Adventure (Responsibly) Like You Give A Damn

The Importance of Socially Responsible Outdoor Adventure Companies and Tours

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“The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see”.

-G. K. Chesterton

Mambo from Tanzania,

Before I dive deep into a very important subject that is near and dear to my heart, I thought I would give you a glimpse into my past week here in East Africa. I have not returned most of my personal emails, text messages or social media messages, simply because it is too much work (I am truly taking a major break from back home) so I figured I can give a quick wrap up of my past week on this blog post!

  • I have over 60 mosquito bites ( I stopped counting after 60).

  • People watching at an African dance club is literally the BEST!

  • I already ruined a pair of shoes by walking through wet tar.

  • My Swahili is actually getting a little better each day.

  • I had one really shitty day ( I literally went home and cried) and seven really good days, thus far.

  • I saw my African mama and the rest of the family, after 10 years, and I cried! A lot!

  • I have been on two safaris in one week ( I am addicted).

  • I have already had diarrhea (yeah, it was bound to happen).

  • I have eaten my favorite African food, chipsi mayaii, three times in one week (I actually ate it twice in one day).

  • I am obsessed with the two girls who run the house I am living in. Their names are Jenny and Monica.

  • I saw a fight break out on the dala dala (local bus) and it made me laugh.

  • I unfortunately, already experienced corruption, and it infuriated me to my core.

  • It is supposed to be the “cool” season here but I am constantly sweating. It is so HOT!

  • I am actually planning to travel a lot more than I initially planned!

  • I miss my dogs LIKE CRAZY( I wish I can teleport them here)

  • I am super happy to be disconnected from the United States and everyone at home ( I seriously needed a break).

  • The currency exchanges are STILL closed ( due to some corruption government scandal) so I am getting really excited to shortly be paying international ATM fees (NOT).

  • Wells Fargo Bank does not have a Tanzanian country code for free bank calling ( apparently this country does not exist to Wells Fargo).

  • Yes, I have to answer emails between 1-3AM Tanzanian time ( there is an 11 hour time difference between here and California) in order to accommodate my work schedule in the U.S….. so yes, my sleep schedule is crazy but I love the company I work for!

  • There is this HUGE raven who taps loudly on my window with his beak. Considering I am terrified of birds, this is extremely disturbing and is the main reason why I will never open my bedroom window.

  • Everyone here talks about my hair (white girl hair is a novelty here).

  • I have learned not to allow a 4-year-old to drink hot chocolate (regardless of what his crazy dad says) as it ended up all over my pants, his face, the table and the floor at a swanky hotel. (Yep, super embarrassing).

    Feel free to read my recent detailed blog post about my first 24 hours in Tanzania.

    An open letter to anyone who has yet to visit East Africa

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

My African Mama and I, 10 years later!

Socially responsible companies

Socially responsible companies are those that provide products and services that minimize negative impacts to the local community and environment by preserving the cultural and natural resources of the particular host community and also bring economic benefit to the local communities. According to research 46% of consumers are wiling to pay extra for products and services from socially responsible companies. 46%.... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! This number not only baffles me but also bothers me to my core. Traveling and seeing the world is a privilege. It costs money, requires a passport and in some cases, a visa, and requires time off of work; a privilege that many individuals are not granted, however for those who are privileged enough to travel, particularly internationally, it is pathetic that only 46% of us truly care enough about the culture and the environment to engage in socially responsible travel. I also believe a large portion of international tourists are ignorant, in a sense they do not know any better. I was 19 years old when I ventured out on my first international solo trip and to be honest, it took me a few years before I learned the ethics and the importance of socially responsible tourism. I am now 33 years of age, and have been fortunate to have traveled to more countries than I can count and have lived and worked abroad on three different continents (Europe, Asia and Africa). After a solid decade of international travel under my belt, I finally feel confident enough to speak on this important issue.

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The tourism industry in developing countries is saturated and corrupt and it can be extremely overwhelming to decipher which company is the best fit for your tour. Whether you plan to head out on an African safari, climb one of the tallest mountains in the world, take a cruise on the Nile River or take a tour of a local coffee farm, there are many factors that play into which tour company you choose to hire for your next adventure…and the number one factor for many individuals is usually money.

I get it, we are all on a budget and we are constantly looking to save a dollar or two; however there is a fine line between saving money and exploitation and oftentimes they both go hand in hand. The outdoor industry in the U.S. is no different as there are many outdoor retailer and adventure companies in the United States who are ethical and practice social responsibility however there are also many of which who are not. Whether you are buying a piece of clothing from REI or planning an epic safari in Africa, as a consumer, it is your job to ask questions, to do the research and to thoroughly understand why saving a dollar here and there may actually be more harmful to the local culture and the environment than you may think.

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Always book your adventure from local companies

Personally, I am very picky on which products I buy and which companies I hire when I choose to go on an adventure. I want to know where the company is based, how the employees are treated and if the environment is harmed in the process. For example, when choosing a safari company or an international trekking company, it is EXTREMELY important that the company is locally owned. Why on earth would I ever book an AFRICAN safari with an AMERICAN company? For starters, the American owners are profiting more than you can imagine which takes away profit from the local people in Africa. Also, the safari industry in Africa is huge, for example the safari industry just in Tanzania alone is a multi-million dollar industry, and let me tell you a secret, the people of Tanzania know more about safaris than any American tour company. After all, the animals you see on an African safari are indigenous to the land. By booking with an American company for an activity overseas, I can guarantee you that you will pay more money and somewhere down the line, you are exploiting the local people. Cut the middle man out and book right from the local source.

Do a quick Internet search for what you are looking for and email each company that you are interested in and ask them specific questions. Ask them if the company is local, ask about fair wages, and ask about tipping procedures. If you do not hear a detailed response within a week, then something is wrong. A reputable tour company will be honest and upfront and if it seems they are hiding something, then they probably are. I have learned this lesson the hard way and if you are not willing to put in the work, then it is only your fault that you are compromising your dream adventure. 

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Side note: I recently was engaging with an American owned Kilimanjaro trekking and safari company through social media, (I have had many offers to climb Kilimanjaro for free in exchange for photos or a blog post, all of which I have politely declined) and I asked if they were supported by KPAP (Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project). The owner politely responded “no” along with many ridiculous excuses and I quickly lost interest in doing any sort of business with his company. Every single Kilimanjaro trekking company that you hire should be supported by KPAP, if not, you are doing yourself and the Tanzanian culture a disservice. For more information on KPAP, visit their website.

Second side note: I am currently planning a trip to Nepal to climb Everest Base Camp November 2019 and I have spent hours emailing back and forth with the trekking company I chose to hire (If I couldn’t afford to put in the time to research the specifics then I should not be venturing to Nepal).  

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The Tanzanian safari and trekking industry

Let’s be honest, the majority of foreign tourists who visit Tanzania are coming for the sole purpose of going on a safari and/or to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Both of these experiences are life changing and although I have lost count of how many safaris I have gone on, a day on safari never gets old for me. Unfortunately many of the international tourists who venture into Africa sit idle for 20 hours on a plane each away to spend 5-10 days sitting in a safari jeep without taking any time to venture out into the towns and experience the local culture (I think this is crazy but it is also quite comical to witness). 

An African safari in Tanzania costs $150 to $1,500 per person per night (unless you are a local or have your resident permit) and this rate depends on your accommodations, which National Parks you are visiting, which tour company you hire, or whether you book a private safari or a group safari. I personally will not pay more than $400 per day to go on a private safari if I am using a safari jeep or more than $150 per day for a private safari if I am using someone’s private vehicle. The average safari-goer will choose to go on a 3-5 day safari totaling anywhere from $450-$6,500 per person, and much more for a 7-10 day trip. A safari company will profit on average, $8,000-$10,000, per group for a week safari and the safari guide will take home on average, $1,000 (the safari guides work super hard and do all the real work). 

The average price per person for a 6 day Kilimanjaro trek is anywhere from $1200 to $4000 and again these prices depend on which company you hire and whether you are looking for a budget climb or a fancy climb. You can only imagine how much the company makes off of each climber compared to how much the trekking guides and porters make.

If you are interested about the specifics on porters and guides on Mt. Kilimanjaro, please read my recent post entitled, Giving Back, Porters’ Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

Also if you are the asshole who goes on hunting safaris, I hope I never have the dissatisfaction of interacting with you.

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Tipping IS protocol

Personally, the cost margins between safari companies and the worker’s wages are super important because there is not only a huge discrepancy in price, but also this brings up the importance of tipping. I do not care if tipping is protocol or not in your home country but tipping on a safari, a trek or any type of adventure or experience around the world IS PROTOCOL. If you hire a guide to take you hiking through the Amazon, you tip him, if you hire a driver to take you on a tour of the ruins in Southeast Asia, you tip him and if you go on an African safari or climb Kilimanjaro (or any other mountain) you better damn well tip your guide, cooks and porters and tip them properly. If you are too cheap to tip the proper amount or simply cannot afford to tip, then take some time to save your money until you can afford to tip properly. If you do not know how much to tip, then search the Internet, ask your guides and ask the company you hired. A proper company and good guide will be honest with you about tipping. For a quick and dirty on tipping for Kilimanjaro trek or a Tanzania safari, please read below:

Kilimanjaro tipping guidelines

Per each climber per day:

  • Per Chief Guide: $20- 25 per day

  • Per Assistant guide:  $15- 20 per day

  • Per Cook: $10- 15 per day

  • Per Porter: $8-10 per day

Each client should expect to tip between $250-$350, for the entire climb in addition to the cost of the climb.

Tip at the end of your trek and personally hand the tips in an envelope to each guide, porter and cook. Do not give your tips to the trekking company!

If you cannot find your porters because they are always WAY ahead of you, then ask your guides to meet with them or give the porters your tips at camp on the last night of your trek. If you cannot, in anyway, hunt down your porters, then you most likely hired a corrupt trekking company. I met every single one of my porters (and saw them every single day) on both of my Kilimanjaro treks and my Machu Picchu trek.

Tanzania safari tipping guidelines

Per client per day:

For a day safari, there is usually a guide and a tracker. For overnight safaris the tracker may double as the assistant guide and cook.

  • Per Chief Guide: $15-$20 per day

  • Per Assistant guide/tracker $10-15 per day (if they double as your chef then tip on the higher end)

  • Per Chef: $10-$15 per day

For a seven-day camping safari, each client should budget approximately $250, in addition to the cost of the safari. Personally hand your tips in an envelope to your guide and assistant guide at the end of your safari (not at the end of each day).

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Outdoor ethics while adventuring in Africa

Regardless if you are hiking on a local trail in Southern California or adventuring on an African safari in a Tanzania National Park, there are rules and regulations you should follow. Yes, some corrupt safari companies (and guides) will allow you to break the rules in hope they will receive a bigger tip so it is YOUR responsibility to respect the environment and the animals

Keep wildlife wild: Do not disturb the animals you see on a safari. I get it, us photographers want the best photos possible but yelling, harassing or feeding a wild animal is stupid, reckless and dangerous. Do not get out of your safari jeep at anytime and please do not try to bribe your guide in hopes he will allow you to break the rules. Do not put your guide in that type of situation and a respectable guide will be very clear about communicating the rules to you (in case you are inept).

In regards to photography, keep your noisy drones at home (they are forbidden in National Parks) and if you want to take a photo of an individual, ask them first. It is exceptionally rude and culturally unacceptable to go up to people and take their photos as if they are objects. If you cannot speak their language then wait until you have a translator with you to ask them for permission. I always ask for permission, and then show them the photo afterwards, which usually sparks some form of human connection. If the individual does not want his/her picture taken then you must respect their wishes.

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For additional trips on traveling, check out a previous blog post I authored about why I LOVE traveling solo.

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

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Thanks for reading and I wish you a happy and safe adventure (whether it’s in your own backyard or overseas).

Xx

Kristen

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Has Yet to Visit East Africa

Musings on my first 24 hours in Tanzania and why ignorance is not always bliss.

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“A hasty person misses the sweet things: Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu”

- A famous Swahili proverb

  • “Why would you go to Africa?”

  • “You must be going to South Africa”.

  • “Be careful”.

  • “Watch out for Ebola”.

  • “Where is Tanzania?”

  • “Did you get the malaria vaccine?”

  • “ Come back in one piece”

These are some of the questions and comments directed at me as I recently prepared for my temporary move to my favorite country in the world, Tanzania. In 2006, I had the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and I eagerly returned in 2008 (for the long-haul). Leaving Tanzania in the beginning of 2009 was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I love the people, the smells, the rains, falling asleep to the loud chirping sounds of bugs and animals at night, the simplicity, the hardships, the beauty and the generosity of this fine culture. Sure, Tanzania has it’s own set of problems, but let’s be honest the United States is in shambles. People in the U.S. are angry, bitter, competitive, and can no longer consume iceberg lettuce. For the past few months I was so busy wrapping up things in the States that I did not let any of these comments or questions about my journey to East Africa bother me. I get it; a white girl departing to Tanzania for her third time is not normal (to many Americans), especially when our fine President declares this part of the world a “shithole country”. But after my plane touched down at Kilimanjaro airport and I planted my feet on African soil, the first thing that hit me was the smell…the smell of dampness in the air, the sweet memories of people I adore, trees, and burning trash (which is apparently illegal now); a smell that only Africa has and to me in that moment, I was SO happy to be back. I took a long inhale, savored the smell and thought to myself, “I am finally here and I wish others knew the truth about this part of the world”. While standing on the tarmac with my carry-on bags and passport in hand, I reflected on all the comments and questions and I became upset. Upset because these questions and remarks were stated in way that made Tanzania look dangerous and dirty. Of course, many of these comments and questions came from dear friends and family members who in no way had any ill or malicious intent but for some reason, I was and still am deeply bothered by these words. Instead of taking a defensive stance against these questions or correcting these false statements, I want to share snapshot moments of my first 24 hours upon arriving in Tanzania.

Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

Maasai warriors: “Being a warrior is exciting and fun, it has many privileges but also many duties. Many of us look at those times as the best in our lives- though by no means the easiest. To become warriors we have to demonstrate our bravery: we have to undergo circumcision in front of the whole community, without flinching or squinting our eyes or giving any other sign that we are experiencing pain. After all, if we cannot stand bravely that bearable pain, how can we persuade the elders that we will risk our lives to protect our livestock and our community?”

The awkward name card

 Upon arrival at the airport, my good friend Erick (who was supposed to meet me at the airport) informed me he was on a business trip to Dar es Salaam but has arranged his good friend Raymond to collect me at the airport. I trust Erick with pretty much every fiber in my body and thought it was very kind to arrange my airport pickup, when in reality I could have easily taken a taxi to my house. After I collected my 80 pounds of luggage, dragged one of my 50 pound broken suitcases off the conveyer belt and did a quick currency exchange; I walked outside holding my breath to a sea of taxi drivers and random people holding name signs in hopes of quickly finding a sign with “Kristen Fuller” written on it. I did not have my glasses on, so there I am walking up (in way too close of proximity) to random strangers just so I could read the names on their sign (this is always such an awkward experience for me and I dread it upon every international arrival). Within minutes I found my name and I quickly introduced myself to Raymond and within seconds I recognized him. I met him a few times on my past visit to Tanzania and we picked up our conversation where we left off 10 years ago. In the car we called Erick on speakerphone and we all laughed because lo and behold, we were all old friends.  Raymond told me that he drove to the house where I was staying earlier during the day to make sure he knew where to go and that he was tracking my plane throughout the day in case there were any delays (my parents won’t even drive me to the airport, let alone check my flight status). My heart silently exploded and then I realized, “Ahh yes, THIS IS Tanzania”. He offered to take me into town the next day in case I needed anything and told me to contact him with any questions. I am pretty savvy with the public transport in Arusha (old school VW minibuses called dala dalas that cost equivalent to 25 cents per ride) and planned on spending my first day re-acclimating to my old stomping grounds. My plan was to take a dala dala into town, go to the central market to buy food, purchase malaria prophylaxis pills (there is NO malaria vaccine) and take in all the sights and sounds.

A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

A necessary drink before a 19 hour flight with a 90 minute layover sprint!

Kitchens are where friendships form

 I awoke the next morning at 5am to the sound of a very confused rooster, checked my work email and realized work was piling up faster than I can say, “mambo”. I wandered downstairs to the kitchen to make myself 12 cups of coffee (jet lag is real) so I can tackle my work and catch a bus into town. Within minutes I was in full conversation with a sweet Tanzanian girl in the kitchen talking about all the words I do and do not (mostly do not) know in Swahili. She instantly reminded me of my Tanzanian dada (sister), Jackie (who I insanely adore and who just got married). An hour quickly passed, I was on my 5th cup of coffee and we both realized we never even introduced ourselves. She told me her name is Monica, she is in her early 20’s and bless her heart, she thought I was 26. She made me breakfast after a long confusing conversation of whether I should pay for meals or make my own food (I decided on both but we will see how that goes). She asked me about all the Tanzanian foods I do like and the very few Tanzanian foods I won’t eat and before I knew it, I had spent half of my morning standing over an entire pot of coffee and chatting with Monica while sending messages to my Tanzanian family informing them that I am back in town…a morning that will never be forgotten because within those few hours, standing in an African kitchen, a new friendship was formed. Within minutes, my entire African family, (Jackie, her younger brother Joshua, Mama and Baba) were all texting via WhatsApp arranging plans for me to visit (I now have full-fledged Christmas plans and standing dinner plans any night of the week).

Long story short, I didn’t leave the house until nightfall. I sat upstairs working away on my computer while listening to the rain. I made plans to go on safari to Terengeru National Park the following day (Thanksgiving) with Raymond, as he is a safari driver (I made sure we can purchase beer before entering the National Park) and around 6pm in the evening I ventured out for a walk (I needed water and beer).

Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

Tanzanian breakfast of champions! Eggs, cassava, a bread I cannot pronounce in Swahili and COFFEE all made with love!

“I will bring back your bottle, kesho”

I found two shops within minutes of walking on the road (yes, I walked alone at night in a very safe city). Side note: the shops in Africa are amazing, they are basically tiny little buildings where you can buy anything from cooking oil, toilet paper, beer, water, pasta, a plethora of meats in a freezer box, matches and literally any random thing you can think of. If you can’t find what you are looking for at one shop, do not worry (hakuna matata), because there are 10 other shops within the next two blocks. I purchased two large bottles of water at the first shop with my broken Swahili (there is Typhoid in the tap water so I either boil my water or buy bottled water) and asked for a cold beer (bia baridi) at the next shop. The shop owners will hound you for a bottle deposit unless you swear to them you will bring the empty bottle back. I told the guy I will bring back the empty bottle tomorrow (kesho) and he asked me what time. I couldn’t help but laugh because I know how serious these guys are about their glass bottles. I told him he could collect a deposit from me if he wished but I am staying just a block down and will most likely be his favorite customer within a week. He was hesitant, pulled out two small cold beers and reminded me “kesho”.  I ended up returning the empty bottles back later that night and he then knew I meant business (and yes, he is now my go-to beer guy).

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Setting the facts straight

Within 24 hours of landing in East Africa, I met five people (this post is becoming too long to introduce you to the other 2 people) who showed me kindness and generosity because it is in their blood. These may be pointless encounters or simple conversations to many, but to me, these encounters are proof of the kindness that represents Tanzania. So before you wonder about safety, racism, crime, diseases, or anything else that is heavily portrayed by the media in these “shithole countries”, listen to the stories and experiences from people who have set foot within these countries, who have formed relationships with the people or better yet travel to some of these places yourself because I promise you one thing, your life will be changed forever. I am not “brave”, nor am I here to “help” people, but I am simply an individual who was stuck in an American box for 19 years of her life and consciously decided to spend everyday possible forming memories and relationships with people (and animals) around the world.

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Happy hiking and hope to see you on the trails upon my arrival in 2019

Xx

Kristen

Solo Adventuring Tips for the Female Badass

#Adventurelikeagirl

“The woman who follows the crowd will usually go no further than the crowd. The woman who walks alone is likely to find herself in places no one has ever been before.” – Albert Einstein

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

“I don’t know where I am going but I’m on my way.” – Carl Sagan

For those of you that know me, I LOVE traveling alone. It may sound weird at first and a little bit ‘loner-ish” but hear me out. I love making my own schedule, waking up and going to sleep whenever and wherever I want, having the option of meeting new people or not talking to anyone, being able to change my plans last minute, listening to audiobooks in the car or on the airplane and having the option to stay in lavish hotels or pitching a tent at a free campsite. Whenever I travel solo, I get to know myself a little bit more, become a bit more comfortable with being alone and feel so rejuvenated when I return home. I usually end up meeting a few rad people along the way too!

Is it safe?

I am often asked if adventuring solo is safe and my snarky response is usually along the lines of something like “it is safer than driving down the 405 freeway”, which in my opinion is true. I have traveled to other countries solo, camped solo, backpacked solo and road tripped across the country solo and I have definitely learned a thing or two about how to stay safe while traveling solo and making the most of my trip. In reality, no matter where you are in the world, you are never 100% safe. True, some cities and countries are safer than others but I truly believe that if you practice good judgment and have some street smarts (Don’t show your ignorance, fear, and vulnerability while on the road, it may encourage unwanted attention and invite others to take advantage of you), you will be just fine.  

I have many girlfriends tell me they are fearful of traveling solo because they may be unprepared or may find themselves in an unsafe situation, however, living in fear is scary in itself. You will not know if traveling solo will fill your soul until you step out of your comfort zone and try it. I promised myself after I graduated college that once a year I will travel internationally and travel somewhere within the United States where I have never been before. It has been 10 years since I have made this pact to myself, and I am still going strong.

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“If you don’t get out of the box you’ve been raised in, you won’t understand how much bigger the world is.” – Angelina Jolie

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.” – Roman Payne

How do you afford to travel so often?

I am often asked, “How do I afford to travel so often”. To be honest, I have an amazing career that I love that pays me well and gives me the freedom to work remote the majority of the time. I save a lot of my money because I do not go out to eat frequently, I rarely buy coffee out and I rarely shop for clothes. I literally spend most of my money on travel, sparkling water, wine, and skincare. I consider myself a minimalist as I do not like owning a bunch of things and I am that person that always has the same outfit on in every photo. I buy most of my clothes from consignment stores and will wear them until they have holes in them and I never buy processed snacks from grocery stores because they are overpriced and unhealthy. In other words, I have learned to spend my money on things that are important to me.

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.” – John Muir

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Traveling solo does not always mean you’re alone. Most often, you meet marvelous people along the way and make connections that last a lifetime.” – Jacqueline BoonIf

Tips and tricks for the most epic solo adventure

  • Have an itinerary printed out that includes your reservations, distance to each destination, stops along the way, and any other details you do not want to forget. I also email this agenda to myself and take screen captures on my phone.
  • If you are road-tripping solo make sure you have downloaded offline maps and a detailed description of your final destination and stops along the way as it is very possible you may lose cell signal. I am preparing for a 10 day solo road trip in Northern California where I will be backpacking The Lost Coast Trail and will stop at a few National Parks within the general area so I have a word doc with all my stops, campground reservations, hiking details, trail recommendations and of course a tide chart (since backpacking along the Lost Coast solely depends on the tides).
  • Always check the weather and plan accordingly. My parents recently canceled their trip to Hawaii a day before their flight because of the hurricane. So sad.
  • Make sure you always have at least 1/3 tank of gas as oftentimes you can drive for 40-60 miles without any service stations and running our of gas does not sound like a good time.
  • Carry essentials in case you run into car trouble. This includes an emergency first aid car kit, a flashlight, a warm jacket (in case you get stranded in the cold), a gallon of water (in case your car overheats), a spare tire, jumper cables and your roadside assistance card. Make sure you know how to use your jumper cables as you can do some serious damage if you do not use them correctly.
  • Always make sure you have plenty of snacks, water, caffeine and good music (or in my case, audiobooks). I usually order 3-5 audiobooks at the library before an upcoming trip so I have plenty of entertainment while I am driving. My rule of thumb at every gas station stop is I purchase two bottles of sparkling water, a coffee and a couple of bags of trail mix and gummy bears. I am a creature of habit and for many of my friends, who have been on road trips with me, know that I buy the exact same thing at every gas station.
  • Bring ear buds and a battery pack to charge your electronics. Ear buds come in handy especially on trains, airplanes and in long lines.
  • Always have a book… or three. For great book recommendations, check out this list of the top adventure books for women
  • Remember you can do laundry anywhere in the world so pack light. Whether you are hiking the John Muir Trail or you are adventuring to Africa, you can always wash your own clothes (in the case of the JMT) or pay a small fee to have your clothes washed. I have lived in India, Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy and I always was able to have my laundry done. Everyone around the world does laundry so there is no need to pack a new pair of clothes for each day you are adventuring. Contrary to the fashion magazines, it is totally okay to wear the same outfit two (or even three days) in a row.
  • If you go out to eat, grab a seat at the bar instead of a table (it is less awkward and you will meet lots of people eating at the bar).
  • If you get lost, take a deep breath, look at your map and center yourself. Everything is going to be okay and yes, you will make the wrong turn at least once. It happens to everyone.
  • Keep an open mind. Not every plan is going to work out and not every detail is going to go your way. There may be a wrench in your plans but the only thing you can control is your mindset and attitude. Keep an open mind and always be willing to make a new move.
  • Skip washing your hair, seriously, I never wash my hair when I am camping or backpacking no matter how many days I am out on the trails. When I am staying at a hotel or a rented apartment, I wash my hair once a week (my usual routine).
  • Do not ever forget your sunscreen (I actually carry most of my skincare regimen in travel size containers even when I am backpacking).
  • Always send a loved one at home your itinerary and tell them when they can expect to hear from you.
  • Baby wipes and face wipes are a must. I use Philosophy cleansing cloths for my face
  • If you plan on flying, always carry on, unless you are bringing camping gear or traveling internationally for more than 10 days. I use stuff sacks in my carry on bag and can fit up to a week’s worth of clothes in my carry-on without having to do laundry. Nobody likes waiting for luggage to come off the plane, paying for luggage or losing his or her luggage.
  • Do not venture out alone at night, always be diligent when you are pulling money out of the ATM, never carry too much cash or your passport on you, keep your valuable items in a safe at the hotel, and always trust your gut if you feel you are being watched or followed. I have been chased down twice in foreign countries and both incidences were at night and I saw the individual follow me out of my peripheral vision. I do not carry a weapon or pepper spray and I hope I will never need to.
  • Wear minimal or no jewelry and do not wear revealing clothing. 
  • Talk to people. It is amazing how many people you will meet whether you are backpacking alone or traveling internationally alone. People are usually very intrigued by solo female travelers and it is a great way to engage socially and learn some great tips about the trail or the city. 
  • If you are in a country where toilet paper is uncommon, always have a stash in your purse.
  • Charge all electronics before you hit the road and bring a backup battery pack (with an adapter for foreign countries if needed).
  • Take public transportation whenever possible to save money, save the environment, meet people and be adventurous. Taking public transportation helps you sharpen your navigational skills and many metro systems have apps you can download or you can always use Google maps offline to navigate the public transit system.
  • Buy a memento from your trip. I personally collect magnets for my fridge so I can save wedding invitations, printed photos and hand-written cards I receive in the mail. Some of my friends buy a patch, a pin or a t-shirt. If I am in a place that is known for their art or jewelry, you can bet I will be doing some damage on my credit card.
  • Always make a packing list so you do not forget anything.
  • Take lots of photos. Instead of taking selfies (I despise selfies) use your amazing people skills and ask someone to take a photo of you or instead of having to be in every photo, take a photo of your surroundings. 

A complete guide on planning a successful backpacking/camping trip

A complete packing list for any backpacking adventure

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“An adventure may be worn as a muddy spot or it may be worn as a proud insignia. It is the woman wearing it who makes it the one thing or the other” – Norma Shearer

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berr

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

You are the one that possesses the keys to your being. You carry the passport to your own happiness.” – Diane von Furstenberg

If you ever have any questions about preparing for a solo trip or would like to see one of my itineraries, feel free to reach out to me!

Thanks for reading and I hope to see you on the trails!

Xx,

Kristen 

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

“I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” – Mary Louise Alcott

Giving Back, Porters' Rights and My Experience Climbing Kilimanjaro

 “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on Earth.” 

- Muhammad Ali

Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

Summit photo of me in all my rented gear in 2006! 

As a child, I was taught by my parents to either give my time, money or skillset to others who were in need, regardless of how much or how little I have. I recently made the decision to return back to Tanzania this winter for three months, not to volunteer, but for personal reasons. My heart has unfinished business in this country and the individuals in my life who are close to me, understand how deep my connection runs with Tanzania. I have spent over a year in this beautiful African country on two separate visits that I took 10 years ago; both of which were centered on giving my time, my skillset and fundraising for the people in Tanzania. I worked closely with women and children who were directly affected by the underlying poverty and medical complications associated with HIV. I also worked closely with porters, who assist tourists in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, commonly referred to as “the rooftop of Africa”. After spending so much time in this vibrant country, I can guarantee that I received much more from the Tanzanian people than I could ever fathom giving back to them. I lived with a family, whom I now consider my own, I developed deep friendships with individuals who are still in my life today, I fell in love with an incredible person and I left knowing that one day, I will come back. On my departure to the airport, I rented a bus and 15 of my closest African family members and friends departed with me to the airport to say goodbye. We all cried outside the airport (African people do not cry in public) and it took me months to readjust back to my life in the states.

I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

I became very involved with the most incredible 13 children at a local orphanage in Arusha. Every week I would visit and play with the kiddos. I raised a few hundred dollars over Christmas and threw them a huge Christmas celebration with food, gifts, a cake and kitchen necessities. As I drove up with my Tanzanian family, each child was in his or her Sunday best and the Bibi and Babu prepared a huge African feast for me! They wrapped me around in this African blanket and gathered around me and sang songs to welcome me into their family, a tradition that is done at Tanzanian weddings. And to think I was giving THEM a Christmas. THEY gave me the most memorable Christmas of my life. 

Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

Orphanages can be boring! The 13 kiddos were always cooped up in a tiny building when they were not in school. I decided to rent a bus and take them all on a field trip to a wild animal park. My African mama and sister spent all night preparing home cooked lunches for 17 people (to surprise me) and as I showed up each kid was wearing a matching t-shirt. Literally the best day! 

On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

On my very first trip to Tanzania, working in a very rural medical clinic. 

 What I have up my sleeve

This past July, I called my brother (he is my voice of reason because I am impulsive) to tell him about my deep desire to return to East Africa while telling him my game plan of how I would live and work in Tanzania. I asked him if he thought I was crazy and if this idea should just be that; an idea with no action. He told me I should go. I made the decision to go back to this beloved country this winter because everything in my life aligned for this journey. I am moving out of my home in Laguna Beach, leaving my precious doggies with my mom and moving everything I own into storage so I can live in Tanzania for 3 months to reconnect with the country that still has my heart. I do not know where I am going to live upon my return to the states in 2019, but I know I will land somewhere amazing. 

It took me a couple of months to finally feel comfortable sharing with others about my decision of temporarily moving back to Africa and one of the first things everyone said to me was “what projects do you have up your sleeve?”

My answer was “none, I am going for myself”.

The outdoor industry and helping out porters

A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my email history and an email chain from The Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) popped up. I found this interesting since I am planning to hike Mt. Meru, Africa’s 4th tallest mountain that stands just under 15,000 feet above sea level, and I made a mental note to look into climbing companies that support porters’ rights. I am a huge advocate for porters’ rights and I spent the off-season in Tanzania teaching English to a group of porters during my last stay in Tanzania. I knew right away that KPAP and supporting porters was going to be “my project” for my upcoming trip. With my love for the outdoor community, my advocacy for porters’ rights, my desire to see a change among the corruption in Kilimanjaro expedition companies and my close ties to the outdoor industry; I knew I had to get my hands dirty in a project that can benefit the porters. So down the rabbit hole, I go! I am choosing to support KPAP by collecting new and used outdoor gear donations for the porters! 

My experience on Kilimanjaro

My first trek on Mt. Kilimanjaro 10 years ago I was devastated in regards to the treatment of the porters on the mountain. From wearing flip-flops, torn clothing and the lack of gloves and hats while carrying excessively heavy packs in freezing cold temperatures, high altitude, and challenging terrain, these porters were working under inhumane conditions for less than $10 a day. The daily wage for a porter as of 2017 is Tsh 20000/ $8.50 per day, but usually, operators pay a lot less, maybe half that. I remember seeing porters enter the gate and weigh their packs (each pack back then had to weigh under 40kg) in front of the guards only to walk several miles to past the guards and double up on packs while half of the porters were sent back down the mountain. This occurred so the safari companies would only have to pay half of the porters (while the other half were sent back down the mountain with zero wages) and pocket the rest of the money. Keep in mind each porter now had double the weight. I witnessed porters literally running up the mountain carrying gear on their backs, heads, and chest, while many other porters were helping transport sick or injured tourists on gurneys down the mountain. Porters make the majority of their money through tips, however, the general public is not properly informed on how much to tip each porter and as a result, tips are usually not up to par. Kilimanjaro porters are at the bottom of the food chain. A cutthroat price war rages on the slopes of Kilimanjaro and when budget operators cut corners to save money, the porters are the first to suffer. The trekking industry (in all developing countries, not just in Tanzania) is corrupt and broken. I became involved with KPAP immediately after my first experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. I spent two months teaching some of the porters basic English so they could communicate with English speaking tourists, in hopes of gaining higher tips. Today porters have a lower weight restriction (around 25 kilos) and more awareness is being raised about their wages, tips, safety and climbing conditions but we still have so many oceans to cross. The other day my friend in Tanzania told me that women are now working as porters on the mountain and are wearing their Kitenge (typical African fabric) as mountain clothing. 

One of the porters is wearing jeans....

One of the porters is wearing jeans....

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Too much weight and not proper gear. 

Too much weight and not proper gear. 

Too much weight and no gloves 

Too much weight and no gloves 

I need your help

As I return to Tanzania in November, I will be taking new and use donated outdoor clothing and hiking boots to give to KPAP so they can lend their porters' proper gear to help ensure their safety and comfort while tackling one of the hardest jobs in the world. Many females are now porters so female-outdoor clothing and boots are also needed. I am not only reaching out to my friends in the hiking community, but I am reaching out to outdoor brands who also want to help make a difference.

About KPAP

Established in 2003, the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project (KPAP) is a legally registered Tanzanian not-for-profit organization. Our Mission is to improve the working conditions of the porters on Kilimanjaro. KPAP is not a porter membership organization, or a tour operating business, and we do not collect any fees from porters or climbing companies. 

KPAP is an initiative of the International Mountain Explorers Connection (IMEC), a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based out of Boulder, Colorado in the United States.Those who have climbed Mount Kilimanjaro know that porters are the backbone of the trek. Many climbers may not realize that porters can be ill-equipped, poorly paid and have improper working conditions. KPAP’s focus is on improving the working conditions of the porters by:

  • Lending mountain clothing to porters free of charge
  • Advocating for fair wages and ethical treatment by all companies climbing Kilimanjaro
  • Encouraging climbers to select a climbing company with responsible treatment practices towards their crew
  • Providing educational opportunities to the mountain crew

Since 2003, KPAP’s work has had a tremendous impact for porters climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. These include:

  • Porters on over 32,500 climbs have borrowed KPAP’s mountain climbing gear free-of-charge
  • Over 7,000 porters climbing with Partner for Responsible Travel companies are ensured fair and ethical treatment every year
  • More than 16,000 mountain crew have participated with KPAP’s free educational and training classes in English, HIV/AIDS Awareness and Money Management
  • Through funding provided by the Tanzanian Foundation for Civil Society, KPAP has instructed 5,225 porters in classes on Porter Rights
  • 115 mountain crew have received Leave No Trace certification in environmental care of Mount Kilimanjaro
  • More than 1,320 mountain crew have been certified in First Aid and 69 porters and guides have been trained as First Aid Instructors and have gone on to conduct First Aid Certification courses for additional porters and mountain crew.

I cannot wait to see this project take off and bring joy to the porters of Kilimanjaro. 

I am truly hoping the outdoor community can come together because, without this outdoor community, this project will not be successful. 

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” 

-Winston Churchill