My Stay at the Hilton Dead Sea

I received a complimentary stay in exchange for writing this post.  As always, all opinions are my own.

I have always loved taking advantage of the natural healing powers of the earth. I use natural and organic products and I am a vegan. The Dead Sea has been a dream destination of mine for ages. The minerals in the water have been known to help with many skin problems. The salt in the water helps heal scrapes (don’t go in with a serious wound though). And the low elevation makes the Dead Sea one of the easiest places to breathe in the world because of the high oxygen level. My dream came true and I spent a few days at the Hilton Dead Sea.

The hotel has a vibe that feels close to nature. The decor is simple, fresh, and natural. All of the staff members are incredibly kind and helpful. It is the perfect place to unwind, relax, and let all of your worries slip away.

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We even got specially made vegan food, including these adorable desserts:

The Hilton Dead Sea almost feels like a wellness retreat. Our days started with breakfast and relaxing by the pool. Later in the afternoon, we would walk down to the Dead Sea for a soak, mud massage, and salt scrub. Then we would eat dinner, go to sleep, and repeat.

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Did I mention that the mud massages and salt scrubs are free for guests? That’s right, a daily treatment on the beach is included with your stay.

When I left the Hilton Dead Sea I was mentally relaxed. It was just what I needed. My skin was the softest I can remember it ever being. My face had a glow. My pores were smaller. The Dead Sea is like magic. And the Hilton is the perfect place to stay during your visit.

My Stay at Calimera Habiba Beach Resort

I received a complimentary stay in exchange for writing this post. As always, all opinions are my own.

Before I visited Calimera Habiba, I didn’t know that Marsa Alam exists. It’s a small, hidden gem on the Red Sea in Egypt. Marsa Alam isn’t crowded and it’s a divers paradise.

If you find yourself in Marsa Alam, Calimera Habiba is the place to stay! The staff are friendly and attentive. The rooms are spacious. The beach is amazing. And the dive center next door is awesome.

Aside from diving, there is a 4×4 tour company across the street and the desert dunes are so much fun!

The front desk was extremely accommodating and arranged all of our activities for us. We just said what we wanted to do and within an hour, they had it booked. Talk about good service!

We are vegan and the restaurant managers were quick to come up with delicious vegan options for us. After we went to our first meal, every server knew about our dietary restrictions and was prepared to cater to us.

I can’t recommend Calimera Habiba and Marsa Alam enough!!

My Stay at the Inn at Gig Harbor

During my last trip to Washington, I did something new.  In the past, I’ve always stayed in Seattle or ventured off to the national parks.  But there is so much more to see in the area!  This time, I decided to visit a small town called Gig Harbor, on a peninsula right outside of Seattle.  Gig Harbor is close enough to visit for a quick overnight trip from Seattle.  Despite being so close to Seattle, Gig Harbor feels like a different world.  It’s quaint and filled with history and culture.  If you’re looking for a place to get away and relax, I can’t recommend Gig Harbor enough!

Below are some photos from my stay at the Inn at Gig Harbor

Tips for Traveling as a Vegan

As a vegan who travels often, I have found myself seated with a plate of food I can’t eat more often than I would like. Attempting to communicate dietary restrictions when abroad can be frustrating and at times ineffective. Here are a few pieces of advice based on what has worked for me:

  • Learn the word for “vegan” in the local language.
  • Also learn the words “no,” meat,” dairy,” and “eggs”. Some people won’t understand what vegan means, even in their local language, so knowing how to explain it can be very helpful.
  • www.happycow.net is a great resource and will allow you to find vegan, vegetarian, and vegan-friendly restaurants in many places around the world.
  • Googling can also be helpful.
  • Chain restaurants can be nice. I’d much rather eat local, but if I have a choice between Starbucks and who-knows-what from a local restaurant, I’ll take the Starbucks, where I know what is vegan. 
  • Stick to meals that are difficult to hide potentially problematic ingredients in – for example, while rice won’t contain any animal byproducts, bread and noodles can have eggs, dairy, problematic flour, etc. 
  • Bring bars just in case. Pro Bars and Clif Bars are my favorite. 
  • Don’t forget to special order your airplane meals! Make sure you do this in advance, as airlines often won’t bring vegan meals on a flight unless one has been ordered.
  • If you’re going on a guided trip, communicate with your guide in advance. Explain exactly what you can and cannot eat.

 

Ten Things You Should Know before Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro 

The roof of Africa and the easiest of the seven summits: Mount Kilimanjaro. I quickly realized that Kilimanjaro has a bit of a mixed reputation. Some people will assure you that it it’s no more than an easy hike – everyone’s mountain. Others stress that altitude is altitude and at 19,341 feet, nothing is easy. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle. The first few days were easy – almost too easy. But summit day was tough. Not so much because the hike itself was tough, but because after an hour of sleep, hiking at midnight when you can’t feel your extremities and you’re losing oxygen isn’t fun. Here are ten things I think you should know before climbing Kilimanjaro:

  1. You need a guide. It is a legal requirement to have a guide to climb Kilimanjaro. You don’t have a choice, so prepare to hire a guide. 
  2. Your guide choice matters. I’ve heard horror stories of guides rushing people with altitude sickness up the mountain. Then I saw it. I saw climbers who couldn’t stand on their own being pulled up the mountain by guides. I guess companies want their success rates to be higher. Remember that you lose good judgment when you have altitude sickness, so having a bad guide could literally be life or death. Find someone who you trust will take you down the mountain if you’re feeling sick. I would also recommend going in a private group. It’s a more personalized experience and I think everyone’s needs are catered to better. I went with three friends and we were all very glad we had a private group. 
  3. Slowly is better. Your body needs time to adjust to altitude, and the way you feel can change quickly. Don’t risk it. Climbing Kilimanjaro is expensive. If you’re paying the money, you want to summit. If you don’t know how your body typically reacts to altitude (disclaimer: no one knows what causes altitude sickness and even someone who has never gotten it before can go to altitudes they have previously been to and get it), then choose a longer route. I did the 7 day Machame route. I think that was a good amount of time. 
  4. Mental stamina is key. Climbing Kilimanjaro is a marathon, not a race. The guides will tell you “pole, pole” meaning “slowly, slowly”. Listen to them. Knowing that the trek was going to be 7 days was tough for me. I hate camping, so I started counting down the nights right away. I was very focused on the end goal and sometimes I just wanted it to be over with. Learn to love the process. That’s something I struggle with, but want to work on. 
  5. Pack appropriately. You’ll be trekking through quite a few different climates. At the bottom, you’ll be hot and sweaty in a t-shirt. On summit day, you’ll probably be freezing no matter what you’re wearing. Bring clothes for every environment and bring lots of layers. Weather changes quickly. 
  6. You’re going to smell. Horrible. You’re going to smell horrible. And so is everyone else. There are no showers. Do everyone a favor and bring some wipes. 
  7. It gets cold. Especially at night. Yeah, I learned this one the hard way. I wasn’t paying much attention when I packed my sleeping bag and accidentally packed my summer sleeping bag instead of my winter sleeping bag. Big mistake. By the third night, I was freezing and couldn’t sleep. Luckily I learned a few tricks that kept me warm later nights. If you find yourself cold at night, stuff your sleeping bag with clothes. Try to eliminate any air pockets. Bring hand warmers and toe warmers. If you’re really cold, throw a few in your sleeping bag. Ask your guide to fill up a water bottle with boiling water, wrap the bottle in your winter coat, and put it at the feet of your sleeping bag. If you’re really prone to getting cold, bring an emergency outdoor blanket (one of the thin foil ones) and wrap it around your sleeping bag. 
  8. Bringing Diamox doesn’t hurt. I don’t like taking medicine unnecessarily. But I also don’t like dropping $3,000 to not summit a mountain. I got Diamox from my travel doctor and brought it just in case. Someone at the hotel I stayed at before I left told me that people who take Diamox have a 30% better success rate. I felt fine and my oxygen levels were high. But then I thought about how quickly things can change with altitude. I didn’t want to risk not summitting, so I started taking Diamox on our third day. I’m not sure whether I needed it, but I didn’t have any issues with altitude. I’d like to test how I do without Diamox, but not when the success of a $3,000 trip is on the line. 
  9. Injuries and deaths do happen. Yes, deaths. They are relatively rare on Kilimanjaro, but they do happen. I saw a dead person being carried down in a stretcher the day before our summit. I didn’t know he was dead at the time because I was far enough away that I couldn’t tell there was a sleeping bag covering his face. I assumed it was an injury, but later learned it was a death. The man had gotten dizzy, fell, and hit his head on a rock. He died instantly. Remember the risks associated with what you’re doing and take precautions to minimize those risks when you can. Take injuries seriously. Don’t push through injuries that shouldn’t be pushed through – that can lead to more serious problems. You’re at the mercy of the mountain. Remember that. 
  10. Tips are nice. Your guides, cooks, and especially your porters work hard. If you’re satisfied, tip them. Especially your porters. Imagine carrying all of that crap up and down the mountain. It’s tough work. 

Solo Travel as a Female – Kenya Edition

What am I doing? Is this a bad idea? Maybe I should change my plans. Thoughts raced through my mind in the weeks leading up to my trip to Africa. Let me be clear that I have traveled alone many times. Usually it does not phase me. But this time was different. 

I had made plans months before to climb Kilimanjaro then go on a safari in Tanzania with friends. I have a goal to travel to every country in the world, so I thought it would be cool to stop in Kenya alone for a couple of days on my way back. Without doing much research, I booked a two night stop in Nairobi. Sometime close to my trip, I became aware of the political turmoil going on in Kenya. Elections had been held and there were allegations of unfairness. The country invalidated the elections and rescheduled them for shortly after I was to be leaving Kenya. 

At that time, I started to do more research. The US State Department warned of the political unrest and advised against travel to Kenya. News articles covered the protest. I remember reading one article saying that Kenya is likely heading towards a civil war. Am I stupid?!, I thought. How could I have planned something so dumb. But, as I typically do, I tried to take my focus away from my fear. I didn’t want to cancel my trip, so I figured I would be careful and hope for the best. 

Despite my efforts to quell my fears, my anxiety rose in the days before my departure. Things changed quickly during my Kilimanjaro trek. I’m not sure what it is about being in nature and challenging myself physically, but it always seems to put things in perspective and make me feel strong and capable. After all, maybe Western media was exaggerating the dangers. The few Tanzanian locals whom I told I was going to Nairobi didn’t seem to think anything of it. Phew. I felt better. 

I landed in Nairobi at night. The hotel I was supposed to stay at was going to send a driver to the airport for me. I went through immigration and customs, got my bags, and walked outside. I was instantly harrassed by about 20 taxi drivers who wanted to give me a ride. I politely declined and walked over to the pickup area. I looked for my name on a sign. Nothing. Ugh. I waited for 30 minutes. I had free wifi for an hour, so I emailed the hotel then sat down next to some of the drivers. I started to get worried that I didn’t have a ride and I didn’t feel comfortable getting in a taxi alone at night. I had about 20 minutes of wifi left. The sign next to me read “Intercontinental Nairobi”. Okay, I thought. I’ll use this last bit of wifi to book a room at the Intercontinental so I can drive with this guy. So that’s what I did. When I got to the hotel, I had to step out of the car and put myself and my belongings through a metal detector. Maybe this place isn’t so safe, I thought. 

I felt quite safe once I was in my room. The next morning, I woke up and thought about what I should do that day I usually like to experience new places by going on adventures and checking out the natural attractions. However, I had just spent a week on a safari in Tanzania. I didn’t have time to go to Masi Mara and the parks in Nairobi seemed less exciting than what I had already seen. I went downstairs to talk to the concierge, and ended up deciding to walk around the city. I was given a map. I asked whether it was safe to walk around alone and was shown the areas where it would be safe to walk. I was told to avoid talking to anyone. I shouldn’t let anyone be my tour guide and I shouldn’t allow conversations to last more than a few words.

I left the hotel. A tall, blonde, American female. Walking alone. I stuck out like a sore thumb. I saw one other white person the whole day, and it was an older man sitting in a coffee shop. I walked assertively with my head up. I didn’t want to look unsure of where I was going. My passport and wallet were in the waist of my pants, not visible. I wanted to see the area, but I didn’t want to look around too much and make it more obvious I didn’t know where I was. Everyone stared at me. And I mean everyone. I acted like it didn’t phase me. Some people talked to me. I responded confidently and tried to keep conversations short. When anyone asked how long I had been in Nairobi, I said either three weeks or a month. It was enough time to seem pretty knowledgeable, but not too long. People believed me. A young girl hit my arm and said “Give me water, sister.” I ignored her. She demanded that I give her water again. I tried to walk by, but she stood in front of me. Other children joined, putting their hands out. I ignored them too. It’s not that I’m against helping people, but I am against parents training their children to beg like that. I went to a market. Everyone tried to talk to me. I might as well have been a walking dollar bill. I repeatedly said that I had no money and was just on a walk for exercise. People tried to sell me stuff anyway. Several people tried to “guide” me around the market. I walked around the market then left to continue my walk. 


I walked farther, and soon realized I was past the area where the concierge had told me to stop. Whoops. I saw a parking lot where people were skating, so I sat down to watch. Several people came up to me and asked whether I wanted to try. I said I had no money. I was just there to watch. One man told me I could go for free and said I was wearing the right clothes for skating. He was right. And I did want to skate. But I had my passport and wallet in my pants, and I didn’t know whether I should trust anyone, so I declined. I watched everyone skate around for about an hour then started walking back to the hotel. 


I stopped at a coffee shop on my way back. I’m a vegan and I don’t drink coffee so I asked whether the shop had soy milk then asked the barista to make me a smoothie with bananas, ice, soy milk, and vanilla syrup. I’m pretty sure I was the most complicated customer they had ever had. When she handed me my drink, she warned that she had no idea how it would taste. It was actually quite good. 


I walked to the park I had been warned to avoid because of theft. I stayed on the outside and walked back to my hotel. When I got to my room, I saw a newspaper. The front page was about the elections. 


That night, I thought about what I would do the next day. I had done some research on the Giraffe Center and animal orphanage. Both helped rescue and rehabilitate animals. They weren’t zoos, so I was ethically okay with them. Maybe it would be fun to go. When I woke up, I went back to the coffee shop and ordered my complicated drink again. The barista remembered me. 


More people talked to me on my way back. I noticed that race was a popular topic of conversation. I guess that makes sense considering I’m a white female from America, which now has a reputation for racism (Thanks, Trump). One man asked me “Trump or Obama?” I responded, “Obama” and he gave me a high five. Another man asked how we treat blacks in America. All I could think of is…we’re all people, aren’t we? I was embarrassed. I felt bad. I didn’t want to be associated with racism, but that’s the reputation Americans have these days. Ugh. 

I wasn’t sure how long to let conversations go. I did want to talk to locals, but I was unsure of their intentions and I had been warned by the hotel. One man told me that the best way to learn while traveling is to talk to people. I agree, but I questioned why he was saying that and why he was so eager to talk to me. I still kept my conversations short. I’m not sure whether I should have. 

More people begged for money from me, especially children. One girl followed me asking for money for “the baby”. I felt terrible. I wanted to help. I used to give old clothing to people like that. I don’t anymore. This trip I gave my clothing to my Kilimanjaro guides and porters and hotel staff. Maybe they don’t need it as much, but I don’t want to encourage people using their children like that. I hate it. 

I got back to my hotel and asked about the Giraffe Center and animal orphanage. It was about $60 to go. After having spent a week on a safari, I just didn’t feel like spending that kind of money. I headed up to my room to check emails and get some work done. An hour or so later, I heard a few booms. I ran to the window and saw smoke rising on the sidewalk. People were yelling. It was a demonstration. Shortly after, police with tear gas arrived. The demonstrations were on and off. They didn’t seem violent, so I decided to go take a walk. 


I walked. I felt safe despite the demonstrations. I remembered how nervous I had been before I came and laughed. The demonstrations were relatively small, but I felt like I was learning a lot by being there. Even though I just spent the weekend walking around Nairobi doing not much of anything, it was one of the more impactful trips I have taken. I left feeling stronger, more sure of myself, and a little more empathetic. 

My Stay at Serengeti Migration Camp

When I arrived at Serengeti Migration Camp, I was handled a stainless steel water bottle and told where water refill stations are located. The manager explained that the camp is environmentally conscious, and doesn’t want to produce unnecessary plastic waste. I already knew I would love it here. The rooms are run by solar power. I love when places are environmentally friendly, especially when they are so close to nature. It just makes sense. 

I forgot to mention that I’m a vegan before I arrived. I wasn’t expecting much in the way of food because of my restrictions and the late notice I gave. However, in the 45 minutes it took me to take a shower and walk to the dinner tent, the chef had already prepared two vegan options to choose from for each course of a three course meal. And they weren’t simple options either. I ended up having sweet potato soup, a curry dish, and banana crepes for dessert. And that banana crepe was quite possibly the best dessert I have ever had. Every meal was carefully prepared and catered to my dietary restrictions. Even my packed lunches were vegan. As a vegan, I’m used to getting bland meals, but my meals at Serengeti Migration Camp were flavorful and unique. 

When I got to my room, I almost couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew it was called a luxury tented camp, but I wasn’t expecting this! There was a huge bed, a double sink, a sitting area, and a massive balcony. The decor was elegant but felt natural. I could hear the hippos. It was like all of the good things about camping but without any of the discomfort. Instead, it is luxurious and comfortable. 

The customer service at Serengeti Migration Camp was out of this world. Every employee knew my name and was more than willing to help me with anything I wanted. It was a personalized experience that I’ll never forget. When I looked cold, someone always offered to bring me a blanket. If I sat down in the lobby, I had a drink and vegan appetizers to eat within a few minutes. I couldn’t have asked for a better place to stay.

Of course most people who come to Serengeti Migration Camp want to see animals, so I’ll talk about my game drive as well. My guide was friendly, knowledgeable, and flexible. It wasn’t like other safaris I’ve been on when we just stopped to take photos – my guide actually taught me about the animals we saw and the environment. He knew so much information and it was amazing to learn from him. We saw some incredible animals and I’ll never forget the experience. 

The Best of Banff

I first visited Banff in October.  It was cold and relatively empty.  It was a stark contrast to my most recent trip in early September when there were crowds everywhere and finding a parking space a popular places was pretty much the equivalent of winning the lottery.  It hasn’t even been a year since my first trip to Banff, but it’s one of those places that keeps calling me back.  Banff is stunningly beautiful and there is something to do in every season.

  1. Visit the teal blue lakes
  2. See the aurora
  3. Climb/scramble a mountain
  4. Watch the sunrise over the mountains
  5. Do a winter sport – ski, snowboard, or ice climb

35 Instagram Accounts that Feature Female Travelers 

One of the ways I grew my account on Instagram was getting featured.

Want more exposure on Instagram? One of the best ways to drive traffic to your page is to have one of your photos featured by a large account. You can get feature accounts to see your photos by tagging them or by using their hashtags. Unless you have a very large account, your hashtags often won’t be seen, so remember to tag the accounts you want to be featured by and use their hashtags. Also make sure that you tag the right accounts. Look at the type of photos they feature and choose accounts that go with the photo you’re posting. Pay attention to color themes, tones, activities depicted, and style of photos. If your photo doesn’t mesh well with a feature account, you probably won’t get featured. Below are a few of the best accounts that feature female travelers and their hashtags. I included accounts of all sizes and travel styles. 

  1. @wearetravelgirls #wearetravelgirls
  2. @mountaingirls #mountaingirls
  3. @radgirlscollective #radgirlslife 
  4. @dametraveler #dametraveler 
  5. @sidewalkerdaily #sidewalkerdaily 
  6. @globelletravels #globelletravels 
  7. @passionpassport #passionpassport
  8. @amazingworldshoots #amazingworldshoots
  9. @girlslovetravel #gltlove 
  10. @wearetravelladies #wearetravelladies 
  11. @travelnoire #travelnoire 
  12. @outdoorwomen #outdoorwomen 
  13. @darlingescapes #darlingescapes 
  14. @wildernessbabes #wildernessbabes 
  15. @ladiesgoneglobal #ladiesgoneglobal 
  16. @beautifulmatters #beautifulmatters 
  17. @sheisnotlost #sheisnotlost 
  18. @traveldreamseekers #traveldreamseekers 
  19. @jetsettingchicks #jetsettingchicks 
  20. @girlsvsglobe #girlsvsglobe 
  21. @femmetravel #femmetravel 
  22. @thetravelwomen #thetravelwomen 
  23. @travel_bff #travelbff 
  24. @girlsborntotravel #girlsborntotravel 
  25. @girlsmeetglobe #girlsmeetglobe 
  26. @explorerbabes #explorerbabes 
  27. @citizenfemme #citizenfemme 
  28. @womenwhoexplore #womenwhoexplore 
  29. @womenwhohike #womenwhohike 
  30. @girlaroundworld #girlaroundworld 
  31. @girlsabroad_ #girlsabroad 
  32. @travelgirlsgo #travelgirlsgo 
  33. @girldiscoverers #girldiscoverers 
  34. @thefairytalebloggers #thefairytalebloggers 
  35. @pinktrotters #pinktrotters 

There’s No Place Like Kansas

There’s no place like Kansas. No, really though. When Kansas Tourism invited me to visit, I didn’t know what to expect. I was excited to visit a new state, but I didn’t think there would be much to see. I was wrong. Here are 5 things you probably never knew about Kansas:
-There is a vibrant art scene. From Lucas to Linsdborg to Wichita, I noticed how each town/city had its own slightly different art scene. But they all had one.


-The towns have personality. All of them. No matter how small. And they are proud of it. Talk to any local and they will tell you how great their town is and what it has to offer. It’s always nice to be surrounded by people who genuinely love where they live. People are friendly, too. Lucas is a very quirky little town. And by little, I mean the population is around 400 people. Yet there are quite a few local folk artists, the Garden of Eden with its bizarre history, and the most intricate public bathroom I’ve ever seen. 


-The nature is actually quite beautiful. Driving along the Scenic Byway, I found myself turning my head more often than was probably safe. From wide plains to vibrant sunsets to moody storm skies, the views are endless. Bonus: there are waterfalls and hiking in Kansas! I enjoyed a canyon hike at Kanopolis State Park. Oh, and did I mention the dark skies? Kansas has some of the best stargazing I’ve ever experienced. 


I hope you all get a chance to make it to Kansas one day! I know I can’t wait to go back. A special thanks to the tourism board and to Charles, Connie, Dave, Amy Kay, and everyone else I met for making my trip so memorable.