325 days, 13 countries, 65,000+ miles

My first retirement is over.

325 days ago I left a great job to spend time exploring the world. What I thought would be between 3 and 6 months turned into almost a full year – and an experience of a lifetime. Now, I have found a new career with Energy Circle – creating digital marketing plans for companies & organizations that work to build and outfit efficient and healthy buildings. It’s a bittersweet ending to an incredible year – as I would love to keep traveling (and will continue to some extent), but like all things, traveling costs money so I need to pay the bills…until my next retirement 🙂

So now, a full wrap-up, reflections and thoughts about this past year:

  • 325 days (June 17, 2016 – May 7, 2017)
  • 4 continents (North America, Europe, Oceania (Australia), Africa)
  • 13 countries (US, Canada, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, UK)
  • 28 states (Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland.)
  • 14,000+ miles of road trips (doesn’t include every day driving while home)
  • 65,000+ miles of total travel (estimate including air travel)
  • 9,500+ photos (some better than others)
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My Instagram feed of photos since I began traveling back in June 2016

Favorites:

  • Country: New Zealand. When someone asks what my favorite place has been there is no question, and no hesitation when I answer, New Zealand. From the people to the geological features, New Zealand was absolutely incredible. Africa would also go on my favorites list, but it still doesn’t come close to how much I loved New Zealand.
  • State: Utah – I would have loved to spend more time in Utah – specifically the Moab area!
  • Activity: Bungee Jumping. Such a rush (and surprise! I did it in New Zealand) as well as hiking all over!
  • Airport: Heathrow, London. This may be just because there were clean showers that were welcome between 10+ hour flights!
  • Border Crossing/Immigration: Dobe border crossing from Botswana into Namibia. We had to track down officials for both countries to get our passports stamped! The border was so remote that they only get one car every 2-3 days!

Least Favorites:

  • Country:  None. There was something amazing about every country I visited – and I would revisit every single one!
  • State: Again, I don’t know if I have a least favorite state!
  • Activity: Going to drug stores in Australia. Unfortunately I was sick through my entire travels in Australia so frequented the drug store to get medicine! They don’t sell over-the-counter cold medicine so I had to speak to a pharmacist every single time. Plus, they only provide around 4 days worth at a time, so I was going every 4 days!
  • Airport: LA. I didn’t have to go far within the airport, but it was crowded and my terminal didn’t have many options for grabbing a bite to eat!
  • Border Crossing/Immigration: Boston/Logan airport. I don’t think I spent less than an hour in this line in any of my travels this past year – and at one point the line was so long people couldn’t even get off the plane!

I learned so much during this time,  and if I were to share anything with you it would be that if you need a break, take it. Time away from the office, a desk, or your home can be extremely refreshing and give you greater perspective and a better idea of who you are. I hope that in another 5-6 years, I may be able to retire again for another year. My advice to everyone is to take risks, get outside your comfort zone and never stop traveling. Whether it’s across the globe or across your town – there is something new and exciting around every corner!

One word for Kruger National Park…GO.

Scroll to the bottom for all the good animal shots!

We left the Kalahari and began making our way towards Johannesburg. We stopped for the evening in a small town called Vanzylsrus. We pulled up to the Vanzylsrus Hotel, and after reading that reception was closed (outside of cities, hotels tended to close early on Sundays), we looked in and around the corner, and to our luck, we found the proprietor who set us up with a room that included dinner and breakfast. The hotel was really unique and quirky – almost hippie-ish and super artsy. The name, and theme of our room, was “Cunning Critters.” The owners were there and shared a wealth of information – especially on places to avoid stopping on our way through to Johannesburg as they preyed on tourists.

From there, we headed to Johannesburg and met Luan from SA 4×4 to get a new air filter put in and a spare in case it happened again. We then started heading towards Kruger! Unfortunately, we got off to a slow start as there was a bad accident that made the 6 lane highway essentially shut down. We made it to Sabie River Camp late that night, a little more than an hour from Kruger. We woke up the next morning and made our way to Kruger via the Panoramic Route and Blyde River Canyon. The views were absolutely stunning.

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Blyde River Canyon

We finally made it to Kruger – and it didn’t disappoint. We initially planned for two nights, but decided after we got in to stay 4 nights in various areas of the park. We finally saw the elephants we so desperately wanted to see – they would just come out of the bush where you were least expecting them too! We also saw many giraffe, zebras and impala. It was a magical place – we could sit for hours just watching the animals.

Keep scrolling down for the bulk of the animal photos!

We had another issue with the Defender… the rear door wouldn’t open. We tried everything, but because all the tools were in the drawer accessible only from the rear, we weren’t able to open it at all…which also meant the food we had bought we couldn’t get to either! We called Luan back and he said there was a shop in the park somewhere. We head there on day 2 and spend the entire morning and a good part of the afternoon there as they literally unhinged the door from the truck – and even then the latch was still jammed. Unfortunately they couldn’t fix it, but we were able to get the necessities out of the drawer. Because they “didn’t win,” they didn’t charge us for working on it. We did, however, tip them and make them sandwiches for lunch!

The animals at Kruger were really something special…vehicles didn’t really phase them a whole lot. It was a great way to end our journey through Africa!

We finished up at Kruger and stopped on our way back to Johannesburg at a Lodge we found in the GPS. As we were driving up.. we decided on a max we were willing to spend – as it looked like it was going to be pricey. Turns out, it was less than half of what we were expecting it to be! Staying at the Kloppenheim Estate, including dinner, drinks, breakfast and a little laundry, cost the two of us a total of $140. Based on the buildings, activities offered and gated entry way, we were expected it to be closer to $400. It was a beautiful place to relax and clean up before we started our 30+ hour trip back to the US.

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Last day in Africa with the Defender. Chris Bennett Photo

So that’s all for Africa… and unfortunately wraps up my 11 or so months of travel around the world.

Luxury, lions and trouble with the Defender!

Please note.. there is an image of a lion’s meal towards the end of the post, so don’t scroll past the first couple lion pictures unless you want to see it!

We didn’t have far to go for our next stay. We decided it was time to treat ourselves to a luxury African lodge, which happened to be fairly close to Sossusvlei. We drove about an hour to Hoodia Lodge, and to our luck, they were able to accommodate us in one of their bungalows!  It was stunning. We were able to clean up, enjoy the pool and catch up with a little wifi (albeit slow). Photos by Chris Bennett.

It was a typical African Lodge where they come out and meet you with a cold beverage and then treat you like royalty, constantly checking to see if anything is needed or if they could do anything. We had some laundry done, as our clothing was starting to get a little stinky, and simply relaxed. We had been driving significant distances for the past week, so it was nice to unwind and relax.

Our next stopping point was towards Mata Mata – a border crossing into the Kalahari in South Africa. We decided to check out the Kalahari Game Lodge just before the border to South Africa, which offered both lodge facilities and camping, as well as a large lion reserve.  I had emailed the day before to check availability, as we were unsure if we would make it the whole way or not.

Maybe I jinxed us, but as we were driving, we had to cross a couple very large puddles (there was no avoiding them). A few minutes after going through, the engine slumped and we lost most of the power to the engine. We got out the satellite phone and called the rental company. They said try to get to the nearest town and find a garage, then call back. We were about 15 km from the smallest town, and we found a couple garages in the GPS. Going about 35 mph the whole way, we made it around 10:30, and since it was Saturday, one garage was closed and the other had to call in the guy who worked on diesel engines. He came, took it for a drive and said it was the fuel filter. He said he couldn’t help and for us to drive to the next town, a small city where they would have more options. We started making our way there and called the rental company back. They told us to find the Toyota fuel/service station and to ask the attendant where Christie lived. Apparently he lived nearby and they would know.

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After going through the water

We get to the fuel station and ask, and they direct us around the corner to Christie’s. He came right out and started taking apart the engine. He pulled out the air filter. The engine had essentially started eating the filter after it got wet. He cleaned it up with the air compressor, flipped it around, took the defender for a spin and we were off! Even better, we weren’t charged a thing. We got that sense throughout our travels – people in Africa are inherently kind – and not looking to make money at every instance!  It may sound like it was a seamless day, but it’s a little stressful when your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and your satellite phone only works some of the time!

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The engine ate the air filter

We did eventually make it the Kalahari Game Lodge, and when we arrived we opted for camping – as the sites were set up with individual eco-friendly bathrooms and washing stations. It was an impressive set up!

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Our camping set-up. The stars were insane! Chris Bennett Photo.

We signed up for a ride through the Lion reserve the next morning. All the ‘dangerous’ animals were kept in a large (read thousands of acres) area that was blocked off from the camping/lodging area for safety.

The next morning, we woke up early, layered on clothes (it was probably around 50 degrees, but after 100 degrees it felt like 20!) and headed out in the truck to find some lions. The excursion didn’t disappoint – we saw 1 female and 4 male lions. 3 of them were relaxing after a nice meal of orix, which we saw nearby. Also nearby was an enormous giraffe – the photo doesn’t do the size justice. If you don’t want to see the orix leftovers, only scroll through the next 4 photos, the 5th is a little graphic!

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The photographer
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The photo doesn’t do the size of this guy justice
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We got pretty close!
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Watching the lioness.
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They had just feasted.

After the tour, we decided to head towards Johannesburg, where we were going to meet the rental guy for a new air filter. From there, and in my next (and I think final Africa post) – on to Kruger National Park!

Desert, dunes and finally some animals!

Up until this point, our wildlife encounters had been limited to cows, donkeys and goats crossing, standing or laying in the road. As we drove into Etosha, we knew our luck was turning as a huge giraffe crossed the road just inside the gate. We got our permit at the gate and made our way into the park. After reserving our campsite, we started taking our time driving. Like most wildlife parks in Africa, we had to stay in our car in most areas – you never know what may be lurking in the tall grass!

We weren’t very far in when we noticed we were surrounded by zebra! We joked throughout the remainder of the trip that we thought the parks baited the entrance/exit gates as we saw more animals near those than within the park! Etosha was a fairly flat park, but we drove through and down roads to the different view points and pans. We stayed the night in the park – right next to a water hole, so were treated to seeing a couple rhinos at sunset!

From Etosha, we headed to Swakopmund – a city on the coast of Namibia that seemingly arises out of nowhere from the desert!

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The second time we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn!

We had some fun stopping in the middle of the desert road to have some fun with the Defender and also stopped to check out the items the Herero tribe women made and sold along the way to the Skeleton Coast (which is known for its many shipwrecks). Photos below are by Chris Bennett.

Swakopmund is a very German city that reminded me a lot of Nice, France. There was a promenade and pier and it seemed almost tropical. We opted to stay in a hotel to freshen up, and treated ourselves to pizza and skewers at a restaurant for dinner. I was expecting kebab style skewers… This was my surprise!

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100 grams each of rump, venison, Orix, Ostrich and Eland!
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Hotel Balcony in Swakopmund! Chris Bennett Photo

From Swakopmund, we made our way to Sossusvlei, catching sunset at Dune 45 and spent the next day exploring the Deadvlei.

We left Sossusvlei sweaty and sandy. Next stop – a luxury African lodge!

Into the bush…the search for border officials (Africa Part 2)

Picking up where we left off, Chris and I had made the decision to head towards Namibia. We decided on a route that would take us through one of the most remote areas of Botswana, and one of the most, if not the most, remote border crossings into Namibia. Because of the remoteness, and not knowing where we could next fuel up, we filled up the three tanks of the Defender and the two jerry cans and started our way towards the Dobe border crossing.

The road was….challenging. Like most roads in Botswana, it was dirt, but because of all the rain they had gotten, it was washed out and slow-going. We probably averaged 30 mph for most of the 85 miles to the border. The road was bumpy and definitely required a 4×4. The Defender took on it’s first puddle (more like a pond), and after a quick stall and a skipped heartbeat, pulled itself out like a pro.

We knew the border would be quiet, but we didn’t realize we would have to search for the border officials. The official from Botswana saw us drive by and came running towards us shortly thereafter. We completed the required paperwork, got our exit stamps in our passports and then they opened the gate for us to leave. After the first gate, we had to get out, step on this pad with liquid on it as they sprayed our tires for foot and mouth. Then they opened the gate for Namibia and we drove through.

There was no gate to stop at once we were in Namibia, but knowing we needed stamps we stopped at the first building we saw and got out. The office doors were open, paperwork and stamps sitting out, but no one was in sight. Chris walked around back and after several minutes, found the police and immigration official. Chris sat down with the police and did the paperwork for the car and I sat with the immigration official to get the passports stamped. I had left my occupation blank by accident, so when he asked and I said I was unemployed, he looked at me confused. “I’m just traveling the world” I said… and his reply was “So…. housewife?”  Sure. I went with it because it would have been harder to explain. We asked them how many people they saw come through that border. One car…. every few days.

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Camping! Chris Bennett Photo

Once we got our stamps, the roads became much easier and we made our way to our first camp in Namibia in the Naye-Naye Concession Area, near local bushmen villages. Here, we met another couple who had rented a Land Cruiser from SA 4×4 and were traveling a reverse route to us and going from Cape Town to Nairobi. They were doing our trip, but on steroids. They actually made it to Zimbabwe and encountered the road blocks that we opted to avoid. Check their trip out at beyondboundaries.blog.

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Eric and Monika – en route to Nairobi! Chris Bennett Photo

From there we began working our way to the Atlantic. We stopped on our way at a local San Bushmen village, where they welcome visitors who make the drive down the 4 mile sand track to learn about their culture. It definitely was a highlight of the trip. Photos by Chris.

We made it to Roy’s Rest Camp that evening – which was quite the experience! Complete with a bathtub filling the swimming pool.

At this point, we realized our trip was turning around and getting a little more exciting. Botswana was unfortunately a bust, but we hope to go back in a drier time. The next stop would bring some wildlife…Etosha National Park, and some dead trees…Sossusvlei. More on that next week!