Driving on the Left

Monday was one of those days when everything seemed to go wrong.

I was scheduled to take off to the town of Phalaborwa, located just outside Kruger National Park. My friend, Elsa, has an extra vehicle that she was willing to entrust into my hands but a couple of things needed to be sorted with it first before I could take it. We started our errands at 9:30am and arrived back at her house around 5:00pm, unsuccessful in our endeavors. Everything hinged on something else. We could not get this piece of paper until we accomplished that. We could not accomplish that until we first did this. And so on. Tears of frustration were shed, unexpected money was spent, and at the end of the day, emotions were exhausted. I called my safari lodge in Phalaborwa to ask if they could hold my accommodations until the next day and luckily they agreed. After lots of prayer, we decided to tackle the issue(s) again in the morning to get it sorted.

Tuesday morning, the majority of the issues fell into place in about one hours time.

Volkswagen Polo

The seemingly impossible, became possible. I left Elsa’s house, driving on the left side of the road with a manual, Volkswagen Polo for the six-hour trek toward Phalaborwa.

South Africa has traffic police who, at random, direct a vehicle to pull over to be checked for registration, licensing and to make sure it is roadworthy (looking for safety issues like overly worn tires). If something is in need of attention, the traffic cops will issue a fine or ask for a bribe to have it swept under the rug. The Polo’s registration is expired and is in process of getting renewed but I drove it anyway. Elsa and I agreed to just take the fine if I get pulled over by the traffic police – the chances are good of getting pulled over at some point along the drive.

Before I left, we prayed for safety for me, the car and the other drivers on the road. We also thanked God in advance for blinding the eyes of the traffic police to this little, white, Volkswagen Polo. After about an hour of driving, I came upon a HUGE traffic police assembly on the highway. An estimated 50+ officers were standing on the freeway directing vehicles to pull over. Again, I began to pray and thank God for blinding them to the Polo. The moving truck in front of me was directed off to the side.

Driving down the highway in the bed of the truck.

The silver Mercedes behind me was directed off to the side. And I? I drove straight through without acknowledgement at all. I passed several smaller groups of traffic police and never was pulled over. Thank you Lord for answering prayer!


I turned off the freeway onto a two-lane highway that routed through more rural areas. The views were spectacular as the earth changed to a deep reddish-orange color. Bright green trees popped out against the vastly different soil as the road became more and more winding. At one point, I came around a curve to find a farm of banana trees that stretched for acres and acres. Some of the rural towns were rustic and dare I say, poor, as buildings noticeably changed from cement blocks to wood poles and shiny, corrugated steel. Signs for businesses changed from professional, lighted fiberglass to hand painted plywood becoming the Africa many of us have pictured in our minds eye.

When the winding road stretched out into a straight drive, mango tree farms lined both sides. Every few kilometers, a makeshift wooden stand with hand drawn signs invited travelers to purchase fresh mangoes from the merchant taking an afternoon snooze.

Mango stand on right hand side of road.

And then, the mangoes were gone. Fences, gates and a variety of animal crossing signs alerted me that I had now entered game reserve areas. Each game reserve and farm blended into the next for miles upon miles. I kept an eye out for any animals near the fence. My efforts only excited by a handful of ostriches.

Eventually I arrived in Phalaborwa and the Sefapane Lodge, who thankfully still held my reservation. After checking into my rondavel (round hut typically with a thatched roof), I took a short drive to the store to pick up insect killer and mosquito spray.

Take a virtual tour of the rondavel accommodations with me:

Aside from a couple of cockroach sightings (and killings), Sefapane Lodge was fantastic. The rondavels were comfortably “African authentic” in relatively private settings. The breakfast buffet was delicious. The on-sight restaurant had some unique dishes like ostrich meat as well as basic traveler comfort foods with great service. The property is well manicured and has beautiful landscaping. The pool is a decent size for relaxing and also has bar access right from the pool. Guest services offers a wide variety of activities including a number of different safari experiences in Kruger National Park which is only a five-minute drive away. I was pleasantly surprised with Sefapane Lodge. Just tell them Tara sent you.

In the end, this adventure was worth Monday’s frustration and delay. We cannot always control the circumstances but we can control how we respond to them. It starts with a deep breath, or maybe several. In fact, take as many as you need. And then drive forward from there, even if it feels awkward because you are now driving on the left hand side of the road when you are used to driving on the right.

Next stop, Kruger National Park.


Psalm 91




Planning for an Unplanned Journey

Thank you to those of you who have taken time to send me notes encouragement and ask questions about this journey. If you happen to be curious about any part of this travel or travel in general, even if it feels like a silly question, please ask! I had to inquire and have conversations which I felt were embarrassing as I was planning. I had questions I thought I should already know the answer to, but did not. I had to research some of the simplest of things to make sure I was prepared. Feel free to email me through this blog or message me on my “Tara’s Treks” Facebook page. I will do my best to answer your question!

Some of the recurring questions I have received have revolved around the physical preparation in planning and packing. I thought I would take the time to answer them.

  • “How did you know what to pack when you did not know where you were going?”
  • “What have been the items you were most glad you brought along?”
  • “Is there anything you wish you would have brought that you did not?”


I started with research. I looked for other travel bloggers with good advice and were on a similar track to what I was planning. Many of them offered _20170210_124003similar thoughts and gave similar recommendations but after browsing enough sites, I landed on a blog site which was extremely thorough and helpful on nearly every question I had. The blogger’s name is Matt Kepnes. If you are interested in looking at his blog site, visit http://www.nomadicmatt.com.  He was a great resource who has done his research in a wide variety of travel aspects and offers multiple recommendations or suggestions to best suit you and your journey. He also wrote a book called “How to Travel the World on $50 A Day.” I bought the book, pulled out my highlighters and went to town. It is a fantastic resource for anyone who is looking to travel on a budget. No matter the age or type of vacation, you will find something useful in this book.

“How did you know what to pack when you did not know where you were going?”

Early on, I had decided to chase the sun and warm weather. I decided this for a couple of reasons. First, I am tired of the cold. Coming from Wisconsin, I was (and still am) ready for a climate change. Second, cold weather clothes tend to take up more room in a pack. I was not sure how to pack for any and all weather so I decided to only focus on warm weather clothes. My research also stressed planning to dress in layers. Bring a few short sleeve shirts, one or two long sleeve shirts and a jacket. They can be layered for warmth if need be. In planning for pants, I found hiking pants that can roll up to capris and shorts lengths. Leggings were recommended for layering and can be worn for pajamas as well. Versatility is key. So, in the end I left home with three tank tops, three short sleeve shirts, two button up “convertible” hiking shirts, two pairs of “convertible” hiking pants, one pair of shorts, one skort (shorts that look like a skirt), one travel rain jacket, one travel warm jacket and one workout outfit if I actually get the opportunity to workout (it has been more difficult than I imagined to get a workout in). I can mix and match most of the clothing pieces because they are solid colors.

And that is how I packed when I had no idea where I was going. I figured if I really needed something, I could buy it on the road or figure out how to have it sent from the United States. Even here in South Africa, nearly anything I am looking for is accessible. Do not be afraid that you will have to go “without” something. You can find whatever it is, pretty much anywhere.

“What have been the items you were most glad you brought along?”

I think this has probably been the most popular question I have received so far on mimages-9y journey. As I was growing up, my mother instilled in us the importance of permanent markers. In any one of our houses, it is a pretty safe bet that you will find a wide array of sizes and colors of permanent markers. Most likely you will find the brand, Sharpie. You will find them in our purses and our travel bags. And, we always have spares. So, I would highly recommend having a permanent marker or two with you at all times. The images-10standard fine tip and ultra fine tips tend to be the most helpful. They are able to write on nearly any surface and take forever to dry out. You never know when you will need one and this is one item that can be difficult to find in some areas of the world.

The next recommendation I would have is resealable plastic bags…like Ziploc bags. They come in a wide variety of sizes – I prefer quart and gallon sizes. I use them to keep all sorts of items separate and organized. When I found bed bugs in a hostel, I putimages-8 my pajamas (which were my workout clothes) in a gallon size bag to keep them quarantined, then threw away the entire bag. When I hunt for sea glass, I put my treasures in a quart size bag. I keep shampoo or lotion from leaking on to the rest of my belongings. They pack small and light so they do not take up any space or weight which is always a concern in travel.

“Come on Tara, those items are pretty simple and logical. Is there anything else you are glad to have brought with you that I may not thought about?” One item I aimages-5m really glad to have brought with me is a quick-drying towel. They are thin compared to regular bath towels but with a texture similar to a chamois (those little rubber-like towels the Olympic divers always use). They do a great job of drying you off and are quick to dry after use. They also fold up very small which is always helpful for packing. If you are planning to stay in hostels, this is a great item to have in your pack.

I think the last item I would say I have been really happy with is packing cubes. I originally heard about them from a coworker but I did not really take them seriously until this trip. They have been a fantastic way to organize my belongings and keep everything orderly. I bought mine from REI but there are many companies who make different shapes, sizes and colors to meet your needs. At first, I felt like I was playing Tetris to fit them properly in my pack but after a little bit of practice, they fit perfectly. I am still maintaining the same organization process as when I left home.

Because I hate digging for what I need, it has been important for me to stay organized. I color coded my packing cubes. Grey is for everyday clothing, red is for non-everyday clothing (like swim suits and dresses) and the large grey is for dirty laundry. I also have two separate bags for toiletries. Always taking a moment to put items back where they belong is key to maintaining any organizational system. This has been a time saver. You have enough things to worry about when you are traveling, where you placed your clean underwear should not be one of them.

“Is there anything you wish you would have brought that you did not?”

Honestly, I cannot think of a single thing. If I have needed anything, I went and bought it. I have been fortunate to have several friends and family meet up with me along the way so if I needed anything or if I needed to send something back with them, I have.

I also decided if I was not using something in my pack, I had permission to get rid of it. Everything in my bag is replaceable. I left my old running shoes in Italy in September because I had not worn them in a couple of months and had a brand new pair at home. In December, I asked Dawn to bring them to Israel with her since I knew I was heading to warmer weather in South Africa and may want them. After the bed bug incident in Italy, I threw away my workout outfit (thanks to the encouragement of my friend Lisa) and my mom brought another outfit to Armenia for me. It is not necessary to get attached to these items because they are easily replaceable. Knowing this, gives me great mental freedom to move on without getting upset if something gets ruined, lost or stolen.

“When is someone meeting up with you? I want to send a care package.”

Several of you have sent me messages about care packages. First of all, THANK YOU! I love that you are wanting to be involved in this journey. I want you to be involved! From the very beginning, I have said that this journey is so much bigger than me. I am not called to travel alone. You are supposed to come with me in spirit. Some of you are supposed to physically join me…And some of you already have. At this time, I am not sure if or when anyone will be physically joining me.

The earlier photo of the packed bag is actually my packed bag. I do not have any more space to store items, especially since I am not staying in one place like I was in Israel. I am currently on the move with no settlement in sight.

If you are interested in giving to me, I would most appreciate a financial donation. I have added a donation tab to the top of my blog. Through PayPal, you can donate any amount. Any amount is appreciated, even if it is only $5.

Feel free to contact me with any questions or comments about this journey. I apprecate the time you take to join me along the way!




Montecasino – A Local Favorite

“If you get a chance, go see Montecasino. It is a beautiful shopping mall with cinemas, a casino and a theatre. You will feel like you stepped onto the streets of Italy!”

I have to say, I was skeptical when I heard this comment from a few different people. I have done pretty well staying away from the shopping scene since I do not have any additional space to put treasures. I have also been working hard to not spend money on things but rather on people and experiences so avoiding the temptation has been another reason to keep my distance. And lastly, we have shopping malls in America. Not only do I have a decent shopping mall in my hometown but I live only ninety minutes from the Mall of America which is currently the largest mall in the United States. But since Montecasino was recommended to me by several people and I had some time to kill while my friends were in a business meeting, I decided to check it out.  I was not disappointed.

When you enter the front door, it truly did feel like you just stepped onto the streets of Italy. The floor is cobblestone, the storefronts are designed in unique Roman and Italian architecture, coffee shops offer “sidewalk” seating, Italian restaurants boast beautiful balcony seating which overlooks the complex as you dine in greenery and “fairy” lighting (or what Americans would call white Christmas lights and/or rope lighting).  Even the ceiling is painted with blue sky and clouds to give the effect of an outdoor venue. Hidden in the back corner of the mall just past the event ticket booth is a door leading outside to a beautiful square lined with more restaurants and coffee shops. A perfect, quiet place to escape for a moment.

The mall is not large enough to spend a full day, (unless you are visiting the casino), in fact, a couple of hours is plenty of time. But it was well worth the visit to see the amazing effort put into this mall to make it special and unique.

Even if you do not think a recommendation sounds all that interesting, be willing to take some suggestions from the locals. It might just be a wonderful surprise.

Visiting Springs

I met Marianne in the Negev Desert in Israel in October. She was traveling with a small group of people from South Africa who are on mandate from the Lord to go to Israel to pray over the land, the people, the government and anything else the Lord impresses upon their hearts. This team of mighty prayer warriors have seen incredible miracles over the years as they continue to respond in faith to the Lord’s invitation back to Israel. Israel is an expensive country and as the exchange rate gap between the South African Rand and the United States Dollar grows wider, the stories of financial provision just to go to Israel are miraculously astounding. Marianne told me of one of her journeys where the Lord provided the financials just days before the departure. When she called the travel agent to book her plane ticket, he said the plane was full. She told him, “No, the Lord told me I will be on that plane. There is a seat open for me.” Just after speaking those words, she heard excited shouting from the agent. “You won’t believe it! You won’t  believe it! Your name just showed up in the seating chart but I didn’t enter it there! You must come now to pay for the ticket so we don’t lose the seat!” Miracles.

Marianne & Eddie’s house in Springs, Gauteng, South Africa

Following my time in Durban and Ballito, Marianne invited me to stay with her in Springs, Gauteng, South Africa. I have had a wonderful img_20170127_183502770time joining Marianne in the daily activities of life. She and her husband, Eddie, shared stories about living in South Africa. They cooked some traditional foods, different from the food I experienced in the Durban, Natal region. Even in the rain, they had a braai (grill out).  I had the opportunity to meet several of their family member and friends.


Take a tour with me of Marianne and Eddie’s house:


When I was on my way to see Marianne, she told me about “boot camp.” It is a one hour workout in the evenings, Monday through Thursday. She asked me if I would be interested in joining her and I said, “YES!” I love to work out but on the road, it has been fb_img_1485717268533difficult. So I gladly accepted the invite. Every Saturday morning, Springs also has something called “Parkrun.” Parkrun is a weekly, free 5K, inviting the community to get active and get healthy. Participants can register online where they will receive a bar code to bring along to the race. The progress is monitored with the bar code and results are emailed to each registered participant. This past Saturday, the race had 500+ runners, joggers and walkers join! They also take photos and post them on Facebook. To the right is the photo of me. I am sure I was running so fast that the camera could not capture me…Or at least, that is what I am telling myself. Since I have not run in quite a while, the course was a little more painful than I was expecting but it was all about the participation and enjoying the moment.

As it turns out, Parkrun is an international organization that started in the UK with one goal: a weekly, free 5K for anyone and everyone to join. The Parkrun organization has now spread to over 14 countries bringing in people of all different ages and athletic abilities. In fact, I would say there were far more walkers at the Parkrun in Springs than runners. All are welcome. If you are interested in more information on where they are located or how to start one, feel free to click on their website: http://www.parkrun.com.

Completed the Parkrun! (l-r): Tara, Marianne, Alicia (Marianne’s daughter), Darryl (Marianne’s sister)

Marianne and I also had a salon day on Wednesday. After checking out the prices for a haircut and color, I decided to go for a change. If you are traveling in a country where the exchange rate is in your favor, sometimes it is worth the risk. The cost was about a third of what we would pay in the United States. Marianne took me to a lady at Cathy’s Hair Studio in Springs who is known in the community for doing color. After wearing the same few clothing outfits over and over, it was nice to do something to feel good about myself. I am not feeling bad about myself but it is nice to feel a little more “put together” for a moment.


Here are some words I have learned while visiting South Africa so far:

  • Lekker = Enjoyable, used for almost anything that you would savor
  • Fringe = Hair bangs
  • Braai = Grill out
  • American fries = Thin French fries like the ones from McDonald’s
  • Mince = Ground meat (like ground beef but comes in more options than beef)
  • Tackies = Sneakers, running shoes, hiking shoes, canvas shoes
  • Purse = Women’s wallet (The word “wallet” is only for men)
  • Handbag = Purse
  • Shoulder bag = Backpack

This has been a precious time in Springs. A huge THANK YOU to Marianne and Eddie for taking such good care of me. Thank you for the stories, laughter and wonderful conversation. You have blessed me in so many ways!

Tomorrow I leave Springs to visit Pretoria, the capital city of South Africa.



Small Walks on the Wild Side


This happens to be my second visit to Africa. In 2001, I traveled with my parents and grandparents to visit my sister, who was living in Botswana at the time. If you do not know where Botswana is, I have included a map of the southern countries of Africa. No time like the present to start familiarizing ourselves with this HUGE continent. Take a long look at the countries, their names and locations. Seriously, we can wait.

Welcome back.

While we were visiting my sister, we had the opportunity to see amazing sites in Botswana and South Africa. We took in nature reserves of different sizes starting with a very small drive-thru reserve in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, to a river safari near Chobe National Park building up to a large reserve called Madikwe Game Reserve in the northern part of South Africa. It was a great strategy because each game drive/safari built upon the previous one. Although it was not intentional, my visits to nature reserves in South Africa have also began this way…starting with a small walk on the wild side.

The east coast of South Africa is not known for safari animals and game drives. Because the weather is so humid, the habitat is not the best for them. Marine animals are the main highlight for this area. However, I was able to find a small nature reserve just fifteen minutes outside of Ballito, South Africa called “The Rain Farm.”

The Rain Farm sits along the shallow Umhali River. It offers nature walks, game drives and has a variety of options in accommodations for whatever type of sleeping adventure you are looking for. I decided to go on the nature walk and the game drive. The Rain Farm does not have any predatory animals like lions or hyenas. They mostly have plant eaters which allows for safe walking. Do not get me wrong, you still have to keep a distance away from the animals like the waterbuck. That guy kept an eye on us for a long time to the point where we headed off the main path and hiked through the brush to keep a good distance from him. This is where I wish I was traveling with my good digital SLR camera with a zoom lens because that waterbuck was a beautiful creature but too far away to adequately capture with my phone. But, I digress.

I saw emu, ostrich, several types of antelope, caracal (a type of small cat), wildebeest, zebra and my favorite of the visit, giraffe. Most of the animals are used to the game drive with the sound of the vehicle but as we walked, they tended to be more skittish. The exception to this was the male giraffes. They were magnificent. We were able to get near them, only a couple of arm lengths away. It was only after we passed them and I stopped recording that I realized I had been holding my breath while they were near. I did not want to do anything to scare them off, not even breathe. Take a look for yourself!

After the nature walk, I went on a game drive. The vehicles they use are like pick-up trucks with several rows of bench seats added to the bed of the truck. The benches do not have seatbelts so it is best to hang on if they are driving at steep grades or fast speeds. The trucks also have a canopy cover to shade guests from the hot sun or any rain. In the larger game reserves, the driver typically carries a hunting rifle in the cab as the very last resort toward an attacking animal. But because the Rain Farm is a small reserve with no predatory animals, a rifle is not necessary.

The drive took approximately an hour as we made our way through most of the same land I had just hiked. Since many of the animals are more accustomed to the sound of the vehicle, they did not run away and we were able to get closer views of the antelope and wildebeest. Both of these experiences were a fantastic way to ease into the animal sightseeing.

Through my friends who live in the Johannesburg region, I was put in contact with a new friend, Noelene, who lives near Durban. She and her son, Darryl, were extremely helpful in showing me around the Durban area. They also took me to the Natal Lion Park.

(l-r) Tara, Darryl, Noelene

Side note: Keep an eye out for that symbol on the hood of Darryl’s car, it is the logo for his soon-to-be released clothing line called DANOCH. The logo represents the Lion of Judah.

Located in the Natal Midlands, the Natal Lion Park is exactly what it sounds like – a park for lions. After you pay the admission fee, you drive your vehicle down a very bumpy, dirt path to the first of two gates. Signs at the gate tell visitors to keep all windows rolled up, turn down loud music, do not feed any of the animals and if a lion approaches the vehicle, it is best to keep moving slowly.

As we reached the gate, the gate-keeper came out of a small concrete shack to open the first gate BY HAND for the vehicle to enter. After closing it behind us, the car was now enclosed in a large, protected “cage” area. He then went to the front of the car open the second gate by hand. No electric gates here my friends! The double gated, cage area is a safety precaution so if a lion makes it past one gate, they are trapped in the cage and will not be able to get past the second one to keep them in their parkland. As the gate-keeper opened the second gate, he slid back into a small gap between two of the fence lines which would keep him protected if a lion happened to enter the cage. Interesting job he has!


The park area was not as large as I expected and the lions are considered captive animals but even so, it was a nice experience to see live lions wander the fenced in area. The park had something like eight to ten lions – several males a just a few females. Since it was midday and humid, the lions mostly sat around with their tongues hanging out trying to cool down. Regardless, the lion is such a beautiful animal!

Right next to the Natal Lion Park is a small zoo. We had some extra time so we took a stroll through. Normally zoos are not my thing but it was nice to see some animals I would not normally see like a liger, a tapir, a white lion and many brightly colored birds (some were talking birds). Again, it was a good start to seeing animals. Hopefully I will have an opportunity to see them again in the larger game reserves as this journey progresses.

This past Wednesday, I said “goodbye” to the Southeast side of South Africa and took an eleven hour Greyhound bus ride to the town of Springs. I need to put in a plug for the Greyhound bus in South Africa. This was a good experience. The bus is far more luxurious than the United States has to offer. The seats are more comfortable, movies are played onboard and there is even a bus “hostess” who offers beverages and snacks during the ride. The bus was double decker and I happen to get a front seat on top for nice scenery views the entire way. I highly recommend testing it out if you ever get the opportunity.


In Springs, I have a friend whom I met in Israel named Marianne. Marianne invited me to come stay with her, so here I am! So far it has been nice to spend time with her, hear about and meet some of her family, learn more about South African culture and play with her four dogs, one cat and one talking bird named Coco. Coco only speaks Afrikaans so Marianne has to translate what she is saying so I can understand. 

Yesterday, I had the most shocking animal experience so far. Marianne and I were driving to the store when all of a sudden, she says, “I need to ask that man a question.” She pulled the car over, jumped out and ran over to a truck window. She came back to the car and said, “Come on, I want to show you something.” I followed her onto the man’s property, past a thatched roof patio area and into his house. As we walked out the back door, two large, Siberian tigers came into view – one white and one orange. Apparently, the husband and wife who own the property love felines. They have 19 different cats from Persian house cats who have their own room in the house to these two huge tigers and a small, older dog with painted toenails. They had to purchase the house next door in order to have enough yard space for the tigers to play. When I asked what made them decide to raise the tigers, the only thing the woman could tell me is “I’ve always loved cats.”


Come along with me as we continue exploring parts of Africa!

Connecting the Unrelated Dots of a Miracle Filled Path

I read this excerpt today and found it fitting for parts of my journey and how I wound up where I am today. I would like to share it with you:

“The story is told of a man on an African safari deep in the jungle. The guide before him had a machete and was whacking away the tall weeds and thick underbrush. The traveler, wearied and hot, asked in frustration, “Where are we? Do you know where you are taking me? Where is the path?!” The seasoned guide stopped and looked back at the man and replied, “I am the path.”

We ask the same questions, don’t we? We ask God, “Where are you taking me? Where is the path?” And he, like the guide doesn’t tell us. Oh, he may give us a hint or two, but that’s all. If he did, would we understand? Would we comprehend our location? No, like the traveler, we are unacquainted with this jungle. So rather than give us an answer, Jesus gives us a far greater gift. He gives us himself. We often think freedom in the midst of a trial translates as having all the answers we need. Instead, God offers all the Jesus we will need to get through the trial” (Experiencing the Heart of Jesus by Max Lucado).

This adequately describes this whole trekking journey.  Where am I going? What is the point of this? Come on, give me something to count on! And He responds with “I am yours to count on.” Or just as the story says, “I am the path.”

By nature, I am a goal oriented person. When I was on the swim team, I pinned my swim goals to the ceiling above my bed so I could see them every morning when I woke up and again when I went to sleep. When I reached a goal, I spent very little time (if any at all) celebrating them before setting new goal. I feel I am at my best when I have the big picture and tangible goals in front of me to chase down.

I want to know where this journey ends or if it just keeps going. I want to know if I will return to the United States or become an expat in another country. It would be much easier for me mentally and emotionally to know I have to be in a specific place at a specific time. I want to know the end result so I know how to focus my expectations. But I do not get to know the end. I have to continually refocus on the journey, not the destination.

So how do we connect the dots of the journey we are called to? As I look back over time since I left home, I can see how the seemingly unconnected pieces of this journey have prepared me in big and small ways to take the next step. I will do my best to lay out some of the implications as I see it:


o   Deepening an already strong relationship with my dad by spending ten adventurous days together in a new destination.

o   Spending all hours of the day in a minivan sightseeing for ten days has prepared me for long bus and plane rides between destinations.

o   Meeting up with Jessica who is from my hometown and now an expat living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Talking with someone else who has taken a big step to leave the US encourages me to keep pressing forward.

Northern Ireland

o   Meeting Milad and Holly Korkis who shared their love for Israel, Palestine and Syria with me, providing a new perspective. It prepared my outlook and heart even when I did not know I was going to spend time in Israel.

o   Holly and Milad provided very cost effective accommodations for me.

o   I learned to be okay with co-ed hostels in a safe country.

Luxembourg & Amsterdam, Holland

o   I met up with Jeremy (and his lovely family), my roommate from home who blessed me like crazy by allowing me to stay with them and provide some transportation.


o   Provided opportunity to rest up from constant travel and prepare for the next season of travel.

o   Connected with dear friends, Sandra and Lisa for a special time of bonding and exploring with each one separately.

o   Connected with other American backpackers traveling for extended periods of time as well, thus encouraging me to press forward.

Vienna, Austria

o   Challenged me further in a co-ed hostel (I was the only girl for a few days).

o   Connected with other backpackers who were taking on the world encouraging me to press forward.

Czech Republic

o   Traveled off the beaten path and connected with Bridget, a female American living in the Middle East. I learned more insights from firsthand perspective. I believe this was preparation for Israel.

o   Connected with a group of medical missionaries who were at the end of their intense time on the field. Always an encouragement by people who are adventurously loving others with their God-blessed talents to keep pressing forward.


o   Visited friends who blessed me like crazy by allowing me to stay with them and showing me all over the country.

o   Connected with Americans from Texas who invited me back to Israel to work with them.


o   Met up with Mom and Sister to accomplish a long-awaited dream together, deepening our already strong relationship.

o   My parents blessed me by covering accommodations and transportation.


o   Helen, my Texas friend who invited me back, blessed me immensely by taking care of accommodations at Biblical Tamar Park in the Negev Desert.

o   Invited to stay at Biblical Tamar Park after the Texas group left to help the Park for a reasonable rate. Especially at Christmastime, this was a great blessing.

o   My dear friend, Dawn, visited and blessed me with encouragement and adventure.

o   While at Biblical Tamar Park, I met amazing people including a group of from South Africa who invited me to visit them at some point during my journey.

South Africa

o   Through the above-mentioned friends in South Africa, I was connected to a friend in Durban, South Africa named Noelene. Noelene’s family members invited me to stay with them for about a week while Noelene and her son, Darryl have taken me all over Durban to show me their city. They all have blessed me with accommodations, time, fuel and ideas of places to see.

o   When checking into a hostel in Ballito, South Africa, I was given an incredible rate for a suite after a mix-up in booking a co-ed dorm room.


When I went to Israel in September to simply visit friends, I had no idea that visit would eventually lead to South Africa but God knew. I had no idea I would need each expat and traveler as encouragement to continue pressing forward but God knew. I had no expectation of people to assist me financially and yet many along the way have blessed me in ways I have not been able to repay but God knew. Currently, I have no idea where this is headed next but God knows.

So if He knows each step and if I can trust Him, then what do I have to worry about? Nothing. I have nothing to worry about. God is clearly in charge of this adventure.

But what do I do when I am feeling lost, afraid, without hope or just treading water? As I looked in the Bible, I happen to notice Psalm 23, which many of you are familiar. This is a promise from God for anyone who is looking for hope and is brave enough to believe in Him. This passage is not just meant to be heard at funerals. It has daily implications. As you read the words, I challenge you to think about them deeply and the promises presented here:

“The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need. (If you do not think He has provided what you need, please keep reading…)
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams. (Who finds green meadows and babbling brooks peaceful?)
He renews my strength. (Who feels weary and needs new strength?)
He guides me along right paths,
bringing honor to his name.
Even when I walk
through the darkest valley, (What scary valley are you walking through?)
I will not be afraid,
for you are close beside me. (No fear in the dark, scary valley!)
Your rod and your staff
protect and comfort me. (He is prepared to do battle to protect you!)
You prepare a feast for me
in the presence of my enemies. (Who are the enemies in your scary valley?)
You honor me by anointing my head with oil. (An award of honor received, even when you feel weary.)
My cup overflows with blessings. (Opportunity for blessing is endless!)
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will
pursue me
all the days of my life,
and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.”

(Picture yourself with green meadows, protection, feasts, comfort, awards of honor and overflowing blessings…forever! Sounds too good to be true? Call Him on His bluff and test Him!)


So then what is a goal oriented girl supposed to focus on during this unspecified travel time? Ah, great question with an answer I am still learning. Goals are clearly laid out in the Bible for those who have decided to believe in God. Here are the things He is instilling in me as I journey along:

“But what happens when we live God’s way? He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not need to force our way in life, able to marshal [organize] and direct our energy wisely.” Galatians 5:22-23 MSG

He is bringing gifts and blessings into my life. He has allowed me to lovingly connect with others, I am excited about my life and I ultimately have peace, even when I do not know the goal or it seems scary. I am sticking with this journey even though I have wanted to throw in the towel at times. I have growing compassion for people as I meet them and hear their stories. I understand that most people want to do what is right, even though others have a different point of view and opinion. I am continuously learning to not force my perspective or way of life on others – combine this with passion and understanding allows for compromise. My friends, I am learning that these things are the big picture goal!

If you have been offered a poor view of God, I encourage you to look into the real one. Give Him the opportunity to share who He is with you. Do not trust those who have given you a disastrous picture of Him. I do not like to be falsely accused of who I am or my intentions and I do not believe He does either. Go find out for yourself who He is, even if your skeptical, hesitant or even angry. Test Him!

Following His lead has been very advantageous for me. And now He has led me to South Africa. Since I do not know where my future is headed, I will focus my energy on continuing to improve the goals of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. No law exists, anywhere, against these things.

These are only some of the connections I can pin point. This does not incorporate the miraculous links still to be realized. It is amazingly bizarre how one dot, one unrelated connection leads us to the next.

I still do not know where this path is headed, but I can find peace and rest in the One who says, “I am the path.”


Photos of Durban, South Africa:


Photos of Ballito, South Africa:




The Choice of Bravery

Now that we have been traveling together for six months, can I get real with you for a moment?

I am not fearless.

I have fear. I have doubt. I get insecure. I get nervous. I worry. I am shy. I am cautious. I am uncertain.


I am guessing some of you do not entirely believe me.

How do I know? Because you have told me. You have said things to me like:

“You always seem so confident.”

“You are such a strong woman.”

“You do not know what it is like to have anxiety.”

“You always seem to have it together.”



As a child, I was the one who hid behind my mom’s legs, eyes toward the floor and sucking my thumb in the presence of strangers and even family friends.  I was the one who had to have my sister stay by my side when we were dropped off at a babysitter’s house because I cried for my parents. I was the one who called my parents from summer camp because I was so homesick that I wanted them to come get me.

It was just over ten years ago when I thought, “Maybe I do not have to be that person I have always been. I do not really like her. I am always angry. I am always afraid. I do not want to be those things anymore. What if I can actually choose who I want to be?” And so started a life of self-discovery.

How does one change from living a life of angry fear to calm confidence?

If you read the updated “About Me” section of this blog, you will see that I had to walk away from what I knew about God and start over. Around the same timeframe, I also had to walk away from what I knew of myself and start over. I had to start by giving myself permission to change. I also had to give myself permission to make mistakes and forgiveness in the moments when I reverted back to the “old me.” This was not a quick process. It took time.

In the beginning, I struggled to figure out how to react differently than what had been my norm. So, I tried a third person approach. With the goal of being a “Woman of Confidence,” I would look at troubling situations and say (sometimes out loud), “What would a Woman of Confidence do in this situation?”

I no longer wanted to throw vocal, red-faced temper tantrums to get my way. While this had been an effective tactic up to this point in my life, I recognized that it was an angry response that often hurt other people. A woman of confidence does not look to hurt other people to get her way. She does not manipulate situations to get her way. She does not stir up drama to get her way. She handles situations with a calm integrity, sure of her voice and her own self-worth.

Before I allowed myself to react, I pictured my imaginary character, “Woman of Confidence,” responding to my scenario. Does she walk tall, slumped forward with head down or stomping forward with clamped fists? Does she yell at the top of her lungs, immediately start crying apologetically or keep an even, calm voice? Does she fiddle with her clothes, cross her arms or keep hands calmly clasped in front of her? Does she think through her response and keep an even tone, start yelling or whisper nervously? How does a “Woman of Confidence” respond?

I had certain situations where I had to ask for time to think about how to respond, only to get back to him/her a full week later in an appropriate manner. Some situations, I had to simply walk away from and not respond at all. Other situations, I had to apologize and ask for forgiveness for my reactions and try to respond more appropriately the second time around.

Did you know that “Do not fear” and “Do not be afraid” is listed in the Bible 365 times? That is one verse for everyday of the year.  But my question often remains, “I cannot just turn off fear. So, then what?”

Additionally, many Bible verses say “Take heart…” or “Take courage…” or “Be strong…” as reminders on what to do when I get afraid. But recently, I read a version that said, “Be brave” which gave me an entirely different response.

Even when I cannot turn off fear, I can be brave. Even when anxiety, doubt or insecurity overcomes me, I can be brave. Even when it feels like my world is falling apart, I can be brave.

So, what does a “Woman of Confident Bravery” do? She sets her mind for understanding, unity and compromise. She envisions how she will handle herself in the situation no matter what the other person says or does; she is not responsible for their reaction but she does have self-control for her own. She takes a deep breath, squares her shoulders and bravely walks upright (even when she wants to slump or stomp) toward conflict. She keeps her hands in front of her in a welcoming, non-defensive manner. She keeps a steady tone. She asks questions to understand. She does not argue or debate; instead, she listens and looks for unity in the response (sometimes it is a really small unity). She is willing to let go some of her own wants or expectations while maintaining her boundary of integrity to preserve relationship because she is not bound by pride or arrogance. She does not need to be right or push her own agenda. She is not offended by difference of opinion or viewpoint; in fact, she welcomes it because it leads to larger unified accomplishment if both parties are willing to brainstorm resolution.

I am not perfect in doing this. I still tragically fail, especially when I am caught off guard and the other party is pushing for an immediate answer. But a “Woman of Confidence” is willing to humble herself to apologize and ask for forgiveness. She picks herself up and tries again because confidence stops at nothing. Bravery does not give up. Sometimes it needs a cheerleader to do these things but they must be done in order to move forward again.

This has been important for me on this journey, especially in traveling solo. How will I respond when my flight is cancelled? How will I respond when my accommodations fall through? How will I respond when I cannot find someone who speaks English? How will I respond when I my plan does not happen as expected? I have to look at fear in the eyes and choose bravery, otherwise I never should have left home. The more I practice, the more confidence comes naturally. The more natural confidence comes, the freer I am.


“Tell those who are terrified, ‘Be brave; don’t be afraid. Your God will come with vengeance, with divine revenge. He will come and rescue you.’”  Isaiah 35:4

 “Be strong and courageous. Don’t tremble! Don’t be afraid of them! The LORD your God is the one who is going with you. He won’t abandon you or leave you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6


Be brave!

Leave No “Petra” Unturned or Unvisited

It had to be the late 1980’s. I was young and the band “Petra” was killing it on the Christian music charts as they changed the face of Christian rock with their 80’s hair band style. I can still remember some of the lyrics. Here is one of my favorites:

I had no idea what the word “petra” meant. In fact, it was not until I was thinking about this blog and did research that I found out petra is the Greek word for “rock.”

Back in those days, I pulled out the ol’ dictionary book – you remember those things called books, right? They have hard covers and paper “pages” that you turn to continue on with the story? Dictionaries came in book form too. Crazy! Well, the dictionary refeimg_20170106_130432677renced an ancient city in Jordan. I thought, “Ancient city? That sounds cool. I want to know more!” So, I pulled out the encyclopedia book. For those of you who do not know what an encyclopedia is, it is basically Wikipedia, but in book form. The books were alphabetized from A to Z. I pulled out the “P” volume and looked for “Petra.” One look at that poor quality photo in the encyclopedia and I knew I wanted to see it one day. I did not believe I would actually get the chance.

I am led to say this: NEVER underestimate or scoff at the interests, dreams or longings you have had, even at the earliest of ages. You never know what awaits you in the future. Things you thought were silly or are just childhood wants, can actually come to pass. They are not to be taken lightly. Do you know when I was five years old, I told my mom I wanted to be a ballerina or a forklift driver? I wound up driving a forklift for nearly 8 years when I was in my twenties (By that point, it was far less of a dream than when I was five). Childhood dreams and the spoken word are very powerful! What things did you dream about as a child? Have you had the opportunity for them to happen yet? If not, keep your eyes and ears open for opportunity. Let the five year old dreamer in you come alive!

Since Petra is so close to Israel, (located in the bordering country of Jordan), I decided to look into the cost and procedure of visiting. Boy, talk about a can of worms. I heard everything from needing a visa before leaving the United States to waltzing across the border with no problem. I heard a variety of costs ranging from $50 if you go at it alone to $800 for a private guide. I heard my safety would be at risk and that it is completely safe. I heard all sorts of things. But in the end I had to ask myself a couple of questions:

  1. Is it something I have dreamed of for a long time?   Yes.
  2. Is the money worth spending?   Yes.
  3. If I have to cut my trip short in order to make this dream happen, is it worth it?   Yes.
  4. If this is the only opportunity I ever get to visit Petra, will I regret not going?   Yes.

There was nothing more to discuss. I was going to Petra.

The day tour was fantastic. The border crossing was almost smooth. The site was beautiful. If you are not familiar with Petra, you may have seen it showcased in a variety of movies. The location has shown up in Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, Arabian Nights, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, The Mummy Returns, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and more.

Overlook of the mountains where Petra is hidden.

Petra is over two thousand years old. Although it is unknown when Petra was actually built, the city prospered as the capital of the Nabataean Empire from the first century BC through the spice trade, specifically focused on frankincense and myrrh. Later, the Roman Empire acquired Petra until a large earthquake in 363 AD destroyed the city leading to its downfall. By the seventh century, only local Bedouin’s inhabited the area. It was considered the “lost city” until 1812 when Swiss explorer, Johannes Burckhardt, dressed as an Arab and convinced his Bedouin guide to lead him there. After his visit, Petra became well-known in the West and began attracting visitors. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has been labeled one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

img_20170106_121849425As you walk toward the canyon-walled pathway that guides you to Petra, you are met with rock formations on either side of the road. The doorways lead to tombs. Hundreds and hundreds of rock tombs line the path to Petra. Some of them are dated all the way back to the first century AD.

Nearly 700 horses, donkeys and camels work in the park, providing transportation for tourists and an income for owners. All three have been part of Arab life for thousands of years. (Click on photos to see full image)

The “Siq” or narrow gorge, is the winding pathway leading to Petra’s entrance. The Siq was the result of an earthquake which split the mountain apart, leaving the gorge. It is just over one kilometer long and extremely vivid in color. Some secrets can be found in the rock walls as you make your way toward the city.

When you arrive in Petra, you are immediately staring at “Al Khazna”or The Treasury. This is Petra’s most famous landmark, and rightfully so. Standing over 125 feet high, The Treasury is beautifully carved and decorated in Corinthian design. It is said Pharaoh’s treasure is still concealed here. Chances of spotting camels here are good. They will even take you for a ride if you are willing to pay.


As you walk the “Street of Facades” you will see a number of carved entrances to more tombs. Eventually, you will make your way to “The Theatre” which can accommodate 4,000 spectators! The columns in the front are an addition by the Romans during their time of occupation, later in Petra’s history.

Down around the corner from The Theatre stands “The Royal Tombs.” Each of the four buildings has its own given name but combined, they make up a most impressive and beautiful façade to view. Visitors can climb the five stories for the experience to walk inside and gaze at the marble ceilings. While it is obvious that some of the stairs have been reconstructed, others are still authentic so watch your step! (Click on photos to see full image)

If you were to continue the path past the Royal Tombs, you would reach other areas of ruins of Petra. Unfortunately , the city itself was eventually destroyed and never rebuilt. The majority of what remains is tombs. But nonetheless, it is one of the most incredible places I have ever visited. If you get the opportunity, go for it. You will not be disappointed.

And so, this brings us to end of my time in Petra and in Israel.

January 11th marks the six month anniversary of leaving home with just a backpack. In some ways, it has gone by fast. In other ways, it has crept along slowly. But no matter how I look at it, it has been a fantastic ride so far. Thank you for continuing to trek with  me. Thank you for your comments of encouragement and cheer. You are such a part of this journey. You may not think so. You may think you have not played a part at all, but I assure you, you have. You matter. Your words matter. You reading this blog matters. You coming with me in spirit matters. Keep up the good work. We are not done yet.

Next destination: South Africa.

Now that I think we can agree that we all love Petra, I encourage you to chase God’s dream for your life. He guarantees to take you to a place greater than you imagined. Choose to take a step beyond belief to the next plateau.

When the Dawn Comes…

img_20170109_143415_003Dawn and I met as wee lassies through a Christian kids program called “Awana.” The program strives to provide children from “every background and cultural setting a place to belong, build confidence and grow in faith.” It is a youth group, of sorts, for children of all ages, toddler to high school. It was a place for kids from all over the community to come together, make new friends, learn about Scripture, play games and eat snacks. Truth be told, I can pretty much guarantee you-I was there for the games and snacks. While Dawn and I were acquaintance friends back then, it was not until our adulthood that we became good, close friends.

Over the past five years or so, I have been blessed with the opportunity to really get to know this lady. We have laughed together, we have cried together, we have been angry together, we have worshipped together, we have challenged each other and we have watched each other chase the heart of God like our lives depend on it. Because we believe our lives DO depend on it.

Dawn longs for Heaven to come to earth. She longs for God’s Kingdom to be present and active. She has a strong memory in general, but she especially does when it comes to the Bible. She has the incredible ability to make correlation between current circumstances and Biblical example.

Dawn and I share a crazy heart for adventure. She is always up for visiting a new destination, trying a new food or exploring a new hidden gem. Her excitement for adventure motivates me to push beyond my own adventurous boundaries to try new things I might normally shy away from.

She has been a huge cheerleader for me as I have been on this journey. She understands my calling and continuously reminds me that I am not called to mainstream travel. I am called to venture off the beaten path to discover less frequented areas of beauty. In moments when I struggle with who I am on this trek, Dawn is there to refresh my memory and encourage me to keep pressing forward. What a blessed friendship.

As soon as Dawn knew my trek was going to actually happen, she immediately began saving money to be able to meet up with me somewhere. We did not know exactly when or where or how, but the unknown did not stop her from preparing. With less than a month’s notice, she decided to come visit me in Israel in December, just before Christmas. In so many ways, this became a huge miracle and blessing for the both of us. She can share with you how work schedule and personal obligations appeared to be stacked against her and yet, the door opened. She can fill you in on how this life long dream of standing on the same ground as her Savior came to pass. It was not something we planned ahead of time but at just the right time, God’s time. His hand was all over it down to landing a hotel in Israel for three nights for a whopping $25 (If you did not know, Israel is a REALLY expensive country. This cost was a ridiculous blessing for both of us!).

I could write about all the places we visited around Israel, but instead, we took a lot of videos. The main goal was to walk some of the steps of Jesus with a few other sites. Feel free to browse your way through the videos. They are mostly in order of when we visited them.





Meet Dave and Ross


(L-R) Dave Cole and Ross Nichols

DAVE: A friend suggested I might be interested in this Bible study on Saturdays.  Weeks went by, I didn’t respond. I really wasn’t that interested. But this friend wouldn’t stop calling me saying, ‘Dave I really think you’d be interested in doing this. And I was like, ‘Okay, whatever.’ One particular Saturday, she called me at like, six o’clock in the morning and said ‘Dave, I really think you ought to go to this.’ Finally, I said, ‘Okay, fine.’ Grabbed my wife and went. We walked up the stairs of this synagogue-looking building and I thought, “Oh boy, we’re really getting into it here… let’s go find out.” When we walked in there was this man standing up at the podium having a Bible study but there wasn’t nobody else in there. We walked up and introduced. I just felt led to say to him, “Look I’m not interested in two things. I’m not interested in converting to Judaism. And every church I have ever attended has blown up [split].” And he replied, “That’s okay, you don’t need to convert. And there’s only two of us here, me and you, and I’ve got the door key.” In my mind, that said, “If we split, I’m the one that has to leave. He doesn’t, He’s got the key!”  And here we are eleven years later.

ROSS: I got the keys to the synagogue in St Francisville, LA in December of 2005. I started going in the building and doing a Bible study. I didn’t want to advertise or put flyers out. I felt like whatever happens, happens; It’s not going to be me orchestrating it. From my side of the story, I would go in this abandon synagogue that no one was using… I mean wow, what are the chances of this small town having a synagogue that is not being used, I am interested in the Hebrew Bible and studying the Hebrew language. It was built in 1901 by the Jewish residents of this town. There are no longer any Jews left in the town. So I would go in there, study and pray. My prayer was that God would send people. The first people he sent was Dave and Sherry.

It’s always been our plan to be aligned with Heavens plan. We don’t try to force people to believe certain things. If someone comes in saying, “I believe this,” then someone else comes in saying, “I believe that,” Dave and I usually respond with, “What would you like in your coffee?” We are not interested arguing about which view is “right”. Our job is to just sit with other people who are interested in reading Scripture and simply search for answers to questions.

DAVE: We, Ross and I, have had to learn how to get along with ourselves and just have dialogue. We ask the hard questions and then try to listen. We’ve been created with two ears and one mouth for a reason. We learned how to incorporate that method with the group that started to come as well. We learned how to discuss controversial stuff without getting red faced and saying, “By God, this is the way it is!”

ROSS: It’s not all about agreeing; I don’t think we should be in agreement all of the time. We try to create an atmosphere of dialogue where I can have very firmly held convictions that I believe are fundamental to my faith but while I’m at the table, I am going to respect your position. It allows for authentic inquiry and allows for you to say “You know, I’ve never heard it talked like that. Maybe you’re right but here’s the way I understand it.” It doesn’t mean we agree on everything but what we have come to find out is that by doing it that way, we’ve mutually advanced our understanding. We want people to question and challenge things so together we can look into Scripture and find out what the Bible says.


Through the blessing of technology, the Bible study now reaches a world-wide community who come together for teaching, reading and dialogue. You are invited to join Ross and Dave in their weekly study, you can find them “live” online every Saturday at 10:30am CST.

For more information on how to join the live video forum, please visit: www.unitedisrael.org. Go to the top menu and click on “Teachings”. Then, in the drop down menu, click on “Weekly Shabbat Services Location and Online.”