Up in the Air: Taking a Hot Air Balloon Ride over the Valley of the Kings

alex balloon egypt

After spending a few days in Cairo, Daniel and I were keen to head south to Upper Egypt and check out the temples that had captured our imaginations as children. We booked a 12-hour train ride (which was surprisingly not that bad—we slept most the way) and headed to Luxor, where we would be meeting up with Joe and seeing some of the largest temple complexes in the world—and the famous Valley of the Kings.

When we arrived at the hotel, we were given some tour options. Before Daniel could resist, I booked us a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings at dawn. Daniel looked at me resentfully—he is afraid of heights and didn’t like the idea of being so high up.

“How many people get to have an experience like this?” I begged him.

Reluctantly, he agreed. We went to sleep that night in anticipation—I was thrilled but Daniel was not happy to be getting up at 4 am.

Daniel Balloon Egypt

The next morning, we woke early and were transported by van to the location where we would be going up in the balloon. We enjoyed some tea, which was a welcome relief waking up so early in the morning. There were people there from all sorts of countries. I heard German, Australian, Chinese, and many more languages as they explained the procedure we would follow in the balloon. We watched as the giant balloon began to fill with hot air and stand tall. After climbing in the basket, we were subjected to several more blasts of hot hair that singed our foreheads.

Alex Hot Air

“So far this isn’t fun,” Daniel commented.

“Just wait,” I said as we began to rise.

I had never been in a hot air balloon, but my dad had and he told me it was an experience unlike any other. I felt so fortunate to be here, in the place that had captivated me from childhood, doing something I was not sure that I would have ever had the opportunity to do (and for $45 each).

Daniel Alex Egypt

We hovered over the ancient tombs and began to see the lights of the sun over the horizon. Pinks and purples lit up the place I had been looking forward to the most—Hatshepsut’s temple. We were going to explore it the next day, but it was nice just to get a glimpse.

There are 62 tombs in the Valley of the Kings and close to 80 in the Valley of the Queens. Some of them were hidden from our view, but you could see many of them from so far up. The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, and I was struck by how beautiful the irrigation systems were. We could already see the tiny outlines of people beginning their work for the day and urging along donkeys pulling carts. It was amazing for me to think that this irrigations system had been used for thousands of years and that it was still in use in our modern world.

Valley of Kings

hot air balloon

I turned to Daniel. He peered over the basket and smiled.

“Alright,” he said. “This is pretty cool.”

Eventually, what comes up must come down. We began drifting downward into a field where a van awaited to take us back to the hotel. By now, the sun was already turning hot and was starting to burn our shoulders.

We were surprised to see some unexpected visitors waiting for us below. There was a group of children from the ages of about 5 to 8 waiting for us, begging for a coin or two as we landed. We were ushered from the basket to the car and asked not to give them anything, but it was hard. Their hands reached into the van, dirty and desperate.

Hot Balloon Sunrise

It was such a sad and interesting experience to go from a literal high to seeing the realities of a place. Several months later, I look back on this adventure fondly, but it still is hard to imagine those faces and not being about to do anything about the circumstances.

Have you ever had an experience like this traveling where it is bittersweet?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

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Traveling Green: How Travelers Can Help the Planet

Earth Day Travel

Since it is Earth Day, I’ve been thinking about how we can make an impact when we travel, and whether or not we are required to be responsible for the environment when we are on the road. For me, it seems like a no-brainer. If we are going to take advantage of the opportunity to see the world, we should make sure that we take care of it as we go along. So how do we act responsibly toward the environment while we travel? And can we really make an impact when we are only in a location for a short period of time?

As a travel writer, this means for me that I tell the whole story to my readers. I recently wrote an article about the disappearing glaciers in Glacier National Park for Matador. As much as I try to encourage visitors to my home state, I also want them to be aware that we have work to do as a society in order to maintain our landscapes. I feel as though I have a responsibility when I write to let others know in which ways we are affecting the environment.

As most travelers would probably agree with me, it’s impossible not to see some of the changes that we’ve rendered. The Great Barrier Reef has been proclaimed “dead,” Venice is sinking, and animal and plant species are dying out a terrifying rate. As someone who tries to encourage others to travel, I want to know that we are making an effort to preserve our world the best we can for next generations.

So how do we do this? While I have some issues with many voluntourism organizations, there are a number of them that are truly trying to make a positive difference. One organization that I believe in is Visit.org, which works hard to create ethical volunteer jobs for travelers. I’ve worked with them on a number of projects and I’m impressed by how they work to create tours that connect travelers with locals and work on sustainability.

But you don’t have to always make a big impact every time you travel. In fact, small changes to daily habits can actually make the biggest difference. I’ve started carrying around a refillable water bottle instead of getting plastic bottles every time I need water (and when you’re traveling to many locales, water is important). I don’t buy a lot of things—partially because I don’t have a place to put a ton of stuff, but partially because I don’t really need it and I think of all the natural resources that went into creating that product.

I’ve also committed to finding adventure tours that I can recommend to readers on the blog that are working toward helping the environment. I am journeying with Ninth Wave Global this summer to the Azores (by sailboat) in order to talk with other travelers about sustainability and to write about the current environmental situation that is rapidly changing the islands.

It’s these small things that really make a difference as we travel, but I do believe that it’s an important part of contributing to a world that gives so much to us.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Ethical Travel Blogging: Being Honest with Readers

Ethical Travel Blogging

When I first started blogging a few years ago, all I could find on other travel sites and Instagram pages were declarations of lifestyle porn—or beautiful photos and posts about how everything on vacation was perfect and went swimmingly. While this type of content is still popular, it’s definitely receiving some backlash recently, and many travel bloggers are choosing to be a bit more honest with what they share.

Part of the problem with the way the industry is set up is that the media is rewarded with press trips—and press trips are usually granted to people who can show off the tour company or the city’s tourism in the most favorable light. I love press trips as much as the next person, and many of my favorite journeys have been facilitated by companies who have made sure that I see the very best of the country or area they are trying to promote. However, I’ve made sure to warn them beforehand that I will be honest with readers.

So what can we do as bloggers and travelers to convey a sense of reality to our travels? For me, it’s important to share both the good and the bad, but it’s a fine line between receiving benefits for what you do and to do it in an ethical way.

Accept reviews for products that are in line with your brand

 I focus on adventure travel for Generation-Y, which is a very specific niche. I’ve been sent products that definitely not in line with my readership and what they would be interested in. One example of this was the original Try the World box. While I loved the concept, it was a bit too expensive for my readers, which I pointed out in my review. A few months later, they sent me their much cheaper snack box, which I was happy to recommend to my readers.

Getting free stuff is nice, but unless you actually believe in the product, it’s not a good idea to recommend it to people who trust you and your expertise.

Show the good—and the bad too

I’ll admit it—it’s hard to share the gritty side of travel sometimes. I wrote a post recently about my time in Lisbon, Portugal. While I mentioned I was tired after a long flight, I didn’t fully explain what I didn’t like about the city. Readers were confused how I spent an entire post writing about the things I liked rather than the parts that weren’t my favorite. It didn’t ring true and I felt like I wasn’t being honest. I wanted to love Lisbon but I just didn’t, which is the message I really should have shared with the people reading my blog.

Let the readers get to know you

 One of my favorite bloggers is Alice Nettleingham from Teacake Travels. She’s candid and has a voice that is recognizable. Along with working with companies, she also shares valuable information with readers—some of it incredibly personal.

Lifestyle porn bothers me because it prescribes to a certain kind of voice that influencers think will do well and help them gain free trips and products. This might be for a while, but styles change. Your readers might get tired of hearing about which lotion you use while abroad, but they aren’t going to get tired of well-written stories and your voice. Make your passion the reason why readers keep coming back instead of the seemingly-perfect life you live (because that’s not authentic).

Ethical blogging isn’t always easy. It can be hard to share difficult events and to give an honest review about a trip that was paid for. But it is important. As more and more travel writing is available online, let’s remind readers that it’s not all fun and games—and that’s part of the adventure too.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Please Stop ‘Beg-Packing’: Why It’s Doing Harm

beg-packing-harm

Lately within the travel community the issue of ‘beg-packing’ has come up. When I had first read the term, I was a bit confused about what it meant. After reading some other travel blogs, though, I knew immediately what they were talking about. On my travels, I had absolutely seen my fair share of Westerners sitting on the street with signs asking for assistance from others on their trips.

While most of the begging and packing takes place in poorer countries where individuals often have a hard time feeding their families, let alone funding white people, I’ve even witnessed it a bit here in Granada. The homeless here are my age—in their early to late twenties. Sometimes they offer necklaces or bracelets, but many just beg for food, or, you guessed it, funding for their travels.

Travel blogger and writer Helen Coffey wrote an interesting article about how we shouldn’t be so quick to judge these young people. She mentions:

“The consequences are more severe [for some Western travelers]. A friend tells me of getting mugged in Cuba, and being stranded for four days without a penny. Naval officer Kristian shares his story of arriving at the airport only to find his flight had left at 8am, not 8pm, and the ensuing embarrassment of having to beg for money from passersby to afford another flight home.”

While Coffey has a point (and I love her writing), this article kind of misses the main argument of the matter. There are times when you truly need help as a traveler and there are times where you are using your ignorance to display privilege. While some of the photos of these people asking for money might be taken out of context as Coffey states, many are simply just beg-packing.

Also, this privilege isn’t just related to money. Some of the beg-packers might be in a worse economic state than some of their peers—there is no way to know without asking. The reality is that even poor Westerners still have a better lifestyle and are more affluent than the poor in Southeast Asia—which makes up the vast majority of the population. This privilege is related to not only money, but also to Western privilege over Eastern, first-world versus third, and ethnicity.

I am a big advocate for being a self-aware traveler. Travel can be a lot of fun, but as I’ve stressed often, it’s not a vacation. Traveling in its purest, most difficult form pushes you to consider things from others’ perspectives and to recognize your place in the world. I can’t relate to those beg-packing because, for me, those travelers are not looking at life through another perspective—they are wondering how to get to their next destination without having to pay for it themselves.

It’s hard to be young, and it’s hard to feel like you don’t have enough cash to do the things you want to do. But instead of begging, there are options. You can work at a hostel for your board. You can sign up for a work-away program that allows you to experience what life is like for the individuals in the country you are traveling to. You can put the expense of traveling on a credit card and pay it off when you have steadier income (which, as a Westerner is likely). You can do a number of different things rather than sit and ask people who will likely never even dream of traveling to fund your travels.

I have complete understanding for those who need help while traveling. I’ve had horror stories myself when my debit card wasn’t working and I was unsure about how I would get a flight back home. I’ve had 15 euro in my pocket and a German couple offered to buy me a sandwich—even ignoring me when I refused. These things happen while on the road.

If you are considering beg-packing, I encourage you to think of some other ways to fund your travels. Let’s make the world a better place by being responsible travelers—it’s a privilege very few have.

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Walking Like an Egyptian: Exploring the Pyramids of Giza

egypt pyramids giza

One place that has always been on my bucket list is Egypt. When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was “the Egypt game,” modeled after Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s classic children’s book. Who isn’t enchanted by pharaohs and mummies? Even though I loved the culture and had poured over encyclopedias and books trying to learn more, Egypt was never a place I thought I would actually go. It always seemed so far away to six-year old me.

So when Daniel and I booked our plane tickets to Cairo, I was still a little bit in shock after a day or two that I was actually there. I also wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting in regards to modern Egypt and Cairo—I had pictured the ancient society more than the sprawling metropolis that we were seeing.

We booked a driver to take us to the pyramids, unaware that we would either have to choose to take a horse or a camel and a local guide in order to get there. While the driver cost only $30 for the entire day, the horses were an added expense of $70 that we weren’t aware we would be paying. While I was a little angry with this at first, I soon realized that they simply didn’t let you into the complex without a hired guide.

horses pyramids giza

Also, I didn’t realize how large the complex was. Walking wouldn’t have been an option in the August heat. It was fun for me to get back on a horse once I was over the initial frustration of paying for one since I hadn’t ridden one for years (and I was quite the equestrian back in the day), and it was a challenge to ride up and over the dunes. As we peered around one of the larger ones, the pyramids appeared.

There’s nothing like seeing a monument or structure so engrained in the culture you’ve grown up with in person. The first time I saw the Eiffel Tower, I remember being near tears. As a girl from a small town, it seemed impossible that I would ever get the chance to see a structure that had captured my imagination. I felt the same way seeing the pyramids towering above me.

pyramids egypt giza

We rode closer and closer. I’ve seen pictures of how crowded with tourists the area below the pyramids can be from other travel bloggers, but because we went in August, we had the space all to ourselves. We dismounted the horses and were allowed to touch the large blocks that made up the base of the Great Pyramid. We were even encouraged to climb up the first tier, where I placed a hand and took a moment to recognize where I was.

great pyramid egypt

Very few people have the opportunity to travel and see sights that have fascinated them since they were children. For me, this was a special moment to connect with that little girl who made the crowns of the pharaohs from Upper and Lower Egypt and dressed in bangles while calling herself Hatshepsut. It was unlike any other experience that I have ever had before—none of my travels have touched the heart of who I was as a young girl in the same way.

After we remounted our trusty steeds, we headed to another sight that is equally as famous—the Sphinx. Wandering through the temple at the foot of the giant, mythical creature, I took a quick snap. I was soon discovering that every single moment I had to be on my guard in Egypt. We were bombarded by those trying to sell their wares, and the hot sun was making it tough for me to continually be nice. We said goodbye to our horses and rejoined our driver.

pyramid sphinx egypt

Our last stop was the Step Pyramid—the first pyramid built in this region. It was so strange to think that it had been built so many thousands and thousands of years ago. As we admired how it had been built by workers with only basic tools, we were again bothered by a number of men asking if we wanted to see the “secret tomb.” They would hold out a key (usually a modern house key—I’m not sure that would open a secret tomb), encouraging us to follow them.

step pyramid egypt

At this point, we just laughed. As introverts, we had just about enough of these self-enterprising Egyptians. We had the driver take us home and tipped him for transporting us around the entire day.

This experience reminded me how far travel can be from idyllic. I’ve never had such a moment of reflection while on my journeys while seeing the pyramids, but I’ve also never been so annoyed and angry at hidden costs, the frustrations with the system that required us to have a guide, and out-of-place I felt in a foreign country.

Have you ever had mixed emotions on your travels? Where?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

7 Weird Meals I’ve Had While Traveling

weird meals traveling

One of my favorite parts about traveling is trying the local cuisine. I’ve even journeyed to countries solely for the opportunity to try the food there (sushi in Japan?). While I am always down to try food that the area is known for, I also like to try some foods that are a bit, well, stranger than some of the items that you would normally find on the menu. Sometimes I do it for shock value, other times it’s simply because I’m always looking for something new to experience.

Here are seven of the weirdest meals I’ve tasted on my travels.

1. Pigeon and rabbit in Egypt

joe egypt friend

We were fortunate enough to meet up with a friend in Cairo, where he took us to a spot that touted local dishes—but cooked in a classy and interesting way. Daniel and I ordered the pigeon and the rabbit on the menu (which you can also find in Morocco and other Islamic countries, as well). While it might seem strange to us to eat pigeon, I really couldn’t tell the difference between that and chicken. It was delicious, and Joe just laughed as we devoured our strange foods.

2. Minke whale and puffin in Iceland

When my dad and I voyaged to Iceland for a father-daughter trip, we stopped by the local restaurant which everyone had been raving about. The Fiskmarkadurinn is still the place where I had one of the most memorable meals of my life. We ordered the tasting menu, which consisted of a number of unique dishes cooked to perfection. Among the oysters, sushi from local fish, clams, lamb, and more (we couldn’t even finish the last two courses of the seven-course meal) we had minke whale and puffin. The minke whale tasted like beef and the puffin like duck.

3. Alpaca and guinea pig in Peru

alpaca steak peru

When I traveled with Contiki in Peru, I was thrilled to be among a number of fellow weird food lovers. We chugged corn beer at the foot of the Andes and enjoyed an alpaca steak in Cusco. What was the most meaningful for me, however, was how our guide brought us to her home. Gabbi introduced us to her mother, who had taken the time to cook one of the family’s own guinea pigs for us. I couldn’t get over the kindness she showed us as complete strangers. For me, that was one of the most memorable parts of the trip.

4. Camel in Morocco

camel food morocco

Turns out, camels are good for more than just riding throughout the Sahara. When I took a trip with Gutsy Women Travel, we headed to a local café where the chefs had been known to experiment a little with their foodstuff. I ordered a camel burger. I had learned that only those who can’t afford any other type of meat tend to buy camel—and the meat that is sold comes from old camels who are too infirm to carry goods and people in the desert. Despite this, my camel was delicious. To me, it tasted like bison—one of my favorite meats to savor when I return home to Montana.

5. Frogs and chicken feet in Queens, United States

One of the things I loved the most about living in New York is that you can find any culture around the world in that small area if you look hard enough. This is especially true in Queens, where our good friend Chris lives. He’s also an expert at finding amazing hidden gems in the city. We went to a Chinese restaurant where very little English was spoken. Daniel (he loves weird food as much as I do) and I ordered the frogs and chicken feet, much to the surprise of our waitress.

“You sure?” she asked.

We were. While I had tasted frog legs before, eating a whole actual frog was quite a different story. Now I’m looking forward to eventually making it to China where I can sample these delicacies and see if they taste differently from what I remember.

6. Snake, kangaroo, a few things I’m not sure about, and a spider in Cambodia

cambodia weird food

Daniel and his brother, Eric, and I decided to take a trip to Japan and Cambodia. Turns out, Eric loves eating weird foods just as much as we do. When we made it Siem Reap, it took us half a second to sit down at a Cambodian barbecue spot that advertised a collection of odd meats. We ordered the entire platter which consisted of some snake, frogs, pig, beef, chicken, and kangaroo.

Dipping our choices of food in the pot, we were able to come up with some intriguing combinations—most of them very good. I was particularly fond of the kangaroo.

cambodia eating spider

We weren’t finished yet, however. While walking through the night market, we came across a man selling fried spider. We grabbed one for a dollar. Daniel personally was not thrilled by the idea. I ate a leg (I used to be deathly afraid of spiders) and Eric crunched on the rest.

7. Fermented shark in Iceland

If you’re a weird food lover, Iceland is definitely a top spot. My dad and I made a special trip to a place we knew had fermented shark on the menu after hearing about it on the Discovery Channel. Fermented shark is made miles away from any towns or cities by law because it smells that bad. When we were handed our “meal,” it was in a hermetically-sealed jar. The little cube of shark flesh looked edible enough, but when you opened the jar, our eyes began to water and the room immediately smelled of ammonia.

Dad and I looked at each other. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes from the strength of the smell. After counting down from three, we both popped the cube into our mouths at the same time.

The table next to us laughed. “We tried it yesterday. Worst thing we’ve ever eaten.”

It wasn’t the worst, but it was absolutely the weirdest.

For me, trying these foods is part of experiencing the culture of a place and finding something to relate to the local people about. What I love about all these meals is they were all with people that I felt like I had a stronger connection with after I had tried the food meals. It was an experience we were able to have together, and a testament to how food can change and bring others together.

What foods have you tried while traveling?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Feminine Health Abroad: It Doesn’t Have to Be Scary

feminine health abroad

It’s always a little bit more complicated traveling as a woman. You have sexism, worries about traveling alone, and how you are going to fit everything into a suitcase (sheesh). On top of that, you also have the issues of, well, health to deal with.

I remember my first time living in Italy when I was studying abroad and that time of the month rolled around. I was shocked when I went to the grocery store to find two types of feminine hygiene products—over-priced tampons and flimsy pads. I had never considered what it would be like to travel and have to deal with this stuff. (Because, honestly, that’s not what comes to mind when I book a trip. I don’t know about you.) I ended up grabbing both and changing my pad about every two hours.

Because you might not always know what’s available when you travel, here are a few tips I’ve come up with while traveling that have saved me some headaches.

Save room for your favorite products

While this might not be a solution if you are planning on being abroad long term, it definitely helps when you are on short expeditions. Knowing that my tampon will hold up in the Amazon jungle or that I don’t have to worry about finding the right pad for the right occasion (sleeping in the desert in a tent) helps a lot. I like sport tampons because they are easy to carry and not messy, which can definitely be a godsend when you’re at an airport and rushing to your next flight.

Factor in the products that you love in packing your suitcase. I promise, you’ll be happy you have something familiar in an unfamiliar place.

Put together an “emergency kit”

Travel is stressful. And millennial travel tends to be far from the vacation other generations take when they choose to get away. We usually experience more, party more, and come back with more memories. However, this added stress can do a number on your health—especially down there.

Between missed periods, infections, and all sorts of other sh*t, it’s not a bad idea to prepare for the worst. (Or be prepared to do a lot of miming when you head to the pharmacy where they don’t speak the language. “Yo tengo un infection de…vagina?”) Pack creams, aspirin, and anything else that you can think of that is specific to the problems you tend to face when stressed. For me, this includes a big bottle of Vitamin D.

Think about your birth control

Whether you are in a relationship or not, this is important. Getting frisky abroad can be a reason to travel, but it does tend to make things more complicated when you don’t want to bring back a baby souvenir. This is especially crucial as an expat where you might be living in countries where birth control is harder to get a hold of.

When I had moved back to Italy at 23, I was thrilled my boyfriend was coming to visit. I was less thrilled that I was running low on birth control pills that the pharmacies told me they didn’t have them in Italy (which they could have been lying—Italy is one of those countries where it can be difficult to convince someone you need it). I had to ask my parents to ship some over. It took a month to get there and it was a debacle to get the package (a walk five miles in the rain that required picking a lock with a bobby pin in order to get the receipt so I could pick it up).

Think about whether you will be able to take your pill every day or if a condom provides you enough protection for your state of mind. Eventually, I made the leap to an IUD because I was tired of trying to track when to take the pill in different time zones and tired of being worried about how to get the exact prescription I needed abroad. Best choice I ever made, and it was free to do.

Not all gynos are created the same

This goes without saying: health care in some countries is better than others. I feel perfectly fine seeing a doctor in say, England. Less so in Morocco where I hear they diagnose you with the wrong disease in order to take out your body parts and sell them on the black market (true story from a friend).

That’s why if you need any assistance abroad, you should do your research before you just go into a hospital. It’s likely that they will just stick you with whomever is on call, which could be a blessing or a curse. The hours might also be off. I tried to make an appointment with a doctor (again in Italy—not the best health care, obviously) and I had to schedule a time when she wasn’t home with her children. Instead, I waited it out until I could get checked on in the States.

This stuff isn’t always so easy. Before you head to or move to another country, you should take a look at whether or not you can get the medication you need while there, which doctors can help you out if you run into issues, and how best you can take care of yourself when away from home.

Any ladies run into health issues abroad?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation: What’s the Difference?

cultural appropriation appreciation

I’ll be the first to admit, I love wearing harem pants. And living in Granada, Spain for the past few months has made it impossible not to simply slip into wearing the loose-fitting, comfortable clothes that are sold here. They’ve also been incredible for travel—especially to Islamic countries where I am less likely to get looks than when I am wearing shorts and a tank top. However, any time I adopt a new style, I am always wondering what the line between cultural appropriation and cultural diffusion is. How much am I adopting that it is okay and a testament to the things I love about a certain culture, and how much of it is disrespectful and ignorant.

This is not a new issue travelers have had. And, not surprisingly, it’s one that has plagued white travelers more than any other. This follows in line with my post on travel and privilege. I’m in a much better place to take aspects of another culture for my own than many in a different position. My privilege allows that to be an option in the first place. If I did not have this option, then I would be forced to wear or act as however the men in my life or more restricting culture I lived in would require. I wouldn’t have a choice to slip on harem pants or practice yoga and meditation or eat sushi or learn Spanish songs on the guitar (like I do).

However, this issue is much more complicated than you might originally think.

I remember seeing a young woman from Britain in Japan wearing the traditional outfit of a geisha. My first thought was to immediately jump to hatred and accuse her silently of cultural appropriation. “How ignorant of the culture and what the role of the geisha was in Japanese society,” I thought.

I was shocked when some young Japanese women asked to take a picture, laughing and trying in basic English to make friends. They didn’t seem bothered by the fact that this young woman was wearing their traditional costumes and, quite honestly, seemed to be enjoying it. I’ve since encountered similar situations like this numerous times on my travels. From Moroccans encouraging me to wear a turban in order to block the Sahara sun to Peruvians giggling at my attempts at salsa, many want to share their culture with visitors.

When some of my friends came to Montana from the East Coast, I was happy to take them to Glacier National Park and go with them to buy cowboy boots—just as they were thrilled to teach me how to properly flag a cab and order a “caw-fee.” After all these instances, I learned the main difference between cultural appropriation and culture appreciation is the mutual understanding that you are adopting certain aspects of a culture—and that this is accepted. If it had bothered my Moroccan and Spanish friends to wear harem pants, I would have stopped. If my Italian friends had told me it was disrespectful to use my hands to speak, I would have tried to be more considerate.

Cultural appreciation (and diffusion) has been going on since the very idea of cultures existed. As our world becomes more global, it can be hard to know that line of whether you’ve taken it too far or not. On the other hand, being open to other ways of doing things and perspectives is what will, in reality, make our world a better place. I don’t have a clear answer for anyone about cultural appropriation and how to know when you are taking things too far. That is for each individual to be aware of when they travel and the ideas, rituals, food, and clothing when he or she travels.

What do you think? What’s the line between cultural appropriation/cultural appreciation for you?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

It’s All Greek to Us: Exploring Santorini

Greece Travel Santorini

After we had explored the island of Paros, Daniel and I were looking forward to spending the night in a hotel in Santorini (and escaping the tent where we had been crashing for the past two nights). We crawled aboard the two-hour ferry that would take us to the much-visited and most famous island of the Cyclades. After seeing so many photos on Instagram and social media, I was looking forward to seeing whether or not it lived up to the filtered and doctored images I had scrolled through.

What I was not expecting was the steep climb up the side of the island after popping on the local bus that would take us to our hotel. I’m used to steep drops—as a frequent visitor to the Going-to-the-Sun road in Glacier National Park, even I was feeling a little woozy by the time we made it all the way up to the top.

Santorini Mosaic Greece

It also took us a few tries to find our small, family-run hotel where we would be staying. We even had to knock on locals’ doors, who would give us vague directions in Greek. Even they seemed to be a little confused about where exactly everything was. It took at least an hour to find our hotel and we called it a day after hauling our stuff up and down hills.

We were determined to see what Santorini was all about the next day, though, and we decided to rent an ATV in order to properly explore the island. It cost around 30 euro (plus a 10 euro insurance fee) to rent, but as we soon found out, there really is no better way to experience the Greek lifestyle. We went from one end to the other of the island, stopping at the black sand beach and climbing up to the highest point where we took pictures of a peaceful church.

Church Santorini Greece

If you hate traffic, driving an ATV in Greek traffic might not be the best way to go. It is extremely stressful, and having a hand on the brake at all times is necessary in order to avoid a wreck (which is why it’s smart to opt for insurance on your ATV if you can). After stressing enjoyably for a few hours, we made a stop for lunch and ordered, of course, a plate of seafood.

Seafood Santorini Greece

The next day we returned the ATV but were at a loss of what to do. We had seen most the major neighborhoods like Oia, and we had an entire day before we had to catch a flight to Egypt. We don’t usually choose to take a tour when you can get around easily yourself, but it actually ended up being the perfect way to see some of those Instagram-worthy shots I was curious about.

Monastery Santorini Greece

Bells Santorini Greece

What we were really interested in, however, was the ruins of Thira. As history lovers, we were excited to experience this part of the tour. The city is still being uncovered by archeologists, and you are allowed to walk through as though you were once part of the ancient culture. Like Pompeii, this was one of the highlights of Santorini for me—even though this is an attraction you might not think of when visiting the Cyclades.

Thira Santorini Greece

The tour ended with a wine tasting overlooking the ocean. While the wine was a little bitter for me (except the dessert wine—yum), it helped me to relax after a hectic past few days of snorkeling in Paros, taking the ferry and getting lost finding the hotel, and trying to navigate Greek traffic. I was ready to take on the next part of our journey in Cairo.

Wine Santorini Greece

Ocean Santorini Greece

We’re headed back to Santorini in a few weeks—any recommendations on things we missed?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander

How I’ve Financed My Travels: It’s Not All Pretty

fiance travels pay

One of the first things people ask when I tell them I am a travel writer is how I afford it. Traveling can be an expensive hobby if you tend to go all out—and I know some travelers who have taken to charging everything to their credit cards and mentioning they’ll pay it off when their journeys are over. While this can be one way to finance your travels, it can also cause a lot of stress after you’ve given up a nomadic life.

Here are some realities I’ve had to face while choosing to travel instead of permanently settle down.

Saving is mandatory

Which means, I’ve had to spend time NOT traveling. I’ve crashed in my parents’ home for a few months and lived in New York with my boyfriend’s family for a while. Both families have been incredibly gracious and kind—and it’s made it possible for me to save up enough money in order to see some new places. While it might be okay to put everything on your credit card if you know that you’ll be able to pay it back, I was never really comfortable with that idea.

Of course, we can’t all do this. Many of us don’t have a place to go back to if we need to make some cash. So I am very grateful to the people who have put up with me and shown me such love.

Working on the road

All this traveling isn’t a vacation. I was just laughing about tonight when Daniel and I got back from the desert, sweaty, tired, and a bit disgusting after a bout of food poisoning. Illness aside, it also means that much of my time on the road I am working as a freelance journalist. I have deadlines like any other job, and I spend just as many hours working, if not more, than walking around and seeing the places I am visiting.

Even then, it’s taken me years to build up a freelance cliental where I feel comfortable paying a little more for a quality experience. I’ve been working as a freelance writer for nearly five years and things are just starting to pan out where I am not worrying about my paycheck and the amount.

Traveling can be cheaper than you think

Rent in a major city, for a room of one’s own, can be at least $1200. I chose to live in Italy instead after graduating from college, where my rent was $300. Even if I decided to take a trip, I could Ryanair it from Pisa to Paris for 50 Euro. Granted, I didn’t stay at the Ritz, and it took a while to find places where I could find some cheap meals, but I overall probably ended up spending much less than I would have if I had decided to settle somewhere. Even with incidentals, my lifestyle traveling and living as an expat has cost me much less than others think it might.

Know which ways to build a business

Part of working on the road means you have to know your ins and outs of running a business. As a freelance writer, I know that I can write a certain amount off on my taxes if the expenses relate to travel. This means meals, flights, hotels, entertainment, computer repair, and a lot more. While I still have to lay out the money, knowing that this benefits me lessens the sting of paying the initial amount. I also have had to look to make cash in some interesting ways—not all of them pleasant (no, I’m not talking about anything relating to prostitution).

I’ve written encyclopedia articles, taught English lessons, edited articles about hotels in South East Asia, and commuted in and out of New York City for a few months in order to make enough cash to make the move to Spain. This blog is finally starting to make an income, but it took a long time to get there.

No big shopping trips

I used to be much more of a stuff girl, and I had a terrible coffee habit that required I go to the local shop at least once a day for a latte. After I started to learn that the money I was spending on things (like clothes, shoes, coffee) could be put toward my rent in Italy or to a plane ticket to Iceland, I started to care a lot less about what I was wearing and more what I was doing. For example, if I bought a coffee once a day for a year, it would amount to $1095—which is about the amount of a round trip ticket to Australia, or 3 round trip tickets to Europe (now that prices are low).

Every now and then, I think of how nice it would be to buy some unique items from the places I’ve been, but because I don’t have a place to put them, I do have more money to spend on travel.

Financing my travels hasn’t always been easy. There are times where I had cents in my bank account waiting for my next paycheck. I’ve had to stay at $12 a night hostels because that’s all I could afford at that time. Regardless, I wouldn’t change any of it, and it’s taught me to budget, think ahead, and consider what I want to spend my hard-earned cash on.

How do you finance your travels?

Keep wandering,

Alex Signature Wander