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. 

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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?

Day 13: A Favorite Travel Quote

I have quite a few “quotables” on this here site.  I used to do a segment called “That’s What He Said” but I fell off a little.  That said, here’s another one of my favorites:

I have found out that there ain’t no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them“.
-Mark Twain

Speaks for itself right? That said, in addition to counseling, I think all future spouses should go on vacation together first. Really. I work part-time at an airport and I’m telling ya – when your flight gets cancelled and you’re starving and there’s only one security checkpoint line open – you learn a few things about one another.  And it ain’t always pretty.

Do you have any other favorite travel-related quotes out there?

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Were you paying attention? Did you notice that I skipped Day 12? Day 12 was about someone who has influence me to travel and I really couldn’t think of anyone. Isn’t that crazy? I could easily think of a few people who have tried to discourage me but I honestly think the desire to travel has just always been there.  Maybe it was all of the family reunions we took as a child.  Those were all road trips though and actually made me hate driving long distances.  Or maybe it was simply my Dad saying I could do and be absolutely anything that I wanted.  And with that I also assumed he meant “anywhere” I wanted.  He’s always been the most supportive of my travels and has even talked about joining me on a few trips. He is my ideal Amazing Race partner!

Day 11 – Milestones or “Firsts” While Traveling or Living Abroad?

Welcome back! I hope everyone enjoyed their annual overdose of forced patriotism over the last few days. I did. Anyway, back to the #travelchallenge.  I didn’t post yesterday – I spent most of the morning asleep and most of the afternoon figuring out who was still having happy hour and which one started earliest (shout out to El Centro on 14th street!). Regular holiday duties of course. And then we caught the fireworks while chilling on the National Mall.

Ok, now really… back to the #travelchallenge.

I can think of a few “firsts” while traveling internationally.  Some more meaningful than others, but here goes:

  • First solo travel experience – I saw Paris by myself.  Only for a day or two before my friends arrived.  But still, looking back sometimes I still can’t believe I did that!  I just remember that I had no intentions of leaving Europe without seeing Paris.  With flights from Italy being less than $20, there was no way that someone else’s indecisiveness was going to stop me from eating some crepes and croissants, seeing the Eiffel Tower, and getting cultured Parisian-style (even though seeing the Mona Lisa was completely underwhelming). Everyone else finally realized how awesome my trip was going to be and booked flights for the next day or something like that. I’m glad I did it though – I’m not afraid to go anywhere by myself now.
  • First intercultural relationship – I wasn’t sure whether to use the term interracial, international, intercultural? He was black, but he was was Senegalese, French, and Italian. Whatever, he didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Italian (or French) and we carried on a 3-month something.  Sounds like fun, no? Eventually, I did learn Italian pretty well but that first month or so – whew! It was tons of fun – he would show me around parts of Milan I never would’ve discovered on my own and we had some really great times.  But when we “argued” it was probably the most hilarious thing anyone has ever experienced. “Arguing” usually consisted of me muttering stuff in English and him not responding because he had no clue what I was talking about – then he would say his piece in Italian. Needless to say our “arguments” didn’t last long. And that’s a good thing right?! 🙂 Anyway, his name was Romeo and how can you spend any time in Italy without finding an authentic Romeo.  It just wouldn’t have been the same if he spoke English!
  • First rude awakening to the global perspective of Americans – Growing up in the U.S., all you hear is how great this country is and how we are saving the world and helping other countries do this, that, and the third. But why would your American history teacher, who’s never even stepped outside of Tennessee, let alone America know anything about whether or not these other countries want America’s help? Being outside of this country gives all Americans a big dose of humble pie – but most tourists have their noses so high in the air they can’t even see the humble pie sitting right in front of them.  Don’t get me wrong, out of all of the global discussions I’ve had most people have nothing against the single American traveler or the person who is really coming to learn about their country – but they definitely had choice words for the U.S. government and that American tourist who complains about how different and inconvenient everything is in other countries.  Nothing was more eye-opening than this piece of graffiti I witnessed while visiting Gaudi’s Parc Guell in Barcelona.

    Wow. (@ Parc Guell in Barcelona)

    The message speaks for itself right? It’s in Barcelona, but it’s not in Spanish. Who do you think it’s meant for? That was definitely a wow moment – and it solidified for me that I’m not a tourist, I’m a traveler :).

Day 09: A Song You Like from Another Country/Language

Now you know I’m too indecisive to pick a single song.  So, I decided to pick an entire genre. I love music that gets you to dance.  And I love Latin Music – salsa, merengue, samba, whatever.  I just love partner dancing as opposed to the “hey I’m about to grind all up on you for three minutes” music that we’re used to dancing to in clubs here.  But I think my favorite genre right now is bachata.  It’s probably one of the sexiest dances out there and the music is usually sensual enough to match.  So here’s an example of one of my favorite bachata songs “Te Extrano” and these two are definitely working it out.  I could watch this video over and over again! Hot, right?

That said, my two most-used Pandora stations are Seu Jorge and Fela Kuti.  What about you? What are some of your favorite songs from other countries or cultures? 

Day 08: A Favorite Food from Another Country/Culture

My favorite food changes at any given time of the year.  It’s usually the dish that I haven’t had in the longest.  Or the hardest one to find.  When I first returned from my semester abroad in Italy, risotto was the only thing I wanted.  Interestingly enough, my current flavor of the month is another Italian dish that is either a)impossible to find or b)impossible to find a version as delicious as I remember it.  And maybe it’s my favorite not only because of the taste, but also because of the memories it brings up.  “It” being gnocchi – in some amazing red sauce that has so much cheese that it’s orange.  And this picture here looks pretty fancy.  But that’s not how I remember it.  We ordered it takeout style from the pizza place across the street from out apartment and got a huge aluminum tin for $5 that lasted two of us two days.  That alone is probably where I gained all my weight that semester.  It was quick, close, and amazingly delicious! It’s always those hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop type hidden secrets that have the best food.  That’s something that applies no matter what part of the world you’re in!

What are your favorite international dishes? Better yet, do you know where I can find some good gnocchi?

Are you keeping up with the #travelchallenge? Make sure to check out everyone else’s posts:

Also, please excuse the changes over the next few days.  I’m trying to find a better layout for the blog.

Day 07: Besides People, What Do/Did You Miss From Home?

People are what make home home. So after you take away the people, there’s not much there that I miss.  Maybe the food, the music, the energy – but honestly, I can get great food, music, and energy from the places I visit when I travel.  But now that I think about it, I remember trying to find good barbecue in Vermont when the weather was first getting warm- and those were two of the most disappointing pulled pork sandwiches and baked beans I’ve ever tasted in my life. I remember one of the girls from Connecticut we were with saying “Well, I’m glad I don’t have anything to compare it to because it tastes good to me.” Unfortunately, no scratch that – fortunately, I do have something to compare it to and Memphis is home to some of the best barbecue on this planet! What’s interesting though is that people always ask me where they should go to get barbecue when they visit Memphis, but they aren’t going to find it in a restaurant.  The very best barbecue is on somebody’s grill in someone’s backyard and can’t be mass-produced to be sold. So yeah, I guess barbecue wins this one. Barbecue and my puppy, Caesar! I almost didn’t count him, though, because he’d charge your shins with his 30-lb head if he heard you say he wasn’t a person. 🙂

Day 05: What Do You Bring With You When You Travel?

Should I go literal with this? Naturally the first thing I thought was an “open mind.” Which is absolutely necessary. Then I thought patience – which, again, makes every trip and the travel process itself much less stressful. But for once, I’ll think inside the box. So, no matter where I’m going, I always use a carry-on! Everything I take with me must fit in my carry-on.  I refuse to check a bag.  I can’t remember the last time I checked a bag – even before these ridiculous fees (and I don’t even have to pay for checked bags because of my airline credit cards).  In fact, I have to make sure that I leave enough room in my carry-on for purchases, or my purse, or my laptop.  Whether the trip is for three days or three weeks, I always bring my same little red Atlantic carryon. Waiting around at baggage claim and letting the airlines lose my luggage is something I outgrew around the same time I got my driver’s license.  And remember that whole patience thing? Yeah I just tried to avoid situations which may need it ;).

Winter is no match for the Mediterranean - gotta be prepared!

Oh and two things that are always in my carry-on – a pair of leggings and a swimsuit.  A pair of leggings because they pack light and can go with just about anything! And a swimsuit because I LOVE water and want to go to the closest beach, pool, hot tub whatever when I’m on vacation.  I’ve been to many an impromptu pool party – even in winter. Even in Canada… I can remember packing like three swimsuits for a weekend trip once. I know I’m extra. I’ve gone on trips when I didn’t have enough outfits but you better believe I had a swimsuit! Or three!

So what about you? What’s something that you always bring with you when you travel?

Day 04: A Picture of You in Another Country

I can’t believe I’m keeping up with this! Here are a couple of pictures of me in other countries – one in London and the other in Italy (of course!).

In front of Buckingham Palace in London.

Call me lame – but – I like staged pictures.  I probably have just as many “action” photos as straight “everybody say cheese!” pics. So, this is me cheering on the gladiators at the Coliseum in Rome, Italy :).

Are you keeping up with the #travelchallenge?  Make sure you check out everyone else’s posts:

And don’t forget the conversation is on Twitter (@SoloFriendly, @MarioTravels, @JonCornes) and facebook too!

Day 03: An Adventure or Challenge While Traveling

Welcome to Day 03 of the International Travel Challenge! This has been pretty fun and I’ve started some twitter and facebook discussions to get everyone thinking internationally.

I would have to say one of the most challenging things I’ve done while traveling was experiencing the Alps.  The climb wasn’t terribly steep in most places but there were definitely some narrow paths that involved a whole lot of faith and mental strength.  It was by far one of the most exhilirating experiences I’ve ever been a part of and the views were breathtaking.  I still can’t believe I was there!

Walking the Alps

Excerpt from my study abroad journal when I returned from the Alps:

“I have to admit that breathtaking is the only word I can think of to describe it…I’m not big on ‘nature’ and the outdoors, but this was amazing. It was amazing enough to make an atheist believe in God.  And it sucks because no matter how you describe it or how many pictures you take you can never convey the feeling you get when you see this huge perfect figure that you know no man could have made… I was definitely scared as hell in the Alps.”

I’ve been told many times that this background looks fake.  No, God’s just that perfect :).

Long way down right?

Alright so let’s hear it.  What have been your adventurous and challenging experiences while traveling? I’ve already peeped Terri’s and I can say it’s something I definitely have to do once in my life – but I get anxious just thinking about it.  Also, Nikita better known as Mademoiselle Mitchell, has joined in on the fun!  And be on the lookout for updates from Monique of MoTravels, Ernest from Fly-Brother, and April from Absolute Travel Addict.

You know I’m indecisive right? Yeah I couldn’t decide between the Alps and this canoe race in Dominica during Dive Fest.  Yeah, as you can see we didn’t know what we were doing – but we still won like 5 cases of Kubuli beer! It was definitely a sight to see… Especially the part when our relay partners capsized! Pure hilarity.