Be My Travel Muse | Off the Beaten Path Adventures
Travel blog by Kristin Addis, a solo female traveler who has been traveling consecutively for five years. Packing tips, compelling reads and country guides. This blog geared towards the adventurous, cultural experience-seeking, off the beaten path-loving traveler.
Southern Africa’s desert country is the perfect mixture of adventurous, beautiful, accessible, and attainable.
Often, overland traveling in Africa can mean terrible roads, difficult conditions, and unique challenges, however road trips in Namibia are usually just a bit easier, which makes it the perfect destination to self drive in Africa.
Namibia is a politically stable country, it’s fairly easy to navigate, has great infrastructure, and a lot of variety. Ready for this warm, beautiful adventure? Here are some top stops to put on your Namibian road trip itinerary, beginning from north to south:
First, the Rental
What kind of adventure do you want to have? Do you want to head off the beaten path where you’ll need a 4×4, or mostly stick to paved roads? In general, most rentals are 4x4s equipped with rooftop tents and the ability to take you off road if needed.
In Etosha National Park and down south towards Sossusvlei, expect washboard and gravel roads. At times, rains can create rivers within the roads as well, which are much easier to handle in a 4×4. If you plan on heading up north, which you’ll see in the next section, a 4×4 is essential. You can compare prices and book here.
Nestled in the north of the country, this arid and region is located between the famous skeleton coast and Etosha National Park. Most of it is only accessible with a 4 x 4 or via flight. However, if you truly want to get off the beaten path in Namibia and see the Himba people, famous in Namibia for their regalia and red body painting, this is the place.
Located on the Kunene River just south of the Angolan border, Epupa Falls are made of a series of cascades that drop for about 60M. The scenery is breathtaking and a refreshing change from the constant desert views – you will see the Baynes Mountains at the back, and palms and trees (Fig, Makalani, and baobabs to name a few) balancing on the rocks above.
Epupa Falls are best visited right after the rainy season, when the spray is at its peak, though the falls are great during the dry season as well. The best things to do in the area include a sundowner walk to the top of the hills to see the spectacular sunset, rafting, when there’s enough water, and visiting the living museum of the Ovahimba tribe to gain a better understanding of the local culture. Activities are typically best booked through your accommodation.
The Skeleton Coast is wildly beautiful but dangerous (hence, the name). This treacherous coast stretches across a foggy region with rusting shipwrecks, dunes and sandy coastal shallows. The early Portuguese sailors named it As Areias do Inferno – The Coast of Death / The Sands of Hell – the destructive power of Mother Nature is on full display here, with shipwrecks, bleached whale bones, and perished ship crews’ fate all along the sand.
Traveling in Skeleton Coast is challenging. Distances are vast, amenities pretty much do not exist, and the roads are demanding. You will need a 4×4 for this. This is not to say that you should avoid Skeleton Coast when in Namibia – quite the contrary, actually!
Visit the National West Coast Tourist Recreation Area in the south (permit required and can be purchased directly at the gate), and Skeleton Coast National Park up north (accessible by fly-in safari only). Pack well, drive along the coast and stop wherever you fancy. Explore the wild beachfront in Henties Bay, which is the only real town on Skeleton Coast. From there, drive 40 miles north to witness the largest breeding colony of Cape fur seals in the world at Cape Cross Seal Reserve. For a cultural experience, you can arrange a tour to see the Himba villages. Finally, you’ll definitely want to see the Dunedin Star and the Eduard Bohlen shipwrecks.
For your own safety, don’t exceed 80 kph (50 mph) on the gravel roads, and never drive off the road on the ecologically vulnerable salt pans and lichen fields as you may cause irreparable damage.
The Kalahari Desert is a semi arid sandy savannah extending over 900,000 km². If you drive into Namibia through Botswana, or are planning on heading out that way, chances are you will be driving through the Kalahari Desert. It can be incredibly hot during the summer months, reaching over 40°C/100°F.
That said, it’s worth stopping in the desert to break up your long driving day – there’s lots to see! This is a great spot for stargazing, and to learn about the hunter gatherer group, the San people. Though their way of life is sadly dying out, some locals still do offer a walking tours where they teach you the ways that they live off the land.
Etosha National Park is the spot in Namibia for wildlife sightings. The park spans an area of over 22,000 km², though the Etosha pan covers 23% of it. During the dry season, the pan looks like an endless, white expanse and in the rainy season it can sometimes partially fill up with water. The park is home to hundreds of species of animals and is a great place to see the severely endangered Black and White rhinos. I’ve also seen honey badgers, lions, elephants, and of course the usual suspects, zebra, giraffes, springbok, Impala, and ostriches. It’s possible to self drive in Etosha and if you choose to go this route, simply look for the places where other cars are pulled over and you’re sure to see some wildlife too!
It’s possible to stay in the park as well as outside of the park. If you stay within the park, your options are mostly camping with meager reviews, though outside the park you can find luxury and mid-range lodge options. I particularly liked Ongum and Gondwana, linked below. You can also choose to stay on one end, spend the day driving through, and end up on the other side. For the best animal sightings, head to the watering holes, particularly during the dry season.
Spitzkoppe in Damaraland is another great stop for those who are in search of a tranquil experience that’s slightly off the typical road trip routes. Nicknamed as the “Matterhorn of Africa”, the Spitzkoppe is a group of bald granite peaks that sprout up from the Namib Desert floor between Usakos and Swakopmund.
Spitzkoppe means “pointed dome” – the highest outcrop rises about 5800 feet above sea level, which stands out dramatically from the flat surrounding plains. One of the area’s biggest claims to fame are the cave paintings which date back thousands of years, depicting animals in the area and used as a communication method for other nomads back in the day. In order to see these, you’ll need to hire a local guide, which you can do at the entrance.
Be sure to check out the rock arch, and if you can, catch the sunrise and sunset – it’s beautiful out there.
The desert elephants that can be found in the Kunene region are currently of high national and international conservation priority. While they are not a separate species, the desert elephants have adapted to the desert environment by shrinking their body mass with longer legs and larger feet, allowing them to walk across the sand and travel further in order to reach water sources. They also obtain hydration by eating moist vegetation, and can go for days without drinking water.
Indeed, animals are fascinating.
To see the desert elephants, you can check with lodges in the area that offer morning game drives. You can combine visiting this with the Spitzkoppe, as they are both in Damaraland.
Located in the middle of the country on the coast, Walvis Bay is pretty in pink. This is where you can see the famous flamingos of Namibia as well as pink salt lakes.
Take a Sandwich Harbor tour for a ride around the dunes on the coast, or better yet, combine it with kayaking to get closer to the flamingos, seals, and potential dolphin sightings, and watch the sunset over the flamingos grazing on the seashore.
Just a 30 minute drive north, you’ll find Swakopmund, Namibia’s Sandy adventure capital. This is the perfect place to go quad biking, sand boarding, and even skydiving. You can read more about my experience with each here. If you’ve been aching for some semi fast Internet and infrastructure after exploring the remote parts of Namibia, spend a few days in Swakopmund to recharge and go grocery shopping before heading out on another adventure.
The capital and the largest city in Namibia is most likely where you enter the country if you’re flying in from an international destination. This is the perfect place to get your car rental, grocery shop if you plan on staying in campsites in making use of their, or your own, kitchens, and gear up for your adventure.
While there are some museums and strong Internet and winter, for the most part I just use it as a transit soon because the most interesting part of Namibia are outside of the city.
Namib Naukluft National Park
Sossusvlei and Deadvlei
From Dune 45
Probably the most famous stop in Namibia apart from Etosha, Sossusvlei and Deadvlei are where you will find the tallest sand dunes in the world and those famous skeletons of acacia trees. Give yourself at least one full day to explore this is sandy wonderland, beginning early in the morning, around sunrise if you can, to climb the famous Dune 45.
Tree pose at Deadvlei
Next, tackle Big Daddy, a 45-minute climb up a 1000-foot dune, and run and slide down the side as you descend into Deadvlei. This is one of the iconic experiences in Namibia and after two visits back, remains my highlight each time. Be sure to maximize the morning hours as it gets unbearably hot in the afternoon. For more advice on where to stay as well as maps, take a look at my Sossusvlei guide.
Mountain Zebra Park
Mountain Zebra Park is small but mighty. The park offers plentiful of animal sighting opportunities, including black eagles, hyrax, baboons, and of course, zebras. It isn’t on most Namibian road trip routes so it’s quieter than other stops, and there’s no cell service so it’s quite perfect if you want a tranquil experience.
Most people spend 1-2 nights and wish they stayed longer. There are various hiking trails, such as the Waterkloof Trail and Olive Trail, both of which can be completed in 7-8 hours, though Olive Trail can be turned into a hike that takes 8 days to finish. It is a bit out of the way (see map below), and there’s no electricity nor shops to stock things up so expect camping to be basic.
Kolmansklop, located in Luderitz, was once a rich town back in 1908, when diamonds were discovered in the area. Apparently, the diamonds were so plentiful one did not even have to dig to get a handful. 20 years after, a combination of WWI and discovery of another area with even more diamonds resulted in a collective migration, turning Kolmansklop into a ghost town that’s gradually been swallowed by the desert sand, literally. The buildings are intriguing, and the entire area is a photographer’s dream – the way the sand and sunlight interact and create different light and shadows is hauntingly beautiful.
A tour is recommended as you will gain a better understanding and interesting facts of the area. Kolmansklop is open from 8AM – 1PM daily. The area is actually pretty big so more often than not, you are likely to be the only people in sight. This just adds to the eerie atmosphere.
If you want to see one of Africa’s remaining herds of wild horses, check out the wild horses of Aus. In recent years of drought, some of the horses have not been able to survive. However, the rain that broke the drought earlier this year has brought a sign of hope to the 79 surviving horses. There’s something so humbling about watching the wild horses in their element, and also observing how we all rely on Mother Nature for survival, one way or another.
There’s a shelter set up close to the watering hole where you can view the wild horses. If you self drive, travel along the B4 from Aus to Luderitz and you should be able to spot some. Just be sure to keep a safe distance (to not frighten them), and do not feed them! Keep in mind that there’s a possibility of seeing very little or even none of them. As with all wild animal sightings, it comes down to luck.
Sossus means “place of no return”. Looking out at those gorgeous endless dunes with the bright blue sky and the vast expanses in every direction, it easy to see why. Once you see this for yourself you’ll never be the same.
Namib-Naukluft National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Namibia, with the highest sand dunes in the world, the photogenic Deadvlei full of tree skeletons, and a massive salt pan known asSossusvlei . In many ways it seems like it’s not even earth anymore.
Located in Namibia’s largest protected area, Sossusvlei is a must-see, although it’s easier to enjoy if you have some key info. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Sossusvlei:
How Sossusvlei and Deadvlei were Formed
Tree pose at Deadvlei
Sossusvlei is a salt and clay pan that was created by the Tsauchab River that flows through the Sesriem Canyon every 5-10 years. The river does not reach the Atlantic Ocean even during the wet years, but drains away between the dunes.
The famous scorched acacia trees in Deadvlei had the chance to grow when the river previously flowed through the area, however, due to a drought, all of the trees died. Since there was not enough moisture for the dead trees to decompose, they remain perfectly preserved, standing for over 900 years now, and possibly for centuries to come.
From Dune 45
What is there to see? So much, my friends!
Dune 1: The dunes are named for the amount of kilometers traveled between them, starting with Dune 1, which is popular for photographers due to its perfect S shape. Stop by on the way to Dune 45.
Dune 45: The most popular dune for sunrise, standing at 260 feet high.
Big Daddy: The highest dune in the area (and also in the world), Big Daddy, reaches over 1000ft. This dune takes you high above Deadvlei and descends down into the salt pan. It’s one of my favorite things to climb up then run all the way down the dune. The sand feels so soft and it squeaks!
Deadvlei: In order to make it to Deadvlei, you’ll want a 4 x 4 vehicle to get through the sand. Most people who visit ride in one of the park’s vehicles which run regularly from the end of the paved road and take you right up to Big Daddy and Deadvlei. The hike up Big Daddy Takes roughly 45 minutes, and you’ll want to leave an equal amount of time to wander around the trees at Deadvlei as well.
Oryx near Dune 1
Wildlife: Although the desert conditions are harsh, there is a delicate ecosystem with a surprising amount of life living around and underneath the dunes. You may find snakes, geckos, hyenas, scorpions hoofed Kudu and Oryx, and interesting insects. So be mindful when exploring or driving in the area.
Sunrise: If you possibly can stay in the park, do so because it’s the only way to see the sunrise from within the park boundaries. Otherwise, you can queue up and head in just after the sun rises when the park gates open. Park entrance fees are 60 Namibian dollars per person.
Unfortunately the options within the park are either lodge that books up quickly and gets expensive during high season, or camping. There’s more info in the ‘where to stay’ section below so you can weigh your options.
What to Wear
The reflection of the trees. Who knew reflective sunglasses would be such a good call?
After two trips to Namib-Naukluft National Park I’m convinced that the best footwear for climbing the dunes is none. I spent the entire time on both trips barefoot, finding that in the early morning the ground was not too hot yet and it just made it easier to get up and down the dunes. Shoes usually take on too much sand and will end up weighing you down, although if you are uncomfortable with the idea of going barefoot, socks are a good alternative.
Also, remember the great rule of climbing dunes: Let someone else go first, and always walk directly in the foot prints of the person who went before you. It is so much easier!
Otherwise, bring clothing that you can climb dunes in – I usually opt for a short sleeved shirt and shorts – along with a hat, sunscreen, and enough water for the day. You’ll be able to buy it at the park entrance but not thereafter.
When to Go
Part of my group on Dune 45
The best time to enjoy the park is as early as possible in the morning. If you are staying within the park boundarie and you can get to Dune 45 for sunrise, get your fill there and then head immediately to Big Daddy to start climbing before it gets blistering hot. If you can’t get to Dune 45 for sunrise, don’t despair as the crowds thin out shortly thereafter and you can get it all to yourself if you wait a bit to hike up.
That said, chances are good you will want to leave the park by midday because it simply gets too hot to enjoy by afternoon. You can always head back for golden hour to get smaller crowds and equally beautiful colors.
Where to Stay Within the Park
If you want to stay in the park for sunrise, your only options are Sesriem Campsite and Sossus Dune Lodge. Sesriem Campsite is the only campsite available inside the park, right beside the gate. This is the only campsite that allows visitors to get in the park an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset, when the inner gate opens and closes. Facilities and service are basic, though there is a pool which is great after a long day under the hot sun. If catching the sunrise and sunset, and being the first group of people there are your priorities while on a budget, definitely stay here. Be sure to book in advance!
Sosuss Dune Lodge is an eco-friendly, luxurious accommodation offering 25 chalets with direct views of the dunes, and 12 chalets with a view of the mountains and the Sesriem Canyon. Similar to Sesriem Campsite, the location of the lodge allows visitors to access the park before everyone else in the morning, and after everyone else in the evening. Expect to pay $140 – $300 per night. More information on the pricing here.
Where to Stay Outside the Park
Desert Camp is a quick 5 minute drive away from the park entrance and where I stayed with my BMTM Adventures group. The camp has amazing night sky views, standalone bungalows, a decent pool, a wooden bar, and great facilities. You can use their BBQ facilities, or travel 5KM to the Sossusvlei Lodge for amazing dinner, which is what we did. Expect to pay about $80 – $100 per night.
Sossusvlei Lodge is just 1 minute from the gate so it’s really as good as it gets. The luxury lodge has amazing online reviews, with people suggesting to extend your stay, as you are likely to arrive late in the afternoon on the first day, leave early for sunrise on the next day and not come back until evening. Stay one more night so you can enjoy the amazing facilities and great food Sossusvlei Lodge has to offer. Expect to pay about $300 per night.
Unfortunately, the roads heading to Sesriem are unpaved, gravel roads. Most people travel there via the capital, Windhoek, or Swakopmund. Be prepared for washboard roads and gravel for about 4-5 hours from either starting point.
It is doable in a non-4 x 4 vehicle, though if you plan on heading off the beaten path in Namibia and self driving in Etosha, you may want one anyway. Make sure you’re equipped to change a tire just in case.
Finally, don’t forget to look up at night. Namibia has some of the best star viewing on earth and the Namib desert is dry enough to provide some crystal clear viewing, followed by a beautiful day running around the dunes. Enjoy it, this is one of the best experiences in Africa!
I still remember exactly how it felt as I sat there at my computer six years ago, looking at flights to Bangkok for the hundredth time, hesitating just as I had so many times before.
I was scared of the unknowns. Would I be safe? Would I be lonely? Would I be able to travel alone? Did I have what it takes?
Something in me finally said, “do it,” so I bought the ticket and felt the rush of adrenaline that I’d been holding back course through me. I’d be going to the other side of the world alone, and I was terrified.
A few months later I laughed at myself. I was having so much fun, on cloud nine and meeting new people all the time. I wished so much that I’d had less fear and more trust in myself and the world. Since then I’ve traveled alone to every continent and learned a lot along the way. These are 25 of the things I wish I knew before I decided to travel solo:
1. There’s no big difference between those who travel alone and those who wish they could. The differentiator is the decision to just do it.
2. There may never be a moment when you feel 100% ready to do it. At some point you’ve got to just leap.
Just go for it!
3. Walking with one’s head up and speaking with confidence goes an incredibly long way.
4. And it keeps getting easier with each passing day.
5. A smile and friendly demeanor go so incredibly far. Farther than I ever imagined. So many doors open when you’re nice.
Flash that beautiful smile!
6. People take more interest in helping women and keeping us safe especially when we’re alone.
7. Of course there are bad people everywhere in the world, but there are a lot more good people.
8. Things will go wrong and you’ll look back on them with a smile and remember them fondly anyway.
You can always hit that “restart” button
9. When you leave the places that tested you the most, you might find that you actually miss the chaos.
10. Eventually things that are confusing at first like ATMs and taxis will become obvious, sleeping under a mosquito net will become comfortable, and you’ll meet concepts like ‘Africa time’ with a shrug and smile. Solo travelers level up in knowledge and skills quickly.
Relaxing in Africa
11. Whether you make room for it or not, whether you anticipate it or have no clue, serendipity will work its way into your plans in the cleverest ways.
12. Plans are just ideas that evolve for the better anyways. It’s best to just go with it.
13. The goal is not to escape our problems, but rather to replace the old ones with newer, better ones.
Come at me, life!
14. You will face your demons on the road too and if you let yourself, you’ll find ways to grow and move onwards and upwards.
16. There will be a marked increase in the number of hellos, and also in the number of goodbyes.
But you will have friends all over the world
17. The best thing you can be as a traveler is a good listener.
18. It’s not about moving quickly through to collect more flags or increase the country count. It’s about getting to know a place so deeply, to make connections so profound, that each place takes a little piece of you and gives a piece back in return.
19. No expectations will set you up for perpetual moments of delight.
A beautiful moment in Indonesia
20. High expectations only leave room for them to be met or worse, not.
21. Being off the grid, having internet that is too slow to load anything, and disconnecting entirely from time to time is a precious gift to be savored.
It’s autumn in Germany and it’s hard to think of a better place to be. The days are often sunny, a perfect match for the bright yellows, oranges and reds of the changing leaves. As a Californian it’s a season I’ve only experienced a few times though it’s quickly become my favorite.
Apart from the colors, evidence of fall abounds in the food, the festivals, and the things to do that are best enjoyed in the autumn months.
If you’re a lover of the autumn, too, and if you’ll be spending some of it in Germany, these are some of the best ways to enjoy it:
When to Go
Though perfect autumn weather and foliage is difficult to predict, the leaves are usually at their peak colors around the middle to the end of October, depending on the year.
Though you can experience colder temperatures and rain, there’s almost always a week or two of beautiful weather, particularly in the south.
The Best Places to Go
This castle is dreamy at any time of year. I should know, I’ve seen it in the winter, and the summer and the fall. However seeing the castle with changing leaves, and enjoying the walk to it, just make it a little bit more magical. You can go into the castle or take my personal favorite route, which is a little hike to a vantage point across from it. It can be as short as 20 minutes or you can turn it into a longer panoramic hike. You can find directions on how to do that in this post.
Keeping it in the family, There is another Hohenzollern castle which is slightly less famous but certainly no less grand and opulent. Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen is the biggest castle I’ve ever seen, perched high atop a rocky hill, and then surrounded by water and the town. Tours take place inside and there are several vantage points that are wonderful to take photos from as well, and it truly is beautiful with golden leaves around it! There’s also a banquet which takes place every now and then inside the castle, including when I was there in October. Read all about it here.
3. Schlosshotel Waldlust
If you’re like me and you immediately begin celebrating Halloween as soon as the fall hits, then you’ll probably find this abandoned hotel to be irresistible. Though the hotel was officially abandoned in the mid-2000s, it looks like it’s stuck somewhere between the 1920s and 1960s, with a very Wes Anderson-esque feel. You can still walk inside and see how the rooms were decorated, including the bedrooms and the attic. Some even say it’s haunted. You can find it in Freudenstadt at the edge of the Black Forest, which is literally translates to ‘Joy Town’. What’s not to love about that? Contact these guys for information about visiting. Though the website is in German, I was able to get a tour in English.
4. Burg Gamburg
Another beautiful find in Baden-Württemberg, Burg Gamburg is a privately owned castle that the family still lives in. They conduct the tours themselves, taking you through the restored rooms and to one of the oldest non-secular paintings in Europe, dating back over 800 years. They’re also known for their delicious cake, which I enjoyed with beautiful orange leaves fluttering down on me as I watched the sunset – a truly magical evening. The castle is also home to 21 friendly ghosts, and they offer ghost tours in the autumn in the evenings. You can find out more here.
5. Road trip in Baden-Württemberg
One of my favorite parts of Germany, Baden-Württemberg is perfect for road trips. It has it all from castles to waterfalls and stunning leaves. I also happened upon a field of sunflowers somewhere between the Black Forest and the Swabian Alps in October. It’s hard not to love that! For more of the best day trips from Stuttgart check out this post.
Disclaimer: I did not walk on the bridge, as it is forbidden. This is some handy photoshopping.
This strangely shaped, perfectly round bridge is located in the middle of nowhere, in Germany’s Saxony. Its name translates to the Devils Bridge and I love it in the fall for the beautiful colors, but also because the bridge is just inherently spooky with that shape and name. The best way to get there is to drive yourself, though there are public transportation options. You can find my full guide here.
7. Saxon Switzerland
While we’re talking about Saxony, you absolutely must stop by this national park and to go for a hike, or several. The landscape is surreal, with sharp rock piles appearing seemingly out of nowhere. The park’s mean future, the Bastei Bridge, rests neatly within the rock towers, and is beyond beautiful at golden hour. And again, visiting in the fall is nice because of the foliage, but also because the crowds are smaller. You can read my full Saxon Switzerland guide here.
8. Kulturinsel Einsiedel
This place is kind of nuts. My friend and I stopped by during our Saxony Road trip on a whim and ended up staying for hours. It’s like a theme park that you can climb through and all over and while that would normally seem like it’s meant for children, it’s actually the perfect overnight adventure. Though it’s an ode to the culture of the people who used to live in this area, hundreds of years ago, the place just screams Halloween to me with its colorful structures and leaning spires on the roofs. Best of all, it never closes and you can even rent a house for the night to stay in, complete with bubbling cauldron bath. Read more on my Best Road Trips from Berlin post.
We can’t talk about the Autumn in Germany without bringing up Oktoberfest! If you’re into beer, or just love the idea of the camaraderie of singing songs while wearing a Dirndle, Check out Oktoberfest in Munich. Be sure to book your accommodation as soon as you know you’ll be there, as it’s the most popular time of year to visit.
Anytime is a good time to hang out in Berlin, but in October you can see the festival of lights which illuminates some of the major buildings throughout the city. You can also get some truly beautiful, sunny, and warm days in October along with the changing leaves. It’s a nice contrast to see the grittiness and street art of Berlin and the beautiful nature around it. After all, Berlin has an abundance of green spaces so you might as well enjoy them with some beautiful colors! Read my ultimate Berlin guide for ideas of what to do there, where to stay, and what to eat.
Sansoucci is the closest major castle to Berlin and also near a university town, Potsdam. While the castle is cool, what I love most about it are the grand, sweeping Gardens which are particularly beautiful when the leaves change. They are also free to visit and easy to reach via train from Berlin. It takes about an hour to get to Potsdam, though I suggest several for enjoying it fully.
Finally, Spreewald is another beautiful day trip in Brandenburg – not too far from Berlin. It’s easy to reach by train, and is famous for its pickles and usually-green tree tunnels over the water. However in the fall, it all changes color and it is stunning! It’s also far less crowded than during the summer. Rent a kayak and take yourself through the gorgeous changing foliage and enjoy the peace and quiet. You can read more about enjoying Spreewald here.
Though I simply can’t pick a time of year that is the best to be in Germany, because each have their own special beauty and festivities that go along with them, each year makes me fall more and more in love with the autumn.
You can pretty much always count on at least a week or two of sunny weather along with beautiful changing leaves, and smaller crowds. Those are some benefits that are easy to love!
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen is quite possibly the fairest castle in all the land.
Though Germany is full of gorgeous castles, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen is one of the largest and grandest I’ve ever laid eyes on, rising up out of an outcropping of rocks and stretching across almost an entire city block.
If you’re into magical castles you’ve got to add this one to your list. However there are a few things to know in terms of the best vantage points for photographing it and how to get the most out of the tour inside:
First, A Brief History
Built in the early 11th century, Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen is located in Swabian Alps in southern Baden-Wüttemberg, Germany.
As you step into the castle, keep in mind that the oldest parts of it are actually hidden underneath the rebuilt structures over the years, which I think adds to the castle’s gothic charm. The first alterations took place in the 12th century, where the Helfenstein family rebuilt the castle with buckel stones. In the 15th century, under the instruction of the then Count of Werdenberg, the castle was expanded outwards on the northeast side, followed by another expansion westwards just a couple of years later.
The current owners, the House of Hohenzollern, is a dynasty of former princes, electors, kings and emperors of Hohenzollern, Brandenburg, Prussia, the German Empire, and Romania. The family was prosperous and powerful, so much so that there’s another famous Hohenzollern Castle just an hour or so away, which is equally stunning.
Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen was almost completely destroyed by a fire in 1893 and had to be rebuilt. Destructions and constructions continued to take place up until 1902, with each construction leaving its mark in and around the castle. It’s safe to say that the castle went through a lot to becoming what it is today.
Today, the prince and princess of Hohenzollern welcome visitors with guided tours through history at the castle. Expect to see important private collections of over 3000 pieces of armor, opulent victorian interior and exterior architecture design (don’t forget to look up!), as well as a royal banquet with the same 5 courses the royalties had for their wedding in 1893 (but don’t go if you’re vegetarian or vegan). You can find out more on their official website.
If you are intrigued and want to check it out yourself, here’s more information about the guided tours:
Opening Hours: Daily from April – October from 9AM – 6PM (last tour starts at 5PM), and daily from November – December and March from 9AM – 5PM (last tour starts at 4PM) except for December 24-25 and December 31 Tour duration: 60 minutes. Time: Multiple times every hour. Entrance fee including tour: €9.50 per person. Special feature: No advance registration necessary for solo travelers.
You can buy your tickets upon arrival. While the guided tours are usually held in German, a leaflet in English is given. Group tours in English can also be arranged with advance notice via email.
Though photos are not allowed of the inside (I obtained permission for the purposes of this article), don’t despair, as some of the best views of the castle are from the outside.
The Best Vantage Points
There are, in my opinion, three perfect places to take photos of the castle. The first is at the entrance, which has a long, steep walkway leading up to it. You’ll see the archway above you, and the walkway to the start of the walking tours to the right.
I personally loved the shot walking up as well as this one, which was just to the left of the entrance, in front of the cafe:
Next are the two spots in town that provide a nice, full overview of the castle. The first is easy to find – just head to the bridge across from the castle. There’s a parking lot that you can park in located here, and from there it’s a 30-second walk to the bridge.
I liked this spot in particular since the castle reflects on the water below. With the changing leaves when I went in October, it was nothing short of dreamy.
Until, that is, I made it to the observation point.
To reach the point, head to this parking lot and walk to the bridge which will take you over the train tracks and the highway. Then you’ll see a nice little trail through the trees to the right, which snakes back around to the viewpoint. In all it takes about 5 to 7 minutes to walk it – it’s short and easy.
Again, going in the fall was a treat thanks to the golden changing leaves. They made the perfect frame.
How to get to Hohenzollern
Hohenzollern makes a perfect day trip from Stuttgart. If you are driving, you can simply follow this map and it should be possible to get there in 2 or so hours. There’s a car park next to the castle and you will have to pay 2 euro to park there. Public transportation is also available. Take the morning train from Stuttgart bound for Reutlingen, followed by the 7606 bus to Honau. Get off outside the Aksent Hotel and begin your walk to the castle. The journey from Stuttgart should take you about 3 hours.
If you want to see the other Hohenzollern from afar, and I highly recommend that you do, check this post out!
Though we don’t live in fairytale times anymore, sometimes it’s fun to pretend you could be royalty, taking in the opulence and splendor of these castles of old. For history buffs or those who just watched Disney obsessively like I did, taking a trip through Germany’s Baden-Wüttemberg feels like a storybook, and the Hohenzollern castles are the cherry on top.
*This post was brought to you in collaboration with Baden-Wüttemberg, however all opinions of this magical castle are my own.
Japan is famous worldwide for its unique style, especially the fashionistas of Harajuku in Tokyo. That said, before I went to Japan I failed to consider that not everyone, everywhere, is into the bright and quirky style of Harajuku, so with that in mind, we’ve combined the quirky and the practical for these packing lists.
We’ve got you covered for what to wear in Japan whatever the season:
Japanese women tend to dress relatively conservatively, in a way that showing too much skin is uncommon and frowned upon, even when it’s hot out.
Japan is a walkable country, so expect to walk a lot. You will also spend a lot of time commuting using the massive public transportation. Be sure to bring comfortable walking shoes.
You will be climbing lots of stairs and again, walk a lot. A backpack will be a better idea than a suitcase (I learned this the hard way).
Bring one week’s worth of clothes with you, and do your laundry – laundry shops are aplenty and inexpensive. That way you will be able to pack much lighter too!
Leave room in your luggage – Japan is awesome for shopping!
Temperature and humidity in Japan begins to increase as it welcomes summer from June to August. The locals tend to dress up in lightweight, breezy clothes that keep things nice and cool without exposing too much skin. Short skirts and pants are totally fine, but you may want to avoid showing cleavage! That being said, do not shy away from embracing your personal style when in Japan – I saw some of the most fashionable people in the streets of Tokyo, and it’s so cool to see everyone go all out with their creativity and get inspired! You will see what I mean when you get there. Expect lots of fun, outdoor festivals, more rain in May and June, and the hottest months of the year in July and August. With that in mind, here’s a summer packing list for a week in Japan:
Fall is a lovely time to visit Japan. It’s slightly less crowded than the popular springtime, you will see beautiful fall foliage in parks and countryside, and the weather is pleasant all around, if not slightly chilly, which makes walking outside an enjoyable experience.
Especially in early fall, the weather can be quite confusing – one day it’s almost too hot and sunny, the next day it’s chilly enough to wear a jacket. Similar to spring, layering is key so bring clothes that work well with each other. It’s a good time to rent a set of kimono, which can be too hot in the summer, and immerse yourself in the traditional Japanese culture for the day, especially if you are in places like Kyoto. I also noticed many local women rocking lots of bright color wide-leg pants during this time of the year and thought they looked appropriate, stylish and comfy! Here’s a fall packing list for a week in Japan:
Depending on which part of Japan you are traveling to, winter in Japan can get pretty cold. Temperatures can go below freezing in the north, whereas in Tokyo, you can expect 40°F – 55°F, with a slight chance of snow. Most indoor places and public transportation have heating systems in place to keep warm, which means you will have to deal with the constant fluctuation in temperatures.
Again, layering is key as you’ll want to be able to keep your body temperature at a comfortable state to avoid getting sick. I wouldn’t sweat too much on packing for a winter trip to Japan – Uniqlo has some really amazing yet affordable options, and their stores are everywhere! Here’s what you should pack for a week in Japan during the winter:
If you are visiting Japan during the cherry blossom season, layering is important, as the indoors are warm but it could still get slightly chilly outside. You will be out visiting the shrines, walking through beautiful local neighborhoods, and enjoying authentic local cuisine at restaurants and cafes, so expect to be walking a lot.
You are also likely to participate in Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) so as far as clothing goes, I’d recommend planning a wardrobe that’s lightweight, fashionable, and pastel. It will go well with the cherry blossoms and spring colors. As mentioned above, leave room in your luggage as you can find cool things from the malls and local thrift shops. With that in mind, here’s a spring packing list for a week in Japan:
I hope these lists help you to worry less about what to wear in Japan and spend more time enjoying it! Though my style tends to be more colorful and quirky than most, these lists are a great place to start regardless of your personal style.
The first time I heard about Harajuku girls was from Gwen Stefani in the early 2000s. While as an adult I see the Harajuku-girls-as-props situation as alarmingly problematic, one thing she said is undeniable: Harajuku girls do have some wicked style.
When I visited Tokyo for the first time 11 years ago, seeing this style in person was high on my must-do list. What I learned back then is that Harajuku girls were misfits and outcasts in an otherwise fairly conservative and straight-laced Japan, though popular culture has made their style trendy. I was also surprised to find that Harajuku style wasn’t just a cute lolita look, but expands to goth, punk, and schoolgirl styles as well.
And I can dig it!
When I went back to Tokyo this time I knew I had to head back to Harajuku and experience more of it. After all, a lot can change in 11 years! Here are all of the colorful, quirky, and delicious things that I found to do in Harajuku:
HARAJUKU - Monster Cafe, Purikura, and more! - YouTube
1. Kawaii Monster Cafe:
If you like bright colors, Alice in Wonderland-esque design themes, And macarons bigger than your head, Then you absolutely must pop in to the Kawaii (translation: cute) monster cafe.
The food, and I use that term lightly, is all colorful and anthropomorphized. Think burgers that look like little monsters and cakes to match.
This is from their Halloween menu
So how does it taste? Well let’s just say it’s a lot more about the looks.
It’s also a pretty penny. Each person who goes into the café must pay a ¥500 fee and everyone is expected to order at least one dish and one drink. The drink was kind of like a gelatinous Slurpee and the cake was surprisingly dry considering it was swimming in frosting – we’ll leave it at that.
Would I still recommend it for the experience? Hell yeah!
The colorful crepe shops with glorious Sampuru (fake food – it’s totally a thing in Japan and I am here for it!) dotted along the streets of Takeshita Dori are hard to miss. Crepes may have been invented by the French, but the Japanese have turned them into something all their own. With options including brownies, pudding, ice cream and fresh fruits wrapped generously with whipped cream, as well as savory options, it could be tough to pick just one!
Expect crowds and long lines at pretty much all of the crepe shops along Takeshita Dori. What I’d recommend is to quickly get to the shop front, take a quick photo of the Sempuru, step aside and decide which crepe you want, then get in the line to make your order. If you are able to get there early, the Sempuru displays make beautiful background for photos, too. My personal favorite shop (for the lewk) was the Santa Monica Crepes close to where Kawaii Monster Cafe is located.
3. Rainbow Cotton Candy
By now, I hope we have established that food in Harajuku is less about filling you up, and all about being absolutely kawaii! The giant rainbow cotton candy sold by Totti Candy Shop is so ridiculously big, it’s an experience in and of itself. It’s actually quite therapeutic to watch one being made, as the cotton candy master sprinkles layer after layer of colorful powder (yum…) as the cotton candy gets larger and larger. If you are in a group, it’s fun to share one and tear the cotton off. Just be ready for the sugar rush!
The shop is tucked away on the 2nd floor in the busy Takeshita Dori street, but you will see a pop up stall right below with the same cotton candy stuffed inside plastic cups, as well as groups of people holding what seems like rainbow clouds from afar. Just like the crepe shops, it’s hard to miss the Totti Candy Shop thanks to its popularity.
4. Eddy’s Ice Cream
…And the sweet tooth adventures continue! Eddy’s Ice Cream shop is off the main street but easy (and worth the effort) to find. Everything from the interior to the customizable orders makes it clear that the ice cream shop was designed with being photogenic in mind.
It’s tons of fun picking the toppings that you can’t find elsewhere, or you can also order directly from the menu. They also periodically offer a “secret menu” depending on the season. At this time of writing in October, they are offering “Halloween Panda” toppings!
Harajuku opened up the world of Purikura to me and I am both slightly creeped out and delighted by it.
You’ll walk down a set of stairs into an area full of brightly colored, musical booths. Next, pick the one(s) that appeal to you the most based on what they do for you — each one has its own unique value-add to your, um, face — throw in ¥400 and start posing.
The booth will automatically make your eyes bigger, soften your skin, make your hair silkier and redden in those cheeks and lips. Next you get to pick out the decorations for your stickers.
I don’t know if this is what the youth of the world needs to aspire to but I do know that I had fun with it.
6. Shop for Unique clothes
You can’t go to Harajuku without at least window shopping! Personally I knew that these were my style kindred spirits so I left some space in my suitcase and made a few purchases at W♥C. One was a rainbow sweater and the other was a black and white sweater with the word ‘love’ (爱) stamped all over it.
There are also goth shops, accessory shops that are a lot more cutesy and geared towards younger buyers, and full on costume shops. With unlimited space I would’ve gone bonkers but given I only had so much room in my suitcase I exercised restraint. Though it hurt it was for the best, I know.
7. Thrift Shopping
Fret not if you can’t make it to the capital of thrift stores in Tokyo, Shimokitazawa! Harajuku also houses several thrift stores with cool and unique finds. There’s something for everyone – you can find classic thrift shop items like branded sweaters and jackets, cutesy vintage dresses, and straight-up Harajuku style clothes in places like Kinji, Chicago Jingumae, Brand Shift Kaindooru, and Kilo Shop.
One word about thrift shopping in Tokyo: it’s not cheap, and the price is often comparable to buying brand new. That said, I thought the selection was great and the items are generally in great condition. I am just stating this so you can manage your expectations if you’re a thrift lover like me!
8. Dress like a Harajuku Girl
There are not many places in the world that embrace and celebrate unique personal style the way Harajuku do, so why not let your creativity run wild, pull a When in Rome, and dress like a Harajuku Girl?
I think it’s a fun challenge to get a full outfit from Harajuku and flaunt your purchase proudly! There are often street style photographers around Harajuku scouting for models for fashion magazines and blogs, so you really never know what kind of adventure could materialize.
9. Take a Spin at Tokyu Plaza
The Tokyu Plaza, located in Omotesando, is popular for the futuristic design of the entrance. Inside lies a multistory department store, as well as a beautiful rooftop terrace area on the 6th floor, which opens at 8:30AM.
It’s perfect for some quiet time before an intense, sugar-filled day at Harajuku! Of course, it is also good for anytime of the day. Grab a matcha latte from Starbucks, sit back, and enjoy people watching from high above.
10. Picnic at the Yoyogi Park
After all that sugar rushing, there’s perhaps nothing better than a relaxing picnic at Yoyogi Park. Head to a convenience store to grab some snacks and drinks, and enjoy a nice afternoon of people watching at the park. The park is located 200 meters from Harajuku station so it’s a convenient way to end your fun in Harajuku.
While those are just a few of the amazing things to do in here as you go, I’m sure you can see the running theme is things that are sweet (so, so sweet!) and fashionable.
Above all, just allow yourself to get into it and be fascinated by the unique Harajuku culture. There’s nothing in the world like it!
What does it take to be brave? Is it innate – something we’re born with? Or can we lay a foundation and build it?
When I think about my heroes, I Imagine them as always being the stellar, ass kicking versions of themselves that I’m familiar with. But is that realistic? Are people who appear to be brave born That way and do they maintain it for their whole lives, or do they have moments of fear and struggles to overcome? Could it be possible that they are not so different from me?
We’re all only human, right?
Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and peace activist, was quoted as saying “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid but he who conquers that fear.”
France Cordova, The youngest and first female NASA chief scientist said during a speech, “Of course at first I opened my eyes, looked at myself in the mirror and went, ‘Who are you kidding? You are going nowhere,’ but I kept on following my instincts and didn’t give up.”
And finally, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love (perhaps you’ve heard of it?), which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for three years, noted in her subsequent book, Big Magic, that she was an incredibly fearful child. She was terrified of even dipping her toe in the water and the beach, must less sitting off to the other side of the world and writing an incredibly intimate memoir about the experience for the world to see.
Now, I’m not comparing the previous three examples with each other, nor am I stating that anything we set out to do is on as large a scale of that of Nelson Mandela. It doesn’t have to be in order to be scary. Everyone is walking their own path and bravery is not only needed by the politicians, scientists, and authors of the world, but by every day people who carry out the seemingly nameless acts that create ripples throughout the world.
Can bravery be practiced and learned? I believe the previous examples suggest that it can.
I think it has to do with growing confidence little by little. I never intended to travel, much less backpack and hitchhike solo around the world, but it’s crazy how one thing can lead to another and before you know it, you’re doing the impossible.
Are you ready to build up your bravery? Here or six steps to help you get there:
1) Start Small
Hanging out with Noel, a local I befriended in a local restaurant in the Philippines
It can start out gently, complimenting strangers without any expectation of outcome just to get comfortable with approaching people you don’t know, then starting conversations with them. Through doing this I realized the world is kind and people are good.
One thing I find helps with this is to be friendly and conversational with people who work in the service industry. They’re essentially required to talk to you, so treat them like a friend and converse with them. It’s amazing how much a person can light up just by being treated like a human being, and how unfortunate that it’s such a rarity. From there it becomes a lot easier to expand this to people who get into the elevator with you, or sit on the bus next to you, or ask to sit at your table in a crowded restaurant.
Don’t withhold a greeting, a kind word, or an acknowledgement. Even if it doesn’t seem to be received, trust that it is.
2) Put Your Phone Down
Smart phones were a life changing invention that have not only helped me to stop getting lost abroad (Google Maps, my non-spatially aware self loves you!), but are also a major contributing factor to me being able to have this blogging job at all. That said, they’ve become a crutch that makes in-person interaction less necessary and I think, much more difficult.
In a book by MIT professor Sherry Turkle, who spent 20 years studying the impacts of technology on human behavior, cell phones are eroding our capacity for empathy, creativity, and intimacy.
I’d like to scream, that’s not true! But isn’t it? If you take out your phone, you never have to sit there looking bored or like you don’t have friends. You never have to have a down moment, all you have to do is open up your phone and reinforce that yes, people like me! Why do we need this fake validation?
I challenge you to put it down. I challenge you to look around. I challenge you to do that by yourself when in public places. Take in the world around you, feel connected to it, find the others who are not staring at their phones. Smile at them, make eye contact with them, maybe even start conversations with them.
3) Try a Group Activity that Will Challenge You
You never know where you might make a friend.
Go salsa dancing, learn how to make pottery in a class with others, go and paint something while other people watch, do anything that you’ve been dying to try but your ego absolutely does not want to be bad at.
When I think about ancient humans and their cave drawings, I wonder how often they worried about how it looked, or didn’t draw anything because they were afraid that other people might see it and judge it. Yet today people travel for thousands of miles to see them, and others have devoted their lives to studying them.
I honestly wish we could go back in time and be a fly on the wall in that cave, observing how being a human might have been different back then. Back in the day people had to worry about animal attacks and basic survival, but since we don’t anymore we have to find new things to perseverate over, like, what’s that person going to think about me messing up my dance steps?
It’s a beautiful thing to realize that nobody cares. And if they are judging you, that such an unfortunate waste of their energy. But honestly they’re not. Please go dance.
4) Show Your Creations to Others
Are you ready to try something new without coming up with reasons why it’ll be scary or not work out? Are you ready to manifest something that is brewing inside of you, and to show it to others without being attached to their reactions?
Not everyone appreciates the art of Pablo Picasso, one of the most famous painters in modern history. Putting out work that divides an audience is powerful. You don’t have to please everyone. But you do have to decide if other people‘s judgments are going to stop you from painting, or writing, or publishing, or whatever it is that you want to do. Some people may shame you, troll you, or misunderstand you, but they will also love you. Wouldn’t it be silly to keep your gifts in your whole life, considering how short life is?
5) Celebrate Your Missteps
Celebrate it all
Can you be willing to fail at something? Can you re-define failure? Can we actually eliminate that word from our vocabulary and replace it with, ‘learning experience’?
Sara Blakely, previously the youngest self-made female billionaire (before being succeeded by Kylie Jenner this year), said that her father asked the kids around the dinner table what they had failed at that day. Why focus on failure? Because it means that you tried something. Failure doesn’t have to be negative, because it always teaches you something.
In Gabrielle Bernstein’s, The Universe Has Your Back, she urges readers that trust that the universe will ensure that the greatest good will always be the outcome. Things that might initially seem like a failure will, in time, have a clear reason why. For a less ‘woo woo’ version of this, consider Ryan Holiday’s, The Obstacle is the Way. The book discusses several examples of people who turned what seemed like their biggest road blocks into their greatest success. Both books support the same point – that failure is not to be feared, rather, it can often show us a new path forward.
6) Do the Thing that You Previously Said Was Impossible
When I was in college, I had never really camped in a tent before, much less gone backpacking. I remember my friends doing it and I said, ‘There is no way that I could ever do that, it seems impossible to carry all of that weight up a mountain. How does anyone do this?’
Now I have completed eight multi-day hikes on multiple continents, one of which I set out on solo. The same thing happened with hitchhiking. If you had told me even one week prior that I would be on the road in China with my thumb up I would’ve thought it was insane, but when momentum is on your side, you stop asking questions and you just do it. So my advice is to not overthink it, and to decide to just do something that you previously thought was impossible.
It doesn’t have to be massively physically challenging, and it doesn’t have to be dangerous, it just has to be something that you never thought you would do, but you always secretly wished you were capable of. Overcoming these agreements that you previously made with yourself and realizing that they were not true, that your limitations are mental, will likely cause you to ask, what else can I do that I didn’t think I could do?
And this, my friends, is where the magic happens.
If I know one thing about bravery, it’s that you can build it. It’s in you, you just have to give it room to emerge.
Please remind yourself when the fears come up that, as female pilot Amelia Earhart said, ‘The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers.’
For further reading on bravery and overcoming obstacles, I recommend the following books: