Swaziland & The Joy of Traveling TO an Incredible Friend

Two of the most amazing blessings in life are GREAT FRIENDS and TRAVEL.  If you can combine them, you are one lucky human being!  On New Year’s Day, I headed into 2016 with a bang – by getting on a 10 am plane and sojourning my way to Manzini, Swaziland, where one of my best friends in life, Kristen, is currently working.

So unlike most of my travels where I’m first and foremost excited to experience a new surrounding, on this adventure I was firstly MOST excited about seeing Kristen.  Despite the fact that we both work in international development and both love traveling (she’s lived in Ghana, Liberia, and Taiwan, for example), we had never actually travelled overseas together.  I was also excited because after many a phone call and texting conversation ABOUT her home, I could finally picture it!

SWAZILAND QUICK FACTS:  the world’s only absolute monarchy; technically called “the Kingdom of Swaziland”; borders both South Africa & Mozambique; population of 1.25 million; Mbabane is the capital; landlocked country with world’s highest HIV/AIDS rate and one of the world’s lowest life expectancies (50 years); an extremely beautiful and hospitable country!

So after a 1.5 day journey (think 7 hour plane ride, 7 hour bus ride including border checks, for example), I entered the Saint George Hotel in Manzini and hugged one of my best friends in the whole world…and then like most anticipated visits with good friends we quickly got back into the normal groove of our laughter and shenanigans and grabbed dinner (coupled with deliciously cheap red wine! – thank you bordering South Africa!)

Kristen and I (I’m the one with the water bottle…no surprise there!!!!

In our multicultural, internationalized society where everyone knows someone living abroad, here is why you MUST take advantage of these situations and visit your friend:

  1. QUICK NAVIGATION:   With Kristen as my tour guide, we were at places that would have taken me a week to find, on the very first day (and on that note, if you do find yourself in Swaziland, be sure to visit ‘Gone Rural’ in Ezulwini for amazing fair trade artistry (www.alloutafrica.com for more information).  I have dozens of placemats, table runners, and coasters to prove it!

    Stunner place where we ate braai…Swaziland is SO beautiful!

2. POSITIVE LOVE OF HOME:  When you visit someone’s home it’s a much different experience than simply visiting another city.  You learn more of the intricacies of cultural life than you would be able to on your own.  Everything from navigating the local bus system (called ‘kombis’) to ordering your dinner (Kristen knew the best meat choices for the braai – BBQ) to better understanding political and social life was more easily understood with my very own resident!

A gorgeous hike to a waterfall at the Swazi Cultural Centre

3. TRUSTWORTHY TIPS: This blog has time and again urged the importance of determining safety precautions (i.e. when to be home at night) especially for solo female travellers.  When you have a friend you 100% trust, this becomes much easier.  Manzini essentially shuts down by 7 pm, so Kristen made sure we were home by then, to enjoy her beautiful yard.  Speaking of…

4. A REAL HOME FOR CRASHING: Homestays have grown in popularity in recent years;  travellers are delighted by the prospect of staying in a local home, thereby feeling more closely connected with the community than a hotel offers.  Now imagine that instead of paying for a homestay experience you’re actually being hosted by a good friend!  It was amazing coming home every night to hang outside under Kristen’s mango tree, watching the sunset while sipping on rosé and eating fresh fruit in her backyard.  As well, you are probably going to feel the most comfortable at a friend’s house.  I slept longer and better in Swaziland than I usually do on vacations, I think mainly because I felt so comfortable in Kristen’s home (and she gave up her bed for me!!!)

catching a kombi ride downtown Swaziland.  The one on the left was EXTREMELY contagious!

5. “TOP TEN” FROM A LOCAL RATHER THAN A TRAVELBOOK:  I love travel books and websites like Tripadvisor.  They offer amazing advice.  But you know what’s even BETTER: insider tips from someone who knows you far better than a book every could!  Kristen knows my disdain for long walks, my incessant need for water, the fragility of my “60 year-old in a 33-year old body” hips, my love of wine and good sits, my need to eat breakfast within 4 minutes of waking, my need for green tea, my love-hate relationship with animals, my gluten allergy, my need for clean shoes, my desire for the most perfectly matching placemats…and so on…

Traditional rural housing depicted at the Swazi Cultural Centre.  The Centre also included a one hour dance and singing presentation – amazing & a must visit!

No travel guide would ever have suggested the Mbabane National Library as a tourist attraction but Kristen knew I’d LOVE it.  Likewise, she also knew that the Swazi Cultural Centre and waterfall walk (see picture) would be a highlight of my trip (which it was!)  No book can ever replace the knowledge, experience, and guidance of a true friend.

6. CREATED MEMORIES.  So many things happen while travelling that it can be hard to recall everything.  But with a travel partner you have double the memory PLUS oodles of stories to bring out laughter for years to come!

And finally…

6. IT’S SOOOOOOOOOOO FUN!!!!  Let’s be honest.  Why do we ever get together with friends?  Usually because friends make life more fun.  Travelling plus seeing a friend?  YES PLEASE.  I basically smiled the whole week!  THANK YOU KRISTEN FOR AN INCREDIBLE WEEK !!!!!  I’m coming back… 😀

Do you have a friend living in another country?  Do yourself a favour and VISIT THEM!!!!!  Not only will you get to see your friend, but you’ll end up having an amazing time in the process!

 

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