Monthly Archives: March 2016

Still Sick on Holiday…No Fun! #sol16 24 of 31

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I’m on holiday. In Senegal. With my good friends and their adorable baby. And I’m sick.

It’s totally not fair! I want to explore this new place, taking in the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. I want to have my normal energy level back so I can roam around, getting to know this new city. I want to play with Reina, my friends’ adorable baby with the cutest smile ever, without worrying I’ll get her sick. But instead, I’m still sick. It’s started on the plane ride over, and despite the antibiotics and over the counter meds I’ve taken religiously since arriving, I can’t seem to shake it.

Today’s been especially bad for some reason. After sleeping over 10.5 hours, I woke up tired. I was volunteering at Mel’s Sports Day this morning, so I couldn’t just sleep in. I managed to get up, get ready, and go to school. Sports Day was fun, but thankfully it was short. After Sports Day ended at noon, Mel and I had plans to go out to lunch and shopping at the local markets. I am determined to see more of the local culture. Lunch was great- we went to this healthy juice and salad bar place- but right after lunch, I was feeling bad again. I cancelled our trip to the market and opted to come back home for a nap before our Girl’s Night tonight. Well, I slept for over 4 hours and only woke up because I started coughing again and needed water. It was 7:30pm. I had missed Girl’s Night. Luckily Mel went without me, so her night wasn’t ruined because of me.

It’s now 8:30pm, and I am wiped. I’m going to go to bed in a minute, and hopefully sleep off whatever this is that is going on with me. For someone who rarely gets sick, this is the worst! What makes it really awful is that I’m in another country, and can’t fully experience it. Here’s hoping that I can shake whatever this is and enjoy my last 3 days in Senegal! Fingers crossed!

Princess Traveler #sol16 23 of 31

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The other day, over dinner, Mel and I were telling stories of our travels together (we’ve been to Egypt, Myanmar, and Thailand), and the story of our 12-hour overnight bus ride from Inle Lake to Bagan, Myanmar came up. In this story, I play the “princess traveler,” as she tells it.

Over the years, while living abroad, my friends have lovingly joked that I’m a “princess traveler.” Let me clarify this by saying that when compared to typical American travelers, I am far from princess-like, but when compared to backpackers and seasoned international travelers, I tend to fall further along the princess line. I admit that I tend to over pack, but that’s just because I like to be prepared and have options when it comes to fashion. I also admit to preferring (ok…demanding) that the place I stay have hot water. Furthermore, I admit to a minimum standard of food and food cleanliness, which means that I may not eat from that street vendor I saw cooking without washing his hands first. But, I am not sure that these things make me a “princess traveler.” I’ll let you decide.

Let me preface this story by saying that our trip to Myanmar was almost completely unplanned, as we got our visas a day before we were set to leave. That being said, we didn’t research much of the travel between places in Myanmar, nor did we book any accommodation beforehand. See…totally not princess-like! Now back to Mel’s story.

We had already been to Yangon, and had just finished up our stay in Inle Lake. Our last city in Myanmar would be Bagan, the city of a thousand of temples. Our 16-hour bus ride from Yangon to Inle Lake was pretty luxurious, by developing country standards, so we had high hopes for our 12-hour ride to Bagan. Mel got the window on the first bus ride, so this time it was my turn. Unbeknownst to me, Mel had just eaten something that would later disagree with her stomach big time, giving her food poisoning for days to come.

To say this bus was a disappointment would be an understatement. The VIP treatment we received on the Yangon bus was long gone, as were the comfy recliner seats. We were basically on a school bus. For 12 hours. Overnight. On the worst roads ever. But, determined to make the best of it, I settled into my window seat. Using my neck pillow, I nuzzled up next to the window, getting as comfortable as I could. I donned my eye mask to block out the light and my ear buds (playing soothing classical music of course) to block out the sound, and settled in for some sleep.

Mel, who was getting sicker and sicker as time went on, was not as cozy and comfy as me. Her stomach, which was already gurgling and flip flopping all over the place, thanks to the bout of food poisoning settling in, was made worse by the bumpy roads and, as you can imagine, poor quality shocks on our bus. Without a window to lean on, and no neck pillow to use, she was left to try and sleep by laying her head back against the non-reclining seat. Anyone who’s ever ridden a school bus knows this is not really the most conducive position for sleep. To make matters worse, Mel had the unfortunate experience, being on the aisle where a small seat folded down next to her, to be seated next to a Burmese man who thought her shoulder was perfect for sleeping on. So, here she is, sandwiched between two people, one of whom was encroaching on her space by sleeping on her shoulder, on a bumpy bus, with a gurgling stomach, unable to sleep, and she looks over at me, with my neck pillow and eye mask on, snoozing away, while she’s in utter pain, and she is struck by my utter princess-ness. The way she tells it, when we arrived in Bagan at just shy of 5:00 am, I pulled the eye mask off, scrunched up my face, and said in my most whiny voice, “Ugh! I am so tired! I had the worst sleep ever!” I can’t imagine I’d ever do that, but my memory fails me at the moment. 😉 Boiling over, she regales me with her trip, complete with sleeping-on-the-shoulder guy and the fact that she had to have the bus stop twice, in addition to the scheduled rest stops, so she could throw up on the side of the road. OK, she wins. Her ride was worse.

Once in Bagan, with the sun not yet out, we get into the only available taxi- a horse drawn carriage. In case you were wondering, this isn’t an ideal form of transportation for a sick and grumpy passenger. OK, remember when I told you that we were adventurous, fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants travelers? Well, that means that here we are at 5:00 am with no place to stay, and no Internet on our phones to look up a place. Huge dilemma. We asked the driver to take us to a nearby hotel, and when he drove up, I was a little taken aback by the look of it. I asked the driver to go ask if they had hot water (yeah, yeah, I know…princess). It turns out they didn’t. Back to the bumpy road we went, in search of a bed and hot water. The next place didn’t have any either. Mel, by this point, had lost her patience with me, and said, in no uncertain terms, that I had one more shot. Remembering I had downloaded an app for Myanmar that worked offline, I found a hotel whose reviews were pretty good. It just so happened it was on the opposite end of town. Mel acquiesced, and off we went. Lucky for me, they had hot water and vacancy! We checked in, had a hot shower, and took a much-needed nap.

Upon waking, we spent the rest of the day in awe of the temples. I wish I could say that the bus ride was the worst thing that happened on our trip, but as it turns out, I was wrong about our return flight times, and we had another adventure!

I’m not that much of a princess, am I?

The Importance of Recharging #sol16 22 of 31

 Ask anyone working in education, and they’ll tell you how they look forward to their next holiday, that respite from the seemingly endless days of teaching, preparing, grading, and the countless other tasks that are heaped onto educators these days. We countdown the days until Spring Break (or any other holiday), not because we want to get away from the students (well, not most of us anyway), but because we need to recharge our batteries. We are better educators when we are well-rested. We are more adept at dealing with the constant pressure and looming deadlines when we have had some time away.

For me, there are three types of holidays I choose to take. Some are adventurous, where I eagerly await visiting a new place, seizing each day to explore the unknown, taking in the sights, smells, tastes, and activities that this new place has to offer. And despite the constant going from here to there, I still recharge, and come back ready to tackle the next set of weeks until another holiday appears.

Yet some of my holidays are purely relaxing, where I spend time at the beach or a resort, laying by the water, only getting up to take a dip, get something to eat, or to shower back in the room. What always surprises me about these types of holidays is that despite the fact that I am uber lazy, either reading, catching some rays, or swimming, I am still so tired. I take frequent naps, unable to stay awake the whole day. I wonder how can I possibly be tired? I have literally done nothing all day. The only thing that makes sense is that after the craziness that led up to my holiday, my body needs the rest. So, despite my inner overachiever, I succumb to it, embracing my laziness.

The last type of holiday for me is a staycation, one in where I stay put, opting to explore my current city instead of venturing to a new place. This is by far the least frequent type of holiday for me, nevertheless, they can also recharge me. The appeal of staycations, for me, is that I can strike a balance between relaxing and getting things done. The Type-A part of me actually enjoys organizing and putting everything in order. Over time, things get out of order and make me a little crazy. Being able to organize it all, be it my house, my calendar, or my inbox, makes me feel happy and peaceful. Being able to wake up on my own, without the help of my alarm clock, means I wake up well-rested and relaxed. I can ease into the day, having my tea and a homemade breakfast, while I read or catch up on blog commenting. A staycation in your own city affords you the opportunity to explore your own neighborhood, venturing to new restaurants or shops that you typically pass up on your daily routine.

All three holidays provide me with a recharge, and all have their place in my life. I am currently in the midst of a somewhat adventurous/somewhat relaxing holiday in Senegal. At this exact moment, I am relaxing poolside, soaking up some rays between bouts of dips in the pool, reading, and napping. I have to admit, I feel slightly guilty being so lazy, but I have to remind myself that I work hard during the school year, and the built up stress of constantly working does no good for anyone, so this relaxing is actually a benefit to everyone. I’ll be able to go back to Tirana well-rested and ready for the next stretch of 6 weeks until my next holiday. Now, I really must go. I’ve booked a massage, and it’s time. 🙂

Side Trip to Saly, Senegal #sol16 21 of 31


My trip to Senegal has been good, but I’ve been under the weather since Saturday. I have developed a pretty bad cough for some reason. I went to the pharmacy today and got some medicine, so hopefully I’ll start feeling better soon. There’s nothing worse than being sick on holiday!  

Anyhow, I am no longer in Dakar. My friend Sally, who works with me in Albania, happens to be in Senegal, too, so we took a side trip to a nice beach area about 80km away from Dakar. Upon arrival, I was so excited. This place is gorgeous and so laid back. The resort we are staying at is a short walk to the beach, has a lovely pool area, and a spa for massages and pedicures. One downside is very spotty Internet. I’m sitting in the bar area at the moment trying to blog, as this is the only place to get any wifi. I’m thinking my blogging will be short this week as a result of this situation.  

We took a walk down to the beach today, where I was able to dip my toes into the Atlantic for the first time. It was freezing!  As we meandered along, we saw loads of men in speedos and topless women. Not at all what I expected! I do not get the appeal of walking around topless on the beach. That doesn’t seem remotely fun to me. After laying by the pool to read, I got a pedicure and we went to dinner. It was really nice. They even had a live band playing while we ate.

Looking forward to what tomorrow has in store. Hoping that my cough goes away for sure!!

A Year in Photos- 2015 #sol16 20 of 31

Last year, I wrote a post sharing my favorite photos from 2014. This was a really great way to reflect on my year, and to relive some of my favorite moments. So here goes 2015’s year in photos (in chronological order). I hope you enjoy! 🙂

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All photos copyright of Jennifer Kesler. Please do not use without permission.

Dakar, Day One #sol16 19 of 31

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Highlights of today: Meeting Reina. Spending time with Melissa. Sunshine. Seeing a bit of Dakar. Shopping at the American Store. Hanging out with Sally, Bruce, and T. Watching the sunset on the beach.


After some much needed sleep, I eased into the day by hanging around the house with Mel and Reina. Reina was so funny! When she first saw me, she was so uncertain about this strange girl in her house. I kept getting the stare down, which just made Mel and I crack up. After a little while, she warmed up to me and even let me hold her. We became fast friends. She is such a happy baby- always smiling and laughing. She likes being held, which I love!

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We got a late start to the day, but the sun was out and the weather was amazing! It was warm, but not hot, and there was a steady breeze all day. I got to see a bit of the town from Mel’s driving me around- we pulled over to snap a few pics of the mosque and the ocean. We then stopped by the American Store, where I was able to stock up on things I can’t get back in Albania (hello Cheerios, Oreos, and Mac n Cheese!). From there, we ran a few errands, and came back to play with Reina before dinner.

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The place we went for dinner, Le Ngor, overlooked the beach, and watching the sunset while listening to the waves was so relaxing. I had a very tasty coconut shrimp curry with rice and a few bites of Sally’s honey sesame shrimp. Sally, my friend and colleague in Albania, and her boyfriend joined us for dinner. Despite being eaten up by mosquitos, I really enjoyed it. We rounded out the night with drinks at the Radisson Blu hotel, overlooking the ocean. All in all, day one was a success. Day two begins with brunch on the beach. I think I’m gonna like this place!

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What’s in My Carry-On #sol16 18 of 31

Since I’m traveling today to Dakar, Senegal (my 30th country!), I figured I’d share what I pack in my carry-on. I’m always curious about what other people pack in their carry-ons, too, as it gives me insight into who they are as a traveler and I sometimes get new ideas.

As a frequent traveler, I have, through trial and error, perfected my carry-on packing. Here’s what I take with me for most trips, however, a few things change depending on where I’m going, the length of my flight/trip, and the weather.

My Carry-On Bags

I brought both of my carry-on bags for this trip, but sometimes I only take one or the other. I have a Samsonite Mightlight Spinner 30 rolling bag. What I love about it is that it is super lightweight (less than 6 lbs.), can expand to fit more stuff (for when I shop too much!), fits in the overhead bins (even on smaller planes), and has a front pocket for my laptop, which makes it so easy to go through security. I also have a Samsonite Mightlight Boarding Bag, which has a loop on the back so it fits on the handle of my rolling bag. I like the front pockets because they provide organizational pockets for things I need to find quickly and a small zipped pocket with easy access to my passport and phone. There’s a side pocket that’s open for a water bottle, which is very convenient. The back of the bag unzips on three sides, revealing a packing area that can hold a surprisingly large amount of stuff! It has straps inside, too, that can be used to pack clothes. The back flap also has a zippered pocket that is great for holding my iPad. Within these bags, I always have a smaller zipped bag to hold toiletries and other odds and ends.

Now onto the contents of my carry-on(s).

Essentials

  • Wallet: Duh! I take out all non-travel essentials before I go so that it’s less bulky.
  • Passport: I keep mine in a cute holder so it’s easy to find and is protected.
  • Pens: It’s always good to have a pen for filling out departure and arrival cards in many countries. Bring more than one and you can loan one to that seatmate who doesn’t have one. They’ll thank you for it.

Comfort

  • Tempurpedic neck pillow: Seriously the best thing ever! My friends generally make fun of me for bringing this, but it is essential for helping me sleep on planes, which is very important to me. Plus, I use it as my pillow in hotel rooms when the hotel looks a bit sketch. *I’ve tried many neck pillows (inflatable, the one with the pills in it, etc.) over the years, and this is by far the best.
  • Large scarf: This can obviously be used as a scarf in cold weather, but I always travel with one and use it as a blanket. Planes are usually very cold! Mine is from American Eagle (2015). It is soooo soft and warm, and it is long enough to reach my feet and still go up to my neck.
  • Eye mask: I cannot sleep when it’s light out, so I put on my eye mask to tune everything out and catch some zzz’s!
  • Sleepphones: Have you ever tried to fall asleep on a plane when there’s a crying baby or people around you who won’t stop talking? OMG! So annoying! I have to block out the noise somehow. I used to just wear ear buds, but even the most comfortable ear buds begin to hurt when you’re on a 12-hour flight. Sleepphones are headphones that don’t hurt your ears. Basically you wear a headband around your head, positioning the speakers over your ears, and voila! you can tune everything out while saving your ears!
  • Comfy socks: I love taking warm, fuzzy comfy socks to change into when you are on the plane. I hate wearing shoes when I’m seated, and my feet get cold. Plus, bare feet on an airplane is just gross!

Hydrate

  • Refillable water bottle: It’s so important to drink tons of water when you fly! The flight attendants will fill it up for you if you ask. It’s much easier to keep at your seat than the little water cups they give you. My favorites are Camelbak and S’well.
  • Face lotion: I apply anytime my face feels dry/tight. I keep mine in a contact lens case, as it provides just the right amount for airplane rides.
  • Lip balm/Chapstick: My favorite is Lucas’ Papaw ointment from Australia. I am in love with this stuff, and apply several times during the flight!
  • Eye drops: Airplanes seriously dry you out, but having eye drops really helps keep your eyes hydrated.
  • Hand cream: My hands are always dry, but an airplane brings a whole other level of dryness! I have to apply hand cream a few times during each flight. My favorite is Body Shop hand cream in Wild Argon Oil scent.

Technology/Entertainment

  • iPhone
  • Laptop and charger
  • iPad and charger
  • Ear buds
  • Camera and lenses, accessories, charger, etc.: I have a Canon Rebel XS and a Go Pro. Sometimes I take both; sometimes I take one or the other. It really just depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing.
  • Book: I don’t always take an actual book, although it is nice to have. Sometimes I just read on my iPad to save room and weight in my luggage.
  • Writer’s notebook: I sometimes take my writer’s notebook to jot down my observations or thoughts while traveling. Other times I use my laptop or other device to record my thoughts.

Toiletries

  • Colgate Wisps (disposable toothbrushes): These are great for when you want to freshen up while at your seat. Did you just eat something garlicky? How about drinking a Coke or juice? Before taking a snooze, freshen your teeth and breath!
  • Travel toothbrush and toothpaste: I collect those free ones that many airlines give out, since they are small and compact. This is great for those long-haul flights (8+ hours) when you need to fully brush your teeth or for when you land at your destination (or layover) and want to freshen up.
  • It’s Potent Eye Cream by Benefit: This is a great product to dab under your eyes after a long flight. It helps brighten you up and makes you look more awake than you really are. I store this in the other half of the contact lens case.
  • Assorted medicine: You never know if you will get sick when you are traveling or on a plane, and finding meds in a new country can prove to be difficult, so I always take a few pills that I might need. If I end up getting really sick, these few pills will tide me over until I can find a pharmacy. You’ll always find Tylenol, allergy pills, Pepto Bismol pills, Oscillococcinum, and Melatonin in my bag.
  • Basic make-up: I usually have mascara, tinted moisturizer, blush, and lip gloss with me so I can freshen up when I arrive at my destination.
  • Face wipes: It’s always great to have a couple face wipes on hand to clean up the gunk around your eyes after your nap. I don’t usually travel with make-up on, but if you do, these are great for removing make-up, too.
  • Roll-on perfume: These things are great! Not only can you travel with your favorite scent(s) and save on luggage weight, you can use it to freshen up or sniff when someone/something around you is stinky.
  • Hand sanitizer: Airplanes breed germs! Sanitizer helps. That is all.
  • Sanitizing wipes: Again, germs! These are great for wiping down your tray or washing your hands after eating.
  • A few tampons: Because you never know when you (or a friend) might need them.

Snacks

I don’t really like airplane food, and I’m a vegetarian, so I choose to bring my own food to snack on during the flight(s). Here’s what I brought today:

  • strawberries
  • apples and peanut butter
  • almonds
  • dried apple rings
  • chocolate-covered rice cakes
  • tea bags
  • gum
  • mints
  • I also bought a pasta salad in Paris for the long flight to Dakar.

Random Things

  • Hair ties: I keep these in several locations just in case.
  • Foldable travel brush: Helps tame my wild hair, especially after I’ve napped.
  • Travel-sized Kleenex: There’s nothing worse than needing to blow your nose and not having a tissue or napkin. They are also great if you need toilet paper and they don’t have any (a must in Asia).
  • Sunglasses: Getting off a plane and stepping into the sun when you’ve just been cooped up in the dark for hours can seriously hurt my eyes, so I always pack my sunnies just in case.
  • An empty quart-sized plastic baggie: Because you never know when you might need it.
  • Facemask: As a past resident of China, where the air was polluted and you occasionally needed to wear a mask, I got used to taking one with me when I traveled to and from China. I find that they are really useful when you are sitting near a smelly person or something suddenly doesn’t smell right (you get the idea). I know I might look weird with it on, but I don’t care! What’s really funny is when I’m wearing my facemask, eye mask, and sleep phones at once. You pretty much can’t see my face…haha!

What must-have item do you have in your carry-on?

**Because I wrote this on the plane, and just arrived in Senegal, I’ll have to post pictures of my carry-on items tomorrow.**