I learned that trekking with little planning takes more effort for me than following a pre-set path for a couple of reasons. First, the constant details. I am more of what I would call, a big picture person. Fine details become an overwhelming annoyance. When the details do not work out in the way I hope, my emotion can turn to frustration. Second, I was living in the past, present and future, all at the same time…And it was a struggle. I was processing the big picture of the most recent leg of the journey, trying to enjoy engaging in the present experiences and attempting to plan the details of my future steps. It was a difficult balance.
Much of my time in Africa was spent in the continuous thought of “Where or what comes next?” With the limited Wi-Fi, I researched locations, looked up a variety of destinations and browsed more tour options. Before leaving on the camping tour to Namibia, Botswana and Victoria Falls, I had decided to try to make it to Madagascar. I am intrigued by Madagascar – the Baobab trees look like something from a Dr. Seuss book, the variety of exotic animals only found there and the vast fusion of immigrants in the twentieth century has led to a uniquely diverse culture all their own.
As I researched, I could not find consistent information regarding safety of solo travel. I could not find consistent information regarding road condition quality. I could not find consistent information regarding cost and security of hostels versus hotels. Eventually, I decided to look into joining a tour group. I found a great tour that looked like everything I wanted and it appeared to be in my price range. I sent a request for additional information and final cost breakdown. After several weeks of back and forth emailing with the tour representative, the price came back nearly double what had been advertised due to hidden costs. I was now at the crossroads of decision.
Side Note: If you plan to travel with a tour group, make sure you understand what is included in the quoted price. Some companies try to get away with advertising an activity but do not include the admission fee in their pricing. Basically, they offer the transportation to the activity but if you want to go inside, now you have to pay out of your pocket. Solo travelers will almost always pay a higher price because they are not sharing the cost of a room. This is not, I repeat NOT a punishment to the solo traveler, it is simply the savings for splitting the room cost. Most advertised prices you see with tour companies are based on two people sharing a room. Make sure you ask A LOT of questions before making your decision.
The day after finding out about the doubled cost, I was crabby. My camping tour was going on a game drive that day and I was in no mood for it. I wound up sleeping the majority of the time to curb my inner turmoil. I did not want anyone in my group to take the brunt of my frustration as I battled through making this decision. I certainly had the time to visit Madagascar. I had the money but the amount they were asking would have taken a large chunk out of my savings. Plus, additional spending always occurs on tours for food, snacks, drinks, extra excursions and so on. And I still had to pay for flights to get to the starting point. Madagascar has been on my “bucket list” for a number of years, this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to ask myself a series of questions. Is visiting Madagascar worth going into debt if I had to? If I do not go to Madagascar, where will I go? What is the responsible risk in this situation?
I decided I did not want to wind up in debt at the end of this entire journey. I decided I had worked too hard to save money ahead of time. I did not want to have to work just as hard to catch up after returning home, especially when I did not know how long it would be until I started receiving a paycheck again. I felt like I had exhausted Africa for now and to start an entirely new adventure was going to be costly. In emotional agony, I decided to return to the United States with money to float for a little bit if need be so I did not have to financially start over from scratch.
Side note: It is my personal opinion that travel and adventure is worth every penny spent. However, travel is a luxury. It is a reward for hard work. It is completely worth saving money in advance to enjoy the fullness of a vacation. It is never worth going into debt for. In a society of “I want it now, I’ll pay for it later,” it is not worth the weight of the aftermath. We all have places we can cut back in our spending in order to save ahead. The trip is far more enjoyable you are not trying to pay if off five years later.
When I was looking at returning to the United States, I browsed around some options of things to visit before going home. I decided I wanted warm weather and a sandy beach for a week. I figured the beach would be a great place to recuperate from jet lag, emotional lag and mental lag before being overwhelmed by friends and family. After investigating a few different locations, I settled on Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
I want to give a huge shout out to my parents. Since I was limited on internet access, they willingly helped me find a hotel just north of Fort Lauderdale. Plus, my dad gave me his built up hotel points to get a much reduced rate AND they offered to pay half of the remaining amount which allowed me to enjoy an affordable accommodation only a block from the Deerfield Beach. Thank you Dad and Mom for your generosity to me in Florida and several other areas of my journey.
If you plan to take an extended trip away from the United States, I recommend building in some intentional time to re-enter the country. Enough studies have been done on “reverse culture shock” that I do not feel the need to go into it. I am not an expert but it is real. I think we all experience it differently depending on how much time away, where we visited (Think Ireland vs Somalia) and our own unique personalities.
For me, the grocery store was overwhelming. Do not get me wrong, I am not a fan of grocery shopping anyway but our grocery stores have SO MANY options. Not only do we have many options for flavors but we have to choose from multiple brands as well. Now, I do not drink Kool-Aid but during my first visit to the grocery store in Florida, I stood in the Kool-Aid aisle simply staring at the rows upon rows of little colored packets. No other country I have visited has as many options as we do in the United States.
Aside from the grocery store experience, Deerfield Beach was a great place to get re-acquainted to the United States. Since South Africa is seven hours ahead of the East Coast, I found myself getting tired somewhere between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon due to jet lag. By being intentional about setting aside this time in Florida for getting over such things, I did not have to push through those tired stages. I could simply take a nap. Within three or four days, I was adapted to the new time schedule.
When my dear friend from home found out I was in Florida, she texted to ask how long I would be there. When I told her I only had about five days left, she said, “Okay, I am going to look into tickets. I will send you my flight schedule when it is finalized.” And she did. Becky flew down to spend a day and a half with me. We had a great time touring the museum and swimming at the International Swimming Hall of Fame, laying on the beach, eating seafood, people watching, talking and laughing.
I learned a lot from Becky in this experience. Contrary to how it may look, I struggle to be spontaneous. I like planned spontaneity. I like time set aside to be spontaneous. My mind has a difficult time transitioning away from what is already “planned,” especially when it comes to time and/or money. Here is what I learned from Becky: Never miss a great opportunity to be responsibly spontaneous. She and I have been close friends for a number of years. She did not debate whether it would be worth meeting up with me. She did not care that the time spent would be short. She did not choose to save her few hundred dollars for some other day. She simply said, “How long will you be there? I am coming.” That is the kind of friend I want to be. I want to be someone who is willing to spontaneously drop everything and say, “I am coming.” Thank you Becky. I love and value your friendship more than you know.
My time in Florida was short. I did not galavant around looking for crazy adventure. I used the opportunity to adjust to the time zones and American culture. And of course to have long awaited chips and salsa.
We are not home yet. More adventure to come.