It’s that time of the week again! Today’s jetsetter is Melanie of @grlwithgumption, who told us it was her long-term goal to become a jetsetter. I think we probably were supposed to, like, make her work for it? But really, her blog tagline is “I lost my dignity somewhere over the Atlantic” and she enjoys day drinking, so we thought we should nail this one down before she lost interest.
Favorite Place: Ireland. What’s not to love? The locals are friendly, music is foot-tapping fun and if you don’t mind rain then the weather is great. Also, I like places that encourage daytime drinking.
More importantly, favorite meal: Gnocchi at the French Cultural Center in Dakar, Senegal. I’d spend another two years in a hut if it meant I could have some more of that gnocchi. Washed down with a Gazelle beer. Gazelle is certainly nothing to write home about, but it is cold, and cold has been scientifically proven to be the best flavor in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The moment you caught the travel bug: September 8th 2006, 4 hours outside Cairo, Egypt. I was by myself on a bus filled with locals. No one spoke a lick of English. I had no idea if I was on the right bus or where I was supposed to get off (we eventually hit the Suez Canal so I figured that we were heading the right direction). I was terrified. But I figured it out. Got off the bus. Hitched a ride with a group of Bedouins to a tourist town on the back of a truck filled with goats. Spent a week soaking up sunshine on the Red Sea’s beaches. I only stayed a whole week because I couldn’t figure out how the hell I was going to get to Jordan… I eventually figured that out. The high I got each time I conquered leg after leg of this trip was amazing. I was hooked.
First experience traveling alone: When I was 17 I spent a summer backpacking through Europe (part of the time with a high school friend–but it still counts!) It was my first passport stamp and my first time traveling by myself. I almost didn’t leave the airport. But then I did, and the rest is history.
Ever been (or thought you’ve been) in imminent danger while traveling?: Dude, it seems like I’m always in imminent danger. Once, I passed out on castle hill in Budapest (turns out I was severely dehydrated from giardia). I also nearly instigated a mutiny against a bus driver at 5am in Djenne, Mali. In two separate instances I crashed my bike into a cow and a kid in Senegal (no worries the cow and kid are fine). I spent an afternoon hanging out with a drug lord in Lisbon. Oh, and there was that one time I accidentally rolled into Bethlehem when some people decided to firebomb the place. Whoops. My bad.
I swear I don’t try to get myself into these situations. They just happen. And when they do, I blog about it. And you get to read about it. Win-win, right?
Worst hotel/hostel experience: Kayes, Mali. Hands down. I was with a friend and fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, Christine who, like me, has a pretty high tolerance for travel shenanigans. The room door didn’t lock, the widow was sealed shut, the bedding was shedding, the water (when it worked) came out of the faucet in brown rusty bursts, and the shower had exposed wiring dangling in it.
It was our own fault, we thought that a $5 a night room wouldn’t include the death-by-electrocution amenity. We probably should have just stayed the night at the train station. That’s right, sleeping in an African train station would have been a better option than this place. Also, I have video proof on my website for anyone who thinks I am embellishing the truth. And FYI, I never embellish–well, except jean jackets, because seriously who wants a boring jean jacket?
Best hotel/hostel experience: I’ve had so many. I met some really amazing travelers at Archi Rossi hostel in Florence. The Sleeping Camel in Bamako has the most amazing showers in West Africa. Wombats in Vienna is spotless. Hostel Santa Fosca in Venice is picture perfect beautiful and has nuns running around the premises!
In case it isn’t obvious, I love hostels. I will probably be one of those creepy 40-year-olds that hang out in European hostels. Don’t worry I’ll book a private room. I’m weird, but not weird enough to be a 40-year-old sleeping in a hostel dorm.
Favorite family vacation: We took a lot of trips to Disneyland. I may be a–debatably–full grown adult but Splash Mountain is my happy place.
Must-have packing item: Wine opener. Hands down. And no, not one of those fancy Swiss-Army-Leather-Man-type of multi purpose tools. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to have access to when I am 5 glasses of Merlot deep is a tool that has sharp knives and can make fire. Bad idea.
Most unbelievable travel experience: When I was 19 I decided to backpack around the Middle East by myself. Airfare was cheap and I was going through a carpe-diem-the-only-thing-you-have-to-fear-is-fear-itself phase. Just about every moment of that trip was unbelievable. Mostly unbelievable in the “I can’t believe I’m not dead yet” kind of way. But it was a great learning experience…
Favorite “I can’t believe I’m doing this” moment: Swearing in as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer. Honestly, I never thought I was brave enough, adventurous enough, smart enough, or noble enough to be a Peace Corps Volunteer. My two years of service are probably the greatest thing I will ever do with my life. It’s all downhill from here ladies and gents!
Place you can’t wait to return to: My Peace Corps village, Kedougou, Senegal. I’ve only been gone 4 months, but my Senegalese family acts like I am the freakin prodigal daughter every time I call them. I can only imagine how excited they will be when I actually return in person. I bet they kill a goat. And they will probably make me eat some gross goat organ covered in onions and mustard… yeah, it will be epic.
Place you can’t be paid to return to: I would go anywhere for the right price. No seriously. ANYWHERE. Where do you want me to go and how much are you going to pay me?
Any exciting trips coming up?: After two years in the Peace Corps, going to the mall is an exciting trip… and sadly no, I don’t have any trips to the mall planned for the near future.
Seriously though, whenever I attempt to make exciting plans and take control of my life, things always seem to go wrong. I am the queen of “it seemed like a good idea at the time” and “oh crap somewhere along the way things went horribly awry.” Personally, I think the safest thing would be to stop making plans, but then the type-a, anal retentive voice in my head starts screaming uncontrollably and the only way to shut her up is to down a couple beers and start making plans…
Dream vacation: I’ve always wanted to take the Trans Siberian Railroad. Six nights on an uncomfortable train filled with sweaty russians and flowing vodka? Sounds amazing. Why aren’t people lining up for this?
Favorite tourist attraction: The British Museum. The Brits sure were good at nabbing cool stuff from around the world. When I studied abroad in London I went there almost once a week. Also, once I saw Meryl Streep checking out the Islamic collection, so obviously the place is legit.
Favorite “I’m trying not to look like a tourist” attraction: Meh. I stick out like a sore thumb everywhere I go. I wish I was one of those “sipping a glass of wine nonchalantly at a Parisian cafe” types, but I’m not. I never sip beverages unless they are excessively hot.
Favorite travel photo: I snapped this shot during the Festival des Danses des Masques in Dogon Country, Mali . We were wondering why our guide was pushing us so hard to finish our hike by a specific time, but when we rolled into this village and he informed us that we were about to watch the last dance of the Festival, it was totally worth the sore muscles and dehydration. Really really cool.
Is it YOUR long-term goal to become a jetsetter? Let us know and we’ll make all your dreams come true!
the romantic & the wino