down the Bosphorus and see Istanbul from the water
--> Get lost in the Grand Bazaar (without breaking the bank)
--> Buy a variety of spices from the Spice Bazaar



--> Purchase a God's eye bracelet, and one to protect my home
--> Listen to the Blue Mosque's call to prayer
--> Visit the Hagia Sophia


--> Soak in the views from Galata Tower
--> Drink Turkish tea!
--> Wander through Topkapi Palace


--> Eat dinner at Hamdi, a restaurant with 180 degree views
--> Take a soak and get scrubbed at a hamam
--> Cross the bridge into Asia, and then wander back



Can I do it all?! I hope so! I'm planning on going to sleep early and waking up early to maximize my daylight hours and get it all in. 


If you've been to Istanbul before and have any suggestions for not-to-be-missed places, restaurants or experiences, let me know!

xoxo,
M


Note: All images are from http://commons.wikimedia.org/a database of 23,989,542 freely usable media files to which anyone can contribute.

Thankfulness is a Frame of Mind

Hey World,

Rain has started pattering down onto our roof almost daily and our yard is thirstily soaking it up. It's been a long four months without rain; I forgot how soothing the sound of rain is. The air smells alive. Seeds and trees and grasses are awakening, as am I. Change is coming, and it's starting today.



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Ray Charles has been crooning to me about a woman he's got that's good to him. I'm smiling, because I know that feeling. I've changed my iTunes to a RC-only playlist for most of the week, and I haven't regretted it for a second.

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I found gourds at the market this week. GOURDS! Tea lights are still scattered over our dining room table, the remnants of a fantastic Friendsgiving potluck dinner. I'm pretty sure I'm still full from the inhumane amounts of stuffing I devoured (thanks for the recipe Mom!), and there's so much more gravy left in the fridge...

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After receiving my first-ever plaid / flannel shirt in the mail a couple weeks ago, I finally broke one out of the closet. Why did no one ever tell me how soft flannel is?!?! I've been missing out on a massively comfortable trend for so very long. Thank goodness rainy season brings with it cooler temperatures.


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I cooked with freshly picked basil last night, and the scent whisked me back to my grandmother's kitchen. Then it whisked me forward to the giant margarita pizza I'm going to order the second I arrive in Naples next month.

And then I returned to where I was - standing in my kitchen, making pasta sauce from scratch out of farm-fresh ingredients - and thought, how lucky am I?

 --------

Today is Thanksgiving, and I'm counting down the minutes until my family is assembled at the dinner table so I can video call in (internet, don't fail me now!). The power cord for my computer is working on overtime to get charged up.

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This Thanksgiving, I am most thankful for the recent realization that distance, happiness, success, and satisfaction are all but a frame of mind. They are feelings that you can manage and manipulate.

The shroud that kept me down for so long (though perfectly warranted) is slowly lifting.

Sometimes, you need to laugh about something when you really want to cry.
Sometimes, you need to sit alone and think about how cool this planet is and how lucky you are to be a micro-drop in it.
And sometimes, it's actually all about the basil. Or Ray Charles. Or a flannel shirt.

So today, and every day, relish the little moments:

 The perfect texture of your mashed potatoes.
The gleaming smiles of your friends/family around a shared table. 
The skull you tripped on by accident (or is that still just me?).
This picture of a pig in a tutu:


Whatever it is, be thankful that you're alive and well and able to enjoy it -- because thankfulness is a frame of mind too. 

xoxo,
M



PS: I am always open to exchanging emails with cute animals wearing clothes. If you want in, let's do it. 


Feeling Full and Empty: The Missing Piece

Hey World,

It's been a while. 

I never finished my posts on Malawi, and I stopped writing my "Dear World" posts every Sunday. I probably could have shared with you a million little thoughts about a number of things and some notable experiences, but I simply haven't.

Overall, things are going fine. Life is just plugging right along. 

 I love my work, and my co-workers. I love my boxing gloves and my access to both Pringles and cheddar cheese. I love the contact I have with friends and family back home, and the website "Project Free TV" that allows me to binge on all shows (good and bad). If you asked me if I was living the dream, I would be inclined to tell you a resounding yes.

So many good things are happening, I can't help but go to bed each night feeling fulfilled and grateful. And on top of that, Christmas vacation is less than six weeks away. 2015 is less than eight. 
Before the new year, I'll visit two new countries and check them off my bucket list. Could I really want anything more? 


Well...yes.

I wish Gus wasn't dead

Our last picture together; less than 24 hours before. 

In fact, I think the foremost reason I have stayed away from blogging is that I'm still reeling from the loss of my Muffin Man. Losing him has seriously affected me, and it's affected my ability to share my life on this blog.

So without beating around the bush, here's the whole truth:

My beautiful Gus Muffin died 6 weeks ago. I was there; it was instant. There was nothing that could be done but wrap him in one of my favorite kangas, bury him outside my bedroom window, and lay on the cold tired floor gawping for air as I heaved out tears.

If you want to see me at my worst, I'll be cold, alone, and mourning the loss of a love that left me too soon. It doesn't happen often (thank goodness), but when it does, I am inconsolable.



Even though it has been six weeks, there are daily objects, reminders, and heart pangs that remind me that his love is no longer here with me {i carry it in my heart}.


 I miss his warmth, and his dependency.
I miss how his toenails alternated color based on the surrounding fur.
I miss those darn ears.

 

I miss our selfies, and our walks, and his impatience when I was stirring milk into his dinner bowl. 
I miss his neck snuggles and our reading time and his midnight whines to be pet back to sleep. 
I miss his funky little puppy smell, and the fact that he sat with his tail under his legs. 


But most of all, I miss the overwhelming sense of home he gave me.
I miss the sense of purpose he brought to my non-professional life.
I miss that he was the puzzle piece that made everything here feel right.


It's hard to put into words, but without those things, my life is now somehow both fulfilling and empty. There are so many things that I am proud of and excited about, and yet...it's all incomplete.

I hope my pangs of emotion reduce to a bearable throb.
 I hope seeing my mother in December centers me.
I hope time brings me balance.
I hope the New Year washes me with hope.


And ultimately, I hope I find another beautiful spirit to love with all of my heart sometime soon -- one that can hopefully endure the test of time.

xoxo,
M



#OffTheGrid: Hiking Livingstonia, Malawi

Hey World,

I'm going to backtrack a little bit, and get back to my recent trip to Malawi -- and pick it up right where we left off. 

After writing about how I got to Chitimba/Livingstonia from the Tanzanian border, the next thing to be covered is my one main adventure while I was mountainside.

After arriving in the late afternoon to Mushroom Farm, I spent the rest of the evening on a hammock reading, eating a delicious dinner, and making a new friend whilst drinking shandies. 

I arranged for a guide to come and pick me up the following morning, and at the last minute, had my new friend decide to change my plan for the day, and hop along (the more the merrier!).

The game plan? Morning hike to Chombe Plateau, then continue from there to the mountain-top town of Livingstonia before heading back down to Mushroom Farm for dinner. Depending on the timing, I also wanted to stop by the waterfall en route home as I hadn't seen it yet (it's the tallest in Malawi!).

I'm going to let the pictures do the talking, but this ended up being a solid 6 hours of hiking, and we easily covered 20KM -- meaning that my legs were in a sore way that evening! 

But the sites were beautiful, we had a great time walking and chatting and soaking Malawi in, and I couldn't have asked for a more challenging, perfect day.

xoxo,
M


Chombe Plateau in the distance



Final push to the top!














The long road to Livingstonia

A panoramic view of where we started, Chombe, and the path we walked to get to the base of Livingstonia






Thank goodness for a lift home!


How to Be a Dream Chaser

Hey World,

I know I've been on hiatus for awhile. It was my intention to get back to travel blogging (remember that time I backpacked solo in Malawi?), but as you can probably tell from my last post I've had a bit of a tough time in my personal life, and my blog has suffered as a result.  

In the meantime I've joined #fireworkpeople. If you're not familiar with #fireworkpeople, it's a group of women that meet on Twitter every Tuesday night at 9pm EST and talk about positive things and uplift one another. I stumbled upon the group about a month and a half ago, and whenever I need a feel-good boost or to surround myself with likeminded dream chasers, #fireworkpeople is the first place I go (which recently, is like, all of the time). 

I convinced myself to join this month's #fireworkpeople blog tour, and write a post about something encouraging, something related to dreams...basically something that matters deeply. 

When I started this blog I said "This will record the ways in which I chase my dreams and live the life I desire. A life where I continue to educate my mind, lend my legs to walk the paths of the world, hold tight to my passion for East Africa, remain open to opportunity, and live with humility. 
A life where I smile every day, where I feel like what I do means something, and I don't set my toast on fire. A life where I'm thankful, make good choices, acknowledge (manage and pay back) my debts (to society, to Sallie Mae, to the world)" so really, I couldn't think of a more perfect way to get back on track. 

------------

With that said, it's high time to talk about chasing dreams. I'm not talking about achieving goals or breaking down barriers (which are TOTALLY important for personal growth and development, and I think should be a huge influence on your life in a major way) -- but I'm talking about dreams

What are dreams? Dreams are what keep you up at night. They're what distract you from your workday. Dreams are the images of what your life could look like, or should look like, or will look like, but doesn't yet. Then, we must take the necessary steps to begin to live out the dream we've imagined for ourselves. 



But that right there my friend, is the problem with dreams. They can be achieved, they can be embodied, they can buried, but then, they must be reborn. In that sense, they can never be caught. Dreams can only be replaced or altered, only specified or blurred or made anew. 

Therefore, it's necessary to dedicate time in your everyday to think about what your future life looks like; what living the dream looks like. Then, you have to dedicate time to specifying that dream and outlining the steps to embody that dream, each and every day. 

From mid 2012 - early 2014, I did just that. I ranked my happiness daily, I thought about what inspiration is, I thought about the life I wanted to live. And then, I took some big steps and I took some missteps, but I ended up in the very place which I stand right now -- which is in the middle of a fuzzy fog, because I started to live the dream I landed on {loving living and working at a job where I serve others in East Africa while pushing myself to embrace new experiences both inside and outside of work}. 

It wasn't easy to get here. It cost me a lot of money (my student loan debt is unbelievable). I had to spend a lot of unhappy, lonely nights in New York City. But I cannot fault a single dollar or a single silent evening in my studio because I had a happiness breakthrough, moved to Tanzania in August, fell into a job that I truly enjoy, and started setting weekly goals to get out, do more, and push limits. 

Happiness is attained. I can honestly say that I am living my dream. 


Which means that for the most part, I maintain the dream. I keep the dream alive. I stoke it and poke it as I would a happy crackling bonfire, making sure that it has everything it needs to continue. 

'
But I also give some consideration to the future. I've started to ask myself: What does my dream life look like a year out from now? Three years? Five years? Ten years? How do I get myself there? 
From here on out, the details are a bit more fuzzy. I want bigger things: an opportunity to travel for months at a time, a life partner, a house I can make a home, a job that remains challenging and meaningful, strong friendships with my friends around the globe, continued personal growth. The variables are greater; it depends on so many variables that I can only partially control. But it's also so exciting. 

And that's what I encourage you to do: 
Pick a dream. 
Take necessary steps. 
Live the dream. Maintain the dream. 
Dream a new dream. Keep dreaming. 

And if you ever need the encouragement, shoot me an email, leave a comment below, or join


xoxo,
M

{i carry you in my heart}

Hey World,

Do you remember when I told you about the day my heart exploded

Well, there is something that I need to share with you all: It turns out that hearts can implode too. 

Hearts can be broken. They can stop beating. They can cease to exist. They can slow to zero beats per minute. They can be stunned into a shocked silence that leaves you feeling numb.

And love?

Love can be deep. It can be all-encompassing; it can swallow you whole and become you - you will feel it be reflected in every thought and every movement. Love can manifest in hugs and together-time, in shared glances and whispered secrets. Love can wake you up in the middle of the night to glance sideways and make sure your love is alive. Love can disrupt your being, and love can give you a reason to feel alive. 

But love can also be short. It can end abruptly, unwillingly, in a split second. It can end before you're ready, before you ever planned on letting go. 

Here's the secret that everyone knows but no one likes to remember: Love can leave you. 

It can make you feel broken and bitter; it can physically shatter you into a million tiny heart-shaped slivers or seep out of your pores so slowly that your body aches. It can make you wish you never loved. It can make you believe that a finite love isn't worth the heartbreak of a lost love. It can make you forget why you exist, and why love exists, while questioning the power of ceasing to exist.

But we mustn't think that way. We must be grateful for love, even, too-short, passionate love.  



So I promise to keep our love alive, to keep the story alive, to keep the memory alive, for as long as I can. 

I will not forget our love. 
And I will not forget you. 

xoxo,
M


Getting There: Livingstonia, Malawi

Hey World, 

Yesterday I shared the news that I am currently eating cheese doodles and not scuba diving, but before I got to that point, I had to get from Tanzania into Malawi, and spent a couple of nights in Livingstonia. So let's backtrack a bit, shall we? 

Not pictured: me sweating like I had just run a marathon

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After an early morning trek to the Tanzania-Malawi border, I left Tanzania without much hassle [though they didn't look thrilled when I said I'd be coming back in a week] and walked over to Malawi. 

[[Note to travelers: stay LEFT when you get to the Malawi side. That official looking place on the right that everyone is running to? Turns out it's a bank and not immigration]]

After hanging out in the bank for a few minutes before realizing I was in the wrong place, then changing money to kwacha, I headed for immigration, where I was greeted by a nice but stern woman who immediately put an Ebola gun to my forehead {apparently it takes your temperature -- but it's really quite disconcerting when all of a sudden you think you may die upon entry}, and after 'passing' the Ebola test, was lightly interrogated because I said I was a Miss and not a Mrs, and she wanted to know why someone my age [AKA: old enough to be married] wasn't. When I realized she wasn't going to let me laugh it off, I insisted that I was coming to Malawi to search for my obviously imminent husband, which she accepted as a valid claim, and passed me off to another immigration officer who quickly stamped my passport and let me through. 

I then had my first haggle of the day, low-balled hard and fast to get a reasonable price for my minibus ride to Chitimba and off I was!

Before continuing, I should say that minibuses here are both the best thing and the worst thing about Malawi. It is amazing that there are buses running long distances at all hours of the day (and quite frequently) so that you aren’t SOL if you miss the one and only bus at 6 AM [ahem, Tanzania] but despite the straightforwardness of the road way system in the North [IE: there's only one major road], these minibuses move extremely slowly due to:

1.     The conductor’s insistence to pulling over for any live body at the side of the road to try and convince them that they actually want a ride instead of walking. More often than not? The people just want to walk.

2.     The driver’s personal agenda to buy a ton of food roadside while the rest of the mini-bus waits cramped for him to fill a bag with pristine yams or stanky fish and then shove it on one of our laps. His personal agenda also includes: stopping to chat with friends, stopping to guzzle a bottle of water, stopping to pee, and stopping for the sake of stopping. 

3.     Everyone’s apparent need to pull over every hour for a 10-15 stretch/snack break….even though we’ve barely gone anywhere! Clearly, these people have not endured the transnational bus rides of Tanzania. 

We also had a flat tire break -- interestingly enough, this was our shortest pit stop!
4.     The Malawi traffic police – who no joke stop every vehicle about every 5-10KM, peer inside and make eye contact with every individual, do random bag searches, and for some reason, look in the trunk of the mini bus (which doesn’t really exist…but a bunch of precarious bags are shoved there and subsequently topple out every 5-10KM)

[[ Addendum: The entire northern part of Malawi smells like a giant salty fish. If you are easily nauseated, you might consider hiring a private car and keeping all of the windows up the entire time, whilst also putting your head in a vacuum sealed bag. Or if you are but want to be a hero, go right ahead and crawl into a minibus and hope for the best. ]]

ANYWHO.

After 4ish hours and countless stops (including the time where we drove around a town for a half hour aimlessly, only to realize that our driver wasn't actually the driver and just some random guy trying to make extra money while our driver took an extended food break) I made it to the Chitimba, where I then waited almost 3 hours for an already full jeep to drive up the hill [about 10Km straight uphill, with over 20 hairpin turns] to where I was staying, an awesome eco-lodge called Mushroom Farm. Thank goodness vacation means you have nothing but time (or does it?).


The alternative is to begin walking and then try and hitch a ride [good luck!] or to hire a guide to walk you up, with the option of paying a couple extra bucks for him to also carry your bags/gear. It’s estimated to be anywhere from a 1.5-2.5 hour walk, depending on your tenacity. I would have done this, had I not arrived at high noon, and the desire to walk anywhere for any amount of time was actually in the negatives.

Don't worry -- that's not the truck I took up the hill. However, mine was not much better...but it did have four doors and two chairs strapped to its roof!
So I sat, and drank questionable water {but it was cold and the lady was nice}, and turned off my brain for a little bit, which was definitely a good thing, because once the vehicle started moving, I came to realize that potentially the only thing holding my door onto the vehicle was…me. Not exactly what you want to realize as you’re careening around hairpin bends on a mountainside, but good to realize nonetheless, because I had to divert most of my attention from playing with the most precious toddler in existence (who had taken to punching me in the shoulder, much to the joy of everyone in the truck) and allocate my attention to holding onto the doorframe for dear life.


Less than 45 minutes and two stops to fix something under the hood later, I was dropped at a sign that said “Mushroom Farm” with a big arrow, and at 4pm, 9-10 hours after leaving my hotel room in Mbeya, I had arrived – vacation had officially begun!

More on my Livingstonia adventures tomorrow.

xoxo,
M


If You Can't Scuba...Eat Cheese Doodles

 Hey World,

The highlight of my planned 10-day trip to Malawi was going to be a 4-day diving course in Nkhata Bay (about an hour or so from Mzuzu). Firstly because it is one of the most affordable places in the world to get your PADI Open Water Scuba Diving certifications, and secondly, because Aqua Africa has nothing but rave reviews online for their two scuba instructors.

After a shouldn’t-have-been-long-but-was trek from Chitimba to Nkhata Bay, and a terrible night’s stay at Big Blue Backpackers (highly not recommended-but more on that later) two nights ago, I woke up early yesterday morning and headed over to Aqua Africa to check in, eat some breakfast, and begin my PADI course.

However, I wasn’t able to even put my pen to the paper to begin filling out the form when the fact that I have asthma came up, and the instructor informed me that between liability on his end and personal safety on mine, we actually couldn’t move forward at all unless I went to a major city, got a bunch of specific medical tests done, passed them all, and came back [which was clearly not going to happen].

I put on a brave face and shrugged, saying that I had had done some online research and didn’t think it was going to be a problem and apologized profusely for not alerting him beforehand about my asthma, then quickly ran up to my room and onto my balcony, where my tears fell a little more freely {sidenote: I haven’t cried so much in about a year as I have this past week}. 

It’s really hard to hear that your body, despite how well you try and take care of it, just isn’t healthy enough to do something. I’ve made peace that I may never run a marathon [but I can run a 5K!] and although I know I can still kick some athletic butt, hearing from an instructor that my body can’t be trusted to hover even 30 feet underwater without probably killing me or exploding my lungs is pretty devastating. Obviously, it’s not the instructor’s fault. Annoyingly, it’s also not really mine. And frustratingly, there’s literally nothing I can do about it. Stupid little huffy lungs of mine! Researching lung enhancers is now going on my short list. Do you think those are even a thing? Actually, I’m sure they are. There are pills for everything nowadays.

But I digress.

After an hour and a half of intermittently wallowing and reading, I decided to hop in the shower to clear my mind and take stock of where I’m at.

Here’s what I realized:

1.     I AM IN MALAWI. ON VACATION.
2.     I’m paying $35 a night for a deluxe $80 room with a private balcony overlooking Lake Malawi and a shower that has great water pressure [clearly a shower thought]
3.     Without meaning to, I saved $350.
4.     I have four days where I was going to be busy from 9-5 to do absolutely anything my heart desires – that’s 32 hours of fun to be had!
5.     While I may not be capable of scuba diving, I am capable of snorkeling, kayaking, trekking, biking, cliff jumping, laying on beaches and watching eagles – all of which are offered in the Bay.
6.     I could also just relax, which is apparently this activity where you kind of just stay still and calm and gaze into space or maybe read a book, all the while counting down the hours+minutes until the next hot meal. I could do that.
7.     Finally, the grocery here sells a Malawian knockoff of Cheese Doodles for $0.50 a bag. Just saying {I've eaten a bag a day}.


This is my balcony view right now. I KNOW.
[not pictured...cheese doodle dust all over everything]
So that’s where I am right now [well, where I was after my shower]. It’s almost lunchtime, the WiFi at my hotel is amazing, and chicken enchiladas are on the menu....as are nachos and chili con carne…it’s almost like I’m also in Mexico!

After eating, I started four days of above-water Nkhata Bay fun. Who needs to pay to get closer to slimy fish anyways?

Xoxo,
M


PS: If you came across this blog post because you were googling ‘lung enhancers’ because you too were unable to get PADI certified due to crappy lungs, we should probably be friends. Email me.

A Few Thoughts on Backpacking Solo

 Hey World,

Tomorrow morning I will wake up before the sun with my backpack and a light sidebag and head to Malawi for 9 days of sun, fun, and adventure...alone.


Despite frequently flying to destinations around the globe alone [and to be honest, I actually prefer doing airports+airplanes alone], I’ve never actually traveled around a place by myself. 

Which is a bit strange, because I don’t think I ever realized this was the case until this past month when it hit me that while I've traveled alone a lot, I haven't traveled alone. 

Needless to say: Panic and self-doubt ensued. 

And then I said "Self, ain't nobody got time for that [panic and self-doubt]. You're going to Malawi by yourself, for a week and a half, and you're going to freaking love every minute of it." I rationed with myself that it's a fantastic skill to have, that I love having alone time, and that 2014 is the Year of Pushing Limits. 2014 is the year I put fear back in it's rightful place and tell myself that "can't" isn't a word in my vocabulary. 

I'll admit it: I like being alone....but only when I have the option of not being alone. My biggest fear about traveling solo is that whole not having an opt-out to my aloneness, and being stuck with me, myself, and I the whole time! 

In order to avoid this trip being an epic fail, I came up with a three-pronged approach for my vacation planning to alleviate the fears about my aloneness so I can have the best jump into solo backpacking possible. 

Guideline #1: Plan a trip that keeps you moving. 

There’s nothing worse than being stuck in a place (unless you’re the kind of person who likes being stuck in a place...in which case, ignore this point), particularly when you’re all by your lonesome. It’s no fun sitting in one place or exhausting everything there is to do at a single location and then wishing and hoping something new and interesting to do comes along.

That’s why I’ll be spending time at not one, not two, not three, but four different towns (and five accommodations) across ten days.

I don’t want to be somewhere waiting for time to pass with a frown on my face….which brings me to #2.

[Also, this is the time that you don't have to concede to anyone else's desires, whims, wishes, or hunger pangs. GO FORWARD WITH GUSTO AND SEE/DO/EAT EVERYTHING ON YOUR WISHLIST!]

Guideline #2: Plan a trip that keeps you occupied. 

After deciding I was going to Malawi, the second most important question was: alright, what am I going to do there? 

I thought about what I might enjoy. Then I thought about what I would enjoy/prefer to do alone. And I came up with these: 

 1) I love hiking. I could walk/hike until my body started to decompose, and I would still have some miles left in me. And I don't mind hiking alone. Therefore, I resolved to dedicate some of my time to a place where I could walk/hike freely.

2) It would be a sin to visit Malawi and not spend time on Lake Malawi, but I'm not a beach lover, nor do I enjoy swimming around aimlessly. I do, however, love to snorkel, and have always dabbled with taking the next step and crossing into learning how to scuba dive [as a child I was told people with asthma can’t scuba dive, but it turns out that was a 90s myth!]. 

Well, it turns out that Malawi is one of the cheapest places in the world (yes, in the WORLD) to get your PADI certification – which is recognized widely internationally and allows you to scuba dive almost everywhere – so I reached out and signed up for a 3-4 day course that also includes the opportunity to go night diving…all with the promise of no sharks! DONE!

There's also cliff jumping (this might be pushing my limits too much...but it's an option), snorkeling, kayaking, boat taxis, and numerous restaurants/bars/hotel chalets that overlook the lake...so I think spending time at Lake Malawi deserves a significant portion of my trip. 

3) I also love wandering around a small town, and really getting to know a place. There's a historical town a few KM from where I'll spend my hiking time, but I'm also taking three days / two nights to make pitstops on the way back North to the Tanzanian border to check out two sleepy small towns. Nothing exciting going on in either of these places, but enough to peruse to take a half day and explore a little. This also builds in some flex time on my return in case I learn of something else I want to do instead!


Guideline #3: Go to places that reflect who you are [or want to be]. 

Another major concern about taking my travel solo is that I am really bad at talking to strangers, including other travelers, no matter how awesome, approachable or interesting they might look. 

However, that sentiment is not going to fly on a week+ long trip - I'm going to go bonkers if I don't have anyone to converse with! 

That’s why I spent the most amount of time researching my accommodations – I wanted to find places that were cheap but had character, had good reviews, and were frequented by other low-budget travelers. I wanted to find places that talk more about the activities they offer than the amenities in their bathrooms. 

I figured that the best way to find people who I would be most comfortable talking to or hanging out with would be those who would be at places that reflect my own interests - and the best place I'll be spending the most down-time is where I'm staying each night. 

I likened it to fishing in a stocked pond vs. the ocean: chances if you you're not a rod&reel expert...you're better off in the pond. 

And now a bigger picture note:
<< Do this, but aim the dart >>
I thought it would be best to plan my first solo trip to a place I could see myself being for awhile. 

For example: everyone wants to go to NYC, but it’s also one of the loneliest places I know. NYC could be home to anyone. NYC has something for everyone. 

You can’t quite say the same about Northern Malawi. I chose to avoid major metropolises, instead easing myself a bit more slowly into solitude. You can't really feel lonely if you're at a five or ten room lodge, but you sure can get lost in your loneliness in the lobby of a mega-chain hotel. 

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So we'll see how this goes. Fingers crossed it's a raging success!

 If I can conquer solo travel, I will be indefatigable: I'll be able to visit more countries on my wish list,  try new experiences without being shy, and gaining a confidence I haven't found yet! 

xoxo,
M