Once in a Lifetime

I’ve been home from Senegal for about a month now, and I still haven’t written anything about that trip. Instead, I’ve been helping my mother move, reading novels, running daily, working part-time at the Museum of Science in Boston, and generally trying to be a good and happy person.

My 3-week trip to Senegal feels like it was years ago — but isn’t that just the way of it as we grow older? Time speeds up and events slip into the distant past at a horrifying rate?

Anyway, it’s about time I wrote something about Senegal. Let’s start with:

It was fantastic! I mean, look at this photo of me petting a lion:


Doesn’t that look fantastic?!

When I write about travel, I often write one of two kinds of posts. I either tell stories about the places I go, and how I feel while I’m there or, I write about something I’ve done with an eye to how my readers can recreate the experience. I recommend specific restaurants, tour companies, museums, and hostels, or even styles of travel, such as WWOOFing.

Obviously, if you follow my recommendations and eat at a particular restaurant or visit a particular museum, you won’t have the exact same experience I did. Our experiences are informed by a huge number of factors — who we’re with, what we did the day before, the tastes and preferences we’ve developed over the course of our lives, even the weather. I still like to think my reviews and recommendations help people, but I know we can all go to the same place, and have wildly different reactions to it.

This got me thinking about how I had an amazing time in Senegal, but I’m not sure I loved the country so much as I loved this trip and this very specific moment in time. I was visiting my friend Kristen who has been living in Senegal and working for the Peace Corps for the last year and a half, and the trip would have been completely different without her.

Kristen and I sampling cashew apple liqueurs in Warang
Kristen and me sampling cashew apple liqueurs in Warang, Senegal

For starters, I did very little planning, instead allowing Kristen to show me around her home. My job was to have a good attitude and go with the flow and, for the most part, I did. I think Kristen and I made pretty good travel partners — although, we agreed our next trip together should be in Latin America where I speak the language and can lead her around. Fair is fair.

Thanks to Kristen, I met Peace Corps volunteers, American expats, and the Senegalese residents of the rural village where she lives and works. I learned a few Wolof greetings, I rode in the shared cars that act as public transit between cities and towns, and I ate street food for breakfast without getting sick. I couldn’t have done any of these things without Kristen by my side and I’m so thankful to her for taking me on a truly unique and unusual trip.

Village Life
Village Life

Although I can and will share the specifics of where we went and what we did, I don’t think any of my readers could recreate this trip. It was a “once in a lifetime” experience.

Of course, as soon as that phrase came to mind it got me thinking some more and, here’s where I’m going to get a bit preachy (#sorrynotsorry) but, isn’t every trip “once in a lifetime?” In fact, isn’t most everything we do “once in a lifetime?” Our circumstances are constantly changing so even school or work, which at times may feel monotonous, are actually pretty varied. Our reactions to them are different based on who we’re with and how well we slept the night before and what we’re doing with our free time. And I know I’m not really saying anything revolutionary here, but I thought it might be nice to remind us all to appreciate the unique and unusual experiences we’re having every day.

As always, go new places, try new things, and let me know in the comments about your “once in a lifetime” experiences. Or, ask me questions about Senegal, that’s cool too!

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


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