Top Swimming Holes in Zion National Park

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Swimming holes may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Zion National Park. Hiking, canyoning, and mountains galore are probably higher on the list. But when I went, it was nearing 100 degrees and unbearable. Emerald Pools, the most popular hike, unfortunately, does not allow swimming. After extensive research and exploring, here are the best ways to cool off that I found.

The Virgin River

zion national park swimming hole virgin river

The Virgin River runs throughout Zion. There are plenty of less frequented spots along the river that are great for swimming. Just avoid any spots too close to a tram stop or major trail and you’ll be fine! Be careful as the currents are much stronger than they look (I came out with quite a few scratches). Parts of the river are also open for tubing at certain times of the year.

Pine Creek Waterfall

hiking pine creek zion

Less well-known and less accessible, the Lower Pine Creek Falls trail takes you to a hidden swimming hole. Getting there is more than a little tricky, and my Mom and I got really lost. But there’s also no crowds and the water is warm and calm. Joe’s Guide provides a pretty detailed description of how to get to the trailhead. From there, you’re on your own.

The Narrows

zion national park the narrows swimming

In addition to being a great hike, The Narrows is a fun place to cool off. The hike itself consists of wading through (sometimes waist-deep) water, but there are plenty of deeper spots to swim along the way. Getting there and hiking through can be as difficult or as easy as you’d like depending on how far you decide to go. Most people just go until they start getting tired and then turn back. In my opinion, this is the most fun hike at Zion, but it does get very crowded.

 

 

 

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A Mother-Daughter Bonding Road Trip

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grand canyon road trip mother daughter

Upon deciding to move cross-country from New York to San Diego, I knew my mom and I needed a proper goodbye. We’ve always been super close and this was going to be the first time we weren’t living within a few hours’ drive of each other. After some thinking, I realized what could be a better send-off than a road trip? The logistics and costs of driving from coast-to-coast ended up not being ideal so I flew her out with me to San Diego and we rented a car. I planned out a route on Roadtrippers that included the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park. We packed some snacks and we were on our way.

I’d always wanted to do a road trip in the U.S. But I’ll admit that after so much international travel, I was worried I’d be let down. I thought wrong.

Our first stop was Peggy Sue’s Diner. Super cheesy and touristy. But it set the mood for the rest of our trip as I realized that the Southwest was a whole new world I had yet to conquer. It became more apparent as we crossed the state line to Arizona. I can’t imagine having done this trip any other way as every mile was beautiful. Looking out of the car windows was unreal. Sprawling mountains, canyons, deserts, and valleys. It was really hard to focus on driving! Understandably, we never reached any of our destinations on the trip within an hour of when we were supposed to. We just couldn’t help pulling over everywhere.

road trip arizona grand canyon zion

As enchanting as the scenery was, it was far from the most memorable part of the road trip. In Williams, we had mother-daughter dates with wine flights and interesting locals. At Horseshoe Bend, my mom had the most embarrassing moment of her life (I assume). I’m not supposed to repeat the details, but I will say that it brought us closer together. After all, nothing brings two people closer than one laughing at the other’s misfortune, right?

In Zion National Park, I really wanted to do a lesser known trail. After doing some research I found one online that leads to a secret waterfall. Apparently, it was so secretive that the park rangers couldn’t even help us find the trailhead. Luckily, we eventually stumbled upon it on our own. The trail was obviously unkempt and we had to wade through the stream for most of it. After a little over a mile, we came to a dead end. A mini-waterfall and a wall of rocks blocked our path.

My mother, always protective, suggested I try to scale the boulders next to us so I could go up and over this barrier. It was far from safe. I managed to slowly wiggle my way up there while my mom spotted from below. Upon reaching the top, my mom began to follow. She struggled so, in a real Hercules moment, I used one arm to hold onto the tree behind me and one to help pull her up. It didn’t really work, but it was still an epic moment. At the top of the boulder, we realized there was no way to get around the barrier… and we couldn’t figure out how to get down! We eventually slid down the side and got a few cuts and scrapes along the way. Oh, and that little waterfall that blocked our path? Apparently, that was our destination, after all!

We definitely learned a lot about each other on this road trip that we didn’t already know. For the first time, I felt we had that “adult” mother-daughter friendship rather than taking on the caregiver and child roles. My mom would like to think we’re like the Gilmore Girls, but we’re probably more like Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn in Snatched. We had a great time, but we butt heads a lot, too. She likes to blast the A/C while I’m shivering under blankets. I like to scream along to T-Swift and get annoyed that she doesn’t sing the right words. I learned that I’m a chip off the old block in that we’re both insane weirdos.

But I also learned that she’s way more adventurous and gutsy than I knew. And she got to see me at my best: planning and navigating trips. I can’t wait to go on another mother-daughter trip, but I think next time an all-inclusive with a swim-up bar might better suit our relationship.

 

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My Favorite “Old New York” Establishments

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Anyone who knows me knows I probably should have been born in a different decade. I’m obsessed with classic movies, vintage fashion, and, of course, old-school restaurants and bars. Having lived in NYC for nearly five years, I grew to love “Old New York” establishments. Sure, there are countless vintage themed speakeasies and cafes, but I prefer a place with history. Here are my favorites. Take note that none of them have windows.

Bemelmans Bar

bemelmans bar old new york

Located in the Carlyle hotel, this is my absolute favorite bar in NYC. I couldn’t go that frequently as it’s far from cheap ($25 cover most nights and ~$21 per drink). But the drinks are good, the atmosphere is unique, and the live jazz is what I live for. You seriously feel like you’ve stepped into a Casablanca-eqsue jazz bar. It’s quaint and you can tell there are quite a few regulars. The artwork is also amazing as a fan of Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeleine. Fun fact: Bemelmans wouldn’t accept payment for his work. Instead, he requested a year of free stays at the Carlyle.

21 Club

21 club old new york

Originally a Prohibition-era speakeasy (and possibly the only one still standing), The 21 Club is a true New York landmark. All of my favorite Hollywood icons have dined here, along with nearly every president. In fact, many have their own favorite table to reserve because they dine here so frequently. It’s also featured in numerous movies and TV shows. I will admit, the food isn’t amazing, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Minetta Tavern

Historical, cozy, and the best burger in New York? Count me in. (Ok so I’m a vegetarian now, but I wasn’t at the time! And it was without a doubt the best burger I ever had.) Minetta Tavern was a regular hang for some of the biggest writers of the 20th century. Stepping in the door on a cold winter night is like finding an old inn to escape from the snow. Be warned though, reservations are tough to come by. We opted to dine at 11pm rather than wait two more weeks. Even though I won’t eat the burger, I’d love to go back to Minetta for the warm, bistro environment next time I’m in town.

Grand Central Oyster Bar

grand central oyster bar old new yorkAnother iconic spot, Grand Central Oyster Bar is known for its high-vaulted ceilings, fresh seafood, and convenient location for travelers and commuters. While it’s not nearly as intimate as the other spots on this list, the architecture is undeniably impressive and the food is pretty good, too. You should also definitely check out the quirky bathrooms.

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10 Ways to Stay Fit During Long-Term Travel

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Long-term travel has a way of taking its toll on your body. Eating out at every meal, long travel days without exercise, and cheap drinks all add up. But it’s possible to maintain (or even lose) weight while traveling. Here’s how.

1.) Cook your own food

Choose hostels and AirBnBs with kitchen access. Buy your own groceries and cook for yourself. Compared to the U.S., produce elsewhere is generally much fresher and more delicious so you don’t need to be a pro-chef to create something amazing. This will also save you a ton of money.

2.) Workout videos

Download some workout videos onto your tablet or laptop so you can watch them offline. Then recruit some of your travel buddies to join you so you can stay accountable.

3.) Go on active adventures

hiking active fitness travel

Hiking, swimming, biking, and even just walking around a new city are fun ways to stay fit. More adrenaline-filled activities like climbing, canyoning, and surfing also fit the bill.

4.) Limit sugary cocktails

Sure, they seem like such a great idea when you’re on the beach. But all they really give you are excess calories, dehydration, and a hangover. If you’re in the mood for a drink, stick to wines, hard liquors, and beers.

5.) Don’t go crazy with the free breakfast

Whether it’s a hostel with endless bread and cereal or a full-on breakfast buffet at a nice hotel, it’s easy to over-do it. This is especially true when you’re trying to save money and think it will help you skip on lunch. Guess what? It won’t because carbs only fill you up temporarily. So go easy on the breakfast and make your own healthy sandwich for lunch.

6.) Pack healthy snacks so you don’t need to stop for a huge meal

While portion sizes are generally smaller abroad than they are in the U.S., they’re still pretty damn big. And a lot of people have three of these huge meals a day since they aren’t home with access to snacks. Pick up some nuts and fruits at the grocery store so you don’t have to go crazy with the restaurant meals.

7.) Limit indulgences to special, local foods

vietnamese food hanoi local cuisine

When it comes to traveling, moderation is key. You can’t go to a foreign country and not indulge. Trying the local cuisine is a huge part of the culture and experience. So skip the burgers, but occasionally opt for the local pasta or unique desserts.

8.) Take advantage of body weight exercises

If you don’t have time for a full workout video, you can still fit in several reps of body weight exercises. Squats, lunges, push-ups, etc are all great ways to ensure your muscles don’t whittle away during those long train rides.

9.) Take local classes

Muay Thai in Thailand, yoga in Bali or India, and dancing in Argentina or Spain are all unforgettable ways to stay in shape and have fun.

10.) Cut yourself some slack

vacation tanzania beach zanzibar

Don’t set unreasonable goals. More importantly, don’t feel bad when you screw up. You’re on vacation for Christ’s sake! Be flexible, be good when you can, and forgive yourself when you indulge too much or are too tired to get out of bed.

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6 Things I Miss Most While Traveling

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Every once in a while I seriously consider traveling long-term and never returning to the U.S. Of course, I would never actually do this because I would miss my family and friends too much. But there are also many other downsides to traveling that we often forget about. As amazing as travel is, there are some things about home that will always keep me coming back.

1. Western Food

Yes, foreign food is amazing. I didn’t think I would ever get sick of many of these cuisines. But sometimes you really just want the comfort of the foods you grew up with, like a New York pizza or even just a good sandwich. It’s rough to be stuck in a place where they don’t make it quite the same.

2. Established Friendships

OK, this one is a no-brainer. Sure, you’re meeting so many friends from all over the world and it’s great. But sometimes it’s nice to have a friendship that lasts more than a week or two (not including ongoing WhatsApp messages). And it can also get extremely tiring to go through the same small talk with new acquaintances all of the time. I get to the point where if someone mentions they are leaving the hostel within the next day, I find an excuse to end the conversation. I know it’s terrible, but socializing is exhausting!

3. The Basics

Traveling definitely makes you appreciate a lot of things you always took for granted. I miss being able to order delivery in NYC anytime I want, rather than having to brave the streets during a storm because the hostel doesn’t have a restaurant. I miss being able to find everything I need at the store. I miss being nearly certain I’ll be able to communicate with any given person during my day. Even more basically, I miss toilet paper and bathroom doors that lock. Oh, and then there’s also all the times I miss bathrooms period.

4. Material Things

It’s nice to be a minimalist, but sometimes I miss having stuff. I hate having to live out of a bag. I miss having a room that’s decorated to match my personality with nostalgic memorabilia rather than generic room after room. No matter how hot and tropical the country you’re visiting, there’s something cold about bare white walls.

5. Internet Access

There’s definitely something nice about taking a technology detox for a few days here and there. There are even days when I’m grateful that the WiFi doesn’t work and I’m forced to just relax. On the other hand, there are plenty of times when I feel isolated and disconnected from family, friends, and current events. More importantly, there are times when having WiFi could be a life-saver, like when your credit card stops working.

6. Personal Space

I stay in hostels and take public transportation 90% of the time when I’m traveling. I’ve also taken a few group tours. This means I’m usually in loud and overcrowded environments. Whenever I come back from a trip, I cherish my alone time. I spend a few days at home doing absolutely nothing before I’m ready to be social again.

7. Sleep

People tend to think travel = vacation. Not true. At least not the way I (and most backpackers) travel. You’re constantly on the go. Waking up early for tours, hikes, or just to catch the sunrise. Racing around to catch the next mode of transportation. Even when you do have time for 8 hours of sleep, it’s still nearly impossible to make use of it. You’re bound to encounter a few inconsiderate hostelmates who like to turn the lights on in the middle of the night, play music without headphones, or are just simply loud.

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10 Ways to Get the Most Out of Solo Travel

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I love solo travel, and thanks to social media, more and more people are beginning to feel the same way. But a lot of people are still afraid to travel alone. Even if they’re not worried about safety, they’re concerned about feeling lonely or not getting enough out of the experience. Here are some tips for using the fact that you’re on your own to your advantage. Most importantly, be safe but have fun!

1. Visit somewhere spiritualsolo travel bali temple yoga

Temples, cathedrals, and ancient ruins are perfect spots to explore by yourself. Actually, any quiet, beautiful place will do. You can be more introspective and meditative than you ever could if you were with someone else. Let the dramatic realizations begin!

2. Avoid romantic places

Sure, some people are okay riding down the canals of Venice alone, surrounded by kissing couples. But this would probably make most of us feel a little lonely (and grossed out). Personally, I prefer to save the romantic spots for someone special and go everywhere else on my own.

3. Take yourself on dates to restaurants

Even if you would never do this back home, you should absolutely try it while traveling! For one, you’ll get to try so many different foods than if you just limit yourself to street food. Second, you’ll get to see local culinary customs in action. Lastly, it’s super fun! After all, you are your own perfect date.

4. Go to cute little cafes and people watch

In my mind, there’s nothing more European than this! Grab an espresso or an afternoon tea and take it all in.

5. Head to the park for some quality me-time

botanical gardens singapore

I love going to the largest park in every city I visit. I think it’s usually the most beautiful part and you get to see locals taking a rest from their busy lives. Bring a book, notebook, or sketchpad and enjoy!

6. Do things your way

Embrace that there’s no one else around that you have to please. This is by far the best part of solo travel! Sleep in if you want to. Wake up early and catch the sunrise if you want to. Spend a lot of money on a fancy dinner or grab some ice cream and eat it in bed. Your options are unlimited.

7. Befriend the locals

What better way to get a true feel for local life than by making friends with the locals? Learn from each other.

8. Make friends with fellow travelers

Sure, you’re solo traveling and want to do and see things on your own. But you can’t be alone all the time! One of the best parts of traveling is sharing stories with other backpackers from all over the world. And since many people are on their own, nearly everyone is friendly and up for a good conversation.

9. Go shopping

markets bali Indonesia shopping shops

Shopping is always more fun when you’re not slowing anyone down and can do things at your own pace. Find some hidden gems or just browse the local markets for a few hours.

10. Take a local class

Whether it’s yoga, pottery, or cooking, learn a new craft from the local experts. Plus, you’ll probably make some new friends while you’re at it!

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Singapore on a Budget

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singapore budget marina bay sands

Singapore is one of the most expensive countries in Southeast Asia, and you could definitely have a luxurious vacation here if you wanted to spend that kind of money. But you really don’t need much money at all to get the full local experience.

Accommodations

You’re probably looking at $15-$25 USD a night, which is still much more expensive than Thailand or Vietnam. But it’s doable and much better than Western European prices.

Food

singapore food hawker centers budget cheap

Hawker centers are basically huge, diverse food courts. You can easily get a full meal for under $6 USD and they have some of the best food I’ve ever had. Hawker centers began as a way to regulate formerly unhygienic street hawker food. Now they’re a staple and some food stalls even have Michelin stars. My favorite hawker center was Lau Pa Sat, which is probably the most popular choice. It’s also a very local experience as many of the local business people eat here.

Transportation

Public transit in Singapore is the way to go. It’s efficient and cheap (half the cost of the subway in New York). It’s also cleaner than anywhere I’ve been in Europe for sure!

Budget Activities

Marina Bay Sands

Singapore marina bay sands gardens by bay budget

Go to the top and take in the views. We got drinks, but you can actually go up for free and look over a small (but crowded) balcony that’s open to the public. Beats spending $500 a night to stay there.

Gardens by the Bay

This is completely free and one of my favorite thing to do in Singapore. You could definitely spend hours here. I went both at night and during the day and I just couldn’t get enough. If you don’t have a lot of time, try and go at night because the lights are beautiful.

Botanical Gardens

singapore botanical gardens free

The Botanical Gardens are also free to the public. There are some gardens that cost extra, but we were already so overwhelmed with all of the free options that it’s hard to imagine getting bored.

Explore the Neighborhoods of Singapore

Walk around Chinatown, Little India, and Arab Street to absorb the local street culture. Singapore is all about the immersion of different cultures. Be sure to check out the local food, architecture, and shops.

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Becoming a Yogi in Bali

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bali yoga yogi indonesiaI’ve always enjoyed yoga as a casual hobby. My “practice” consisted of going to a class at the gym a few times per month. My motivation was completely physical and I rolled my eyes whenever I was in a class where the instructor started chanting. Needless to say, I was far from a yogi.

This all changed when I started going through some major life transitions. I had plans to quit my job and move across the country. Despite wanting to make this change for over a year, as the day came closer I began to question myself. I was beyond stressed. I decided it was time to get away. Maybe a weekend yoga retreat outside the city?

As I began to research my options, I realized that this city break was going to cost me a lot more than I would have expected. The average retreat cost about $500, not including transportation. I was discouraged until I found something even more surprising. For the same $500 I could spend a month doing unlimited yoga in Bali! Of course, flights were a bit more expensive than Amtrak but screw it. I booked the retreat and after quitting my job I was off!

Upon arriving at my retreat in Canggu, Bali, I definitely started to feel at peace. With ocean winds, open-air yoga studios, and a large pool to drink healthy smoothies by, how could I not? But I also started to realize that the yoga itself was not what I expected. I had assumed that the yoga would be fun and mostly for beginners. I also assumed that most of the other people at the retreat would be like me, casual exercisers who just wanted to escape life for a while. Boy, was I wrong. Nearly everyone was a pro!

My first day of yoga was exhausting. I just took one, 90-minute class (out of the 12 classes available each day) and I nearly passed out. The movements were challenging, the heat was intense, and the instructor really pushed me. In fact, he physically pushed me into positions that my body couldn’t handle. He told me that he could tell I was very flexible and I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I was not a fan of this guy.

aerial yoga retreat bali

I expected to be too sore to do any yoga the next day. I was surprised to wake up refreshed and eager to take more classes! Over the next coming weeks, I still found the classes difficult, but I was excited to push myself further and further. The instructor I hated my first day became one of my favorite people. I was starting to see physical and mental changes within me. My body could do things it never could before. I even became confident enough to try aerial yoga! More importantly, I was able to sit still and be calm, something that’s quite foreign for an anxious person like me.

Over the course of 30 days, I met inspiring yogis from around the world and kick started my own journey into spiritual wellbeing. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this in a weekend in New York.

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The Most Unusual Foods I’ve Eaten Abroad

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For me, one of the most exciting things about traveling is trying the local cuisine of different cultures. To quote travel writer Deborah Cater, “You have to taste a culture to understand it.” Most of the unusual foods on this list are considered novelties in their respective countries as opposed to traditional fare. Still, I had such a fun time trying them and don’t regret any of them!

Thailand: Scorpion

scorpions unusual food thailand abroad

Foul. It honestly just tasted burnt and I couldn’t finish it. I wouldn’t recommend falling for this tourist trap. But if you insist, you can find it on all the most popular streets in both Bangkok and Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Vietnam: Rat

This was an interesting experience. With a local guide we ended up in a family home of a local tribe community in Da Lat. They were so eager to have us try everything they had, further supporting my theory that the poor are much more generous than the rich. They gave us a vase filled with what they eat for dinner every night. We asked our guide to translate and tell us what was inside. He refused to tell us until after we tasted it. Well it was chunky and I think I tasted some hair. It wasn’t awful, but I definitely wouldn’t ever eat it again. When the guide confirmed that it was rat, I don’t think anyone was surprised. Still, I was grateful that this family allowed us to try their food.

Vietnam: Crickets

crickets unusual foods vietnam

I also tried crickets in Da Lat. They were deliciously seasoned and came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. They reminded me a bit of potato chips. I would love to try them again. Luckily, I may have the chance within the U.S. since insect protein is predicted to be the next big thing in sustainable cuisine.

South Africa: Warthog

My friend ordered this dish in a restaurant called Mama Africa in Capetown. Honestly, it just tasted like steak. I was a little thrown off as I expected it to be more similar to pork. Regardless, I highly recommend this restaurant if you’re ever in Cape Town. Delicious, traditional food along with music and dancing every night.

Namibia: Zebra

zebra game meat african food namibia

Out of all the strange things I’ve tried, I have to say this was my favorite. It tastes like meat…but better somehow. However, my dining companions were torn and there were some who really hated it. Head to Joe’s Beer House in Windhoek to sample this along with a host of other local game meats.

Namibia: Crocodile

This was also at Joe’s Beer House. I have to say I liked this as well. Probably because I’m not the hugest fan of meat and this had more of a fishy texture. I believe that most people at my table enjoyed the crocodile as well.

Malaysia: Cendol

cendol strange food malaysia dessert

The only non-meat dish on this list, Cendol is a common dessert in the hawker centers of Georgetown in Penang. While I generally loved the food in Penang, this was a little too much for my taste. It’s basically shaved ice cream with “jelly noodles” on top and red beans throughout. It’s an odd combination of sweet and bitter, but my friend loved it.

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before My First African Safari

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This year, I (quite spontaneously) embarked on the journey of a lifetime when I booked an African safari tour. I took part in several game drives throughout the trip and the experience was unforgettable. But there are a few things I wish I knew beforehand.

1. You May Not See the Big Five

lion african safari

In fact, it’s very likely that you won’t. I only saw a few, but I was lucky and grateful to see the animals I did see. It’s very much a luck of the draw whether you will see very many animals at all. This is difficult to accept after spending a fortune on the trip and it’s important to stay positive and focus on what you do see and learn. Personally, I was glad to see the beautiful African landscapes, even if the wildlife was a bit sparser than I had hoped. Moreover, I think it’s important to relax and stay in the moment. It’s easy to become caught up in desperately searching for the Big Five and miss out on what’s currently going on around you.

2. Not All Safaris Are Created Equal

sunset african safari botswana

There’s a reason why some national parks, like Masai Mara and the Serengeti, are more popular (and expensive). They simply have the best landscapes and selection of wildlife. I chose to skip on these due to the cost. Instead, I went to Etosha and Chobe National Parks. I still had an unbelievable time and got to see many animals, but I regret not doing a safari in the former locations. The photos that my travelmates had from the Serengeti were National Geographic-worthy. They saw so much wildlife, and their view was unobstructed due to fewer trees and flat land.

3. Get a Seat in Front and Wear Layers

storm african safari botswana landscapeI really wish I had made a point of this. While some jeeps are better than others, for the most part it’s difficult to see everything over the people next to and in front of you. When you sit in front, you can get a better view of the animals from multiple angles. I also found it difficult to hear the guide and ask questions from the back.

I was also surprised to find that it can get really cold when you head out for a morning safari. In my case, we started at our campsite and drove over the main roads to the national park so it was also very windy. Wear layers so you can keep warm until the sun comes up.

4. Rent a Good Camera or Lens

hippos hippopotamus chobe safari AfricaI actually don’t own a good camera. When I travel, I just rely on my phone. In most destinations it’s much more convenient than carrying around a camera and I don’t have to worry as much about damaging it. Although the Google Pixel does take better photos than most, it still didn’t have many features that are practically necessary for an African safari. Most importantly, it doesn’t have a good zoom function. Luckily, I was able to rely on others on my trip for good photos, but I really wish I could have taken some of my own.

Whether you don’t own a camera or just don’t have good lenses, you can rent them without making a commitment and shelling out a fortune. BorrowLenses lets you rent equipment for very reasonable prices.

5. You May Get Emotional
elephant african safari big five

Okay, this one may be just me. But seeing wildlife up close is amazing and inspiring. We saw lions mating right next to our vehicle, baboons protecting their young, and elephants just being their majestic selves. I did tear up a few times. It often felt like a spiritual experience.

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