After four tireless, sometimes unbearable years of journalism school, I didn’t think I would be the millennial who couldn’t find work. The current unemployment rate in the United States is roughly seven percent, 14% for young people.
I’m an impatient girl. It’s natural for me to lose sleep or disregard advice from elders when I feel that I’m deserving of merit. This summer wasn’t easy, particularly. I left my comfortable three-bedroom apartment in New York City for the spellbinding lifestyle of a foreign correspondent in Istanbul, the cultural capital of Turkey. My arrival came at a turning point for the inhabitants of Turkey. On May 31st, a civil revolt ensued.
Three weeks prior to the protests across Turkey’s largest cities, the government signed a bill to allow the demolition of nearly 600 trees and installation of 19th century army barracks at Gezi Park – the hub of Taksim Square. The square (no relation to Times Square) was a two-bus ride away from my dormitory. But the pressure from polis to allay foot traffic at Taksim made the commute a nightmare. My translator and I would board a bus that drove past the construction site of Istanbul’s Besiktas futbol stadium and footed the remaining dusty, crooked sidewalk.
Feeling like I was melting each time, there was a subtle right turn that signified I arrived. Standing across the street from Gezi Park and ogling at the draping of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – leader of the Turkish War of Independence who modernized several reforms for the nation including women’s suffrage – this would be home for the next month.
My place of solace was in Besiktas – a young area with Western undertones. Before I give you the skinny, here’s a briefing of how I got there. I first learned of the internship abroad program in a mass e-mail sent by the internship coordinator at Stony Brook’s School of Journalism in Long Island, NY. I forwarded the message to my father (essentially, giving him a nudge) and promised myself that I would end up in one of the program’s following destinations.
I will admit that I am not just a traveler who enjoys traveling, I'm also the kind that can bury myself in every aspect of the planning process. I remember in my teens and throughout my college years, it didn’t matter if it was an overly crowded hostel, a couch or even a friends floor, as long as there was space to dump my cargo and a tiny space for my head, all was well.
Nowadays, while there are still some fun family gatherings and other crazy occasions that might call for an all out slumber fest/couchsurfing experience, it's also nice to be able to find a space that's just as exciting as your destination. Now, let’s not confuse things, I am not advocating overspending or spending when you shouldn't. Quite the contrary, I am a big believer in not blowing your entire trip budget on just your lodging. So I start my searching and planning very early, spending tons of hours looking for the best options for the least amount of $$.
A few tips that have worked for me and I hope work for you:
1. The power of Reviews: I can't tell you how many times I've had friends tell me they ended up staying in a crappy hotel. There's some tricks to avoid this. The first and most important thing to do is to look for reviews. TripAdvisor is by far the best for this but by no means the only one. Oyster.com is another great option as they provide professional reviews and up close pictures of every aspect and every angle of hotels and hotel rooms. Another favorite especially for anyone who uses vacation rentals is slowtrav. Prior to the now popular AirBnb, they were the best option for vacation rental information and reviews.
Here’s the truth- if you’re a black traveler, you are rare. You probably have a passion for seeing new places, meeting new people and learning new things. That passion probably connects you to social networks filled with people who also share your wanderlust. Your experiences are probably awe-inspiring and many times, your non-traveling friends wonder how you do what you do, and how (or if) they can do it too. Eyes are constantly on you and people watch you in admiration trying to understand how you move about the world.
So, I have a question for you- while they're watching you, why not use your travels for good?
Here's what I mean:
I’ve spent the past two summers volunteering abroad. In 2012, I volunteered in Cabarete, Dominican Republic for a children’s education organization called The DREAM Project. In 2013, I volunteered in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala for a local organization that served children and families in a remote town located about 40 minutes outside of the city. Being a teacher allows me to spend weeks in the summertime volunteering abroad. Believe it or not, I know that those few weeks left an impact on the communities that I served - even if it just simply offered a new perspective on the perception of a Black traveler.
5 Reasons Why You Should Volunteer Abroad
After travels this year with my four-year old, it's safe to say that I learned a few things. For some of you hoping to travel abroad with your baby, toddler or bigger kids, rest assured; it can be done. My daughter and I traveled to four countries in less than a month and she was more upbeat than I was the entire time. I learned a few tricks along the way, and I hope I can help you learn a few here too.
1. Create an Itinerary - I cannot over-emphasize the importance of planning ahead of time. Mapping out locations, activities, and tours ahead of time helped me avoid chaos down the road. Once you get on the plane with a toddler, there is no turning back. My daughter is energetic, loves to be occupied, so I planned outdoor activities that would dissipate that energy on the road. My spreadsheet included activities by area, ratings and reviews. We didn't get to do every activity, but we did the most important ones, for example, in Paris, visiting the Eiffel Tower was a no-brainer. Remember to be flexible. Your kid may get sleepy, tired or anxious due to the new environment. Look for cues that they need their rest, and return to hotel for a short nap.
2. Schedule for Sleep, Nap and Jet-Lag: Plan your travel times to co-incide with a day-time arrival. Don't make the mistake of putting them to bed as soon as you get to your destination. My daughter had no issues with jetlag. We booked a late night flight out of the U.S to France. I kept her up halfway, and she slept halfway. Upon arrival in the morning, we had brunch and went touring the Eiffel tower, she later fell asleep and we went back to the hotel at 6pm. I woke her up to eat dinner, and she went back to sleep at 7pm. She was fine the rest of the week and adjusted to not only Europe, but Morocco and Nigeria time-zones since the time zones were so close. Kids actually fare better when it comes to distance travel and overcoming jetlag. Keep your child up if it's not bed time at your travel destination.
Forget New York, Bangkok is the city that truly never sleeps. Each time I visit, I rarely get any sleep - maybe an hour at most. There is ALWAYS something to do or somewhere to go in this humid, crowded, tropical city. I've wandered through Khao San Road alone at night, been harassed at the floating markets, caressed by tigers at the temple and showered by elephants in the jungle. My most memorable experience, however, has to be a cooking class I took one faithful day following a sleepless night of partying.
As a foodie and lover of Thai food, I was curious about having an authentic hands-on experience with the vibrant cuisine. A colleague of mine recommended Sompong Thai Cooking School.
Booking the class was easy. I called the evening before and spoke to the owner in regards to arranging a pick-up from my hotel the next morning. The class lasted four hours and was a reasonable 1000 baht/30 USD. They practically meet you anywhere. Located in the Silom area of Bangkok, it is near the BTS/Skytrain line and the school happily picks you up you from there. The only hindrance is finding your own way back, however that isn't worth stressing over if your trip is planned correctly.
The school was located off a main street and down a dodgy alley. Upon arrival, I was immediately relieved to see a comfortable and welcoming establishment. Koy (the owner) and her staff were very friendly and the environment felt more like home than a place of business. Even her grandmother was roaming around sorting things out. Not long after receiving a welcome drink and a brief review for the day's course, we were off to the local market on foot with bamboo basket in tow to secure ingredients for our menu - Masamam curry, tom yum soup, prawn fried rice and bananas in pandan coconut milk.
At the market we were privileged to get a detailed lesson about a variety of Thai ingredients and how to use them in cooking. There was such an abundance of fresh produce and spices I wanted to buy it all. We then had the opportunity to shop for local ingredients to take back to our own kitchens. After the visit to the market, we headed back to the open kitchen and began our course.
While traveling alone can be challenging and daunting, personal growth often happens in solitude. It can be invigorating, inspiring and just plain refreshing—so refreshing that we think everyone should do it at least once. Here are our top five reasons you should travel solo followed by some tips to get started.
To start planning a solo trip, think about why you'd like to travel alone. Do you want a change of scenery? Get started by taking a train ride to a nearby city and exploring for a day. Do you need some alone time? Get a head start by heading to a museum, booking a tour or extending your current trip by a few days to continue exploring areas of interest.
If you're afraid that you'll be lonely while traveling, test the waters a bit. Everyone reacts to solitude differently. Head to a movie by yourself or eat at a nearby restaurant. If you're worried that you'll get lost or won't be able to meet people, make sure you bring a map & research areas before hand. Meeting people is all about timing. Try using Meetup to meet with locals who share the same interest.
A joint piece curated by Joke Karibo & Zim Ugochukwu.
Being a black traveler means that most times, people are staring at you. Some people might hate that, and on occasion, so do I. However, there are times where it has allowed me to capture some amazing photographs. My name is Afiya and I’m a professional people watcher.
Every time I return home from a trip, the first thing I do after taking a hot shower is upload the photos from my camera to my laptop. I usually return with over 1,000 pictures and at least two hours of video but I started noticing an interesting trend: the subject of most of my pictures were people. Whenever I’m planning my itinerary, I always aim to discover all aspects of what makes the country I’m visiting unique; food, eco-tourism, architecture, fashion etc. But I always add a park or a nice street cafe to the list so that I can take time out to de-stress from the hustle and bustle and of course people watch.
People watching isn’t about being nosey. It’s simply allowing yourself to be engulfed in the energy of the people and capturing it if you can. It is observing the group of Buddhist monks in Thailand chatting as they cross the street, or watching a young Thai boy sit between his parents on a motorbike whizzing through traffic. It can even be watching a group of mature Indian women sit and chat with each other or a young Japanese couple indulge in each other in a photo booth in Tokyo. But the most interesting thing to notice is how they notice you. I sometimes snap without even looking at my camera or in the direction it’s facing. Since I’m working with a point and shoot camera, I’m very unassuming. It’s always interesting to see the pictures that I’ve taken because I’m always surprised to notice that most times my subject is looking at me. Smiles, expressions of confusion, curiosity and disgust, are usually the expressions that I see in the photos that I’ve taken.
People are beautiful creatures. We express ourselves freely without even knowing. Our body language and facial expressions can express a plethora of emotions. Our culture shines through us in how we greet others, celebrate, mourn and go about our daily activities. On your next trip, take some time to sit down and people watch. Take in the noise, the emotion, and facial expressions. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about a location by means of its people in just a few minutes.
"I chase my aspirations, in an attempt to quench my thirst for exploration.
Suddenly, God reveals the peace to be found in contentment."
South American culture is extremely rich and fascinating. During my travels in Argentina, I noticed that there weren't very many Afro-Argentines, upholding the stereotype that Argentina is the "whitest county in South America." Depending on who you ask, Afro-Argentines either died fighting the 1865 war against Paraguay, while the remaining fled to Brazil or that President Domingo Fasustion Sameiento attempted to kill all remaining slaves and/or non-European natives. Regardless of what really happened, Afro-Argentines heavily influenced country culture and cuisine. Most unknown? Tango, originally known as Creole Tango.
Argentine culture is most pervasive in Buenos Aires. This city is known as the Paris of South America due to the European architectural influence on buildings and roads. As in most major cities, Buenos Aires has very eclectic boroughs. If you want to see live tango, La Boca is the place for you, although because this is a high crime area, I advise you take heed. If you're feelin' a nice cafe and some shopping, Palermo, Soho and Belgrano have extremely trendy vibes. Interested in seeing a traditional South American grave yard combined with the most amazing outside market? Check out Recoleta. Not the city type? Hop on a train to Le Tigre, a town on the river with a local amusement park overlooking the water. On your way back to town, stop by the Posh borough of San Isidro. Beverly Hills 2.0!
Despite Argentina's unfriendly past, you will find that the locals are quite friendly. I can still remember the man at a local bakery calling out "Nagrita," a term of endearment meaning little black girl. The people of Argentina, with their complex tapestry, appear to have moved on from past beliefs, learning to embrace difficult cultures. Go and see for yourself, you won't be disappointed.
I felt like what I assume every bride feels like on her wedding day: elegant, excited and fortunate. It was always a dream of mine to do a photoshoot wearing a kimono and I was finally getting the opportunity to do so. The embroidered silk fabric would adorn my skin the same way it did the Geishas that I saw in the National Geographic documentaries I watched as a child. I didn’t want the porcelain Geisha style makeup, nor did I want the Geisha styled wig. I wanted to remain true to myself, yet create and document my memory of Japan in a unique way.
[gallery columns="2" link="none" ids="1818,1816,1815"]
Wearing a kimono isn’t as easy as it looks. If you thought putting on and wearing a sari was troublesome, think again. It takes a true professional to do it right. Keida sensei is a traditional Kimono master from Nagasaki Japan. She is one of the few internationally recognized Kimono masters in Japan and was absolutely thrilled when I asked her to clothe me in one of her Kimonos.
Japanese people are serious about presentation and no exception is made when it comes to their traditional wear. To make the kimono look sleek against my body, pieces of white gauze had to be placed across my chest and back. No lumps or bumps, curves or swerves were allowed to this party! After the placing of the gauze I had to be wrapped in another piece of cloth in order for the loose pieces to stay in place. At this point, the idea of going to the bathroom seemed impossible.
[gallery columns="1" ids="1813,1811,1812"]