Living, Working & Traveling in South Africa - Holistic Business Growth

Right now I am sitting outside of my Airbnb, high on a hill in Cape Town. Across from me is the famous Table Mountain, shrouded in the dense white clouds that often cover it (called the “table cloth”), and the famous “Cape Doctor” wind is starting up again after several days of taking a break. The temperature is perfect and the smell of the mountainside “fynbos” is everywhere.

I’m in love. With a city.

I will be leaving this Cape Town in a few hours, though, headed briefly to Dubai, and then on to India. My husband left this morning for England, so I’ll be heading east on my own. I’m excited by this prospect, but also a little anxious/ nervous. Mostly right now I feel a little bit sad to leave this incredible place. South Africa, and particularly Cape Town, have been so good to me these past 2 months. Travel is always expansive- even when It’s a mix of good and not-so-good experiences, and this trip has been mostly good, but even the difficult aspects of this place and this experience have been beautiful teachers. I definitely plan to return in the not-too-distant future.

We started this slow-travel trip on the other side of the country- in Johannesburg, and then on to the Kruger National Park area for safari. The week we spent in the safari camps was incredible- we were deep in the bush, and daily saw wildlife that I had only ever seen in zoos, or maybe in videos. There’s something so profound about being in their element, witnessing these amazing creatures go about their lives as nature intended. Even the sight of lions feasting on a baby giraffe was awe-inspiring and humbling, not nearly as disturbing as I would have expected. A reminder of the real “circle of life” and how we all play our part, the way Mother Nature intended. My parents and sister were along with Josh and I on this leg of the journey, and it was such a special experience to share with them.

After some time taking in the breath-taking scenery in the “Garden route” coastal towns, we landed in Cape Town for a planned month of work, exploring, and relaxing. To be honest, though, I didn’t end up working very much. In part because December is always slow, and then also because there is SO much to do here, I was quite distracted.  We rented an apartment smack in the middle of the city- which was a great place to explore from, but we were on a busy Main Street and after a month there I was craving more nature. So we spent the past couple weeks bouncing around the greater Cape Town area, mainly in 2 nearby beach towns. First was Kommetkje, with its laid-back, friendly surfer vibe and strong community of Neo-hippies and earth-conscious families. We loved it there, mainly because the beach was so serene and un-crowded. Every morning we walked to the beach to ‘ice plunge’ in the freezing cold Atlantic waters, and to watch all of the locals with their dogs- who got to run free and play without the requirement of leashes! The other beach town we spent time in was Blouberg, a much more modern place than Kommetkje but still with a very cool, laid-back vibe. This is where hundreds of kitesurfers can be found along the enormous beach on a windy day. We had to give it a try, so we took a few kitesurfing lessons and fell in love! Unfortunately, this was towards the end of our trip and we didn’t have time to “get good” – but will definitely try again as soon as we can (maybe in India? Or on Lake Monona in Madison?!).

We also spent some time further afield, including a 3 hour drive north of Cape Town to the mountainous region known as The Cederberg. Amazing scenery here! But the highlight was definitely hiking through this desert-like landscape (in extreme heat) to view over a dozen caves that were painted by the indigenous San people somewhere between 600-2000 years ago!

Just an hour outside of CT is its world-famous wine region, which actually stretches out in all directions for probably 100 miles. We stayed in the modest city of Paarl and explored the mountains, vineyards, and farmland from there. One afternoon we spent several hours at the famous “Pigcasso” Farm Sanctuary, started by Joanna Lefson, who is a new hero of mine.

Getting out of the city definitely made me love it even more. These last few days we’ve been back in a central neighborhood, but in a very special location surrounded by nature. This city really has it all- gorgeous scenery (and world-class hiking!), kind unpretentious people, amazing food (seriously, the best restaurants I’ve been too), water, mountains, art, a very low cost of living (compared to the US), and of course a fascinating but dark history. I won’t get into everything I’ve learned about the socio-economic class structure here, the blatantly corrupt government, or the heart-breaking history of apartheid. . . that’s a different conversation. But in my experience, the most inspiring places (and people) come from struggle.

I want to wrap up this post with a few reflections I’ve had on slow-traveling, and working abroad. Mostly these are things I want to be sure to remember for my next extended trip, but they might be useful for you as well!

1. For me, it is important to alternate stays between the city and the countryside. I personally get agitated after more than 2 weeks in an urban environment, unless there’s easy access to substantial natural areas (parks, beaches, mountains, etc).

2. Try to meet people the first week! Or online before hand. For us, the best way to meet other travelers is by staying in communal spaces- like guesthouses, hostels (that have private rooms and aren’t too party-focused), or Airbnb’s where the hosts and/or other guests are in the same building. And taking a class, joining a group, or participating in some kind of fun activity is a great way to meet locals + travelers as well.

3. On the same note. . . I vow to always pick something new to learn while I’m spending time in a new country. This is a great way to meet people, and have a deeper sense for the culture of the place. Last year in Guatemala and Colombia, we worked on learning Spanish and met so many cool people at the language schools. This year, we were a little late to the game, but decided to finally try kitesurfing since it’s SO popular here. Wish we had started lessons the first week we arrived!

4. In addition to learning something new, I also want to always find a way to volunteer in a new place. Selfishly, this is also a great way to meet people and learn about the place, but of course it also feels good to give back. Josh and I walked by The Woof Project (pop-up dog shelter) several times, and stopped to play with the dogs and walk them. Finally we asked about volunteering and they were so accommodating- they told us to just show up any time! So last week we spent a few days with the dogs and other volunteers, helping to make the dogs feel loved, and talking to people about adoption. Again, I wish we had started doing that the first week!

5. Pack a half-empty suitcase. You’ll definitely want to buy things! My frugal husband was so proud of himself for packing super-light on this trip, with only a small roller bag and backpack. But it turns out, Cape Town has amazing shopping. So yesterday we spent several hours in the market looking for a cheap, large suitcase that he could swap out in order to accommodate all of his (ok, our) purchases. When will we learn?!

6. And on that note, set aside savings ahead of time and prepare a loose budget (it will probably change). We don’t usually do that, and on this trip in particular we got so excited by the inexpensive prices of everything (like $5-$10 for a great meal out!) that we felt like we were rich (we’re not). Even small amounts of money add up when you’re spending every day, for 2+ months!

Wow, it’s been such an eventful couple of months it’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that I’m only halfway through this “sabbatical”. In India, I’ll be starting with small-group tour hosted by my friend Samia

and then will be spending 3 weeks at an Ayurveda center, participating in a panchakarma treatment. Stay tuned to my Instagram stories for photos, videos and more!