Urbantravelista | Do you value experiences or things?

Standard

When I was in high school, I had two opportunities to travel abroad. The first opportunity was a trip to Paris with my French class during my freshman year. And, the other opportunity was a bus trip to Canada with my band during my junior year. Both trips would’ve been great opportunities for a black teen whose family didn’t even own a passport. During that time, my travels never extended anywhere beyond visiting relatives in Michigan or my birthplace in Arkansas. My parents supported my decision to go. So why didn’t I go? Well, both trips took place around Christmas break. And like most teenagers, I looked forward to getting Christmas gifts. But my family was far from the Huxtables.  I mean, my parents were (and still are) very awesome and loving.  But like most parents, they couldn’t accommodate both my desire to travel AND provide me with the gifts I wanted for Christmas. So they gave me a choice: I could take the trip in lieu of Christmas gifts or have a decked out Christmas and skip the trip. Being the teenager that I was, I took the latter. I have my whole life to go to Paris, right? I have my eternity to go to Canada, it’s not the far away?

Well, that was almost 30 years ago. And guess what? I still haven’t been to Paris or Canada.  I mean, I’ve been to some pretty dope places, but this reflection reminds me of how even as adults, we often value “things” over experiences.  I don’t even remember what I received for Christmas those years I declined the trips. I can’t tell you what clothes I received or how long I had them. Those material things are all gone. They didn’t last.

I did start to travel about 5 years ago. And I’ve come to learn that my travels and experiences hold so much more value. I can’t tell you what I got for Christmas in 2012. But I can tell you about the adrenaline rush I got when I went zip lining in the jungles of the Dominican. I can’t recall my summer wardrobe from 2013, but I can recall the magnificence of stepping in the Caribbean sea for the first time in Aruba, as if it happened 5 minutes ago. I don’t even know if I still have the pair of gloves I purchased last fall or what they even look like. But I do remember the freedom and liberation of taking my first solo trip to Cancun and trekking the Mayan ruins last October.

Looking back, I regret not choosing the travel opportunities extended to me when I was in high school. Those experiences would’ve lasted a lifetime. I have finally reached a place in my life where experience trumps everything.  I would gladly take an opportunity to visit Spain over a designer handbag or uncomfortable pair of Louboutin heels any day. And I think it all started with that first passport stamp back in 2012. Since that time, I’ve lost a lot. I’ve had to downsize and even rebuild. But through it all, I’ve come to know that the world can strip you everything. But your experiences…your experiences will last a lifetime. They will be with you when you’re old and gray on your death bed.

So the take away it this: Possessions aren’t loyal. They eventually break, tear, or leave. Most of the overpriced junk we buy doesn’t retain value. But experiences…they will ride with you until the very end.  Experience over things…always!

@urbantravelista

 

 

Baecation inspiration: I think I might be inspired by love again

Standard

Solo trips are great. Girlfriend trips are awesome. But baecations? They can be EVERYTHING!!!  Let’s face it, whether you’re a romantic or not, there’s nothing like venturing off and exploring the world with someone you truly love.  There’s nothing like stepping out into the unknown and creating new experiences with the one person that truly “gets you”.  Whether it be your other half or just a current fling, baecations  fill a void that solo and girlfriend trips can’t touch.

So what’s your ideal “baecation” or honeymoon destination??  What’s your ideal romantic proposal destination? If you’re undecided, maybe these Instagram moments will give you inspiration.  I know they certainly inspired me. As the saying goes, “it doesn’t matter where you’re going…it’s who you have beside you”.

Introducing, love personified…

 

screenshot_2016-09-03-08-09-21-1.png

Credit: @puretropix (Bahamas)

edited_1469160897365-1.jpg

Credit: @bobeworld (Havana, Cuba)

screenshot_2016-08-31-20-20-25-1.png

Credit: @yolore (Tobago)

screenshot_2016-08-31-19-42-59-1.png

Credit: @legendaryk9 (St. Tropez, South of France)

screenshot_2016-08-31-20-19-07-1.png

Credit: @neodaviso (Paris)

screenshot_2016-08-31-20-36-06-1.png

Credit: @ibroughton (Santorini, Greece)

screenshot_2016-08-31-19-59-55-1.png

Credit: @porshadanae (Tuileries Palace, Paris)

screenshot_2016-08-31-19-55-44-1.png

Credit: @_alonacharmaine (Walt Disney’s Magic Kingdom)

screenshot_2016-08-31-20-06-25-1.png

Credit: @t_bellz (Tobago)

screenshot_2016-08-31-19-48-30-1.png

Credit: @thefrshprinceogblair (National Harbor, DC)

screenshot_2016-08-31-20-35-06-1.png

Credit: @brandonbufford (Puerto Vallarta)

photostudio_1472693014392.jpg

Credit: @jusbreezep Port Maria (Jamaica)

fb_img_1472690741105.jpg

Credit: @daddy_mottley (Paris)

Urbantravelista | Get out of your comfort zone

Standard

I guess it’s safe to say that 2016 has definitely been my year of summer “festivaling”.  A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to add another summer festival to my resume: The Chicago Hot Dog Fest.  Located in historic Lincoln Park, the event took place over three days and featured some of Chicago’s top hot dog vendors, live entertainment, face painting, and games. Proceeds benefit the Chicago History Museum and this year marked the fourth year of the festival’s existence.

But here’s an interesting plot twist. I hadn’t eaten a hot dog in almost 30 years. As a native Chicagoan, that’s considered pure blasphemy.  Hot dogs are a staple in my city.  But, once my eighth grade teacher Mr. Patrick (may he rest in peace) decided to share how hot dogs were processed, I lost my desire to ever eat one again. But fast forward 30 years later, attending the fest motivated me to give into peer pressure. I mean, how can I blog about this event and not even try the main product? So, I stepped outside of my comfort zone and tried a hot dog for the first time in 30 years.

screenshot_2016-08-22-15-18-33-1.png

After posting the photo and caption above on my Facebook page, it didn’t take long for the food Nazis to express their disgust and disappointment.  And I totally get it.  I can understand the naysayers.  In a failed attempt to go completely vegan, I gave up pork and red meat a few years ago. But when I travel abroad or have a new restaurant experience, I try to remove those limits.  We tend to play it safe in life, especially when we travel. We will venture thousands of miles, across several time zones and even cross the international date line, just to eat the same routine foods we eat every day when we’re at home.  Life is short and I don’t believe in wasting experiences anymore.

So the take away is this: whether you’re at home or abroad, it doesn’t hurt to step outside of your comfort zone. It won’t kill you to try something new or unfamiliar. I’m living proof. I ate a hot dog for the first time in 30 years…and LIVED to write about it. And BTW, that hot dog was AMAZING…but it will probably be another 30 years before I experience another one.

UNPLUG: My new travel vow

Standard

This past weekend, I spent my birthday (yep, I turned 25 “again:) in Dallas with a really good friend of mine.  Now my friend, is rarely ever on Facebook.  But me?? I LIVE on it.  I admit, it’s an addiction.  That’s right…my name is Stephanie and I’m a Facebook addict.  When I first joined the community back in 2009, I immediately became hooked.  Being the typical Cancer moonchild that loves to connect with her past, the idea of connecting with old classmates that I grew up with and distant family members I hadn’t seen in ages really appealed to me.  I love nostalgia.  And I love reuniting with my past.  And then, there is the expression component.  As an introvert, I’m pretty shy and reserved in social settings.  Being social in the real world makes me uncomfortable and drains me. But in the virtual world, I feel completely free and uninhibited.  When I joined back then, I was also going into my third year of marriage and things weren’t going so well.  My marriage was quickly heading south and Facebook filled a void for me.  Over time, it gave me an outlet to express my thoughts and became my muse.  It became my primary source of entertainment.  I’ve always taken great pleasure in uplifting others, even when I’m feeling down myself. I really believe it’s my gift to this world.  I share inspiration, politically incorrect humor, thought provoking discussion topics, and even participate in some social Facebook groups.  And over the years, it seems like I’ve developed quite a following .  So back to my weekend…while partaking in the awesome bar hopping birthday festivities my friend arranged for me, she jokingly mentioned that I live on my phone.  And I couldn’t deny it.  She was absolutely right. I live on Facebook. I live on my phone…in daily life and when I travel.

But I’m not the only offender. When I reflect back on past travels, I’ve made the same observations of other fellow travelers. The “matrix” struggle is real. What is it about social media and technology that makes it so hard to give up when we’re supposed to be living and creating experiences? Why can’t we unplug and disconnect?

I suppose the daily grind of the rat race is partly to blame. As human beings, we’re creatures of habit.  It’s hard to stop running once the hamster wheel has stopped spinning.  It’s difficult relax and just be. I have a problem and whether they know it or not, so do many other travelers.  So, I’ve made the following vow to myself for my next trip:  I WILL NOT LIVE ON MY PHONE.  With the exception of occasionally check-ins (for safety reasons, especially when traveling solo), I will NOT Facebook.  If I feel the urge to post that epic selfie I just took in front of Christ The Redeemer, I will post it and not comment until I return.  I will not miss out on connecting with myself or the company of others.  I will not miss out on just “being”.  I will not miss out on experiencing once in a lifetime moments.  Rare moments are priceless.  And I will no longer spend them of Facebook.

Can you unplug?

fb_img_1467308755988.jpg

Unplugged in Aruba, circa 2013…

 @urbantravelista

#TouristInMyTown: Taste of Randolph

Standard

This weekend, I had the opportunity to cross the Taste of Randolph off my summer festival bucket list. Yep…ANOTHER EVENT I have yet to attend all of my many years as a Chicagoan SMH. Nestled along the 900 west block of Randolph between Racine and Peoria, The Taste of Randolph is like the appetizer to Chicago’s summer main course, the Taste of Chicago. Historically, it runs the third week of June and started Friday, June 17th at 5pm Sunday and ended June 19th at 10pm. The Taste of Randolph is hosted by the West Loop Community Organization, an a non-profit 501(c)3 agency that continuously works to ensure positive progress for the neighborhood, while offering social events and beneficial developments to improve the quality of life in the West Loop.

The entry fee is a reasonable $10 donation (all proceeds benefit the West Loop Community Organization) and grants attendees access to top local cuisine, art vendors, and live music.  This year, the festival partnered with Chicago based independent promoters, Silver Wrapper to bring three eclectic stages featuring raw talent including Chicago’s brightest young musical acts extending from indie rock to dance music. If you’re a foodie, music lover, or artisan, this event is for you. There’s something for everyone to enjoy. As for me, I heavily enjoyed the red sangria, chicken kabobs, and house music!

And if you missed it this year, there’s always next year. Until then, you still have the Taste of Chicago to look forward to which runs from July 6th through July 10th at Grant Park (admission FREE). Stayed tuned for my next review and come “summer” me with as I become a “Tourist In My Town”.

@urbantravelista

Five things I love/hate about solo travel

Standard

While solo travel may not be for everyone, I do think it’s something everyone should experience (male or female) at least once in their lifetime. You’re probably asking yourself why on earth would a woman “want” to travel halfway around the world alone when dining out and requesting a table for one is already awkward? That was the reaction I received from a few friends when they learned of my first solo trip to Cancun. But if you take my personality into account, it would be no surprise that solo travel would appeal to me. I’m introverted, reserved, socially awkward, and get my energy from solitude. Yeah, I’m the “why you so quiet” girl. But I’m a beast on Facebook (did I mention I was socially awkward in real life?). Anyway, I’ve always been a loner, so doing things alone always seemed to come easy to me. I was also an only child for ten years and grew up as a “latch key kid”. Because of these experiences and personality traits, I guess one could say that I’ve mastered the art of enjoying my own company.  While my experiences with solo travel have been nothing short of amazing, there are pros and cons just like anything else.

What I LOVE

  • Flexibility: What I love most about traveling solo, and I think most others would agree is the freedom to move around and not stick to a rigid itinerary.  Girlfriend/group trips are great, but the freedom of doing things on your own time can be rather enticing. If I want to sleep until noon, I sleep in.  If I want to go chill at the beach, I chill at the beach.  If I’m sleepy and want to turn in early, I go back to my room and go to sleep. If I want to skip an excursion, I can do just that. There is no obligation to participate in anything I do feel up to. I can do things at my own will without being looked at as antisocial or the group “Debbie Downer”.
  • Empowerment: Traveling solo to an unfamiliar territory boosts your confidence like no other. Some people talk about what they’re going to do, the places they plan to visit someday, but seldom ever do. You’re the exception. You had a desire, created a plan, and did it all by yourself.  You didn’t wait for anyone. You turned someday into TODAY. You had fears and you we’re unsure of yourself, but you did it anyway. That’s EMPOWERMENT. And this is the kind of empowerment that builds dreams and turns them into reality. There is no greater empowerment than creating the life you want.
  • Respect: Believe it or not, there’s a lot of respect that comes with traveling solo. The most common line you will receive is, “wow, you’re brave”. People have this perception that you’re fearless, courageous, and a go getter because….well because you are. As I mentioned above, you’re doing what most people “talk” about doing. Embrace it, own it, and be unapologetic for it.
  • Liberation: There really isn’t much I can say about this because it’s something you truly have to experience for yourself. The freedom and liberation that comes with traveling solo feels like an intense dopamine release. It’s almost orgasmic…there’s really nothing like it. Well there are a few substitutes, but I think most of them are illegal LOL. When I traveled solo for the first time last year, I felt like a bird that had just been released from its cage. There is something liberating about being a place where no one knows you and the few days lying ahead of you to do as you please. It’s just YOU living by YOUR own rules.
  • Self-reliance: It should be no surprise that solo travel increases your self-reliance. Being in unfamiliar territory forces you to rely on your senses and become aware of your surroundings.

What I HATE

  • Fear Mongering: While our concerned family and friends mean well (I know they really do), the constant affirmations of what can go wrong can be overwhelming. It takes a lot of courage to travel solo. Once you make the decision to do so, you don’t want anyone raining on your parade. We can’t fault them for overreacting sometimes, especially if they are limited in their own travel experiences. And let’s face it, our media seldom shares the positive realities of our world. It never shares what goes right. We’re constantly inundated with negative news stories and the horrors of the world  instead of its alluring beauty. And while I’m sure our loved ones’ concerns come from a sincere place of love, they often fail to realize is that we really have a greater chance of being robbed, raped, or murdered right in our own backyard. The best analogy I can think of is our soldiers who go overseas to fight, only to return home and be murdered right here on U.S. soil. To be frank, more things go wrong in my life when I’m home than when I’m away. That’s part of the reason why I enjoy getting away LOL!
  • Assumptions: When you do the epic things that others don’t have the courage to do, people will assume the worst about your life. They assume you’re lonely, have no friends, and/or no significant other or someone special in your life. When the reality is, you just like to travel. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn’t mean you’re bound to die alone with 20 cats during your golden years. And even if you did, at least you saw the world and did what you wanted to do and instead of “wishing” you had. So let them assume while you keep collecting stamps. Checkmate bish!
  • Lack of dope pics: This one probably irks me the most. I haven’t mastered the art of the selfie stick. And even if I did, a selfie stick doesn’t hold a candle to the full length action pics you see posted on sites like Travel Noire and Soul Society. I want an action pic of me doing a yoga pose in front of the Taj Mahal too . You can’t exactly achieve that level of dopeness with the selfie stick you bought at Walmart. Sure, you can ask a stranger or tour operator to take your picture and the will usually offer before you have a chance to ask. But I need like 30 takes to get a good picture and they just don’t have that kind of time. So until I move up in the world and staff my own professional photographer, selfies it is!!

 

  • No Shared experiences: As I mentioned before, freedom, flexibility, and liberation are just a few of the benefits solo travel has to offer. However, I do occasionally find myself missing those shared intimate moments with someone. Whether it be a good laugh, a random intimate kiss, or just conversation with someone who really knows you, shared experiences have their place and are necessary in this thing we call life too. Even when I’m going through my tough “I don’t need anyone” moments, I realize that we do need these experiences sometimes.
fb_img_1462599792413-1.jpg

This solo trip is everything, but I kinda want a bae too *sad face*

  • Addiction: Yes, solo travel can be addictive. While it may push you further outside of your comfort zone, it can also push you further into rejecting opportunities to travel with other people. People approach me all the time about traveling with them and at times, I want to decline. And like I mentioned before, although solo travel affords many benefits, I believe we still need those shared and bonding experiences as human beings.

So there you have it. This sums up my personal list of pros and cons to solo travel. Alone is a state of being. Lonely is a feeling (emotion). People often use these constructs interchangeably. They are not the same. I’ve been lonely by myself and in room filled with loved ones. You come into this world alone and you will die alone. Sure, you may be surrounded by people for both events, but the pre-journey to get here and post-journey after departure is all on your own. So get over yourself, get out of your way, and get over your fears. Go so some world, WITH or WITHOUT someone.

#urbantravelista

Travel: When you meet others, you meet yourself

Standard

I’m going to be transparent. I’m just gonna come out and say it. I HATE this routine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful with the blessings life has afforded me. For example, I have a stable career and my health is decent. I have an awesome family that loves me unconditionally and I look ten years younger than my stated age (okay, maybe about five). And professionally, I’ve accomplished most of things I set out to do. But a significant part of me hates the redundancy of the American rat race: getting up at the crack of dawn, fighting my way through morning rush hour traffic, doing work that does not inspire me or feed my soul, fighting my way through evening rush hour traffic again, only to return home and rinse/repeat and do it all over again. It’s safe and secure, but it’s also slow death. You see, like many before me, I thought the recipe for lifelong happiness was this: 1.) Go to college, 2.) Start a career that pays well, 3.) Get married, 4.) Buy a house, 5.) Buy a luxury car, 6.) Have kids, 7.) Get a dog, 8.) Add water and stir, 9.) Live happily ever after…you know, like the Cosby Show. That’s the blueprint that was ingrained in me since debuting from my mother’s womb in 1985 (yes, so what…I’m lying). The blueprint always sounded promising. But the blueprint never addressed that someday your career might eventually leave you stagnant and unfulfilled. The blueprint never mentioned that the marriage might fail and the children may never come. It never mentioned that in spite of following your life plan to the letter, you might be left confused, without passion, and have to find your purpose and reinvent yourself all over again. The blueprint never provided a disclaimer that sometimes things just change.  I’m sure you’re thinking, what the hell does this have to do with travel? Well, just keep reading….

A few years ago, like most black first timers, I earned my first passport stamp during my travels to the Dominican. I was going through a major life transition at the time and traveling abroad was something I finally decided to make priority for myself, especially after putting it off for so many years. Looking back, I guess one could say this was the moment my travel bug was born. While my first experience traveling abroad offered many high moments, the most memorable aspect of my trip, will always be the excursion I had with Mike Punta Cana Adventures. While planning, I came across his reality tour company on TripAdvisor. The reviews were stellar and his tour allowed you to immerse yourself into Dominican life as a local. Basically you get to be Dominican for a day. The first leg of our tour was a stop at a Dominican elementary school. At the time of booking, tourists were requested bring school supplies (strictly optional). The smiles on those kids faces when they received their protractors, compasses, notebooks, and markers will forever be etched in my memories. They were so grateful…so grateful to have access to the basic conveniences we take for granted here in America. I wanted to pack each and every one of them in my luggage and bring them home. They were too adorable!!! Our next stop was cigar shop where we learned how to roll cigars and played dominoes with the locals. Sadly, I lost. Dominoes have never been my thing, but had we played spades, it would’ve been on. As promised, the tour was very interactive and gave us a raw and unfiltered look at Dominican culture. On the way back to our respective resorts, Mike shared his testimony of how this amazing tour company came to be. Mike was a middle aged guy from Canada and lived a pretty comfortable and stable life. His marriage failed and he never had any children. In spite of having a stable career that compensated him very well, he felt unfulfilled. His life had become redundant and routine. He felt like a hamster on wheel, like he merely existed. Hmmm, But instead of accepting the cards he had been dealt, Mike did what so many of us “walking dead” don’t: He stepped outside of his comfort zone and embraced the unknown. Against the advice of his well-meaning loved ones, he cashed out his savings and quit his job. After running out of money and experiencing several “this was the dumbest decision ever” moments, fate and lead him to the Dominican. Over time, Mike dedicated himself to learning as much about Dominican culture as he possibly could and established strong relationships with many of the locals. Shortly later, Mike’s Punta Cana Adventures was born. Today, Mike’s tour company consistently ranks as the number one excursion in Punta Cana and has done so for years. And what I admire most about him was that it was never about the money. He uses his tour company as a vehicle to give back to the locals, particularly the children. This is what gives him purpose and feeds his soul. He’s living his dream. Upon departure, he stated that his motto was although he was unable to help the entire world, he could help a tiny piece of it. And in addition to birthing his successful tour company, he eventually met his second wife and at the time of my tour, they were expecting their first child.

So back to my original point: You see, travel can be much more than just rest, relaxation, bottomless margaritas, and flossing for Facebook and Instagram. If you’re open to the experience, it can be an opportunity to learn and grow. In addition to meeting other people, travel can allow you the opportunity to meet “yourself” through your interactions with other people. I felt like I met myself through Mike on that tour. Here I was meeting the same crossroads that he overcame. He walked it. He lived it. He overcame it. That encounter was more valuable than any of the Dominican rum, cigars, and other souvenirs I brought home. However, here I am a few years later still kind of clinging to safety. Inspiration is useless if it’s never put into action. How long will many of us continue to not act on inspiration and not move beyond an unfulfilled life? Now I’m not saying one needs to quit their job and move to another country with no plan in sight in order to seek fulfillment. But I believe we were put on this earth to live our best life and not simply exist in it. I also believe there are no coincidences. We draw the teachers and guides in our lives at the time we need them. Mike was one of my teachers and I will always be grateful for that experience.

#urbantravelista