9 steps to a perfect road trip

We Aussies are road-trippers. I grew up roading tripping up and down the East coast of Australia, and loved it so much I couldn’t wait to be the one behind the wheel. But if you’re a car trip newbie and the thought of weeks on the road makes you shudder, start small. Start at home, start with one day, start by yourself and follow these 9 steps:

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17 facts you never knew about Colombia

Tourism in Colombia has really picked up over the last 10 years, but even still most visitors are other South Americans. So why is the rest of the world so slow to catch on? If you’re still caught in the Narcos stereotype you need to read these 17 facts about Colombia; they might just surprise you.

Just in case you missed it, this last minute sign points to Ojo de Agua beach, Cabo de la Vela
Just in case you missed it, this last minute sign points to Ojo de Agua beach, Cabo de la Vela

On tourism:

1. Colombia is safe. Honestly. As a solo female traveller making my way around the country, with just a bit of commonsense, I didn’t once feel unsafe.

2. Colombians actually love to see a tourist, it’s a very visible sign of the change in their country

If you stop at the salt fields in Manaure, you will be swamped  by young's kids
If you stop at the salt fields in Manaure, you will be swamped by young’s kids

3. If you’re not Colombian, you’re a Gringo. If you hear a Colombian talking about a Gringo, they’re talking about you.

4. The more than 87 indigenous groups in Colombia only speak Spanish as a second language. Together they have 64 native languages.

5. Whatever type of landscape you can think of, Colombia has it. Desert, beaches, mountains, jungle: every corner is like stepping into a brand new country.

If you need me, I'll be here in Ranchería Utta's hammocks on the beach!
If you need me, I’ll be here in Ranchería Utta’s hammocks on the beach!

On the amenities:

6. Hot water is very rare

7. So are showerheads

8. Most of the time, you’ll be putting your used toilet paper in a bin beside the toilet, thanks to an easily blocked sewage system

9. Buses stop anywhere, as long as you know how to ask

Almost there!
Almost there!

On the people:

10. English speakers are hard to come by, but this one shouldn’t be a surprise. The government has just started working on improving access to English classes for all citizens

11. The people are overwhelmingly kind and helpful.

Folk musicians entertain their fans in Medellin's Parque Berrio
Folk musicians entertain their fans in Medellin’s Parque Berrio

12. Even when you say ‘no gracias’ to a vendor trying to sell you taxi rides/ food/ random touristy souvenir items you really don’t need, they’ll give you honest and helpful information to get you where you’re going. That’s a lot more then you can expect from other countries

13. Even the elderly will kick your arse at all night salsa parties

14. But they’ll also try really hard to teach your hopeless butt before they kick it

On love:

15. Colombian wedding tradition dictates that the Groom’s family must turn up at the Bride’s house the night before the wedding to serenade her. If they’re not good enough, she’s allowed to call of the wedding…no pressure!

Today, this section of the fortifications serves as a refuge for friends and lovers
Today, this section of the fortifications serves as a refuge for friends and lovers

16. If the Bride decides to go with the wedding, you can expect the reception to include Colombia’s traditional ‘Crazy hour’. Sure, Colombians take to a dance floor like fish to water, but come crazy hour things are kicked up a notch. The band picks up the pace, beads, masks, wigs and trumpets are handed out, no man is left on the side of the dancefloor.

17. Before they get to any of that, Colombian men are very forward. English or no, if they think you’re cute they’re going to let you know about it.

Love Colombian cities built up into the hills!
Love Colombian cities built up into the hills like Medellin!

4 reasons looking like a tourist can actually be a good thing

The first piece of advice people will give you when you’re travelling is not to look like a tourist. A solid piece of advice to help keep you from becoming a target or getting ripped off. But when you’re a 6 foot white girl travelling around the very short heighted, olive to black skinned Colombia, that ship has sailed. So instead I learned to adapt in other ways, and actually found four distinct advantages of not fitting in.

1.Your friends can spot you a mile away

Seriously, you become the meeting point. At a club: ‘I’ll meet you back at Kassia at 2.30’. In a public space: ‘So we’ll meet in the square, at Kassia’.

2. You can see everything

Is that attraction chock-a-block with other people? No worries. You can see right over the top of their heads. This also means you’ll be need to be prepared to describe what’s happening to shorter companions and take their photos, but with great height comes great responsibility.

3. You become very good at making new friends

You can do it quickly and with minimal foreign language skills. Mostly because you love meeting new people, but also because no-one wants to rip off their new friend.

4. You always know when you’re being talked about

“Que gringo es hermosa” – Well everyone else around here looks like they belong, so mucho gracias fellas!

8 tips for safe solo travel in South Africa

I have no words for how swiftly and thoroughly I fell in love with South Africa. As a solo female travelling through this vibrant country I went clubbing in Cape Town, bungee jumped off a bridge, explored crime hotspots, and went on a truly breath-taking safari. I did it all without ever once feeling unsafe. As with most countries, you can proceed with far less caution outside the big cities. However even in the busiest of places, I never once felt nervous purely because I followed these 8 simple safety rules:

1. Make eye contact

Most people looking to mug you want to fly under the radar. This is a lot harder to do if you look on-comers in the eye and acknowledge their presence.

2. Don’t flash your fancy stuff

This one might seem like common sense, but if you’re coming from a country where you’d happily fall asleep on a train with your laptop bag sitting next to you (like me), it can take some adjustment.

You may have bought a fancy camera especially for the trip, or you want to whip out your phone to check your maps, and who hasn’t needed to count their cash when getting used to a new currency? But there’s a time and a place. Usually that time and place is at your hotel, sitting inside a cafe or at least walking in a big group. Better still, leave it all at your hotel if you can.

3. Leave nothing unattended

Even if it’s just for a second while you throw something in the bin, there’s a good chance it won’t be waiting for you when you get back. Again, if at all possible, leave anything valuable locked up back at your accommodation. Losing a phone is one thing, but no-one wants to find themselves stuck without a passport.

4. Don’t go out alone after dark

Seriously, even if it’s only a short walk, just don’t. Plan ahead so you’re in a group or at your final destination before it gets too late.

5. Book a tour

If you’re a traveller who prefers to avoid tours, I’m with you. But sometimes they help you see places you just couldn’t do safely on your own. I definitely felt that way in Johannesburg. Of course a local guide or a group of friends can be a better way to go if it’s an option for you.

6. If driving, keep doors locked and windows up

Before arriving, I was told no-one stops for red lights in Johannesburg, or else they’d certainly be mugged. In my experience, the situation isn’t quite that dire, but there are a few tips you should stick to. Don’t unlock or unwind for anyone you don’t know, and again, keep your valuables out of sight. That includes your navigation system so work out your route before departing.

‘Smash and grabs’ do happen, as do attempted traffic stops, particularly in big cities after dark. No need to panic, but do keep an eye out for anyone approaching the car, stop for no-one, and don’t hesitate to run a red light if you’re alone at night and feeling unsafe (but do so with caution).

7. Don’t let strangers in your personal space

No matter how friendly and cheerful they may seem, there’s a real chance they’re hoping you’ll let your guard down long enough to let them pick your pockets. This certainly doesn’t mean you can’t talk to anyone, but keep your distance, maintain a firm grip on your bags, and don’t let yourself be cornered.

8. Trust your gut

Most of us have a pretty good instincts for safe situations. If it seems like the wrong neighbourhood, leave. If you’re alone and you feel like you should cross the road to avoid the person walking towards you, do it. If something seems suspicious to you, it probably is.