Friday Photo: Pompei, Italy

Oh hello, Mt. Vesuvius. And Fido ‘nem.

Touring Pompei and seeing the ash “casts” of the pterified bodies that were killed by that infamous eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was a cool – yet chilling- experience. Must do.

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Myth Busters (or You Really CAN Afford to Travel)

So I think it’s time for me to set the record straight once and for all – traveling does not have to be expensive. Ever. I work for a public state-funded university and I am in grad school. Read: I don’t make a lot money. Prior to this I was a public school middle school teacher. Again, no money. And before that I was on the first rung of the corporate latter for a major shoe wholesaler. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the ladder I wanted to be on so I jumped off before I actually started making good money (more like gently stepped off as I hadn’t gotten very far). Anywho – my point is, you cannot look me dead in my face and say you “You must be ballin girl” or “I aint got it like that” or “I would go but that’s gonna be too expensive” because you probably make more money than I do!

I am constantly surprised at how much people “think” vacations cost. The estimates usually range between $3000-$5000 – and at that I’ll say, you need to stop watching Basketball Wives. So on this episode of Mythbusters, I’ll breakdown how inexpensive traveling can actually be! First let’s pick a destination. This is the first place to save some money. Pick a place where you know somebody – or you know someone who knows someone because that’s a free place to stay! You’ve already cut the cost of your trip in half right there. Just for sh!ts and giggles sake (and because I desperately need a beach in my life), we are going to Aruba from August 30-September 3 with 3 friends! 

Flights: So first things first we need to get there. You really have to make sure your timing is right – not just the timing of your trip but of your purchase. I just priced flights to Aruba over Labor Day weekend and it looks like Jet Blue and AirTran are competing for customers. Capitalism – 1, Staying in the US – 0. Flights to Aruba over a holiday weekend are $385 right now. Yes, you read that right. Which is crazy because I haven’t spent less than $400 on a flight to Memphis the last two times I went home. And I could’ve been in Aruba all that time! So now you’re asking – isn’t it because it’s hurricane season? Ah ha. Research a little more (or listen to the lady from Trinidad who sat next to you at church last week) and you’ll learn that Aruba is part of the hurricane-free great-weather-all-year-round “ABC” islands. So book that flight! Just a side note – I’d never book a flight that was over $1,000 unless it was in Asia or some parts of Africa. The costs will usually even out because of a favorable exchange rate or simply because the cost of living is so much cheaper in some of those places. But if you’re trying to get to Europe and the flights are close to $1,000 – you may need to rethink your dates because that’s highway (airway?) robbery. 

Lodging: So since we’re going with a few friends, it may be more fun (and economical) to rent a house. Benefits – you get a bigger space with a kitchen so you don’t have to eat out all the time. Cons – You have to make your own bed? Can’t really think of any but, yes, I am being biased. A quick search on airbnb.com returned a number of entire homes or 1 bedroom apartments to rent for as little as $90/night (if you only want to rent a single room it get’s even cheaper!). I spy a really nice spacious 2 bedroom 2 bathroom home for $95/night. And it’s not only cheap, but it’s really nice and has a hammock – because I know y’all are fancy.  If there are 4 of us and we’re going for 4 nights, that’s only $95 per person. So let’s add that to our total.

Food: I have no idea what the costs of meals are in Aruba. Or the exchange rate. But I can say that if you’re staying in a house you can have breakfast at home, lunch shouldn’t be more than $20 and dinner (splurging because you’re on vacation) $50. So that’s $75 bucks a day rounded way UP. Because you can also make dinner at our fancy villa and I know I don’t spend that much at every single meal. But like I said, y’all are fancy. So now let’s add another $300 for that ($75/day for 4 full days on the island – not counting the travel days since you usually end up missing a meal and/or eating at the airport).

Play money: The only thing you have left to pay for are the “extras.” Souvenirs, excursions, renting jet skis, tours, etc. This will vary from person to person but I think a safe amount of play money for a 4 day trip on an island would be about $300. Also note that when I go to an island, most of my free time is spent at the beach. Which, if you hadn’t heard, is free.

So what’s our damage? The total cost of Labor Day Weekend in Aruba is $1080! Which all at once may seem like a lot but if you look at it in terms of what you’re paying per paycheck it’s really not that much. So basically, we’re getting paid this Friday, so you shell out $385 for the flight. Easy. Next paycheck, pay your rent! But save $150 for some of your play money. The 3rd paycheck, pay  the $95 for your awesome villa and save another $150 – you’ve now paid for everything except for your food! By the time you get to Aruba (which will be the 5th paycheck from now), you’ll only need the $300 to eat with!

Now if you can’t spare $300-400 in three of your non-rent checks, we need to re-evaluate some things!

But that brings this episode of Mythbusters to a close. I do believe that I have eliminated the “I can’t afford it” argument. What else you got?

Speechless…

I know you all know this, but… I love my job. Like it makes me smile just thinking about how blessed I am. And sometimes it makes me cry to think about some of the amazing stories that come across my desk. We are not kidding when we say studying abroad changes lives – and sometimes it’s not just the lives of the students, but the ones that are blessed by their stories (me!).

Meet Reid. A student at George Washington University who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. A student who was flat out told that he could not study abroad because of his disability. A student who not only didn’t take no for an answer, but also kickstarted his way toward documentary about his time in Rome. A student who is literally showing all those people who told him no (and the rest of the world too) that even though he may be the one with the physical disability, we may be the ones who are truly limited. A student who had me at my desk trying not to shed tears at just how awesome he is (they weren’t tears of sadness). A student whose story left me speechless.

Check out the trailer for his documentary, Wheelchair Diaries. I can’t wait to see the full-length film after he’s traveled to Europe:

Forum Recap + The Irony of Solo Travel

Last week was UMD’s spring break. But instead of chilling on the beaches of Miami (my usual March/April getaway), I found myself in Heaven. Or what heaven would be for those who work in study abroad – the Annual Conference of the Forum on Education Abroad. The networking, learning, friendship-forming (friending? befriending??), reconnecting, and karaoke (don’t ask) that took place last week was an awesome reenergizing experience for international education. Not that I need reenergizing or anything – I obviously still love my job! But being surrounded by likeminded individuals who are so passionate about study abroad and especially about diversifying and access really made my heart smile. I can’t even tell you how many sessions I was sitting in and had to really think about something ridiculous to keep from tearing up. Whether it was a group of students on a panel sharing how study abroad has really changed their life (how original right?) or the simple recognition that two years ago I had my first experience walking away from a well-paying corporate position on the corporate ladder – a phone call I’ll never forget because it took me days to even craft what to say. And while most of the time when you step off of a ladder you fall to the ground, the weight that was lifted made me feel like I could fly. And now I can, both literally and figuratively. But I digress…

One of the full-day workshops taught us the art of Digital Storytelling. It was an amazing experience that tricks students into personal reflection and processing their experience. Ok, so maybe tricked isn’t the right word but creating a digital story is so much fun that you forget that you are actually learning and processing information while you are creating it. I hope that we’ll be able to incorporate the Digital Storytelling into our returnee programming one day… but we already have so many ideas in our office! During the one-day workshop I created this piece reflecting on my time in Brazil and really re-living my experience while I was there: ’twas amazing. Please enjoy my debut digital story – the Irony of Solo Travel:

Major s/o to Doug and team who put this all together! No way I could have learned all this in a day on my own while producing something I’m not afraid to share with everyone else (the perfectionist in me apparently was on spring break or something).

The Word for Paris is: __________.

If every city had a word, what would the word for your city be? Now I am by no means claiming Paris as “my city,” – never lived there, only been there once. But when I was thinking about cities and their essence, and what one word describes that essence – Paris’s word screamed out at me, making itself clear; while every other city’s word just sorta timidly came forward as a possibility. If that makes sense…

So what do I mean by “the word”? Well, I was watching my favorite part of Eat Pray Love recently (when she’s in Italy of course), and they started to discuss the different words associated with each city: “Stuffy” for London (I’d say expensive ha!), “Conformed” for Stockholm, and “Sex” for Rome . And by the way, I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Rome, and that wasn’t the first (or second or third) thing that came to my mind, but whatevs.

But this got me thinking, if you could unequivocally describe the essence of a place in a single word, what would that one word be? Of course people experience places differently, so perhaps you and I may think of different words for a place. But do you think it’s possible to agree on a word that so perfectly encompasses the spirit of a place?

Here are a few of my votes:

  • Napoli: Chaos (in a good way, if that’s possible :))
  • New York: Ambition (totally agree with the clip)
  • Amsterdam: Free
  • Los Angeles: [insert nicer word than “fake” here] 🙂 Please know that I really do love L.A. though. I lived there for a minute and it was tons of fun but you gotta call ’em like you see ’em!
  • New Orleans: Soul
  • Rome: Passionate

Oh, and you want to know the word that jumped out at me for Paris? It’s the only word that describes the ability to hold a cigarette so seductively that it would make me, the anti-nicotine queen, consider a little puffy puff. That word, my friends, is….

Smoking in a Paris Nightclub

sophisticated.

Let’s keep it going. Do you agree with any of my words? What are some words for other cities?

Meet Teri and Andrea: The Bombshells Behind TravelistaTV

Travelistas Teri and Andrea

Travelistas Teri and Andrea (photo credit: The B Life Blog)

Here’s yet another treat for your global viewing pleasure. Last week I introduced you to the Grannies on Safari, two 60-something best friends taking us around the world on their PBS travel show. Now, it’s like I’m taking you back in time. It’s like the Grannies on Safari thirty-something years ago – before retirement, before the husbands, the kids, the grandkids. And you know what happens before all that right? (I don’t. Just thought the question was fitting. ;-))

But back to TravelistaTV. Teri and Andrea have traveled to over 35 countries and have developed this culture, entertainment, and lifestyle television channel to allow us to tag along for the ride (flight). They visit awesome destinations, meet amazing people, and seek out adventurous experiences all in search of the good life. You can’t be mad at that! And besides all that – these girls are gawjus (that gorgeous times like a trillion)! They could be filming in Hyattsville, Maryland and I’d still watch. No shade at Hyattsville or anything – but yeah these girls are hot!

Be sure to visit their website and show your support for some more African-American jetsetters! Not sure of their end goal, but this is yet another show that should be on the Travel Channel. And another little bonus, Grind and Thrive creator Torrey McGraw recently interviewed TravelistaTV about the growth of their brand, how it all got started, their struggles, successes and more. You definitely want to see this! Awesome nuggets of inspiration not only for those who want to travel, but mainly for all of the entrepreneurs out there.

Check this clip of Travelista Teri in Antigua with special appearances by actor Anthony Mackie and Antiguan Soca star Tian. Try not to drool.

Did you like this post? Be sure to subscribe over to the right so you won’t miss out on any future posts here on Vai Via!

Meet the Grannies on Safari: Over Fifty, Fabulous, and Fly (Literally)!

I’m a firm believer in “Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy…” some of you know it as Lazy Sunday? After church, I usually eat a huge breakfast then park it right on the couch for TV or a good book – whatever it takes to relax. This past Sunday, watching TV actually paid off. I stumbled upon an awesome gem that I’m now sharing with all of you: Grannies on Safari.

Granny Regina and Granny Pat in South Africa

Grannies on Safari in South Africa (photo credit: Grannies on Safari Facebook page)

The premise is simple: two 60-something best friends (Granny Pat and Granny Regina) traveling the world and sharing their adventures with us. The significance is deep: positive images of two AARP-aged African-American jet-setters traveling to places such as Machu Picchu in Peru, the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, and the Amber Palace in India. I saw the description of the show before I actually saw the Grannies, and I must admit I wasn’t expecting them to look like me. But really, they could be my Grannies! And the way they tell their stories – boy! I was hooked at the first “Mercy me.”

Why this isn’t on the Travel Channel is beyond me. But you can find it on your local PBS-station. Here in D.C. it’s on WHUT. If you can’t find it, contact your local PBS station and request it! Support these ladies, they deserve it. You can also visit their website GranniesOnSafari.Com, “Like” them on Facebook, Follow them on Twitter (you know they’re fabulous if they’re on Twitter!), listen to them on BlogTalkRadio, and look them up on YouTube. Here’s a very short clip of Granny Pat and Granny Regina in India. On their homepage is an amazing assortment of videos from the upcoming season, which is sponsored exclusively by AARP ($$! :)).

Have any of you seen or heard of Grannies on Safari before? What do you think?

Day 15 – Advice to Someone Who’s Thinking about Traveling


Just. Do. It. 

Really, that’s my advice. I could end this post here. BUT since this is the last post of the ever-so-amazing travel challenge, I’m not going to leave you hanging like that. In all honesty, this entire blog is supposed to be advice to someone who’s thinking about traveling abroad. That’s why I named it “Vai Via.” It simply means “go away.” Just go. What are you waiting for?

You can’t afford it? Hands down the biggest and most common fallacy I encounter. Just like you make time for what you want in life, your spending habits say even more about what you want in life. Here’s a tip:  Put your saving on autopilot. But really, if you have a job and you have income, I don’t understand this excuse. Yes, it may require longer-term planning if your job is part-time or you have a ton of bills. But if you’ve wanted to go somewhere for over a year I can guarantee that you have made enough money to go on an international adventure. Stop playing yourself! Noone’s missing out but you. And you’re not getting any younger.

From April 2010 to now, I had a full-time job for about 5 of those months.  The rest of the time I was either not working, had a part-time job (or 2), or was in graduate school full-time. Also since April 2010, I have been to Amsterdam, Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean, Montreal, Vancouver, countless domestic trips to Miami, New York and Boston, and will be going to Brazil for three weeks. So if I can do it on 5 months of salary (plus savings from a previous position), I know you can do at least one trip with this full-time job you’ve had for years. If you have doubts hit me up, I’ll help you find flights, less expensive accommodations, and help determine a “payment plan.” Hell, I may even try to go on the trip with you! 😉 Guys, you work too hard not to enjoy the fruits of your labor! So just like I started is how I’ll end it – Just. Do. It. 

Day 14: What Did You Learn from Traveling Abroad?

Why is this question so deep? I learned a ton that cannot be encapsulated in one little blog post. So how about we do like most people when confronted with deep or challenging thought-bearing questions – we avert them with humor! Deal? Deal! 😉

So, what did I learn while traveling abroad? Here are a few:

1) Riding bikes isn’t so fun when you have to go at top speeds and there is “rush hour cycle traffic.” And yes, I’m looking at you Amsterdam. When I visited Amsterdam last year, I was really excited about getting to rent a bike for the week and travel like the locals do. That excitement lasted for all of about 17 pushes of the pedal. It’s one thing to ride a bike for leisure (fun!), it’s another altogether when you are caught in front of the masses on their way home from work (opposite of fun!).  Who knew the Tour de France went through Amsterdam? Everyday? No? Me neither. However, outside of rush hour it was such a great way to see the city.  And when you leave the bars/clubs at 5 am, hop on your bike, and get to catch the sunrise glistening over the canals all over the serenely quiet city, you’re so wrapped up in that amazing moment you forget where you are anyway! Tour de who? Let’s ride our bikes some more (slowly though)!

2) If you go see an American comedy in a foreign country, hold your laughs for about 1.9 seconds. No, really.  It makes it seem less awkward when you’re laughing ahead of everyone else because they have to read the subtitles. Case in point, I went to see Borat in France (talk about an intercultural experience) and that movie had me dying laughing. At first I thought, how prude are these French! Is Borat really this out of line (yes) or do they not understand the humor? Until this one scene when I laughed out loud (again) and then, approximately 1.9 seconds later the entire theater started laughing. Aaahhhh – there we go. And then it started happening pretty regularly.  Great, I’m not completely and utterly out of my mind. Lesson learned.

3) Despite their abundance and prevalence in gift shops around the world, magnets and ink pens are the worst souvenirs ever and I’d like to slap the idiot/genius who keeps making money off them. My favorite type of souvenir is one that I can either wear or use over and over again. For example, my pashmina from Italy (which I’ve had for over 5 years!) is an amazing conversation starter. “I love your pashmina, where’d you get it?” And they’re probably expecting me to say “You know that little cart right at 41st and Broadway??” but no, when I say Milan it turns into an opportunity for me to relive Italy and talk them into going. I have earrings from Dominica, a bracelet from Puerto Rico, house shoe clogs from Amsterdam, and probably a lot more but you get the point. These are also the kinds of gifts I get for people in my family. My Mom only wears T-shirts to workout in and my Dad wears them to play basketball so I will not be patronizing your 2 for $20 T-shirt deal Mr. Tourist Hunter. People will appreciate the unique gifts – trust me!

So those are three out of plenty of things I’ve learned while traveling abroad. One of the best parts of traveling is the learning that goes on.  I didn’t want to get deep here but you learn so much about yourself, about people, about the world – stuff you won’t find in any textbook (even a textbook about intercultural experiences). So that’s what I’ve learned.  What about you? What are some of the things you’ve learned while traveling abroad?