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Kilimanjaro Trekking: A Healing Experience Summiting Africa’s Highest Mountain

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Would you ever consider booking a Kilimanjaro trekking journey to help you cope with trauma?

While some turn inward when facing tough times, others head outward — and on to the road, to be more specific.

And though for certain people travel offers a means of escape from reality, there are those whose explorations allow them to heal and even find a version of themselves they never knew existed before.

This is what happened to Retha Charette, adventurous female traveler and creator of the Roaming Nanny blog.

After a divorce left her feeling lost, she decided to climb Mount Kilimanjaro — one of the most epic hikes in the world!

She had no idea just how transformational the trip would be, physically, mentally and spiritually, and what a healing experience the Kilimanjaro trek would be.

Continue reading to learn more about her inspiring story.

Side effect warning:

Intense feelings of wanderlust may be experienced by reading this post, which is part of my Inspiring Travelers series.

Kilimanjaro Trekking Video Interview

Prefer video?

Check out my Facebook Live replay with Retha above.

You’ll snag the below interview in an extended, conversational style.

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Summiting Kilimanjaro: A Healing Experience on Africa's Highest Mountain

A Healing Experience Summiting Africa’s Highest Mountain [The Interview]

Q: What was life like before climbing Mount Kilimanjaro?

While I was enjoying my new found freedom from my divorce before climbing Kilimanjaro, I felt like I wasn’t myself.

And it’s tough to fully explain why.

Maybe it was because I chose to leave a life most people would have been perfectly happy with, that was very easy, but wasn’t me.

My ex-husband is a good person and was very good to me, but we changed as people and as a couple, both going in different directions.

Another possibility:

I may have completely lost myself in who he wanted me to be.

I’m not sure and I don’t know if I’ll ever fully know.

What I do know is I wasn’t happy and I needed to change my life.

I needed to find who I fully was independent of any other person.

climbing kilimanjaro
All smiles on the first day of the trek

Q: Divorce is a difficult experience, though you were able to use it as something that propelled you toward a life of adventure. What advice would you give others looking to use travel as a way to heal from trauma?

I would say be careful trying to fill a void with travel.

Traveling will not fix you.

Self-love, self-care, and hard work will help you heal.

Travel is a tool that can guide you there, but the tough stuff is all up to you.

Experiences on the road can change your perspective, but don’t expect an overnight fix-all miracle.

There will be times when you doubt yourself. Don’t.

You are just where you’re meant to be right now

Q: How did you prepare for climbing Kilimanjaro?

I’ll be completely honest:

When I signed up for the climb, I didn’t know how tall the mountain was.

sun shining through clouds while climbing kilimanjaro
The sun finally showed itself after we hiked all night.

When I found out it was over 19,000 feet, I was a little shocked.

I live in Vermont and my trip up Kilimanjaro was in March, so I had to train over the winter.

For anyone that’s been to Vermont, you know our winters are no joke.

To train for the mountain I bought a gym membership at one of the local ski resorts.

Between swimming, running, rowing, spinning, and doing yoga I felt my body was very ready for the mountain.

The start of day 2

Q: What advice would you give to others who want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro?

Go for it!

Don’t hesitate, just do it now.

The glaciers at the summit are melting at an alarming rate due to climate change.

Plus, there is no better time than the present to start a new adventure.

Make sure you train and train hard.

This is not an easy hike and training will prepare your body for the rigors of the mountain.

For more advice, check out my tips here for totally rocking your Mount Kilimanjaro climb. The experience may just turn out to be one of your most rewarding, fulfilling, and epic adventure travel stories.

Accomplishing a goal never felt so good!

Q: How did the climb change you?

Kilimanjaro challenged me every day because, for me, everything was a struggle:

Getting dressed made me exhausted.

I didn’t want to eat but forced myself to.

I vomited at least once a day.

All the while most people around me felt fine.

Beyond the physical effects, I learned how mentally tough I am.

Hiking for days at a time is a long game.

It’s about not letting your brain talk you out of finishing.

On tough days I talked to myself out loud and did more silent crying then I had spare water for.

Here is what I can say with absolute certainty:

Every step, every tear, every sore muscle, and every lurch of my stomach was worth the feeling of being able to summit Kilimanjaro.

Q: What is your strategy for choosing the perfect adventure to suit your needs?

My blog is all about “Adventure Travel from the Everyday to the Epic”.

I truly believe that you don’t have to travel to the other side of the globe to experience an adventure.

For me, a true adventure needs to:

  • Push me outside my comfort zone
  • and/or take my breath away.

Last year, I hiked with my travel sisters to Everest Base Camp.

I spent almost two weeks hiking in one of the beautiful mountain ranges in the world surrounded by women who inspire me to be a better person on and off the trail.

Each night we slept in tent city with other hikers and guides

On the day we reached Everest Base Camp I was feeling ill and wanted to turn around and go lay in bed more than anything.

Real talk:

It was a struggle to keep hiking.

Every thought in my head — not to mention every bone in my body — told me to turn around.

After two hours of hiking, I very slowly arrived at Everest Base Camp. I was one of the last people in my group to get there and tears filled my eyes as I got closer and closer.

When I reached the group, overwhelmed with the challenge and how truly beautiful my surrounds were, I completely lost it and broke down and cried.

I was instantly wrapped in hugs by my travel sisters.

I think it’s safe to say that adventure fit the criteria.

The sun finally showed itself after we hiked all night.

Q: Aside for summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, what other experiences have had a transformative effect on you?

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport on my way home from Cozumel, Mexico where I earned my PADI Open Water Scuba Diving Certification.

While I love all kinds of adventure, I have never been able to truly experience the ocean.

For the first time, I feel like I am able to explore the entire world.

Just thinking about it fills me with a sense of euphoria and excitement to get under the water again — even though I’m 90% sure I have a double ear infection because of it.

Q: After your divorce, were there any negative thoughts you didn’t believe would ever go away but did? How?

I remember one day, in the midst of my divorce, I was speaking with my ex-husband — and when I say “speaking with” I mean having an argument.

He looked me square in the eye and said, “No one will ever love you as much as I love you.”

Later on that day I broke down into tears — and I’m talking ugly tears — because I thought to my self, “What if he’s right?”

It took me a really long time to get that thought out of my mind.

I don’t know how long it took to not think about it all the time.

It hasn’t gone away, even though now I’m in a happy, committed relationship.

What helps make that thought a little better is that I love me.

I’m so proud of the person I’ve become and no one can take that away.

Since my divorce, I’ve moved to a new community, climbed mountains all over the world, found my travel family, and I’m living life on my terms.

Ready to hike at the gate to Kilimanjaro National Park

Q: What was one thing that scared you before your Mount Kilimanjaro trip, and how did you overcome it?

Before going to Mount Kilimanjaro I did a lot of research about hiking at altitude, and the health concerns associated with it.

You can train all you want, but sometimes with altitude, it’s just not your day.

Being at altitude can kill you.

It’s a scary thought, but it’s a reality.

It took me a long time to be comfortable with that thought. And even though I’ve hiked the mountain again since my first climb and I’ve been hiking in the Himalayas and the Andes, the thought is still in the back of my head.

Q: What is your personal favorite travel hack?

Everyone is in love with packing cubes, but I just don’t get it.

They may keep you organized, but they take up so much space.

I’m a fan of compression sacks, like these.

Mine are waterproof, and I can fit twice the amount of clothing in one than I ever could in a packing cube.

Plus, when you let all the air out they get even smaller!

Have you ever used an adventure trip like a Kilimanjaro trekking experience to heal? 

More Inspiring Traveler Stories:

How One Woman’s Cancer Journey Led Her To Sell Everything And Travel

How The Near-Death Of A Parent Led One Woman To Say Yes To Travel

How To Start A New Life Abroad

How To Sell Everything You Own And Travel The World

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Trekking Mount Kilimanjaro: How Summiting Africa's Highest Mountain can be a Healing Experience

About Retha Charette

Retha Charette is a backpacking coach, adventure traveler, and full-time blogger with over 10 years of international hiking experience. Follow her travel adventures on her blog, Roaming Nanny, and Instagram.

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1 Comment

  1. srabonti on at 9:07 am

    Great post. Thanks for sharing!

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