It started with an Instagram post & a comment…..
So in 2021, my biggest accomplishment was definitely climbing mt. Kilimanjaro with my sister. It all started with an instagram post made by a Kenyan tour company, about joining them to hike mt. Kilimanjaro on an all women’s trip. This post was made in July 2021, and by November 2021, my sister & I were done prepping for hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro & ready to tackle the beast.
Preparation – The preparation involved frequently hiking on a weekly basis (high elevation hikes), and staying in good shape generally. I was somewhat nervous because I live at 200m above sea level, but my hiking trip in Peru (November 2021) (highest elevation being 4600m) restored my confidence. It is highly recommended to properly train for high altitude in order to avoid getting Altitude sickness and worse cerebral or pulmonary edema.
When December 1st arrived, I packed my bags and left for Nairobi, where I would see my family and hang out for 4 days before going to Tanzania.
Trip to Moshi, Tanzania – We boarded a bus to Moshi in Nairobi (bus stop across from Jevanjee gardens). This bus left at 0800 and dropped us off at our Hotel doorstep at 1800. The bus stopped 4 times, 2 bathroom/lunch breaks, 1 border stop at Namanga (lasted an 1hr to get everyone’s documents checked) & 1 other stop in Arusha to drop off 2 people. The other transport option to Moshi or Arusha Tanzania, is taking a flight straight to Kilimanjaro International airport.
We spent one night in Moshi, Tanzania, where we met our guides (Jonas & Oscar) and had a small briefing of the trip & what to expect. Moshi is a small tourist town that caters to all the needs tourists may have. If you don’t have appropriate hiking gear, you are certainly going to find everything you need in this town. Our hotel (Zebra hotel) was ok, so I wouldn’t recommend it. I saw other hotels that looked much nicer & probably offer more.
The next morning, after spending the night in Moshi, our tour company (which I would totally recommend btw) took us to Lemosho gate, where we weighed our luggage (weight limit for porter bag is 23kgs) & registered. We then started our journey right after lunch, hiking for 3hrs (7km) to Mti mkubwa camp. Day 1 was hiking through the rain forest, so you best believe it rained half the way there. This portion of the hike was a walk in the park. Beautiful scenery with occasional Columbus monkeys swinging from tree to tree & interesting birds.
Camping at Mti mkubwa (2650m) was ok. Since the camp site is in the middle of a forest, we heard a lot of animal noises all night long, making it hard to fully sleep. The temperature was perfect at this camp though, and our chef made us a delicious feast that made us forget about sleeping at mti mkubwa.
It started with sunshine and the guides singing songs as we trekked up to Shira 1. The mood was light, our small group had just gotten well acquainted with each other, and the skies were blue. Our hike on day 2 lasted for 5hrs, with multiple bathroom breaks, as 3 of us were taking Diamox (acetazolamide – acclimatization medicine). The slogan for this day was “pole pole” (Swahili for slowly slowly) & “wali nazi” (Swahili word for coconut rice, which means “everything is good”). We arrived at Shira 1 at 1200, ate lunch, played cards, walked to the river & back, then had a restful night. This camp site was by far my favorite of them all. It was flat, beautiful and I spotted the Milky Way after dinner. The sky was dotted with millions of stars, a beautiful sight to behold.
Hiked from Shira 1 to Shira II (3600m). The way there was pretty flat, since you are slowly ascending on a plateu. At Shira II, the sunset and views are incredible. You can see Mawenzi peak on one side, and Mount Kilimanjaro peak on the other side. Our hike on this day was only 4 hrs.
Shira II to Baranco camp (3800m) via Lava tower (4600m). This was acclimatization day. It rained heavily on this day, and the small streams crossing the trails became swollen with water, but we managed to make it to the campsite in good time. Total hiking time was 7 hrs with an hr long lunch stop at Lava tower. Lava tower to Baranco camp was the most beautiful portion (excluding the summit).
Baranco camp to Karanga camp. This day was fun due to the technical challenges of climbing a “wall”. The trail to Karanga camp from baranco involves ascending a very steep wall, that has become known as the “breakfast wall”. The views from the breakfast wall are amazing. This is also where you “kiss the rock”. The kissing rock is a rock that juts out on the breakfast wall & the only way to get across is by tightly hugging it to prevent falling off the trail.
Karanga camp to Kosovo camp (4900m) via Base camp (Barafu camp). This day was long but not hard. We made it to Kosovo camp in time for lunch. On this day, we were expected to be a little sick and loose appetite, but none of us became sick. We ate, played cards and were in bed by 5pm. That night the winds were strong & it snowed a little.
Day 7 (Summit night)
We woke up at midnight and started getting ready to summit. You are required to wear almost all your hiking clothes. A base layer of thermals, then a fleece jacket & one pair of warm hiking pants, then on top of that, your puffer jacket & your summit pants (warm ski pants), & lastly on top of everything, your summit jacket (a good ski jacket able to withstand minus degrees temps). For the face, we all had a baclava & a warm hat. For feet, 2-3 pairs of warm socks & your hiking boots (I recommend a good pair of waterproof hiking boots). Last but not least, liner gloves, & ski gloves on top.
Summit night was BRUTAL! We had barely slept, our pace was supposed to be extra slow due to altitude sickness, and the winds were crazy on the trail, making it feel colder than it actually was. I unfortunately started falling asleep on the trail, so when we stopped for a break, I asked our lead guides if I could walk a bit faster with one of the other guides. He reluctantly agreed, but once we had walked for about 2hrs, I started to feel the altitude sickness hit me. I became nauseous, colder, fatigued (literally unable to walk for more than 2 minutes without pausing for a break) & the worst of all, my muscles started cramping. I asked my guide if we could turn around several times, but he pushed me on, and I am glad I made it all the way to the summit. It was worth every step I made.
Recently, I have been following the U.S healthcare reform talks, with Biden becoming president, and I started seeing a lot of Americans in Germany talking about their experiences with the German healthcare system, usually praising it. Majority of these people are in their 20’s & 30’s , usually this is a healthy age group, and seem to have had wonderful experiences with the German system, and not so great with the American system.
It is no doubt that Germany’s healthcare system is superior to the American one, but I thought most people glamorize or romanticize some things about the German system, without talking about cons or how the system is paid for. My interest in the German healthcare system is that of a person living in Germany, but on the U.S healthcare system.
How does the German healthcare system work?
Germany has a multi-payer, universal healthcare coverage system. The government offers public healthcare coverage indirectly through sickness funds, and also allows people in Germany to get private insurance coverage. You however can only get private insurance coverage as your sole plan or added to your public health insurance if you make above approximately 60,000 euros per year, or you are self-employed. This means that majority of the people in Germany actually use public healthcare insurance, and seem to be content with it. For those who don’t qualify for public health insurance e.g international students – private insurance can be costly in the long run, since the premium you pay increases as you age. To qualify for public healthcare insurance in Germany, you need to be a tax payer with a German social security number.
Is the public healthcare insurance free in Germany?
No. It is paid for by payroll taxes that, you and your employer pay for, 50/50 every month. 14% of your income. However, for those who are unemployed, there is free public healthcare that covers medically necessary visits at no cost to you (e.g pregnancy). The government also covers the cost of children, so healthcare is essentially free for kids in Germany. This “free public healthcare is covered by social security tax”.
This German/Bismark healthcare coverage system works great at ensuring everyone is covered, to meet their basic healthcare needs.
It is also mandated to have healthcare insurance, and if you fail to provide proof, you are fined. Fines could go as high as 600 euros per month.
Healthcare services are funded through a progressive taxation that is based on a person’s need, so taking into account your health risk based on age etc. Long term care is covered through mandatory long term care insurance coverage.
On average Germany (a country of 84 million people), spends 11.7% of its GDP on healthcare.
How does the Unites states healthcare system work
The United States has a combination of health insurance from the government and then a private insurance market place, where people can purchase insurance from different private companies. Like Germany, majority of Americans are insured through their employer. The big difference is that the American citizen is offered healthcare insurance through a private company that their employer has chosen, without their input into what they would like. The only option you get is to choose a plan, from the 2 or 3 offered by that company. I personally paid around 300-400/mo before I got tricare (government insurance through military). Asking around (poll on Facebook), majority of single people range in the 200-600 USD/mo range and for families, just depends on how many people are in the family, but usually about 1000-1500 USD/mo for a family of 4.
For those who are unemployed, self-employed, or do not qualify for healthcare insurance through work, private insurance companies have either brokers that can help you navigate what coverage is best for you, or you can go through Obamacare – marketplace and choose a plan from a private company with no middle man.
On the other hand, 39% of Americans are covered through the government insurance. This includes medicare (18%), medicaid (17%) & tricare/VA (3.7%). Medicare is coverage for people over 65 yrs old who paid medicare taxes when they were working. Medicare is public healthcare from the government. There’s another branch, medicare advantage, that is exactly the same as the German Healthcare coverage system, where you have government healthcare and can also opt to get private insurance covering things that are not covered. Medicaid covers people who are low income, based on family size, income and the state you reside in. Some states offer better coverage than others. Tricare & VA cover military affiliated people.
Unlike Germany, it is not illegal to not carry healthcare insurance in majority of the states, and as of 2018, 8% of Americans are un-insured. If you live in California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island or Vermont, you are mandated to carry healthcare insurance or else you receive a fine.
When Obama care came into place in 2010, having healthcare insurance was mandated, until 2019, when Trump became president. People still opted to pay fines during that period because they couldn’t afford to pay the premiums, so paying the fine was cheaper.
The U.S ( with a population of 331 million people) spends more on healthcare than Germany by 6%.
What are the similarities in these 2 systems?
- Majority of people are insured through their employer
- In some states in the USA, just like Germany, it is mandated to have health insurance
- Quality of healthcare offered is actually very comparable – speaking from a healthcare provider perspective and comparing the treatment guidelines for most medical complains seen in the clinics or hospitals
- Both countries have universal healthcare for government employees & military.
- Visitors e.g international students are required to purchase private insurance. (more expensive in the u.s though & has very limited in network services or providers offered)
- In both countries, in case of an emergency, you can not be denied care. You will however pay the bill, which can be very high in the u.s depending on services offered.
What are the differences between these 2 systems?
- Cost: In Germany, the premiums people pay per month are lower (7% of their salary, with avg salary of 54,000 USD), compared to the U.S (approx 455/mo, with an average salary of 57,000 USD). In the U.S, there’s also added co-pays and medication co-pays as well that may increase this price. Cost highly depends on your insurance plan, while in Germany it is more uniform, you know what you are paying for, and co-pays are capped at a very low rate.
- Access: Higher in Germany. Germany ensures that everyone that lives here is covered one way or the other. The U.S does not, unless you live in the states with mandates. In the U.S, the more you can pay, the better your access to services.
- Free public healthcare covered by social security tax – In Germany, it covers medically necessary services like pregnancy & birth, acute illness etc for unemployed including refugees. Unemployed spouses and children fall under “free healthcare” too.
Reviews from patients about the German healthcare system
I usually assume anyone I saw at the U.S military hospital in Germany who complained about the German healthcare system, would mostly have had a bad experience and that is why they were here.
Most German citizens who qualify, use the U.S military hospital system as a back up to their German healthcare, for services they couldn’t get, or switch over completely because they like the American customer service and patient treatment from American healthcare workers.
This is an outlier, but I had a patient once tell me that she always comes to the American hospital because the German hospitals all have “foreign nurses who can’t speak German well”. This took me by surprise because here she was, in an American hospital full of immigrant workers, but I guess she couldn’t critique their language skills with the same level of spite, since she herself wasn’t as fluent either. This same patient was very condescending and difficult with nurses & aides.
I had a pregnant friend who was forced to use a German hospital and she had nothing bad to say about the services, but when she initially got there laboring, the hospital wouldn’t provide her care until she had a physical record of her medical care during pregnancy. Her husband had to leave her in the waiting room laboring, to go back to the hospital and get the records.
The German healthcare focuses on naturopathic medicine more. The treatment guidelines, treatments, procedures etc are very similar in both countries since the U.S & Germany both practice western medicine. However, there may be a cultural difference that maybe causes German practitioners to recommend less medications. As a healthcare provider in the U.S, I don’t necessarily feel like we all push medications on patients for everything, but I feel like the average American has an expectation to get medications when they go to the clinic or hospital for something. Generally, the American healthcare system practices more reactionary medicine and less preventive medicine. There is more education and emphasis to educate patients on the importance of preventative medicine, but people are still of the mentality that, “if it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing.” On the other hand, Germans may see the doctor more for preventative services because they know it is covered anyway.
I recently hiked Tour du mont blanc in mid-siptember 2021, and have put together a hiking list for essentials I needed on the hike, in the hopes that this will help someone else, because I know how lucky I felt to find an all inclusive list that I could use. This list is for people who will be staying in the mountain refuges or hotels/auberges/gites in the valleys, since that was my experience. I don’t frequently camp, and I didn’t want to carry the extra weight, so I chose to stay in refuges.
If you are an avid hiker already, you can customize to fit in or take out what you think would be unnecessary for you.
Hiking list essentials I had:
- A good pair of hiking boots or hiking shoes – I use Columbia women’s hiking boots.
- A 20L rucksack or backpack – A rain cover for your bag. (my bag is “waterproof” & still lets in some water, so be cautious)
- 1 pair of waterproof hiking pants
- 1 rain jacket
- 2 hiking pants/performance leggings/shorts (I chose leggings)
- 3 breathable hiking bras
- 3-4 breathable & comfortable underwear
- Sun hat
- 3 breathable hiking shirts (preferably long sleeves to protect you from the sun)
- 1 set of thermals for sleeping in the refuges (they can get cold)
- 3 pairs of breathable and quick dry hiking socks
- 1 pair of warmer socks to sleep in or change into at night
- Sleeping bag liner
- Hiking poles (I am a young 30 y/o who laughs at anyone who uses poles at my age, but trust me you need poles for the brutal ascents and descents)
- Lightweight but warm jacket to wear in the mountain passes and at night when the weather is colder
- A lightweight fleece for the evenings at your place of stay
- Slippers to use in the shared showers or dorms. Also nice to get a break in the evening from wearing stinky and probably wet hiking boots.
- Waterproof, warm gloves
- Travel towel (I used a lightweight scarf to dry myself & had a small wash cloth to clean my body) I loved the lightweight scarf b/c it dried quick when I washed it and I could use it on the next day as a scarf if it was cold.
- Water bottle – There are fountains everywhere!! know where they are and plan wisely.
- Hydration bladder 1L – this will increase your weight so I opted not to have it, but if you use it frequently, get it.
- Chaffing cream & moleskin – This stuff saved my toes & heels!!!
- Pain medicine – I needed Advil 400mg every night or else I couldn’t sleep b/c everything hurts!!
- Power plug adapters (eu)
- Power bank (light weight but good) – Mine lasted me 5 days and I charged my phone and camera battery 4x. The refuges have charging stations, but some got full fast, and some needed to reserve energy from 8pm to 6:30 a.m, so barely giving you time to charge your phone.
- Headlamp – I used so much in the dorms haha
- Camera (if solo hiking, a nice small, lightweight, collapsible tripod)
- Concentrated detergent or Barsoap – for washing clothes
- Toiletries (lotion, shower gel, shampoo, lip balm, hair ties or head band, a small nail cutter – my nails kept breaking and it was awful not to have something to cut them)
- A small Swiss knife
- Money (euros are absolutely necessary, don’t worry about Swiss francs, everywhere in Switzerland takes euros). I had 320 euros and I used them all, I was left with a 5 euro bill. The money went into paying the places of stay and buying snacks along the way. Most hotels do take credit cards, so not to worry about that part, but gites, auberges, refuges and cafes were only taking cash.
- Passport, Covid vaccine proof, ID (put them in a waterproof bag or even a ziploc bag)
- Waterproof case for phone
- Map or phone gps maps like alltrails, gaia etc. (I used all trails to do the whole hike. Even though the trail is well marked, I found it very easy to miss a sign & follow other hiking trails that weren’t the TMB)
Tip: Always have your phone in airplane mode & battery saving mode if you are using an offline gps. This way you save your battery.
I hope the list above was helpful. As always feel free to ask me questions below. Enjoy your hike!
During the very long lockdown from fall 2020 to summer 2021, I somehow managed to hike every weekend with a few friends who live in my area. We always looked forward to getting out of the house every Sunday and hiking for 2-3 hrs, and I found myself spending a lot of time making lists of trails nearby and discovering more trails in Germany, France & even Switzerland. The latter was for me to go camping on during the summer, once lockdown was lifted.
This is how I stumbled upon the TMB on AllTrails as I kept on expanding my radius of hikes to do. Once I saw the photos of the TMB one early June morning, I knew I had to do it!
And just like that, I decided to do the TMB in mid September as a solo hike. I was very nervous to be honest as I prepared for this hike because this was end of the season and a lot of places to sleep in were shutting down.
The TMB is traditionally done in 11 days, and if you want to go at an even more leisurely pace, 14 days. On the other hand, you can go faster, from 24 hrs (ultra marathon runners), to about 6-8 days. I settled for 6 or 7 days because I was worried about bad weather in the last section. This meant my days were going to be 9-12hr days of hiking. As someone who loves hiking and the thrill of difficult hikes, I didn’t see this as a problem at all.
Well, the problem was, that the refuges, gites, auberges and hotels along the way have very specific hours for requiring you to be checked in. So I found myself racing against time every single day in order to be there by 6pm the latest, and leave at 8 a.m the earliest, if I wanted breakfast (which I did, because you don’t get the option of eating along the way, since you’re up in the mountains most of the time, and no, I didn’t want to settle for an energy bar instead).
The first 2 days, everything went according to plan and I was quite amazed at how well and easy everything went (not physically- my whole body hurt). Then day 3 & 4, things panned out last minute as I had to cancel and rebook my accommodations for the night in different cities, since I couldn’t make it in time to my goal destination. Day 5 & 6 were very exhausting mentally and physically. Almost all accommodations on the last segment were closed, leaving only 2 mountain refuges that had no space. I got really frustrated on these days because I had to back track quite a bit due to lack of accommodations. Day 7 was difficult mentally as I knew where the elevation would be the hardest, and the ascents proved to be quite painful on my toes too. I also ran out of water, and when I tried to buy some at a refuge along the way, they said they had no drinking water. Shortly after this, I got lost and found myself in front of a screaming alpine weasel. The short of it, is that I was absolutely frustrated on day 7, but I made it to Les Houches at 5 pm, ending my TMB hike!
I documented along the way and created a little video
- Day 1. Les houches to Les contamines-montjoie (Spent the night at Gîte Le Pontet.)
- Day 2. Les Contamines to Rifugio Elisabetta (Longest day, but also the most beautiful views)
- Day 3. Rifugio Elisabetta to Rifugio Bonatti.
- Day 4. Rifugio Bonatti to Arpette via the fenetre d’arpette variant (Spent the night at Relais d’arpette)
- Day 5. Arpette to Col de la forclaz (Spent the night at Col de la Forclaz hotel) – This hotel had the best meal! On this day, I hiked all the way past Trient and when I was 2hrs away from my refuge in Tre le champ, they let me know that nobody would be available to check me in if arrived late, so I had to turn around and go to Forclaz. All the accomodations in Trient were full or closed.
- Day 6. Col de la forclaz to Argentierre (Stayed at Le Dahu hotel). My plan had been to stay in Lac Blanc refuge, but they were full.
- Day 7. Argentierre to Les Houches via Lac Blanc (Spent the last night at Chris tal hotel in Les Houches)
South east France is one of my favorite destinations in Europe currently, because of the charming villages along the wine route, and it’s close proximity to us. It is also full of delicious food.
To properly visit this region of Alsace, you have to have a car in order to see the vineyards and little villages sprinkled in between. The most famous villages in this region are: Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewir and Obernai.
The most famous big city in this region is Strasbourg (also known as the European capital because of the European Parliament and other European Union institutions located there).
I first visited Alsace in 2019 to see the Christmas market in Strasbourg as a day trip, and I quickly fell in love with the city and culture. The Alsace region was once or maybe twice owned by Germany, constantly shifting between France and Germany depending on who won the war, so the French culture in this region is a mix of French & German.
You can notice the German influence in their half timber houses, but the food and people are very French. French is the main language of communication but if you speak German, you can get by easy.
Recommendations: Yonaguni Spa in Obernai, connected to the Le’ Parc hotel. We stayed here for 3 nights and we can’t recommend it enough. The staff was wonderful, the spa absolutely magical, and the food delicious! It was almost too good to be true. If you can’t stay at the hotel, I recommend visiting the spa as a day visitor and I promise you won’t regret it. The spa hotel is in Obernai, a small town, with so many wonderful restaurants and bakeries. We enjoyed getting pastries from the bakery and sitting in the town square to people watch as we ate our pastries.
We also visited Riquewir and Colmar. In these two cities, we walked around the Main Street & old town admiring the houses. In Riquewir, we stopped at a wine tasting shop and tasted wine for free then bought 2 bottles. The wine in Alsace is very similar to wine in southwest Germany, but the quality and complexity was far better.
In Colmar, the city is much bigger but not as big as Strasbourg. So in this city we opted to do a train tour (it was raining and we honestly just wanted to kill time before our dinner reservation). The train ride around the city giving you some historical context was ok, but nothing to write home about. We however later did a canal boat tour in little venise – a section in the old town, and it was worth every penny. Very calm, relaxing and romantic. We later ate at L’epicurien (a Michelin plate restaurant) and grabbed drinks & flambee at a small restaurant next to the canal. Colmar was very lovely and definitely a must see if you go to Alsace region of France.
We skipped Eguisheim because we were running out of time, but we plan on going back sometime soon. I have heard great things about this little village, so don’t skip it if you can help it.
I first experienced international travel in 2010 when I flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Jonesboro, AR. Yes, ladies & gentlemen, you read that right, I moved from a buzzing metropolitan city to the most quiet little southern/midwest college town in the U.S.
The first culture shock was the quietness of Jonesboro. It was mid summer, so the college town was slightly dead. In case you are wondering what the heck I was thinking when I made this move, I had started college at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro since it was in a state where I had family nearby and was also affordable for my blue collar family back in Kenya. Despite the shock of adjusting to life in Jonesboro, I actually developed to love the school. I made friends quickly and things seemed to be ok. After a year of life in AR though, I decided to move to Washington state & that is where my love for travel began.
I initially started traveling locally in Washington State on my days off from work and this opened another world I had never thought about. As an early 20-something black African woman, I struggled to find friends who enjoyed travel or who wouldn’t mind spending money on travel. Most of my friends seemed legitimately scared of traveling, constantly telling me it wasn’t safe to venture out to places you didn’t know. I will say I cut ties with a lot of friends with this type of mentality because I didn’t understand how people would be afraid of traveling. I now have a small understanding of why.
I can say that I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that black people, and moreso, black women are treated very differently in travel spaces. Since 2012 to 2019, I was accompanied by my husband to almost all my travel destinations, all of them within the continental U.S & Hawaii.
I started doing more solo travel in 2019 when we moved to Europe due to my proximity to other countries. I also have more flexibility compared to my husband, so I tend to travel a lot more, meaning lots of solo day or weekend trips. I enjoy solo travel because you learn so much about yourself & how others perceive you, and also get to experience things that you probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without venturing out solo.
My first solo travel experience as a black African woman was in Venice Italy. I enjoyed Venice a lot and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it because I think everyone needs to see it at least once in their lifetime, but I also experienced blatant discrimination because of the color of my skin. Some of these experiences involved being yelled at by a service person in the public bathrooms because I was trying to figure out how the pay system at the entrance worked. I approached the woman, who was glaring at me the whole time and politely asked if there was something wrong I was doing. She angrily yelled at me, which took me aback so I stepped away and followed one of the customers & watched how she operated the pay system & did the same. That experience made me really angry. 2nd incident happened at the beach, where I approached a reception area to reserve a beach chair/space. The lady looked up at me as I approached and started shooing me away. I politely asked if she spoke English & when she nodded, I asked if I could reserve a beach chair. She responded, “the free beach is on the other side”. I replied that I would like to reserve a chair & an umbrella here if you have space. She looked at me, apologized and said, “of course you can do that”. This incident was obviously her judging me by how I looked and deciding I couldn’t afford to pay for a chair. It wasn’t as upsetting, just very confusing & frustrating at that moment. I later had a few incidents where people in service denied me an extra ask, like “heating up my pizza at a quick bite bakery, when she had done that for everyone else infront of me.” In those moments, I was just happy to be traveling in Italy so they didn’t sink quite deep until I heard other black women’s experiences in Italy and it hit me hard. My first travel experience to Italy had been to northern Italy – Cinque Terre with my husband, and the experience had been the opposite. We felt like people rolled out the red carpet for us, from the host at out hotel to the all the lovely service people we interacted with. When I ask my white friends who have traveled solo to Venice, what their experiences were, they narrate a totally opposite tale.
Bottom line is, traveling to Italy solo as a black African woman was totally fantastic because the pros outweigh the cons, but the cons can be really disheartening. I felt like majority of service people treat us as less than, or not financially capable of affording to travel there. With all of that being said, I would still go back to Venice if I got the chance to again. I have an open mind, I want to experience other cultures, whether alone or with friends and family, & I hope the world will adjust to seeing people of color in travel spaces.
Curious about traveling in Europe & not having to put your nursing career on hold? then read below on how to successfully get a travel RN position in Germany. The position is in an American hospital/s so you don’t have to worry about starting to learn German or acquiring the equivalent of an RN license in Germany. This post may be helpful to military spouse RNs or even civilian RNs curious about working outside of the continental U.S.
- There are temporary (90 days) & permanent positions (2-3 yrs) & these are through a travel company. So you apply for the position & if you are qualified, you can get relocated (if not in Germany already) or hired as a local hire.
- You have to have a solid knowledge/experience in the field you are applying for. For example, I have been an ICU nurse for 4 years (Neuro, trauma, Cardiac, general medicine & surgery), so I feel competent in any type of ICU setting. I would however probably not get hired for a burn ICU position because I don’t have that knowledge base & they are not willing to train you for new positions.
- Be patient. The process for doing backgrounds & getting approved to start can take more than 6 months, so be patient.
- Perks of the job: You are in Europe! You get to travel & not worry about money like you would if you just booked a vacation. Utilize your time here, travel as much as your little heart desires because you may never get this chance again.
- Cons of the Job: the patient acuity may not be as high because of the population (generally healthy), but you will get to learn new things too that are only specific to U.S hospitals in Germany.
Companies that hire U.S travel nurses to work in Europe: Sterling Medical company & Choctow Staffing solutions (RN positions in women’s health clinics)
*Disclaimer – This post has not been sponsored by any company. No financial compensation is gained by author of the post.
All the best in your research! I hope you found this helpful. I know I could have used this when we initially moved here.
Is it time for your permanent change of station?, in short PCS..have you found out you are moving to Germany?, well I hope sharing our experience can help you in your move here.
My husband & I PCS’d in early august 2019 to Kaiserslautern Germany & there’s a lot I wish I knew before the move, despite my extensive research months prior to the move. In this post I will share the main things that could make your life easier, & if you have questions about a specific thing, please ask in the comments.
1. Accommodation – This was the thing everyone talked about constantly because it is so important in those first days. Book your stay in advance. There are hotels on the base that make your life so much easier because you may not have transportation in the first few days, so being able to get food & complete your daily required PCS tasks is key. If you have a sponsor (which you hopefully do), utilize them by asking if they can advise on best hotel/TLF location (there might be several bases in the same area) to choose from. We stayed at a central location booked for us by our sponsor & that made it easy for my husband to go to his required classes everyday with no issues, & I was able to walk to the grocery store, library, a few restaurants or parks, since we only had one car at that time.
In terms of long-term housing, some people like the on-base houses & some off-base. It varies from person to person. I have heard on base housing is very competitive, so apply ASAP if that is what you want. We live off-base & found our housing after arrival (the military pays for your temporary housing for 3 months), & we are both very happy & content with our location.
For the house hunt, I used Facebook, AHRN.com & bookoo.com to find houses for rent (approved by the military). It took us a few weeks of looking at houses before we settled on what we have now (which I found on facebook). Facebook groups here are key because people share experiences, who to rent from, who to avoid etc.
2. Transportation while in Germany – My husband sold his old 2003 Acura TL before we left fort leonard wood, & then I had my car shipped here by the army (they only ship one car for you, the others will be out of pocket costs). I have a 2013 Prius, so not too big or too small – perfect for German roads which can be very narrow. My prius was shipped 2 weeks before we left, & it arrived a month after our arrival in Germany. My husband rented a car from a rental place near the military base for 2 weeks, then bought a U.S spec car at a dealership on Ramstein (the airforce base). A lot of people buy new cars in Germany because it is expensive to ship out of pocket, so if you have a really old car, or are here for just a year or 2, you may choose to buy a new or used car (there’s a lemon lot on Ramstein airfare base). Our experience was buying a car on base, so can’t speak to buying off base.
Public transport (Taxis, buses & trains) is an option here as well. The train is relatively inexpensive & easy to use, but may be a little daunting at first. Use DB.DE (or get the app) to check the schedule & costs or even book a train. For long distance travel (e.g weekend trips) book a few weeks to a month in advance for cheaper prices. You can also buy tickets right at the train stop with euros.
If you have a big truck or any vehicles considered larger than standard in the U.S, it may be hard to drive in narrow streets, but it’s doable if that is your best option. I have seen big American trucks around, so I know people can still drive them around, but it just looks like a pain, especially backing up or parking in very tiny spots.
Getting your drivers license – Study this & do the test while in the U.S because it is so much easier & faster this way, than when you arrive, all you need to do is go to the licensing office on base with your documents & get a German drivers license.
3. Moving & Shipping house hold goods or other items. Plan on waiting for a month – 2 months on HHG, so if you can get them shipped early, do it. Also leave big appliances like washer & drier in storage because you can rent those from the base. American appliances use 120V while EU appliances are 220V, so you may damage your appliances. We brought our TV & kitchen items & left behind washer & drier. The base gives you transformers so you can plug in your 120V appliances to prevent damage, so make sure you remember that before you plug anything in. The on base hotels have almost everything you need in your house, so you’ll be all set before your HHG arrive.
To ship pets, book through SATO ASAP – fills up quick (I believe delta is the preferred pet transport) & make sure your pet has had a vet visit with updated shots.
Our experience – I traveled through commercial airlines because I had a delay with my travel documents, but this got reimbursed by the military. My husband booked through Patriot express BWI & used the military flight that goes straight to Ramstein airfare base.
I hope this 3 big things have helped in any way that they could to make your move easier. I will be posting more about Germany, so please stick around.
Today is Monday, May 4, 2020 & I am currently on a flight to Frankfurt Germany which is now home for the next 3 years. I had traveled to the U.S (Kansas City to be precise) for FNP clinicals & got stuck there due to the worldwide pandemic. I remember chatting with my husband in late January about the coronavirus situation in China & sort of feeling torn between worry in case it spread to the U.S, & logic (so we thought). The logic as healthcare professionals was that the corona virus is just like a really bad flu & that the flu kills more people each year.
We were definitely thinking very differently by mid February when other countries started seeing cases, & by early March, there was definitely cause for worry in terms of “not knowing what would happen next”.
Shelter in place
In Kansas City ( a city that spreads out between 2 states), the shelter in place order came at around March 17th. No one really went out (in parks or walking outside) even before the order because it had been cold for one but even when it got warmer, there was hardly anyone out yet. I didn’t even change my daily routine because I was barely ever around people (didn’t have time to go got out to restaurants, bars or shopping). I was too busy with school work when I was not in the clinic. The only place that I changed my behavior at was the grocery store. I shopped earlier to avoid crowds & used amazon prime when I could to avoid going out.
I had to go pick my sister up in a different state because their college shut down & closed the dorms.
Once my clinical rotation was over, I signed up with a travel agency to go work in Tacoma WA. This decision was made after Germany closed it’s borders 2 weeks before my travel date back. It was driving me crazy to stay at home doing nothing when I knew I had skills as an ICU nurse to help my fellow nurses in the frontlines. My old travel agency was ecstatic when I responded to their job emails & we signed a contract in a weeks time. I prepared myself by completing assigned paperwork, shots, education modules etc, that were required by the hospital. My sister & I packed our bags & started the journey from Kansas City MO to Tacoma WA.
I chose the northern route through South Dakota, Montana & Idaho (which had very few coronavirus cases) & we took all precautions necessary to stay safe. The drive was beautiful, we felt safe since we hardly came into contact with anyone, & arrived safe & sound in WA after 3 days of driving. A week before my start date at the hospital (I was supposed to be ICU float pool, covering 2 hospitals 30 minutes apart), the hospital reported that they had been having very low census & cancelled my contract. Their argument was that they were not seeing very many patients now & had to cancel all travel nurses. This was such a bummer because I had traveled all the way here, but they were kind enough to compensate me for airbnb, travel & food expenses.
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Positive out of all this…
I had driven my sister to my mom’s apartment, where she was supposed to spend the summer (would have flown instead) & got to see my mom as well. I know you’re wondering why the hell we are meeting up with my mom in a pandemic with orders to stay home, but she took all precautions necessary as well before we met up. Her job checks her temperature every day, she had had no symptoms of a respiratory illness, & was barely around anyone else apart from her co-workers. It was sought of a gamble, but financially we couldn’t afford to live apart for the time being (with me not knowing if I would get another job or go back to Germany).
I spent a good 3 weeks with my mom & sister, then got documents to be able to go back to Germany.
Today my mom dropped me at Seatac airport, where armed with my mask & sanitizer, I boarded a flight back home. It is sort of bittersweet, knowing I will be seeing my husband in a few hours, & sort of sad leaving my mom & sister.
Seatac airport is almost empty today but the flight attendant checking me in ecstatically thanks me for traveling today & says excitedly to his co-worker,”it’s almost coming back to normal!”. I look around and wonder what she is talking about because the airport only has a few people traveling. I can’t begin to imagine how deserted it probably has been in the last few weeks. Today is the day the federal shelter in place order expires; so more people are feeling somewhat safer to be out & about. I am sure some are just tired of being cooped up (probably in hotels, relatives homes or hotels). Everyone is wearing a mask (most flights have made it a requirement) & I am happy that people are because it decreases the chance of spreading the virus. At my layover in Denver, even more people are traveling (not as empty as Seatac), but most dinning places are closed. My flight from Denver to Newark is full & I hear someone comment about how “safe” this is, & he politely demands to be moved seats where he is not seated next to someone. On the international flight, there is barely enough people to fill the large aircraft. Germany still has its borders closed to non-residents or citizens, so not many people are traveling to Frankfurt today.
Fingers crossed that I do not encounter any trouble getting into Germany on arrival. I miss my husband terribly & can’t wait to see his face when I arrive. I hope that researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 soon, but I don’t see life resuming back to the old normal. I will still be a little paranoid every now & then when someone coughs near me, & traveling in crowded spaces will take some getting used to.
So unfortunately last year when my husband was deployed, I forgot to call and wish him a happy birthday on the actual day. I know what you’re thinking, worst wife ever! I know…but to backtrack a bit, I had spent the month prior gathering items to construct a box of special goodies I could send to the Deployment location for him as a birthday and Christmas gift as well since his birthday is on the 22nd of December. I usually don’t lump them together but because these items were being shipped outside the U.S, it made sense to do it that way. I had also worked a streak of 4 or 5 12-hr shifts and didn’t even know what day it was, to be honest, so when he called me the next day to ask how and why I forgot to wish him a Happy birthday…I was slightly delirious and didn’t even know what day it was.
Anyway, so this year I had to go above and beyond to make it special for him. He did make some demands haha and rightfully so…..so I worked around that “demand” and planned a trip to Kiruna Sweden, otherwise known as Swedish Lapland.
His birthday is on Dec 22, so it was hard for him to get enough time off at his work around this period due to everyone wanting the holidays off. I pushed the trip date to the following week.
First stop: Copenhagen Denmark.
Since we were going to have a layover somewhere anyway, I decided that we should stay in Copenhagen for 2 nights and explore a little/do New Year’s Eve there. I was not expecting it to be as amazing as it was, and Ian was totally blown away by Copenhagen! I made a self-guided walking tour of the city and we spent a day exploring all the spots (11 miles walked on this day).
2nd stop: Arctic gourmet cabins.
Ian still had no idea what type of place this was, and as Johan (cabin owner & chef) picked us up at the airport, I could tell that Ian was mentally trying to put things together. I had to tell him everything once we checked in into the cabin because some of the plans were starting to fall through unfortunately. The first plan was to see and photograph the northern lights at Abisko National Park, but the company cancelled due to bad weather. I will say that after I told Ian that, and him seeing the sun set at 2pm and pitch black at 3pm, he seemed a little disappointed. I slightly felt bad since I had planned this trip and had been waiting for months! We sat in our cabin as Ian started to ask about our dinner plans. I didn’t have any because our now cancelled trip was meant to include dinner/drinks/coffee. Ian quickly yelped and suggested we get a taxi (Arctic gourmet cabins are further away from Kiruna town, where all the shops and restaurants are). I suggested we eat in our cabins since Johan the owner was a renowned chef and that was part of why I had chosen this place in the beginning – for the food. Ian reluctantly said yes but tried to counter with “maybe we should eat Thai” that night since Johan was cooking the next night for us, just to mix things up, I gently pushed him towards choosing Johans place for that night, and so we did.
At dinner, Johan started by talking about what he was going to serve that night, and I could see Ian perking up….. he started realizing that this was not your typical restaurant. Johan is one of the best chefs in Kiruna (and by far some of the best food I have had in my life), and he is also very kind and genuinely cares about the type of experience he is giving his guests. We had a 3 course meal with wine pairings – beats any Michelin star restaurant I have been in so far. During dinner, Johan talks and interacts with the guests, making it seem like having dinner at a friends house. Ian quickly asked Johan if he can cook us meals every night we are there, and he agreed. Even though it’s not free, Ian realized this is a once in a lifetime experience. After the first course, Johan asked us to go outside and see the northern lights…..say what?, we had just cancelled a tour and got refunded our money because of bad weather, and now we could spot a glimpse of the Aurora just outside our nice cosy cabin?. This was starting to become magic. Ian declared that night, that he was totally blown away! It was only day 1 haha. I was so happy things were starting to go as planned and even better!
On the next day, we had dinner and after dinner the Aurora appeared again, so we went outside and watched it move around. This night, the lights were so much more noticeable and we just stood outside for a long time just looking up. This was truly magic!
We stayed a total of 3 nights at Arctic gourmet cabins, had dinner and breakfast there and saw the auroras every single night, with each night becoming even stronger and moving around. During the day, we went snowshoeing from the cabins to the lake, did dog sledding, had an Arctic massage & spent a lot of time bouncing around from the Jacuzzi to the sauna to bed haha.
Final destination: Ice hotel.
This was Ian’s only demand. That he sleep in an ice hotel. I booked one night (our last night) in the seasonal ice rooms and it was quite the experience. We checked in, saw our rooms and the rest of the rooms, which are pure art and insanely detailed, then we went to a Sapmi (indigenous tribe) village & met reindeers. The Sapmi village was very enlightening because I had no idea indigenous people existed in the Nordic countries. We fed reindeer & also rode a reindeer sleigh. The reindeer sleigh ride is nothing like dog sledding. Reindeers are incredibly strong and competitive, so it was very thrilling to see them compete at high speed as you held on for dear life! Our guide was very monotone so we didn’t quite get it when she said they can get competitive with each other haha, unless her plan was to just let us find out for ourselves…then well played. This activity was one of my favorites! We also rode on a snowmobile sleigh to and from the ice hotel.
Highlight of the trip: A 3 hour northern lights appearance! Behind the ice hotel is a frozen lake, so we went there and just looked at the northern lights move about. It was magical!
The night & trip ended with our stay in the ice room for the night. We were so sad to check out the next morning…
I think I nailed the surprise trip for Ian. The one year guilt of forgetting to wish him a happy birthday has worn off now.
I put this list together the night we got to our hotel, shared it with my husband, and we tag teamed to see everything. Copenhagen is the easiest city ever to navigate, and their metro is truly a luxury compared to many other cities we have visited. It was also very easy to buy tickets from the airport for the metro. If you get a pass, you can use the metro & buses for a few days.
Where to stay
Hotel Kong Arthur
Staff are so nice and they have a happy hour with free wine every night in the lobby. This hotel was absolutely gorgeous and very inexpensive.
Where to eat
On our way to the hotel from Nørreport train station, there was a food hall with food stalls inside (if you’re walking it’s hard to miss), but it was closing so we couldn’t buy food here. I however heard from a tourist I met in Copenhagen that the food is really good.
The food at Host.
At Aamans 1921 on New Year’s Eve.
Copenhagen was a joy to visit, even though for just a short while. I loved going into a coffee shop and people watching because everyone was so impeccably dressed.
We will be back in the summer for sure.
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I had initially booked an organized trip where the company (Nordic visitor)takes care of everything for you apart from flight tickets to Sweden ( price includes 3 days food, activities & accommodation) because I didn’t know anything about Sweden & frankly was a bit stressed out about the initial planning. They however canceled a few days later and offered other days (wouldn’t work for us). I then tried booking through camp Ripan (same deal, everything is taken care of, 2700 USD for 4 days – better deal, activities & accommodation) but they were also booked out for the days we wanted. Finally, I opted to do my own research by writing down all the activities these tour companies were going to offer, and individually booking them. I ended up saving 1000 USD and finding a way…way better accommodation & overall better experience. By booking smaller local companies for activities, prices were better & the experience more personable. Everything was less touristy and we thoroughly enjoyed this experience. We learned a lot about Sweden this way too, talking to people who live there & own small businesses in the areas we visited.
Land in Kiruna
⁃ Check in into your hotel. I recommend Arctic gourmet cabins, where you get the owner/chef cooking meals for you (at an extra price) & honestly this will be some of the best food you’ll have ever eaten. His website claims he is the smallest gourmet restaurant in the world – only 2 tables in the restaurant. You’ll hopefully get to try reindeer, moose and local Swedish fish like Arctic char.
⁃ During winter, the sun sets at 2 or 3 pm, so it will be dark quick. You can either unwind in the cabins/whatever location you choose. Most places have a jacuzzi and sauna. Or book a night tour – like go to Abisko and see/photograph northern lights (what we had planned initially but canceled due to bad weather – we ended up seeing the northern lights from our cabin so that was fantastic)
Morning – Dog sled with Kiruna husky or any other local Kiruna company. Ask Johan for recommendations if you stay at Arctic gourmet cabins, he knows everyone!. Avoid bigger companies( like ice hotel tours) haha…they tend to be packed and less personable. Our last activity was with them and it was so tourist (they were the annoying & rude kind too, don’t be that person)
The night before had been super windy so our trail had been covered up. This meant we’re going to be creating a new trail and it honestly turned out to be quite the task. The dogs are very well trained but occasionally would choose to dive into the fresh snow and play around haha. It was cute to watch but we needed to keep going so at times the leader got quite frustrated. Some dogs would tangle up and it was our responsibility to get out of sleigh (if you weren’t the driver) and untangle them. The hardest task was pushing the sleigh in very deep snow in order to keep it moving, especially if you are a little heavy. My husband did all the work in the beginning and the leader asked him to ride in his sleigh to get a break, so I had an armory sleigh and had to be the driver. I learnt quick what to do and off we went. I had the opposite problem. The sleigh was flying!!! I think it was too light, so I had to constantly brake and prevent my dogs from overtaking the sleigh in front of me. I overturned twice too because it was hard to balance when the dogs picked up speed. After the sledding, we went to an arctic hut and had lunch then coffee. Overall it was a wonderful experience despite all the hiccups. We also saw the northern lights on this night after dinner. They appeared later, at 10pm
⁃ Afternoon : unwind in Jacuzzi/Sauna. During the night, you may want to stay up late to see the northern lights. Choose a location away from city lights. Arctic gourmet cabins were perfect for us since we would just walk outside, sit or stand by the fire and chit chat as we watched the lights. Johan gave us tips on how to photograph them using our DSLR camera.
Borrow snowshoes from your accommodation and snow show around. We were next to a frozen lake or river, so we walked on that as we watched the sunrise/sunset. It was quite the work out, perfect for our afternoon activity – an Arctic massage with hot stones. It included pick up and drop off. We got picked up at noon and the whole activity lasted for about 2 hours. The lady was very sweet, very bubbly for a Swede haha. We had a wonderful experience here, getting a massage as we listened to the fire crackling and the wind whistling outside. After the massage, we had some mint tea & a short tour of the husky kennels. The skies were also beautiful so we enjoyed walking around. In the evening we had some jacuzzi time, dinner, then were outside for 2 hours looking at northern lights.
⁃ Day 4: sleep in, check out. Go to the ice hotel to spend a night in the seasonal ice rooms (original ice hotel) or the year-round ice hotel. We booked a tour on this day so after checking in and getting a locker to put our luggage in, we got some overalls and boots at the desk and went on a Sapmi village/meet the reindeer tour. We learned about the Sapmi, fed reindeer, had a short but very thrilling ride on a reindeer sleigh, then ate reindeer meat with Lingonberry sauce & warm lingonberry juice. This was one of my favorite activities because I learnt so much. The ride to and from the ice hotel were on a sleigh pulled by a snowmobile through the forest and over the frozen lake. We then walked around the ice hotel, looking at all the rooms, taking a million photos of everything!!! Haha and at 8pm, the northern lights appeared so vividly and strong. They started on one side, ran across the entire sky, then started spiraling. It was a sight to behold!. We lasted outside for an hour, but the lights lasted for about 4 hours!!! This was the best show ever. The ice hotel allows guests (not staying there) to tour the rooms from 9a.m to 6 pm, so after 6, you can stroll around in your own pace from room to room. Technically people have already checked in but no one stays in the cold rooms and their personal belongings are stored away, so its nice to just walk around and enjoy the art.
⁃ Day 5: check out, maybe go to Kiruna town and stroll around, or plan an activity of your choice if not flying out until later.
⁃ Book things far out to get better prices and days/times you want.
⁃ The ice hotel experience is one of a kind and you honestly won’t be that cold since they have a sleeping bag and give you a brief of how to stay warm before going to bed. We chose the cheapest rooms and honestly wouldn’t have done it any other way because you see all the other rooms anyway, and once you fall asleep that’s it haha. The room booking also includes breakfast and a free tour of the ice hotel. The ice hotel restaurant was in our opinion not worth the money you spend there for fine dining. Arctic gourmet was so much better.
⁃ If you are a confident driver, rent a car. Even in really bad weather, the roads get plowed but there is still a good amount of snow on the roads. Taxis are expensive in this area.
⁃ Other activities to consider:
⁃ Northern lights tour (usually includes dinner in a teepee), but you can see the northern lights from the ice hotel or Arctic gourmet cabins where we stayed.
⁃ Horseback riding in the wilderness to see moose and reindeer in their natural habitat.
⁃ Ice fishing (you eat the fish you catch)
⁃ Ice sculpting at the ice hotel.
I hope this was helpful. Have a wonderful trip if you decide to visit Swedish Lapland, it’s truly beautiful.