Monthly Archives: July 2010

On My Itinerary: Jambo, Nairobi!

Note: I did not take this picture. Picture of Nairobi Bus Station.

We’re arrived safe and sound in NAIROBI, sometimes known as “Nairobbery” but the volunteer organizer, Jamie-lee, this peppy blond New Zealander, said it is all media hype (though I’m still wary). After a long haul flight to Addis Ababa via Rome (where nobody got on or off except some loud Italian cleaning crews who came on board to take our trash) and then onto Nairobi, we met up with some other people volunteering with us, and all piled into an old-school van with some serious shock-absorbers as we bounced down the pothole-filled dirt road to our temporary homestays until our volunteering starts on Monday. So far Nairobi’s outskirts strike me as a mix of the Caribbean, of India, of Beijing, of Thailand, and of Costa Rica. I haven’t shot any pictures yet because I don’t want to be SO touristy to be taking pictures of their fruit and traffic and the sign-maker because I wouldn’t do that at home, either. I guess the point is I’m not at home right now. We’re going to check out this giant Target-like shop after we log off the Internet. Check back!

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Wanderings: traveling light to Africa

I’m fairly swamped today with last-minute preparations/ cleaning/ deadlines/ etc. before we take off for Africa, but I’m pretty impressed with our minimalist packing. This is an entire week of clothing (well, we each get two pairs of pants or shorts and I have a skirt), plus two bedsheets (from Ikea, $2), quick-drying hiking towels, toiletries, mosquito coils, sandals, five big books, swimsuits, headlamps, travel backgammon set, journal, sleepwear, camera with three lenses and a flash, two boxes of granola bars, hats and flip flops. The most important thing: laundry detergent and copies of our passport. We’ve packed it all into a carry-on suitcase and Jon’s school bag, a small daypack and a camera bag. The best part is we’ll be throwing out about half the stuff we bring, to make room for all the fun African sculptures/ art/ animals we’ll be bringing back.

All of this… fits into below.

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On My Itinerary: AFRICA!

Finally! my summer is starting. Working in a windowless office can really steal away your seasons. It’s about the same temperature inside year-round, and the minor difference is on my commute home I might wear a coat or not. (Well, it’s really a major difference whether I should put on 10 layers or remove 3, depending on if it’s summer or winter. Irregardless, I’m finally getting a well-deserved vacation).

We jet off Friday for NAIROBI via Rome and Addis Ababa, where we’ll start with a week of volunteering at an elementary school with a Maasai village. We’ve managed to raise nearly $1,500 to donate to the school and we’ll be stopping at a Barnes & Noble before we leave to pick up a lot of educational children’s books and some school supplies.

Afterwards, we’ll be headed to TANZANIA for a safari, followed by a quick visit in DAR ES SALAAM with some of Jon’s friends and then to enjoy the beach and maze of Stone Town in ZANZIBAR. I have to capitalize all these cities and countries because they just sound so exotic.

I’ll try to post updates and some pictures, but we may be in areas that don’t even have electricity, let alone internet (although when we visited the “remote villages” of Chiang Mai in Thailand, they lived in open-air bamboo huts and sifted rice by hand, but managed to sell us some framed photos of us taken only moments ago with a digital camera and printed and framed automatically). Keep checking!

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On My Itinerary: we’re driving to Chicago

Hark. We’re driving to Chicago. In a car. From Baltimore. I don’t know why this is such news, considering I did this route many times between St. Louis – New York during college, and Chicago- New York during graduate school, and even Los Angeles- New York when I moved out west. But perhaps now that I’m no longer 19 years old, the concept of driving all night (“ROADTRIP!!!”) is no longer as exciting. I mean, what’s wrong with an airplane? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with an airplane: it would have cost us more than $700 total to jet to Chicago for the weekend for Jon’s friend’s wedding, thanks to airline mergers, fewer seats, higher prices, overbooking, summer vacation and the recession.

So we’re driving. (Also because the in-laws really want us to take things from the basement to our house.) The trip is slightly shorter than if we left from New York (12 hours), which is good, and cuts down the time winding through Pennsylvania significantly, which is also good, but we’ll still have to contend with the long stretch of Ohio, which is bad and boring. I’m contemplating making a few stops in Amish country, and maybe even in Cleveland after seeing the hilarious video about the city which was so funny, I’ve had to post it here.

However, I have learned quite a bit about driving long distances, which I’m happy to share here.

1. Check your oil, tire pressure, windshield wiper fluid, brakes, battery, etc. It helps to have your car in good shape before you head out.

2. Use RainX on your windshield. Especially in winter. The directions say to “squeeze a small amount on a cloth and wipe” but the actual directions should be “squeeze large amount all over windshield, then use a lot of paper towels to rub it until no more streaks show.”

3. If you’re packing a full trunk, make sure you can access your spare easily. My friend was stuck unloading her truck in the middle of an Arizona desert and putting her laundry, fax machine, bedding and pillows on the highway after a flat.

4. Keep a phone charger in your car.

5. Don’t play the see-how-far-your-car-can-drive after the gas light goes on. Fill up before it reaches the E.

6. Have kids in the car? Read this blog entry I wrote a couple weeks ago.

7. Keep Wet-Ones and napkins/ paper towels within reach. And a plastic bag to act as a trash collector.

8.  Switch drivers often. Drink coffee. Eat beef jerky and carrots. Sing songs together. Contemplate short-term and long-term life plans. Listen to weird religious talk radio in other states. It’s an educational and cultural way to learn about our country.

More importantly, we’re headed to KENYA and TANZANIA the weekend after, so stayed tuned for the more exciting updates on that (I assure you, they will be more interesting than the blog entry about the cheese we try in Dutch Pennsylvania).

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In the Suitcase: Voltage

Several years ago I purchased a nifty universal power adaptor. It came with various shapes and sizes of plugs in an all-inclusive little box. It allowed me to plug in anything I owned, such as a camera battery charger, and then plug into the round plugs of Europe or Asia or wherever I ventured. During my India trip, my dad let me borrow his portable hot-water boiler, which is a metal coil you stick into a cup of water and lets you boil water for tea or brushing your teeth in a questionable environment. It boiled the water within thirty seconds, which I thought was incredible.

Turns out, while I was able to adapt the plugs to fit into the wall sockets of other countries, I didn’t actually convert the power. So there I was, sending 220 volts through a water boiler meant to transfer only 110 volts through. There were no resulting electric sparks or electrocution, but I may have fried the water boiler.

Of course, I also spent an entire season in Paris plugging my computer through the adaptor without ever converting the power, but it seemed to be fine. Of course, I did have a surge protector and all that, so that might have helped – I don’t know (I’m not an electrician).

In any case, for our upcoming trip to Kenya and Tanzania, I’ve invested in a little converter to plug into the adaptor which plugs into the wall socket. It was only $5.00 on eBay. It will come in handy in the places that actually have electricity – where we’re staying in Kenya may not have such a luxury. If you live in the United States, you’ll want to make sure you purchase one that takes 110 volts and converts it OUT to 220-240 volts, NOT the other way around. The other way around might cause a little electric surge and a power outage.

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In the Suitcase: Best times to book flights

USA Today featured a great article about the best time to snag the best deal on a flight.

For example, you’ll need to book a flight for the Fourth of July at least 2 months in advance for the best deal. But for Labor Day, the best deals tend to show up almost 3-4 weeks in advance instead. That’s because by Labor Day, kids have all gone back to school, whereas over Fourth of July, their whole family is in the air. But if you wait until the very last minute, like a week before, the tickets will inevitably rise up again.

And because of the recession, people hesitate before booking expensive destination trips. Those who book, do so well in advance. You’re taking a bigger chance, but if you’re willing to, you might be lucky to score a better price closer to the departure date than way back when. People are less likely to book flights late, and because fewer people are booking expensive trips, the planes aren’t filling up and the airlines start marking down their flights. Airlines also know that people with expensive vacation destinations in mind will tend to book earlier, and they’ll mark up the prices then.

Kayak offers a great historical outlook on ticket prices. Let’s say I wanted to go to Paris in September (but really, I’d like to be in Paris anytime). I enter a flight to Charles de Gaulle, some potential dates, and then it begins searching. Once inside, you click on the top left rail to “show fare charts” which will pull up a nice little chart showing that the historical lowest priced time to go Paris in September from the Washington, D.C. region is September 6-9, with another dip around September 15. It also charts the prices up until now and where they peaked and dipped. If you have a budget in mind, you can set that and a fare alert, and wait for Kayak to let you know when the fare has dropped. The only risk is it may never drop, so you’re still taking that gamble.

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Cool Tools: Registering with the State Department

My travel health advisor (the one who injected me with yellow fever so I won’t get it abroad) mentioned a Cool Tool: the State Department registry. You register yourself and any upcoming trips with as much information as you’d like to give. In return, you can sign up for email alerts about travel warnings, and they’ll have your information on record if you need to be evacuated, notified, reached, or whatnot.

You list your travel dates, where you’ll be going, with whom you’re traveling, your passport information, and any addresses of hotels or places you’re staying. It makes it easier if an emergency comes up, or if you need to leave the country immediately and the embassy is booking you a ticket. They just pull up your information and get you started. It’s also helpful if you have particularly panicking parents who hear about an incident in, say, Mozambique, and freak out wondering if you’re affected in, say, Tanzania.

I signed us up and opted to let them notify my family of anything necessary. You can also opt in your friends, the US Congress, and the media. I chose not to make it so complicated. I figured my family can always decide who they would like to notify on their own.

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