This month’s “Find Your Adventure” series features Jennifer (aka Dr. J) who is the voice and photographer behind the Sidewalk Safari travel blog. She is a forty-something American expat and part-time travel blogger living in Dublin, Ireland with a busy full time ‘day job’ as a project manager at Google. Jennifer’s been married to her husband, Scott, for over 20 years and sharing their travels on Sidewalk Safari since 2008. Jennifer’s goal is:
to inspire people who have a demanding job to realize that it is possible to achieve work-life balance and travel extensively, making use of every business trip and vacation day to explore the world.
Read on to hear why the Age of Exploration inspires Jennifer’s adventures, how she overcomes her fear of boats and her tips for other adventurers.
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What does adventure mean to you?
Every place is worth visiting at least once and adventure to me is all about exploring new places. I get excited and feel my heart beat a little faster when I head to the airport and embark on a trip to a destination that I haven’t visited before. The destination could be somewhere in Ireland (where I live with my husband), a city break in Europe, or a far-flung place like Tasmania, Uganda, or Japan.
I’m a part-time travel blogger and a professional project manager by day. Project management is all about calculating and managing risk. Adventure, to me, is setting aside that logical part of my brain and not planning for every contingency. It’s more fun to leave some things to chance.
Tell us about your first adventure! Where did you go and what did you do?
Travel was not a big part of my life growing up in Buffalo, New York. I went to university in Rochester, which is about an hour from Buffalo. When I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided to move across the country for graduate school in the San Francisco Bay Area (3000 miles away from home!). My boyfriend at the time, now my husband, and I packed all our belongings into the back of a U-Haul truck and drove across the United States to start our new life together in Northern California.
What an adventure driving off into the unknown! We were short on time and crossed the continent in just four days. Even just seeing tumbleweed float across the road in the Midwestern states delighted me with the adventure of it all.
Is there any adventure that’s intimidating or off limits to you?
We all have our fears whether it’s heights, enclosed spaces, or social anxiety. There are some situations we will be more comfortable in than others. For me, I don’t like boats. This is mainly due to a fear of rough waters and people getting seasick around me. The thought of that just freaks me out. For this reason, even just getting on a boat for a short distance is a big deal.
In a few cases, the promise of adventure has simply been too great and I’ve faced my fear and gotten on a boat. For instance, I was invited by a group of colleagues on a sailing trip in the Whitsundays along the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. This once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the most amazing natural wonders of the world helped me overcome my fear. Another time, I took a cruise from Helsinki, Finland to St. Petersburg, Russia. This allowed me to take advantage of a loophole in the Russia visa law that allows visitors that arrive by ferry to spend 72 hours visa free in St. Petersburg! How could I possibly pass this opportunity up?
What has connecting with your sense of adventure taught you?
Most unknown places are not as scary as they seem. Also, traveling is a great opportunity to better understand people and cultures from around the world.
While on a private safari in Uganda for over a week, we got to know our driver, Geoffrey, and see the world through his eyes. When you return from a trip like this, the world is simultaneously bigger (filled with new-found friends) and smaller (thanks to better shared understanding).
I’ve also learned to be open-minded to experiences that present themselves. For me, food memories linger the longest, so I like to sample local delicacies. On a food tour in Palermo, Sicily, my sense of adventure really shone through when I ate a spleen sandwich. At a churrascaria in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, I ordered a chicken heart served on a sword. Those experiences are so unique to time and place that you just can’t pass them up.
What’s on your must-have gear list?
A camera with a big zoom lens is my one absolute essential, especially on more adventurous trips that involve wildlife and birdwatching. My Canon SX60 HS has a 65x zoom and can shoot raw in aperture and shutter speed priority modes. I favor travel trousers from Craghoppers or Kuhl with lots of pockets. I also always come prepared with a first aid kit and medicines for headaches, upset stomach, seasickness, and more.
Do you have a favorite kind of adventure?
I love simple city breaks. Picking up for a weekend and jetting off to a city we’ve never been before is my ideal adventure. For me, adventure is in discovery: interesting street art, local food, amazing craft beer, and music. I remember chancing upon a festival in Vilnius, Lithuania where a band was playing a mash-up of classical music and heavy metal. I just couldn’t help but unleash my inner headbanger and join in!
What’s your dream adventure and why?
My dream adventure was to set foot on the shores of the Strait of Magellan and we achieved that goal as part of a six week sabbatical in South America last year. I’ve always been fascinated by the Age of Exploration. It’s amazing for me to think of Magellan, the ultimate adventurer, setting out from the shores of Europe not knowing if he would simply fall off the flat earth. The Strait of Magellan symbolizes Magellan taking a leap of faith to travel into the unknown to prove the world was round. I was super-excited to walk along the Strait of Magellan in Punta Arenas, a city in Chile that is as far south of the equator as Dublin (my home) is north and reflect on how those early explorers have evolved into modern-day adventurers.
What is one piece of advice you would share with a fellow adventurer?
It doesn’t matter if someone else thinks what you’re doing is an adventure, it only matters if you do.
If you’re uncomfortable traveling to remote places, camping, or going on multi-day hikes, don’t do it in the name of adventure if it will only make you miserable. For example, camping is not our thing so we opted to do some day hikes in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile rather than hiking the W. Follow your heart, take yourself out of your comfort zone so that your heart beats a little faster, but stay happy while you’re doing it.