Featured on Blog for First Time Travel Tips

I’ve mentioned a lot on this blog recently how incredible social media has been as a tool for meeting others in the travel community, forming friendships and connections, and even opening doors of opportunity.

This is the case with Jemma, who posted about an open call for travel bloggers to contribute to a group post. The questions covered top travel tips for a first time traveler, the 3 things we can’t travel without, and how travel has changed our lives. I was stoked to be a part and to contribute!

The first question is now up on a blog post on her site. There are a lot of really incredible individuals on this list with me- make sure you check them out and give them a follow!

Speaking of following, are you? This blog and @fromthissideofthesun on Instagram. 🙂

Read the post by clicking here or at http://adventureswithjem.com/2020/11/first-time-traveller-tips/

Jemma’s Instagram: @jemms.adventures

Thanks again to Jemma for having me and all who contributed!

Hoping you’re staying connected to the things, places, and people that bring you joy,

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My Top 10 Traveling Items

Though it feels weird to post this in a time when hardly any of us are traveling, I’ve been asked this question quite a few times, and I’m hoping this will be useful to other female travelers.

*Keep in mind I’m a very low maintenance traveler. I don’t bring hair products or styling tools, and haven’t found neck pillows or eye masks to be necessary. That’s just my personal preference. Also, things like your passport, visas, money, phone, camera, etc. go without saying.*

Without further ado, here are some of the things I always bring with me on my trips:

1. A reusable water bottle

This is a must. I’ve definitely been guilty of buying a bottle of water right after getting through security before– don’t be like me.

Here’s what I use:

Not even just reusable, this water bottle is also collapsible. This is compact, and will save you (and the environment!) lots in the long run.

2. Teva sandals

I wear these constantly. They are so comfortable for walking cobblestone streets and yes– sturdy enough that I often hike in them, too!

I typically opt for the black, which matches with everything.

3. Portable charger

This shouldn’t come as a surprise- we need to stay connected on the go.

The power bank I have (shown above) has been a lifesaver in many situations where I couldn’t get to a power source. Make sure to charge ahead of time.

4. Black leggings

Go ahead and roll your eyes, but leggings are: A. stretchy and comfortable B. suitable for most weather C. easy to pack and D. again, black goes with everything, and you can easily dress it up.

I love these ones because they are high waisted, lightweight, and even come with a pocket! (Ask any female, they will tell you how exciting it is to have pockets in clothing.)

5. Packing cubes

Because organization is important, and so is saving all your precious carry-on space (and your sanity when you’re trying to find the stuff you’ve packed). These come in all sizes and colors.

I just got these ones last year for Christmas and am obsessed with the teal!

6. Lightweight Jacket

Your girl gets super chilled, super fast. Layers are always key, and even in temperate weather, you never know how fast it could turn.

I love this one, (with a hood!) perfect for walking around European cities in the fall:

And typically use this (waterproof!) one for more outdoor adventures:

* Even for warmer climates, don’t forget a shawl or scarf, especially in countries that require modest covering (i.e. entering temples in Thailand).

7. Daypack

It’s important to have some kind of smaller luggage for hiking, day trips, or any type of adventure you may find yourself on.

Gregory is one of my favorite brands, but this Osprey one is great as well.

8. While we’re on the subject of bags and backpacks, let’s talk purses.

This is an anti-theft cross body bag with tons of storage space, even for umbrellas or water bottles!

If that isn’t really your style, and you’re looking for something smaller and more sleek, I’d recommend this:

There’s also some pretty cool infinity scarves that have hidden travel pockets like these:

9. Adapter

This is obviously an absolute must if you are traveling internationally where plugins are different. Try to aim for one that has extra USB ports, so you can maximize charging time with minimal space.

Here is what I use:

Honestly, it doesn’t hurt to have two!

10. Personal safety alarms

As a solo female traveler, there are (unfortunately) extra precautions that are necessary to take. However, that shouldn’t hold you back from your dream of traveling. Here are some items that may help your peace of mind:

These loud alarms have LED lights and come in packs- great for women, kids, or elders- so there’s one for everyone in your family.

Pepper spray (above) and key whistles (below).

What’s great is that these come in multiples as well.

(If you’re forgetful or lose things like me, this will certainly come in handy.)

..And for bonus #11: A mask!!!

Be sure to follow all COVID-19 guidelines and be aware of the measures and rules in place before you get to your destinaton.

This list can go on and on, but I’ll stop there.

I’m forever interested in helpful gadgets, space-savers, and all things cute, practical, and safe to take on my trips. What’s something you always take with you? Let me know in the comments!

Stay safe,

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*Disclosure: Please note that some of the links listed above are affiliate links. This is to no extra cost to you- as an Amazon affiliate I may earn a commission from qualifying purchases.*

Life’s A Trip Podcast

As much as I can take issue with social media sometimes, it has allowed me to meet and connect with so many incredible people. Many of these new friends are doing such impressive and exciting things. Edher in Peru reached out to me for the Cinnamon Traveler Chats, and Gyovanna (who currently lives in Germany) invited me to be on her podcast, Life’s A Trip. This was my first podcast experience! I’ll admit I was nervous, but Gyovanna and I had so much fun and could’ve talked forever. We actually ended up continuing our convo another hour after we stopped recording!

We covered solo travel and traveling as a woman, of course, but also dove deeper into mental health (not only anxiety and depression, but also excoriation disorder/dermatillomania), the story of how I got my pacemaker, and even poetry. You can listen to the episode here on Spotify. or wherever you get your podcasts.

This was the first time I’ve really openly discussed my BFRB (body-focused repetitive behavior) and though I felt so vulnerable, I wanted to share my story with others in hopes that either 1.) it resonates with someone else who is also struggling and/or 2.) it shines a light on these disorders so that others can understand them, which will only help remove the stigma that surrounds them.

I can’t thank her enough for having me, and hope you’ll tune in. She always has wonderful guests on, covering all types of interesting topics. And the name “Life’s A Trip” couldn’t be more spot on this year, can it?

Can’t wait to hear what you think,

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P.S. To anyone wanting to understand more about dermatillomania, I cannot recommend this Ted talk by Liz Atkin enough: https://youtu.be/mlt3o6dnGqA

This is actually how I found out that skin picking had a name! Also, there are tons of different BFRBs, and resources/websites for them. Here are some favorites of mine:
TLC Foundation for BFRBs: https://www.bfrb.org/
Picking Me Foundation NFP: https://pickingme.org/

The Cinnamon Traveler Chats

Since creating my public Instagram account (@fromthissideofthesun) to showcase my travel adventures and writing, I’ve made so many connections & found friends in like-minded individuals. I’m so grateful that one of them, Edher, AKA The Cinnamon Traveler (find him on Instagram, and his Facebook page) asked to interview me on his YouTube channel.

Edher lives in Cusco, Peru and has conducted several interviews with travelers, bloggers, and more that I’ve found to be both fascinating and inspiring. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve met, (which says a lot seeing as how we’ve only “met” a couple months ago, and have yet to meet in person!) and I’m so glad he shared his platform with me for me to tell my story as a solo female traveler.

I’m super awkward and there were some technical difficulties on my end, but I had such an amazing time chatting with him! Check out the full interview here.

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Safe travels to the fridge and back for now,

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Wanderful

It’s no secret that I’m all about empowering women to travel (and especially solo). So when I came across Wanderful, I was immediately interested in being involved. From their site:

Wanderful is the world’s homesharing network and travel community for women, helping women travel safely and confidently through an online platform that connects them with their greatest asset – each other.

Writing Portfolio — Isabel K Thottam

Wanderful is a community of adventurous, independent women travelers that strive to connect with one another, get involved and live globally. Visit the sisterhood at sheswanderful.com.

And- I’m delighted to announce that I’m a new Wanderlust scholar! So excited to be a member of this awesome community, and looking forward to connecting with kickass women all over the world. They offer local chapters & meetups, homesharing, events & trips, and so much more.

All my ladies, check them out here.

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Did it for the Gram

Hi friends! I created a new Instagram specifically for my traveling/writing adventures.
Check it out if you wanna keep up ✈️

@fromthissideofthesun

#fromthissideofthesun

 

View this post on Instagram

Hi friends! I’m Kara, the face behind @fromthissideofthesun. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries (most of them solo) and want to share those adventures & stories with you! 🌎 Here’s a little more about me: • I’m the author of two poetry books & recently earned my MFA in Creative Writing 📚 • I started my blog back in 2015, after buying a one way ticket to Spain ✈️ • I’m a mental health advocate, and also suffer from anxiety, depression, and excoriation disorder 🤍 • I love to eat my way through new cities, and always say yes to dessert 🍦 • After undergoing surgery to get a pacemaker in 2016, I’ve learned to truly appreciate my health. I have since climbed Machu Picchu, completed a full marathon & several half marathons, and recently took up boxing 🥊 • I LOVE connecting with new people, so whether we are in the same city or not- let’s be friends! I’m always looking to swap book recommendations, travel tips, and chat about life ✨ • #fromthissideofthesun #travel #wanderlust #travelblogger #solotravel #femaletravel #womenwhowander #womenwhowanderco #womenwhowanderlust #femaletravel #femaletravelbloggers #sheisnotlost #wearetravelgirls #femmewanderers #independentwomen #girlpower #girlpowertravel #womenwanderer #explore #girlonthego #damestravel #femmetravel #travelgram #travelphotography #travelinspiration #travelpreneur #traveling #traveltheworld

A post shared by 𝑲𝑨𝑹𝑨 𝑲𝑵𝑰𝑪𝑲𝑬𝑹𝑩𝑶𝑪𝑲𝑬𝑹 ◈ (@fromthissideofthesun) on

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Finding My Balance in Ecuador

Something I constantly struggle with is finding balance in my life. When I visited Ecuador in January, I had an itinerary drafted. I knew, as a weekend warrior trip, that I couldn’t make it to the world-famous Galapagos Islands. But I knew that I wanted to visit the equator (of course!) and chase thrills in Baños, Ecuador’s adventure capital.

Still, you’re never really prepared for what could happen on a trip. What could potentially go wrong, and all the things that could go right: the people you never expected to meet, adventures you hadn’t accounted for in your plans, connections made that now will forever cement you to that moment or place or person.

One thing I’ve always struggled with in my life is balance. This trip was filled with small discoveries in just that: early mornings alone before a late night out accompanied by new friends; the rush of a fast swing over a town far below to quiet moments writing on an overnight bus; indulging at a cafe after hiking underneath waterfalls & standing breathless at the tops of mountains. The blending of two languages, feet between two hemispheres. Always learning. Always challenged. Always grateful.

I flew in and out of Guayaquil just because it was cheaper, but I’m so glad I did because it allowed me the opportunity to see a city I otherwise wouldn’t have.

Highlights in Guayaquil:

Malecón 2000- expansive boardwalk overlooking the Guayas River

Parque Seminario- THERE ARE SO MANY IGUANAS IN THIS PARK. If you want to see one, go here. It’s bizarre.

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Torre del Reloj- (Torre Morisca) iconic clock tower

La Perla- giant Ferris wheel right on the shore of the Malecón

Las Penas- sprawling colorful houses built into a hillside. I loved this view:

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Then to Baños!

Highlights in Baños:

La Casa del Arbol- Swing at the end of the world. No doubt the most famous tourist attraction.

 

There are actually a couple swings here at this location, so make sure to keep walking for the one you want!

Columpio Fantasias de Volar- a mechanical swing, like a roller coaster. A great thrill and unique view of the city all at once. There’s a video of me screaming like a little girl, which I will spare all of you.

Parque Palomino Flores- The main park at the city centre

El Pailon Del Diablo- also known as “Devil’s Cauldron,” an impressive waterfall. Here’s me hiking the path down:

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Cascada Cabellera de la Virgen & Termas de la Virgen- a waterfall & hot springs to bathe in? Sign me up.

Cascada Manto de la Novia- this was an experience like no other- a cable car ride over this waterfall is not for the faint of heart!

I tried canelazo, a hot alcoholic cinnamon beverage, and it was delightful.

Lastly, was Quito. I took the a bus to get there (Ecuador Hop, similar to what I’d used in Peru- highly recommend!) to get there, and we stopped to view Cotopaxi (volcano) and Quilotoa, a water-filled caldera on the way.

Quito highlights include:

Ciudad Mitad del Mundo- “Middle of the World” This is the monument & plaza marking the equator.

Mitad del Mundo- It’s a bit confusing, but this is where the actual latitude and longitude lines are. If you go to Museo de Sitio Intiñan, you’ll find tons of science experiments you can do & learn neat facts about the equator.

TelefériQo- gondola lift with amazing views at the top! I loved being able to see the city down below. Plus, they have swings at the top that make for really neat photoshoots 🙂

Plaza de la Independencia- a cute plaza lined with cafes and shops, the central square.

El Panecillo- hilltop statue. It was gorgeous lit up at night- don’t just take my word for it:

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I was here the shortest amount of time, but obviously there’s no shortage of museums, cathedrals, basilicas, plazas, and wonderful cafes to experience.

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Some new friends in Baños!

Thank you, Ecuador 🇪🇨

Also, I took home an unknown souvenir. I got SO SICK you guys. Day later, I passed out after getting off the bus on my way to work. I couldn’t eat anything. I turned down free dessert at our staff meeting– that’s how you know it’s real.

I have no idea how I got it. I was always very cautious of drinking bottled water, only eating thoroughly cooked food, and fruit that you could peel to open, etc.

Anyway, as someone who has been to over 40 countries and can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve gotten food poisoning or sick, I consider myself #BLESSED.

Hope you’re all finding balance in the world, wherever you are,

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A Taste of the Pura Vida Life

YOU GUYS….I’d had Costa Rica on my bucket list for a while, but wanted to wait until I was able to take more vacation days so that I could spend longer there.  I knew there was so much to see and explore, and I wanted to take advantage of all of it! Finally though, after obsessively checking flight prices, I decided to just take the leap and go with the short time I had. Jungle, coastlines, extreme sports/adventures, biodiversity- you name it, I knew there was so much to discover about the #puravida way.

Now that I have returned, I can say Costa Rica was not only worth the hype it gets, but also one of my FAVORITE trips to date, especially because of the incredible people I met. (Oh, and the whole run-in with the police is an entertaining story, too.) Let’s back up, though–

I flew into San José and stayed one night in the city. I met an amazing older woman, Lynn, at my hostel. She was in her sixties, divorced, with two grown daughters, in better shape than me, and had been traveling C.R. for over a month. It isn’t often that you meet an older woman traveling solo (let alone staying in hostels) and I instantly was inspired by her story. She was #goals for multiple reasons.

Our hostel was located right near the National Museum of Costa Rica (shown below). A huge fan of street art, I spent the first afternoon wandering around, admiring the murals:

And the early evening relaxing in a hammock at the hostel with a beer after dinner:

The next day, I met up with Cassandra (from Haiti, living in N.Y.), who was also staying at my hostel, and we caught a city bus to Irazú Volcano. Look at this crater! The color is just unbelievable.

This is also where we met Alex and Kayo- two friends/coworkers from Nashville who were traveling together, and Jerdy, another solo traveler from the Netherlands. We were a fast group of friends. On the bus back to San José, we decided to take a detour and get off at Cartago.

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Posing in front of the Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol.

This is where it became evident that sometimes it’s more about who you are with than where you are. The five of us shared dinner together, so many laughs, and too many stories. Check out some of the sights we saw wandering the town below: La Negrita, the Black Madonna shrine at Our Lady of the Angels Basilica, Santiago Apostól Parish Ruins, etc.

Alex and Kayo, who had rented a car, decided to switch up their travel plans and drive to La Fortuna the next morning with me, so I got to spend more time with them. Jerdy came for the ride as well.

This is where shit gets fun- somewhere near Sarapiqui, along highway 4, we’re cut off by a police SUV, apparently for crossing a yellow line. We were shocked, and a little scared. And then, a little suspicious…

They tried to fine us $500, but with Jerdy’s Spanish and expert persuading, we ended up being able to give them a $20 bill and driving away. Alex’s grip was more focused on the wheel after that, for sure.

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Always an adventure! HA

But, we made it there! First on our list was to visit La Fortuna waterfall. I thought about ditching the boys once I found this friend:

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Kidding. I could never. We became a family so quickly! These intentional, unbreakable bonds that form when you’re on the road, away from home, soaking in moments. And to be able to stumble out of the wooded path into this clearing, where the water rushed down, was a sight I loved sharing with them.

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La Fortuna waterfall was gorgeous, no doubt. And Alex is a fantastic photographer.

We all dove in- well, maybe not dove, because the water was absolutely frigid, but you couldn’t not experience it!

We spent the rest of the day at a water hole where tons of locals hung out and did the rope swing. I was impressed by their talent! I, for one, knew my nonathletic self and also got my fill of the cool water. Later that evening, we connected after the hike with a guide, Daniel, who took us to a local hot springs. It was honestly amazing, being able to slide down the rocks like a gigantic waterslide, traverse underwater caves, drink whiskey from the bottle, and talk about life under only the moonlight and the soft glow of a lamp, hung on shore.

The next day I had booked a tour to Arenal National Park, where we hiked Arenal Volcano and walked across the hanging bridges. It was otherworldly. We may or may not have been slightly hungover from our late night. But we powered through, admiring the beauty of rainbow trees and watching for monkeys swinging through the branches. Just scrolling through the collage below, you can tell, it was easy to disconnect, and feel connected here…

I’ve been traveling for almost a decade now, and I have met a lot of people as a solo traveler. And as anyone who travels frequently or long term can attest to, there are friends you make that do become like your family. These guys carved out their own…the way we instantly felt as ease with one another, made each other laugh, let stories flow as swift as that water rushing into the natural pool below- some things are natural.

And some natural things, like the lushness of the jungle, rugged beaches, towering volcanoes, or the biodiversity in Costa Rica, are just unreal. I loved this country, and I can’t wait to return someday. I want to soak a little longer in the simple life, the pure life. There is meaning here. Until then-

 Pura vida!

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Twenty-nine, Trinidad & Tobago

What do you do when you’re feelin’ fine & about to turn 29? Book a flight to Trini, of course!   Image result for heart eye emoji

I’ve been making it my mission to give myself a birthday gift in the form of a trip each year, and this was no exception. I traveled solo to Trinidad & Tobago after snagging a decent flight. A relaxing, tropical adventure awaited me. Or did it?

Of course, this was another short trip- flying into Piarco International Airport, spending time in Port of Spain- near Newtown. I spent my first full day walking around the entire perimeter of Queen’s Park Savannah, past the U.S. Embassy (which was conveniently very close to my hostel), the Queen’s Royal College, Archbishop’s House, Stollmeyer’s Castle, Emperor Valley Zoo, National Museum & Art Gallery, and the not-to-be-missed National Academy for the Performing Arts, etc.. But I wasn’t here for just the city…

I wanted to spend time in Tobago, so I caught a ferry from Port of Spain to Scarborough. From there, I made my stay in Crown Point.  Sandy Point Beach, Store Bay Beach, Coconut Bay, Swallow’s Beach, and Pigeon Point were my home grounds, and they were all close and gorgeous beaches! On my last day, the island did get hit with some rain, but I took cover at Bago’s Beach Bar and made friends with the locals. And don’t worry- before that, I’d gotten plenty of time with my booty in the sand, and a fresh coconut in my hand.

Just check it out:

Gorgeous, right?! If I still had a drink in hand, I’d cheers ya in the tropics– but until next time…

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P.S. Have you ever traveled for your birthday? If so, I’d love to hear the destination and how the experience was for you!

Beachin’ in Barbados

JANUARY 18-21, 2019

My 40th country was the ever beautiful Barbados! Home to Rihanna, amazing rum punches and sunsets, and some guy that told me he’d buy me a Toyota…unless I greatly misunderstood the Bajan dialect, which is probably a safe bet.

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I met quite a few friends, including both locals and fellow travelers that became fast friends. I had flying fish for dinner, which was delicious, and chatted the night away with rum punches at some of the oceanside bars.

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I mainly stayed near Bridgetown, a port city and the capital of Barbados, and spent time on the lovely Rockley Beach, Worthing Beach, and also visited Brownes Beach, Pebble Beach, and Needhams Point. Walking along the boardwalk in the morning was one of my favorite experiences. It was beautiful to watch the waves crash into the white sand and feel the warm sun on my shoulders, not yet overpowering in the heat of the day.

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Like the graffiti? I had to send a photo to my mom 🙂

Barbados is such a friendly island and even though it is small in size (21 miles by 14 miles, to be exact) there was so much I wanted to do and see before my weekend there was up. I didn’t get to try pudding and souse, but I sampled Banks beer & Mount Gay rum while hanging out at the Chill Cafe.

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If you get the opportunity for an island getaway, I highly recommend Barbados as a tropical escape!

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