Monday, August 30, 2010

My Girl Wants to Party all the Time

Thank you to the very talented Eddie Murphy for that title. And wooooo – I’m still early-to mid-, ok mid-, twenties, so this post needed to happen. I’ve been many places and almost always enjoy the nightlife – which I do really believe is important to a true travel experience. While I love going out in every country, there are a couple of places where I recommend. Below are my favorite places to dance, dance, dance, dance.

Chaing Mai, Thailand – I didn’t spend that much time in Chaing Mai, but enough to realize this place is F-U-N central. My friend and I ended up bar-hoping a bit before we ended up at a club/bar/sit down place (sort of confusing) with a beer tower and a live band! I have no concept of time when I travel, so I don’t know how late we stayed out, but I do know getting up the next day to go on a 3 days trek through the mountains was not pleasant. But thanks for the good time and subsequent parasite, Chaing Mai!

Sydney, Australia – I couldn’t decide between Sydney and Melbourne, but since I spent way more time in Sydney, I had to go with this one. Where to begin? Sydney is a large city, with a laid back attitude, nice weather, and a thriving downtown scene. Be careful on dress code and not drinking too much before you get out – you will get denied at the door. And it will be awkward for you. There are so many different types of bars/clubs that anyone can find a spot they like.

Bujumbura, Burundi – WHAK? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Bujumbura is my kind of town. I raved about it in a post, but the nightlife is pretty crazy in Bujumbura. We ended up at a Havana-themed bar with a mix of locals and expats, grabbing some mandazi off the street (well, not like off the ground, but from someone, well a stranger who became a friend really after he sold me ‘Obama bubble gum’) and heading back to our hostel/motel. Great, energetic night that made me want to move there for a bit…which is still not off my ever-expanding table of dreams.

New York City, USA - I hate to admit it. I really do. But every time I go, I end up staying out really late, resolving that I will move there, ending up utterly exhausted and confused as to how it’s already light out, realizing I have to get on a 4-5 hour bus back to DC in a couple of hours, whining, thinking maybe the 2am bar close time in DC is for the best, getting on the subway that’s usually covered in vomit and urine at that point, remember how clean the DC metro is, wondering if I’m too old to stay out this late, convincing myself that I’m not, passing out in one of my friends Harry Potter closet-like apartments, running to catch my bus, sitting next to a stranger too exhausted to move while my head drifts towards their shoulder. You know it’s fun, I know it’s fun, enough said.

Honorable mention goes to New Orleans, LA where I had honestly one of the most fun nights of my life – thank you to karaoke and props at the infamous Cat’s Meow.

I’ve also been to Acapulco, Mexico on a college spring break. I was tempted to name it, but let’s be real, I was 19, about to start exams at Georgetown, with my friends in a party-centric location…that’s not real life, and I’d be way too embarrassed to put that on my list. Ok I’ve been there twice.

And, oddly enough, I’m writing this on a Friday night.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tweeting around the World

This one is for all you naysayers who try to argue against social media when I preach it: I don’t care that you wore red socks today (twitter), how is a picture of me doing a keg stand client-appropriate (facebook), it’s creepy that you know who else is in the restaurant (foursquare). Well here’s an interesting story that would not have happened without social media, and it’s how I met @travoholic.

It started with one simple tweet from Kirsty (travoholic) about what to do in Kigali, and @rtwdave offered me (@nleary) as someone to reach out to as he knew I spent 3 months in the country. We tweeted back and forth and then exchanged emails, and I found out she was looking for a place to live. Turns out, so were my old roommates. As chance would have it, she not only moved into my old house, but my old room (seriously, how small is Kigali). And now, I get to follow another person’s adventures through Kigali and contribute my experience to her upcoming new blog. You can read an interesting recent post on the attitude of travel bloggers here – wait, who wrote that 8th comment? Tell me more about her.

In sum, I’ve met a lot of travelers on twitter, so I guess I haven’t met them per se, but you get it. Some of my favorites (other than the two mentioned above) are: LunaticAtLarge (actually met), AdventureGirl (actually met), Amateurs Africa (would like to meet), rtwnobag (would like to be), among many, many others.

Now, while I have your attention (though I probably don’t since I included about 25 links in this post and I’d completely understand if you were now wrapped up in the lives of the travelers above): take this pledge with me! Donate 1% of your salary, come on, I know some of you are investment bankers and lawyers and “consultants” – if my PR salary can do it, I know yours can. Oh looking for a place to donate? Well I know juuust the place: Generation Rwanda (ORI changed its name). I’ve managed to not guilt you all in to donating before, but if the billionaires can give up 50%, we can give up 1%. Now feel really bad about all the money you spend of frivolous things and sign up.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Am I THAT Girl?

No, not that girl. But, I’m that girl that my friends have lately been coming to for travel plans. I’m not sure what it is – maybe that I write about traveling, only talk about traveling, just sit in a group of people waiting for someone to bring up traveling – you be the judge. This conversation happened last week with my future doctor friend Lizzie:

Lizzie: lets plan a week vacation during my winter break

Me: hahha im in!

where to lady?

Lizzie: wherever your traveling heart wants to!

Me: hahahha ok!

costa rica is quite cheap lately

Lizzie: alright lets go!

i have 3 weeks off around christmas

Me: well i wont know for a bit, but you know that ill go anywhere

Lizzie: i know!

thats why i knew to ask you

My friend Laura recently thought to do a round-the-world trip (I KNOW!):

Laura: haha and i thought immediately of you

b/c a) you would love it

and b) you would actually do it

Does this mean I’m reckless? Does this mean I’m not planning for my future? Does this mean I’d stop climbing that corporate ladder for a plane ticket? Again, you be the judge. If I actually went on all the trips I’m planning, I would be in Panama/Colombia in October, Costa Rica in December, rtw from January to next September, back to Rwanda for the inauguration, London in November, moving to Australia with my old Aussie roommate in October, and the list goes on. Have I mentioned that I haven’t even been back to Buffalo (home) since last Thanksgiving?

Anyway, really it comes down to whatever friend grabs me during my most wanderlust moment, causing me to panic (a la my TravelZoo emails) and just book a flight. And then, what’s done is done and I’m off.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Top 5 Travel Tips

Realllly scratching for topics here, since I’m not the moment. Anyway, I’m always on a budget, like always. And since I always want to go places super far away aka expensive flights, when I get there I have to live off nothing. At the same time, I’m not really a camping/living off the land kinda girl – I hate bugs, I like being clean, no thanks to sleeping outdoors, etc. But I’m adaptable. Below are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:

Body wipes are your friend. If you’re traveling cheaply, showers are a privilege. If you’re living in a developing country, running water is a privilege. I always carry some sort of wipes with me, even if I only use them on the plane ride over – trust me, the people sitting next to you (and I’m assuming you’re in that middle seat because it was the cheapest and hey you can last 12 hours in cramped area with no access to the arm rests) will greatly appreciate it. They become your shower, your face wash, your toilet paper, your hand soap, your ahh that’s better. So bring them and bring them in bulk.

Preventatively take the Pepto. I love street food: in DC, in NYC, in other countries, and most of all in places where I should absolutely not be eating it. Our western bodies can’t handle the way it’s prepared, but it smells sooo good, it’s so cheap and whatever you’ll deal with the consequences later. Well, having dealt with a parasite (courtesy of Chaing Mai, Thailand), I now preventative take pepto before eating street food abroad– which I will not give up. It’s authentic, it’s part of the experience and, most importantly, it’s the only thing you can really afford.

Identification. Never, and I mean never, give up your passport or yellow fever card. This one may seem obvious, but I had a little incident in the DRC about someone taking my yellow fever card. You want to get back into a developed country, do not let that yellow saving grace out of your sight…EVER. And always carry some ID – I had a random road stop in Rwanda and I had no ID on me, some blank stares and battered Kinyarwanda later he let me go on my way, but I think things would have been easier with my license on me.

Bring earplugs, Imodium and an eye mask. Ear plugs: There will be a baby on your flight and they will most certainly not sleep through the night (that rhymed). Staying in that $2/night hostel really saves, but don’t forget about the 15 other people you will be spending the night with. The Imodium: didn’t you just eat that street food? The eye mask: the sun rises early, but I most certainly do not. Mine says “Sleeping Beauty” on it, and yes I do wear it on public transportation, get over it, move on, I have.

Gender Specific:


You’re going to go out at night; I’m not just saying that because I’m 24 – going out in the country is part of the experience. This doesn’t mean you have to bring your stilettos and satc dress, but bring a going out top – they are so small you can squeeze them in and use them as layering tanks (depending on the level of sparkle). It’s also ok to bring makeup. I know from most of my travel pictures, you’re wondering – did you wear makeup? And obviously, as you can see, the answer is no. But, going out is part of the experience, and there’s nothing wrong with looking nice when you do that.

Getting ready to go out in Australia

needless to say, I brought a lot of going out tops


Bring pants. I know, Africa is hot as eff, but for some reason in a lot of countries they wear pants. I do not understand this but accept it. Only children wear shorts and let’s be real, you’re going to stick out enough, so just throw on the pants, especially in culturally sensitive countries. But really Africa – the pants? the heat?

Hope those were helpful or, at the very least, entertaining. Happy non-traveling Tuesday!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

TravelZoo - You're a Real Jerk

I don’t need this! Yeah, I signed up for you, which makes Wednesdays very difficult. I get a weekly email about fabulous travel deals, but I know it’s coming. Wednesday about mid-day, hold strong Nora. But this? I got this one on a Tuesday:

I was just sitting there minding my own business/other people’s business since I work in PR, and I get a what should have been innocent email. I click over to my Gmail and NEWSFLASH! Panic, read quickly, read quickly. All I see if 50% off, Mexico, travel deal, click here, next thing I know I’m planning dates and scanning my friends to see who is the best one to invite. Next I start calculating if I have enough to just book it on my credit card and find someone later.

Finally, when I rip myself ruthlessly out of the haze, I completely shut down Mozilla, close my eyes, breathe and go back to work.

Also, I must have clicked that I live in DC, because the special always leaves from there. they just know. I’m sure there are some settings I can change, but going on the site, finding my settings, changing them…I’m just not that kinda girl.

And I can’t not get the emails. I just can’t. Because what if one day it’s a free trip? Or what if they run a special to Kigali? Or what if one day the email reads: Nora Leary we are sending you somewhere great, just because you’re you. I simply can’t take that chance.

Anyway, it’s a great deal – sign up here: TravelZoo. But you are warned.

Telling the Family You're Moving Abroad

When I moved to Rwanda, so many people asked: “what did your family say?” I think a lot of people struggle with this, since let’s face it: your family gets a bit concerned when you make the brash decision to up and leave. The only advice I can give is to make the decision for yourself and let your family/friends come around to that decision. I told ORI yes and booked my flight before telling many people so that I would be able to honestly make the decision for me, not for anyone else. Of course, getting advice is great, but from unbiased sources, not people who don’t understand the politics of the country you’re going to and the reason behind your decision.

Telling my family was…interesting to say the least.

So you have a reference of who I am talking about

My older brother was all for it, but he had been at school for 26 consecutive years, now working as a lawyer at one of those big scary law firms - I’m surprised he didn’t hide in my luggage. My sister couldn’t have been more irrational, emitting a high pitched WHAT?! And insisting that it wasn’t happening. My dad and I didn’t really talk until word of my move had spread through my family, then sighed and asked me why I was doing this. But really, he is the pot calling me, the kettle, black because 2 days after I left for Kigali, he went to Antarctica – uhh scary, deserted, cold, if that’s not the scene of a Michael Crichton novel, I don’t know what is. Really, you don’t know there’s not a Jurassic Park there!

My mom and little brother, however, were a bit more ridiculous, so I’m highlighting those convos below:

My mom – the eventual sympathetic one. At first horrified at the idea of her little daughter moving to Africa, my mom soon came around to my move. She came around, and then she really came around. One conversation with my mom took place while she looked at the website of my organization, reading the individual stories of the students:

Mom: Wow Nora, these students have come through a lot; it’s really great you’re going.

Nora: Yeah, they really have; they’re incredible.

Mom: You know, I would love to do something like you’re doing

Nora: Well I mean you still technically could. Why did I just say that?

Mom: What if I went with you?

Nora: What?

Mom: I could take you there and do some work.

Nora: Mom, you want to take me and drop me off at my new job? Now I had no friends in Kigali at this time, so having my mom drop me off like taking me to summer camp would not really help that situation. Not to mention it’s a very long, uncomfortable and expensive flight.

Mom: What? I could take you over there and make sure you get settled.

Now she didn’t actually take me, and even though I requested visitors, no one came to see me in Kigali, so was I even there? Well, none of you will know for sure, now will you.

My little brother – the lying one. So I love my little brother, but he tends to speak as if he knows the world (he’s 17 though, so didn’t we all think that?) When I told him, he already knew from my parent’s grumblings about it, so this is how that went:

Nora: Hey bud, did you hear about my new move?

Conor: Yeah, mom has been so upset and dad is mad.

Nora: Well it’s really safe and they don’t understand that.

Conor: Do you know there’s a war going on there?

Nora: No, there’s not. That was in 1994, it’s long over.

Conor: No, Nora – there’s a war; you’ll be living in a war zone.

Nora: Conor, no there is not. Check the state department site, check the news, the war is next door in the DRC, not Rwanda.

Conor: War. zone.

Nora: (Pause) Can you put mom on the phone.

I also pretty much ruined Thanksgiving because that’s when my extended family found out (I have a very large Irish Catholic family ps), and you know what else, that’s not the first time I’ve ruined Thanksgiving – one year I brought the stomach flu home from school and everyone got it. Don’t make me do that again.