Tag Archives: traveler

Skydiving

Instead of writing about my quarantine life which seems like the real-life version of Groundhog’s Day, I’ve been digging back in my memory bank and thinking about my past travels. What comes to mind first is Australia, and despite how much I love it, I’ve not blogged much about it. One of my fondest memories of Australia is my first skydiving adventure.

As I waited in line to book my spot, I contemplated whether it was worth it. My money was running low, and with at least another month to go in Oz, I really shouldn’t be frivolous. I mean, $800 was a lot of money for a few minutes. I could do a lot with that much money. Weighing up the pros and cons, my dad’s voice echoed in my head. His last words before I moved to Sydney were, “Just promise me you won’t go skydiving.” I promised. And I rarely, if ever, broke a promise, especially to my dad.

It was my turn and a decision had to be made. Deciding I’d regret not doing it more than doing it, I thrust my only credit card at the cashier. The credit card I got right before I left. The one for emergencies only. The one with a $1,000 limit. Go big or go home, right?

Suiting up, I looked around. Everyone else had someone with them, someone to experience this once-in-a-lifetime adventure with. I wished I’d had someone else to share this with, but I didn’t let the fact that I was solo hold me back. I was raring to go. My tandem instructor came over to introduce himself. His smile and enthusiasm was contagious. Small in stature with a head full of grey hair, I wondered how old he must be. While I never learned his age, he did reveal that he had over 8,000 jumps under his belt, which put me at ease right away.

Climbing into the plane, I was struck by how tiny it was inside. And there were no seats…or seatbelts! This was unlike any plane I’d ever been in before. Strapped to my instructor, closer than I’d ever been to a stranger, we took a seat on the floor of the plane, very close to the other jumpers. While we waited for the pilot to get in position, they asked us who wanted to go first. No one volunteered, everyone looking at everyone else as if to say, You do it. “I’ll go first,” I found myself saying. I still don’t know why I said that.

Since I was first, I was seated nearest the door. With the pilot in position and ready for takeoff, the engine cranked and the propellors making it hard to hear, I shouted to my instructor, “I think they forgot to close the door!” I quickly learned that when skydiving, the door is left open the entire time. As we took off, I was acutely aware that I was mere inches from an open plane door, seated on the floor, without a seatbelt. The cold wind blew in from the opening, whipping my hair in my face, stinging me with its frigidness.

Once we reached altitude (14,000 ft), my instructor told me it was time. Seconds later, the photographer I hired to take video and photos of me jumped out. One second he was there, the next he was gone. I was scooted forward to the opening, where the coldest rush of air hit me in the face. “Are you ready?” he asked. Nodding my reply, he pulled my head back against his chest, and we jumped out. I expected to be scared, to scream from either fear or excitement, but no noise came. I just took it all in.

As we were free falling for what seemed like 10 minutes (in actuality it was 60 seconds), I reached out my arms, feeling the rush of the air, moving them around like a kid who rolls down the car window while riding fast on the freeway. Every fiber in my body was experiencing pure bliss at that moment. This was worth it. Worth the broken promises and the debt I’d have to pay off.

Once the ripcord was pulled, I felt a sharp jerk upwards, followed by a peaceful floating feeling, as we drifted back down toward earth. The view was incredible! I was skydiving in Mooloolaba, Australia, a small beach town, so the view below was one of ocean and sand. When I close my eyes, I can still see the mental pictures I took so many years ago.

As we neared the beach, I pulled my legs to my chest, as I skidded onto the sand on my bum. The videographer asked me, “So how was it?” My reply was unexpected. I didn’t scream or shout. Matter-of-factly I replied, “It was cool.”

I don’t have any digital copies of my first skydive, as that was back in 2004 and digital cameras were fairly new, but here are some shots from my most recent skydive in Taupo, New Zealand in 2018.

Traveling is My Life

Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamt of a life where I get to travel the world, seeing far off places and taking in new experiences. I honestly don’t know where this idea came from. I mean, I grew up in a smallish town in Texas and other than road trips (mostly in Texas), my family didn’t travel much. It’s crazy, but I didn’t go on my first plane ride until I was 16…and that was only to Tennessee! But for whatever reason, I felt this constant pull to just go.

After a couple of international trips in college (to England and Germany), I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I picked up and moved to Australia- Sydney to be exact- right after graduating from college. Australia has and will always hold a special place in my heart, and Sydney is such a beautiful, magical place that you can’t help but fall in love with it. I ended up moving back to Texas after my half-a-year adventure living abroad, where I gained a ton of life experience and independence. It was, after all, the first time I lived anywhere but my childhood home.

Teaching in a suburb of Houston was exciting and I had many positive experiences during my time there, yet I always felt like something was missing. It wasn’t a constant feeling, but it came often enough that after 6 years, I finally listened. That pull to just go was back. I answered it by applying to a little school nestled in the Shanghai Zoo, and knowing nothing whatsoever about China, I picked up and moved halfway across the world.

That was in 2010, and here I am in 2019 still living abroad, just in a different country now. While that first year in China was one of the hardest of my life (the culture shock I experienced was no joke), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This life has afforded me so many opportunities to travel to places I wouldn’t have even imagined as a child, allowed me to meet some of the most interesting and influential people who’ve become my tribe, and stretched me beyond my comfort zone in more ways than I can count.

I tell anyone who will listen that traveling is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. By travel, I don’t mean take a cruise or go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I mean really travel. Experience how other people live, talk to locals, get lost, feel the heartbeat of a city, try new foods you’ve never seen before, and travel alone at least once in your life. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 5 continents, live on 4, and experience 39 countries and counting. Take it from me, you owe it to yourself. I’ll say it until the day I die, life isn’t meant to be lived in one place.

 

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This is ‘2010 Jen’ showing off my fancy new bike in front of my little school in the zoo in Shanghai…man, those were some good times. But those bootleg jeans…yeah, no! 😛

Can I just go back now?

Paris is on my mind. I feel compelled to go back, and sooner rather than later. I think it’s a combination of creating my Year in Photos slice, which had lots of Paris pictures, and reading a fellow slicer‘s posts about life in France. Instead of working on my reports, which are due tonight, I’ve been researching all the best foods to eat while in Paris and using Skyscanner.com to look up ticket prices to CDG. Oh man…I’m jonesing for some Paris time!

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Paris was never really on my radar prior to my trip last year. I thought it could never live up to the hype. That it was highly overrated. A tourist trap of the extreme. Boy, was I wrong! Despite only being in Paris for 3.5 days, not to mention the fact that it was cold and rainy most of the time, I fell in love with the city of love. ❤

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It has all of my favorite things I look for in a place to visit. It’s a foodie’s haven, with more food to possibly try than time in which to do it. Full of culture, there are jaw-dropping historical monuments to visit (Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur to name a few), as well as museums with world-renowned artwork. My all-time favorite museum is The Lourve. I could meander its maze of hallways for days and never tire. There’s something indescribable about that place. And it’s charm…Paris has charm for days! Every corner you turn is just so damn picturesque that you can’t stand it.

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I’ve been thinking of a few things I’d love to do on my return trip to Paris, a Paris bucket list if you will.

  • Walk up the Eiffel Tower. Last time I took the elevator, but I think I’d like to walk up next time.
  • Eat a picnic lunch of a crusty baguette, good cheese, luxurious butter, olives, roasted veggies, grapes, and macarons from Laduree for dessert in Champ de Mars, the park in front of the Eiffel Tower.
  • Have breakfast at Angelina’s at least once, but knowing me, I’d go there a couple of times. It’s just one of those iconic places you can’t miss.
  • Spend some time alone sitting at a small, quaint cafe, preferably overlooking the Seine, at an outdoor table with a large mug of warm tea, a buttery, flaky croissant, and my writer’s notebook, just observing the city pass by, jotting down ideas, observations, and musings.
  • Eat my way through this gastronomical city, mapping out my days’ activities based on where I want to eat. I want to have a plan so I can get in all the yummy foods I’ve read about, but I’ll also leave room for spontaneity, as I know hidden gems will pop up that I just have to try!
  • Get to The Lourve early, wandering my way through at my own slow pace, savoring the magic of this place. My writer’s notebook in tow, I just know I’ll stop and sit a while in front of one of my favorite pieces of art and write.
  • Take more photos, focusing in on the little details of this beautiful, charming city.
  • Get lost. I love getting lost in a new city…you never know what you’ll find!

With that…who wants to take a trip to Paris with me? 🙂

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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?