The Life of Travel Be’s…

logoTravel is like a sensuous dance choreographed to the different rhythms of life.  In order to make the most of your trip, keep in mind the 10 Travel Be’s:

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Riding an elephant has been on my bucket list for years! The ultimate experience is to interact with them in either Africa or India while they are in their element.

Be Inspired

Whether it be a beautiful beach photo on social media (i.e. Pinterest), a book or movie (i.e. Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love), an inspirational travel quote, or a fabulous travel blog (*waves* “hi, y’all!”)…be inspired by things around you.  It can be just the boost you need to encourage you to start planning your dream getaway.

Be Independent

Most people feel more comfortable traveling with at least 1 other person while others are a bit more adventurous and prefer to travel solo.  Regardless of if you are with a group or on your own, be independent!  This is your trip.  Be selfish and make sure you see the places or do the things on your travel bucket list for that place.  This doesn’t mean you stand up at breakfast and say “Alright, y’all…you are boring and I’m gonna have to jet and do my own thing because I will slit my wrists if I have to visit 1 more museum.”..then make a dramatic exit in a whirl of scarves and your phone cued up to “Flawless” by Beyoncé.  I mean, you can do it but maybe save those dramatics for after dinner when there is mood lighting, k?  Work out an itinerary with your travel partner(s) and figure out what the “must see/do” places & experiences are.  Then figure out if you all want to do the same things.  It’s okay if you don’t.  Just carve out time where you part ways and have your own independent adventure to live the greatest experience you can dream of.  Trust me, you don’t want to be on a plane flying home while giving your boo the side-eye because you gave up visiting the Eiffel Tower so he could walk around WWII battlegrounds.

Don't let this be you when your friend suggests a day of watching ESPN at the hotel when you're in Rome.

Don’t let this be you when your friend suggests a day of watching ESPN at the hotel when you’re in Vegas.

Be Adventurous

Explore the world…that’s what it’s there for!  Being an explorer allows you to be bolder than you are at home.  Immerse yourself in the culture, go whitewater rafting, go hot air ballooning over an African desert…whatever it is, make sure you take your sense of adventure and push yourself (at least a little bit) outside of your boundaries.  Think of at least 1 day of your trip as an “adventure” and plan things that will allow you to have a “wow” experience.

Sunrise hot air balloon ride over the desert of Dubai, UAE.

My view from the sunrise hot air balloon ride over the desert of Dubai, UAE.

Be Innovative

I love traditional tours but always mix in something unique for each trip.  While it’s a great idea to start each adventure by taking a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour to orient yourself with the city, make sure you book something fun & exciting too.  It could be a spa getaway, an overnight camping trip in the desert, riding camels in the Sahara, sunrise hot air balloon ride, visiting the Harry Potter movie set…you name it.  Museums are nice but make sure you give yourself time to do something that will allow you to truly experience the place you are visiting.  If there is something you want to do and there is no formal organized “tour”, call up the place and ask them if you can have your own unique experience.  Nine times out of 10, it will work and you will have an experience that most people will wish they had thought to do.

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Research + proper planning = a fabulous trip!

Be Prepared

(Including the “baby be’s”: be safe, be knowledgeable)  Research the place you are visiting.  My travel boo is Rick Steves.  Love him!  His books are THE BEST!  You need a game plan before you arrive (unless you are the type that just figures it out as you go…if that is you then know that we will never travel together because my nerves can’t take you).  This will help you maximize your time, avoid tourist traps and focus on enjoying your trip.  You may also want to go to the State Department’s website (www.osac.gov) and check out the country report for the place you are visiting.  It gives you great info on crime and other concerns (i.e. privacy, health, etc).

Rocking the abaya in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Rocking the abaya & hijab in Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Be Culturally Aware

I love being an American and am an unapologetic feminist.  Even with all the struggles we have here in the U.S. when it comes to race, crime, poverty, etc…it’s one of the greatest countries on Earth.  But, sometimes I don’t like some of the people that live here…case in point, the current state of affairs with black men being gunned down by police officers or vigilantes who suffer no repercussions from those illegal acts.  Black lives matter.  I am also very aware that I am afforded rights here that I wouldn’t be granted in some other places.

With that being said, be aware that each country has their own set of struggles & cultural sensitivities.  Some are stronger than others.  On a recent trip to Saudi Arabia, I made sure I wore traditional clothing [a black abaya (long cloak) and hijab (head scarf)] so that I would not run afoul of their religious laws nor make people feel uncomfortable.  While it was a huge adjustment visiting a place where women don’t have as many rights as men, I tried to at least blend in physically since being submissive was a bit of a stretch for me (smile). When visiting other countries in the Middle East that don’t require the abaya, I made sure I was covered (long skirts/pants, long-sleeved blouses, etc). The last thing you need is unwanted attention or to be hassled by the religious police.  Yes, it may be hot but you are a visitor in their country.  And who wants visitors that don’t respect the house rules?

Be Open-Minded

The beautiful thing about this world is that it’s made up of so many different kinds of people (which is both a good thing and a bad thing).  What is normal to you may seem absurd to someone else.  That’s why it’s always a good idea to keep an open mind.  For example, if you plan a trip to Amsterdam and know you have very strong views about drugs & sex then make sure you avoid the Red Light District.  Please don’t tour the Red Light District wrapped in a cloak of judginess (is that a word? Spell-check says it isn’t but I kinda feel that it is…hmmm…too lazy to verify so I’m making an executive decision that it’s a word).  Where was I?  Oh, yeah, cloak of judginess…don’t walk the RLD pointing fingers at the people entering the coffeeshops or having impromptu prayer sessions for the sex workers.  Know yourself and if you don’t think you can handle certain situations, avoid them.  While drugs & prostitution are stigmatized and mostly illegal in the U.S., they aren’t in the Netherlands.  Sex workers have unions and get benefits.  Yeah, it’s weird to those of us not raised in a culture where it’s accepted as a daily part of life but I live by the motto, “if you like it, I love it.” and keep it moving.

Be Positive

This may be the hardest one for those that aren’t naturally a “glass half full” person.  It takes work.  My trick is to take a couple of deep breaths, fuss about it on Facebook complete with a full dramatic recap of what happened and a Meme (probably Kevin Hart).  Make the “disaster” funny.  Once you can laugh, you can start to get perspective. Being angry doesn’t help you fix the situation.  Anger is a thief as it steals your good sense & happiness.  Little issues become huge issues.  Don’t be that person who has a meltdown because you ran out of gum.  And, honestly, if things have gone horribly wrong…they can only get better, right?

I actually posted this to Facebook when my flight to Hong Kong was cancelled and I was told I'd have to sleep at the small regional airport I was at in Japan. Sigh...

I actually posted this to Facebook when my flight to Hong Kong was cancelled and I was told I’d have to sleep at the small regional airport I was stranded at in Japan. Luckily, I was able to sweet talk my way into a hotel about 45 minutes away.

Be Patient

Things go wrong.  Flights are delayed or cancelled, that fabulous hotel that you booked actually looks like the Motel 6, or you can’t find anyone who speaks English.  Trust me when I say that everything will work out.  It always does.  A little patience takes you a long way and can keep your dream vacation from turning into your worst nightmare.  With so many travel apps and international calling plans, it’s easier than ever to get help.

Morning meditation with a yogi

Morning meditation with a yogi in Bali.

Be Kind

A smile goes a long way.  It’s universal and understood in any culture.  You don’t need to know the local language (but it helps if you at least learn a few key phrases like “hello”, “please” and “thank you”).  I’ve had more people open up and share wonderful experiences with me just by being genuine and offering a pleasant smile.  Plus, a smile makes you beautiful and who doesn’t want that?

I hope this list of Travel Be’s helps you to plan and enjoy your next fabulous vacation.  Are there any Travel Be’s that I missed?  Let me know!

Damn You, Delta

Why, Delta, WHY??? I sometimes feel like we have an abusive relationship. When you delay flights which cause missed connections, I tell folks that you don’t mean to and you have a lot going on…you’re just stressed out. Don’t they understand your under a lot of pressure? Then, you give me extra SkyMiles to say you’re sorry and I just can’t quit you. I am the Tina to your Ike.

Until now. Why would you rebook me on an Air Canada flight? They are in the dreaded Star Alliance!!!! They aren’t a band of do-gooders like the Rebel Alliance. Do you know who is in the Star Alliance? The DARTH VADER OF AIRLINES!!!! Freaking US Air! Y’all know how I feel about those jokers. Air Canada gets the side-eye just for being air buddies with them. You running with the wrong crowd, AC!

But, I decide to give Senator Palpatine’s airline alliance another chance because clearly I have the common sense of Jar Jar Binks. This was the only option to get me home tonight. Sigh. So, I do it. It can’t be easy though. See, the SkyTeam “bloods” don’t want the Star Alliance “crips” sharing the same terminal so I had to be escorted back thru security and badged out so I can exit the airport and take a bus to the Death Star (aka Terminal 1).

I’m spoiled. Delta did that to me. I have status. I’m Delta’s boo which means I’m priority…more specifically, Sky Priority. Do you think Air Canada thinks I’m special? Nope. I was promptly told to get to the back of the line like my name was Rosa Parks. No fast lane. I had to wait in line with all the other underprivileged travelers hoping that Sally Struthers would host a telethon helping the agents to speed this line along.

After 14 days (well, 30 minutes), I check-in only to be told that I had to check my carry-on bag and pay $25. Wait. What? Pay? What fresh hell is this? I’m Platinum on Delta! That agent looked at me like, “Where’s Delta now? Pay it or walk to your destination.” Good God. So I pay the fee and ask for a receipt because my boo is paying for this…I don’t care if you have to ask for a loan from Jabba the Hut…I best get my money back.

You’d think that would be the worst of it. You’d be wrong. I then had to go thru customs. I’m Global Entry which means I only need to go to the kiosk for fingerprinting and picture validation. However, since I had just done that an hour earlier, the kiosk was basically like, “Nope! Sorry sucka!” So I had to fill out a form. I promptly told the agent I wasn’t standing in line because it’s not my fault that the kiosk gave me the middle finger. I guess he could see I was on the edge of sanity so he told me to get in the crew line. I did…and this is my conversation with the customs officer after explaining the kiosk fiasco:

Customs: I see your hair is longer than your passport picture from 2006. Are you growing it out?
Me: Yes…but this is also hair I bought.
Customs: Are you wearing a weave? I can’t even tell!
Me: Thanks
Customs: How do you wash it? Do you use soap & water?
Me: *slow blink* Yes, yes I do. It’s hair.
Customs: Sorry, I’m just mesmerized. So, where are you from? Your accent is so exotic.
Me: *WTF??* Indiana.

Not a soul to be seen.

Not a soul to be seen.

I’m sorry, I thought I was going thru customs, not speed dating. I can’t even concentrate because I’m still mad about the $25!! Once I get thru customs and security, I have to walk the Green Mile thru the backwoods of the Toronto airport to my gate. Why is this gate so far away? How come I don’t see any other people?

Then I see…prop planes?? Seriously?? Jesus take the wheel. iCant with you.

Delta…I quit you. We don’t go together anymore. Don’t call me and tell me how special I am because I don’t believe you! Keep your SkyMiles and pretty trinkets. You have maxed out my emotional debit card & owe me $253.43 + $25 bag fee. Don’t try to pay me in those “free drink” coupons either. Cashier’s check is fine. Next time you see me, I’ll be wearing this shirt.

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Roaming Thru Rome

[This is the post that started it all…my very first trip overseas!  I sent this email to friends & family in June 2007.  It still cracks me up.]

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Hello, everybody!  I have been in Rome less than 48 hours and so far, my trip has been like a Greek tragedy.

Act 1 “Getting to Rome”

I was booked on an US Air flight (from now on, I’ll be referring to them as Beelzebub Airlines, i.e. the Devil, or just B for short because it’s easier).  Anyway, I had a B flight from Atlanta to Philly with just 1 hour for a layover before my connecting flight to Rome.  Now, I knew it would be cutting it close should there be a delay but there wasn’t anything I could do.  So, the flight from Atlanta gets delayed because there was too much “air traffic” in Philly.  How long is the delay?  One hour.  Yes, I said 1 hour.  The exact time I had between connections.  So, the B pilot (I’m just gonna call him “Cooter”) tells us that B always pads the flight duration times so we will arrive at 5:15pm.  I had a 6:05pm connecting flight.  As Cooter is flying the plane he starts talking about altitude and the sunshine and other things I don’t really care about.  I care about him increasing the speed on that jet so I could catch my flight.  A 7-year-old girl looks at her watch (apparently the watch that Cooter doesn’t own) and announces that it is 5:25pm and we haven’t even begun to descend from the sky.  I ask the flight attendant about options to hold my connecting flight by a few minutes.  Of course, they can’t promise that but did say they would have an electric cart waiting to drive me over to the next concourse.

We finally land and I get off the plane around 5:45pm.  Was there an electric cart waiting?  I think you know the answer.  My Mom calls to let me know that they’ve already boarded the flight and I need to get there now because they are about to close the door.  So, I’m running like OJ thru the airport (without the knife or a Bronco) because there was no electric cart.  I get to the gate and the less-than-friendly gate agent says, “We gave your seat away.”  I responded with “Oh, so I’m flying first class now, right?”  She said, “As of right now, you don’t even have a seat on the plane.”  I just looked at her and thought to myself “Hmm, I’m gonna be on this flight if I have to sit with the pilot” and then wondered what kind of in-flight service he received because I’m sure he’s eating better than coach.  She eventually finds a seat for me and I am able to board.

Act II “Arrival to Rome”

I arrive in Rome and guess who doesn’t have their bags?  If you guessed me, then you are correct.  I don’t have one article of clothing because I packed everything except for toiletries.  I report my luggage as lost and started with my day.  Rome is BEAUTIFUL.  The experience of being here is hard to explain.  However, I will share with you a few tidbits on the craziness that’s happened to me.

Since I don’t have any clothes, I had to go shopping.  Now, something I didn’t know about Rome is that they apparently hate fat people.  And, by fat people, that would be anybody that wears a U.S. size 6 and above.  I go to a store and pull a couple of dresses off the rack to try on.  I select a medium and a large (thinking that they might run a little small).  A saleswoman (I’m calling her “Nunya” because she was all in my business without needing to be) walks up and looks over my shoulder at the sizes I picked up and says loudly (because apparently fat people are deaf too) “Jeeww need an EXTRA EXTRA LARGE”.  I looked around thinking that maybe she was talking to someone else but she was all up in my face.  So, I was like, “Um, I don’t wear that large of a size.  This will be fine.” and go about my business of browsing the new “Crack/Smack” summer collection (because wasn’t nobody gonna fit them clothes unless they hit the pipe).  So, Nunya disappears to what I thought was to mind her business.  I was wrong.  She comes out of the back room with an XXL size dress (I guess they leave the fat clothes in a special “Baby Got Back Room” or something) and then announces to the entire store “NOOO, JEEWWW NEED DIS EXTRA EXTRA LARGE.  IT STRETCHES SO IT HELPS YO HIPS!”  Um, what?  My mind is screaming, “I know she ain’t talking to me.”  I refuse to buy a size that I spent a year of hard dieting to leave behind.  I wish I would by an XXL!  I wear small and medium.  I don’t care if America is lying to me about my size.  Lie to me, America.  I don’t want to know the truth.  Clearly, I can’t handle the truth.  So, I take the Jabba-the-Hut-sized dress and decided to try it on to prove to her that it was too big.  Game on, sister!  Well, to my surprise…that sucker barely fit.  So, um…game off.  My face was TIGHT!  I was like, “oh hecks naw.”  When did I become an XXL?   Oh my God.  I’m the light-skinned Precious!  As I’m having my meltdown, Nunya says, “See, the fab-er-ic stret-chas fo jeww.”  I just had to leave the store because my nerves were shot.

As I left the store and fumed all the way up the street, I started wishing I had some gelato to ease the pain of being called fat.  Eventually, I find another store, and pick out a couple of outfits.  But since the clothes are sized different, I wasn’t sure which size was appropriate.  The sales guy (let’s call him “Antonio”) told me that I wear a 2.  I was like “Is that a fat girl size?  Because I ain’t buying a fat girl size.”  At this point, my Mom is just looking away and laughing because other people in the store are looking at me like I’m crazy.  Whatever.  I was serious.  NO FAT GIRL CLOTHES!  My experience with Nunya had scarred me and I needed someone to talk me down and it was Antonio’s job to do it.  He turned on the Italian charm and I finally found an outfit that fit then paid an astronomical amount because everything is expensive.  If any of you are looking to do an outreach ministry, consider donating to me.  Thanks!

Act III “Fat Brownie does Rome”

I thought my bags would arrive the next day…they didn’t.  Thanks, Beelzebub Airlines!  So, I had to go thru the shopping process all over again but decided to check out a different area.  During my second sojourn into the trials and tribulations of being a big girl, I noticed something else…they don’t sell underwear.  Well, they sell it sparingly and for a small fortune…like it is illegal or something.  I asked at least 3 or 4 women where I could find underwear.  At one store (I’ll call it “Skelewear” because you had to be a skeleton to fit the clothes), nobody spoke English.  I know very limited Italian and used it up ordering a sandwich (big girls gotta eat).  So, the lady says “yesa, I speaka a leetle englese.”  I ask if she knew of anyplace that sold underwear.  Her response?  “Yes.  No.  No.  Grazie” and she walks away.  Yes, no, no, grazie?  The hell?  After walking around to a few stores, I finally found a pair of underwear.  One pair costs $25 euro (since it wasn’t Spanx and that is apparently what I need to wear some clothes around here, I just passed)!  I thought about finding Fabrizio on the corner and asking him if he could get me some Hanes off the black market for $5 euro.  Somebody has to have the hook-up around here.  I tried on more clothes, of which nothing fit.  By now, my nerves are shot, I’m joining Weight Watchers online and looking for an Italian Lane Bryant.  I end up borrowing clothes from my mother and other people on the tour.  Because I’m too fat for Rome and have no luggage.  How about that?

Act IV “My Daddy”

We went to see the Trevi Fountain and there was a guy that was dressed up kind of like the Statue of Liberty — faced painted gray with a gray robe holding a torch.  I then realized it was an actual person…not a statue.  So, I say discreetly to my father, “Dad, watch your step because you are about to back up on that guy.”  He looks around and says loudly to the entire group of 37 people “HEY!!!  THAT’S AN ACTUAL GUY.  I THOUGHT IT WAS A STATUE!  BRENDA, GET ME THE CAMERA SO I CAN TAKE A PICTURE.”  All up in the man’s face.  I was like, “What didn’t you understand about me being discreet?”

All in all, Italy really has been an amazing experience — 10,000 Miles by Air, 700 Miles by Bus, and 100 Miles by Foot (well, that may be a slight exaggeration).  Seeing the ruins up close is something I really can’t describe.

Here are my favorites:

The Roman Forum — All Roads Lead to Rome

    

The Fonatana di Trevi was created by Nicola Salvi in 1762 and is Rome’s largest and most famous fountain.  You can see the central figure is Neptune and he is flanked by two Tritons (one trying to master an unruly seahorse and the other leading a quieter beast).  This is supposed to symbolize the contrasting moods of the sea.  It’s estimated that each day 22 million gallons of water flow thru the fountain.  This is the original site of the Aqua Virgo aqueduct built by Agrippa in 19 BC to channel water to Rome’s new bath complexes.  It may have been named for a girl named, Trivia, who is said to have first shown the spring to thirsty Roman soldiers.  Legend has it that if you toss a coin into the fountain, you are guaranteed to return to Rome.  I’ve been back to Rome twice since that time.

 

The Spanish Steps (aka Piazza di Spagna) is the most famous square in Rome and takes its name from the Palazzo di Spagna, built in the 17th century to house the Spanish embassy to the Holy See.

The Colosseum is known as Rome’s greatest amphitheater.  It was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72.  In this theater, up to 55,000 spectators could watch gladiators fight each other or wild animals.  During the inaugural games in AD 80, approximately 9,000 wild animals were killed.  Slaves could gain their freedom by fighting men or wild animals to the death.  I guess you fight for freedom or die trying.

  

The Pantheon is also known as the Roman “temple of all the gods.  It’s the best preserved ancient building in Rome.  It was built (and possibly designed) by Emperor Hadrian in AD 118.  It’s interesting in that during the 7th century, permission was granted to turn the temple into a church when Christians claimed by be plagued by demons as they passed by the building.  Today, it’s lined with tombs and holds the bodies of Italian monarchs.

 

Other than the clothing situation, things have been wonderful.  The men are absolutely gorgeous and I’ve had several people say that I look like I’m 18.  Which is great since I’m just a couple of years older than that 🙂  Please pray for me that I receive my luggage soon.  Otherwise, no telling what you might see on CNN.  I might be in the studio with Sir Mix-a-lot working on the Italian version of “Baby Got Back”!  Ha!  Until then…ciao!