Summer. 2012.

Until recently, my relationship with Groupon ended with dinner and drinks. You know: $20 for $40 worth of…some “fare” rendered positively irresistible by their silly-sassy advertising copy. On a searching Saturday morning in April, however, I decided to take Groupon and me to the next level.

“I’m going to Africa!” I enthused to my parents over the phone later that afternoon. “It’s a volunteer trip.”


“Like, manual labor?” My father finally ventured.

He was on the CDC website in minutes, inhaling pages of information on Zambia and Botswana and coughing up dangers large and small. He took careful notes—an entire notebook page of hair-raising threats—which my mother secretly photographed and texted me. To be fair, she was uneasy, too, but not much gets in-between my mom and poking fun.

But I got the shots, I took the typhoid pills, I filled the malaria prescription. I worked with the exceptionally courteous and patient Royce of ASAP Tickets to craft a two-week adventure. I warned the bank, and, inquiring about insurance coverage and mired in contradictory advice and the “I’ll transfer you” runaround, I started a highly vindicating argument between two representatives from BlueCross BlueShield.

My background was checked, my rights waived. My passport came back from the embassy stamped with a visa good through June 2015.

After the first two disappeared, my To Do list traveled around with me anchored to a clipboard, like a gas station restroom key affixed to a milk carton.

I ordered a bunch of kit from Sierra Trading Post, all of which had only made Illinois on the day I left. So, I packed my old stuff. I skipped the haircut, left the hair dryer under my sink, retrieved the Deet from my hiking pack, and unearthed my old UK power converter. I squinted at the print on my Apple power adapters and, looking heavenward, whispered a prayer of thanks for dual voltage.

I promised my savings account I’d pay it all back.

My parents visited two weeks before I left. I showed them the brochures. My father took a highlighter to the Participant’s Manual; my mother made the discovery I was six weeks late making my travel doctor appointment. My aunt and uncle, Ginger and Monty, visited and taught us all a new card game. Everyone relaxed.

On the morning of Friday, July 13th 2012, I text a stranger in Chicago my picture—tie-dye shirt, perhaps glasses, I tell him—and that evening I board the plane to Amsterdam…

Spoiler Alert: It was an amazing trip. Read all about the people I met, the things we did, and the wildebeest lasagna in my travelogue A Groupon to Africa. (Click that link! Just make sure you’re logged into Facebook.) 


This slideshow requires JavaScript.