Comedienne, actress, yogi, content producer, fitness guru, yoga instructor, influencer: Nessa Varez’s resume is an accomplished one. The Spanish-born jack-of-all-trades has a hustler’s spirit partnered with a knack for linguistics. Nessa also speaks five languages, a skill that has certainly helped her during her travels to over 20 countries.
Just before COVID-19 shut us all inside our homes, Nessa was returning to Los Angeles from the adventure of a lifetime: a solo three month trip to Africa she believes altered her perspective on life. “At the end of my trip there was some, this is kind of weird to say, but jealousy, and some reevaluating going on. Most of the people I met were so happy, and they weren’t obsessed with the stuff that we are back in LA. Getting new Yeezys or whatever. It just really opened my eyes.”
Nessa spoke more about her adventures in Africa in this week’s Notes From A Solo Female Traveler interview.
TravelCoterie: Before the pandemic, you spent some time in Africa. What was that like as a single woman? Where did you go?
Nessa Varez: I always follow my intuition and sometimes it doesn’t make sense but I just follow it. I woke up on a Sunday morning and thought I need to go to South Africa. I didn’t know anything about South Africa. I never looked it up. I never did any research. It just came as an impulse. So anyway, I go online and find a ticket for like $400 from LAX and was like “holy crap!” The next day I just said “f*ck it” and bought a ticket leaving that Tuesday.
I went to Cape Town first and I stayed there for three months. And it was freaking awesome. I love the combination of the ocean, and mountains, and the city. And having space and nature. The nature is breathtaking. I’ve never seen anything like South Africa. Just the energy and the people. It’s incredible. And I would have never imagined it on that level because you don’t really know what to think before you get there.
I know Cape Town has a reputation for being dangerous, I know people that got robbed, but I had nothing but beautiful experiences.
TC: Did you visit other parts of the continent?
NV: Yes! I backpacked with a tour group. I was traveling alone but was able to meet people in my group and became friends. That trip was two weeks. We stayed in each country for a few days: Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. They’re all so different but beautiful. Namibia is drier, and the landscape is a lot of deserts. You get beautiful dunes and beautiful sunsets, but most of our stays were in remote areas. We didn’t have a lot of contact with local people.
Botswana is more jungle, and there we had lots of contact with people and their villages and wildlife. You drive down the street and have to stop because elephants are crossing ahead of you. It’s just mind-blowing. We even went for a hike with a guide through the heavy trees and brush, and all of a sudden, he tells us to be quiet because elephants are eating behind trees right in front of us.
The villages and towns in Botswana are great too. I want to experience the culture when I travel and see everyday life. A few of us went out dancing, and the people treated were so warm and friendly. They would keep offering us beer, like the whole time, and made sure we were having fun. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they were so giving and hospitable.
TC: Zimbabwe has had severe issues with their economy. What was it like being there?
NV: CRAZY! So Zimbabwe is the only country in the world that doesn’t have money in its banks. All the banks are ghost houses. All the ATMs are empty. It’s been like that for two and a half years. So you have to plan and bring your money with you. You have to plan it because if you run out of money in the country, you don’t have any access to money.
It was expensive as f*ck also. Eating at a restaurant was $40 easy for one person. One thing though, The Devil Pool at Victoria Falls is incredible. You can swim to the edge of it, and there’s just nothing like it. They make the tourists swim up and stay laying down, but the locals will stand near the edge. It’s expensive too, though—around $200.
TC: How has travel changed you as a person?
NV: Each travel destination has its unique experience, and for me, it made me who I am today. Traveling did not just make me more open-minded but also more accepting of different cultures and traditions. It’s also a humbling experience, especially when you travel to third world countries. I learned so much about myself while traveling alone, and I met the coolest people that I normally wouldn’t meet on a regular.
TC: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you while traveling?
NV: I could probably write a whole book on crazy traveling stories, but for now, let’s just say that one night I ended in a favela in Brazil as the only tourist there and had the most amazing dance party ever that lasted from midnight till 10 am the next morning. Never in my life had I experienced so much poverty, violence, and at the same time a pure joy and kindness and liberty at once. That was indeed a night I will never forget.
TC: If you can only travel alone, with a friend or a romantic partner on your next trip, which option are you choosing?
NV: I always enjoy traveling alone, but if I had to choose just one, then it would be with my romantic partner. I think during travel, you get to meet the other person on a different level and if you can travel together then you know, you guys can make it through everything. And when I am talking about traveling, I am not talking about staying in a resort. I am talking about either backpacking or other adventure trips.
TC: What are your thoughts on dating/hooking up while traveling?
NV: Everyone on its own! As long as you use common sense and always safety first. I always follow my heart and intuition and so far, have only had great experiences 🙂
TC: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re visiting a new place?
NV: Just exploring everything: culture, the people, nature, and food. I love to walk around in a new place, to catch the vibe of it, and then see where that takes me to. I am usually a very spontaneous traveler and barely plan anything. Also, trying the typical foods of those new places is something that I always love to do.
TC: If you could only eat at one restaurant in the world, where would it be, and what would you order?
NV: It would probably be Sheckter’s Raw in Cape Town, South Africa. Best Vegan food I’ve ever had. My favorite dish there was a simple nutrition bowl with beans, rice, plantains, vegetables – Simple, nutritious, and yummy!
TC: Where should every person go at least once?
NV: To me, Brazil & Africa were fascinating, and I would encourage everyone to visit these two places. Nature, culture, food, and just the way of living there are incredible.
TC: What’s one travel hack you want to share with our readers?
NV: My travel hack is always to stay open-minded and spontaneous. Only plan your next trip minimally because when there is room for spontaneity, then there’s room for magic to happen. And talk to locals, express your interest in their culture, and you will see and meet amazing people.
You can keep up with Nessa on her Instagram: @NessaVarez.
Eric has revolved in and out of passport controls for over 20 years. From his first archaeological field school in Belize to rural villages in Ethiopia and Buddhist temples in Laos, Eric has come smile to smile with all walks of life. A writer, photographer and entrepreneur, the LA native believes the power of connectivity and community is enriched through travel.