Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Expat to Expat Q&A: Travel

I'm finally participating in this month's Expat to Expat Q&A, hosted by Belinda and Bailie! I somehow missed the boat last month... whoopsidaisy. I love answering these types of questions, and I love meeting fellow expats through the process! So without further ado....

1. Which airport would you like to never see again? 
If I had to wager some money, I think Africa might come up with some of the world's worst airports (no offense, Africa!). Thus, I have experienced my fair share of terrible airports. As much as I hate to say it, I think the worst is Dakar (though I plan on returning ;). The police/border control have such an entitled and corrupt attitude, its infuriating! The customs line is always ridiculous as they let people cut for no apparent reason, spend inordinate amount of time questioning people for show, and leave for breaks with hundreds of people waiting in line.

I love flikr. I have never had the guts to take a picture like this, and I love this guy's description:
"Senegal's airport immigration process for international passengers on arrival is one step up from utter chaos.
Lines were long and slow.
Women and babies could skip the line, which only angered everyone else.
Lines shifted and tempers flared. Fisticuffs were imminent."

Baggage claim isn't so bad because no one without a ticket/passport is allowed inside the airport (unless you bribe someone, duh). But once you walk out the doors? If its a busy time and especially if multiple flights are coming in, you will absolutely be bombarded with people trying (/forcing themselves) to push your cart, load your bags into a taxi, find you a taxi, sell you a phone, exchange money, etc, etc, etc. Most people who have never been to the Dakar airport think they are being robbed or scammed when they first arrive. Its all about a polite and firm thank you and avoiding eye contact. Do not engage in conversation. You will, eventually, be left alone. Hopefully ;) P.S. Senegalese people are awesome, don't let the airport experience taint your idea of Senegal!

2. What is your travel nightmare?

My worst nightmare would be arriving at the airport in Abidjan, one hour away from my hotel in traffic, to discover I had left my passport in a drawer, along with my brand new Kindle. In this nightmare, I wouldn't have the hotel's phone number and I would have no way of getting online or reaching anyone to find it until one hour before my international flight (with necessary visas!) was scheduled to leave. Oops. This happened. And it miraculously worked out, after some public sobbing and good luck on my part.

Another nightmare might be discovering my ATM card, and only financial lifeline, had been hacked and subsequently frozen while I was traveling for work in Cameroon. A $2000 shopping spree in France? I would have enjoyed that one for myself...

Honestly, I've experienced so many crazy travel nightmares that have all worked out some way, very little phases me nowadays. It really does all work out! So my worst nightmare would be ending up in a physically dangerous situation where I could be harmed or seriously robbed. Thankfully nothing like this has ever happened, KNOCK ON WOOD, but its a scenario that would actually terrify me.

3. Would your rather stay in a fancy hotel and do less activities or stay in a hostel and do more activities?

Like many, I go for the middle ground when traveling for pleasure. (My work travel requirements are more needy!) I really do appreciate thoughtful decoration and the opportunity to relax in a comfortable atmosphere, but I do not need sumptuous luxury. I would rather find a clean B&B with some tasteful cultural details and a yummy rooftop breakfast, and be on my way exploring the city! I'm not above a hostel if I'm really strapped for money... but I definitely prefer a private room (my one experience in a hostel dormitory was not fun, nor sharing a room for four with my three girlfriends and an older Australian drunkard).

I stumbled upon this admittedly upscale guesthouse in Dakar the other day, checked out their website, and I LOVE this roof. Sounds like a good option for travelers looking for "breath of authenticity associated with a flawless comfort, far from the standardized hotel business."

4. Do you have any pre-travel rituals?

Besides having some fiasco occur in the 24 hours leading up to any and all trips, not really. I have a list for the items I cannot forget (various chargers, camera, Kindle, business cards if its a work trip, toothpaste, etc), but otherwise I tend to pack efficiently and at the last minute. I've gotten better about getting to the airport on time ;) 

Actually, I do have one ritual when flying to Dakar on South African Airways at Dulles: a Chipotle burrito before returning to Africa! (My mom even brought me a burrito from the terminal when she came to visit :)

5. What is your favorite airline to fly with?

For the Dakar-U.S. flight, I would pick South African Airways, hands down. Good food, comfortable seats, awesome movie selection. The Delta flight from New York city sucks (but I do get miles!). For other flights... well, obviously Air France has amazing food but I can rarely afford those tickets. I'm also fine with European budget airlines as they make travel so cheap—worth weighing your back pack ;) For U.S. flights, I'm a big fan of Southwest. Two checked bags for free?? Comical flight attendants? Yes, please!

6. If you could take a trip anywhere in the world, where would you go?

I'm currently planning a trip to visit my bff in Brazil! I also have a trip to Denmark very roughly in the "works" with my expat friend Megan (inspired by this guide to design shops in Copenhagen). And I really want to go back to Morocco and/or Italy with C. And Madrid. But really, the list of places I want to travel in my lifetime pretty much encompasses the whole world!

7. How do you survive long haul flights?

By sleeping, a lot. I am lucky enough that plane rides seem to lull me to sleep, but I NEED an eye cover. Ear plugs don't hurt either. I also like to download some movies or T.V. shows in advance to keep me occupied if I can't sleep and the in-flight entertainment is subpar. Good books don't hurt either. I also avoid wearing tight pants at all costs, and make sure to pack socks if I'm not wearing them, layers, and a stash of Ibuprofen for unexpected aches and pains.

8. What is your favorite stamp in your passport and why?

I really loved my first Senegal visa for sentimental reasons... but that passport was stolen in Wichita, Kansas... of all places! I have several colorful African visas now. I think my favorite is Burkina Faso because its the prettiest. (Although I look furious and exhausted—the picture was taken on my first day of work after no sleep for two nights. Another story in and of itself.)

9. What are your top 3 necessary items for travel?

1. A scarf and/or cardigan, even in summer. Somehow I revert to two years old and always spill something on myself in the plane. Also, layers for the cold! (Bonus: socks)
2. A hair elastic... if ever I realize I'm without a hair tie for an eight hour flight as my hair gets greasier by the minute, I start using thread/string to make my own.
3. A pen! (For Suduku, filling out immigration forms, and the like.)

10. What is your off the beaten track trip in your current home?

In Dakar, my favorite trip "off the beaten track" would be Ile des Madeleines, a pristine and untouched island about 15 minutes off the coast of the city (the boat leaves from the smelly Soumb├ędioune fish market). The island is a national park and its one of the few natural beauties in the city free of pollution, vendors, and too much tourism. Perfect for a weekend picnic, hike around the island, and a dip in the ocean. One word to the wary: last time I swam in the lagoon and the water made my skin itch like it was ON FIRE. I was ready to rub my back raw on a rock wall, no joke. So beware. But otherwise its absolutely lovely :)

From my first trip to the island... five years ago and during the rainy season, hence all the greenery!

And on a more recent jaunt...

The lagune is gorgeous... but beware.

Exploring the tide pools.

Found Love.  Now What?

1 comment:

  1. That such a fun survey! We once forgot Lily's beloved Mr. Bunny in a motel; our friend has dropped us off at the air port and was JUST pulling away from the drop-off lane when we realized. Caught her just in time and she was sweet enough to drive back to the motel, get the bunny and bring it back to us. Lily was the happiest little girl being re-united with her Mr. Bunny!!


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