'Travel isn’t always pretty': Life lessons from Anthony Bourdain

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.
— Anthony Bourdain, “No Reservations: Around the World on an Empty Stomach”

The travel community and the world at large lost an icon on Friday. Anthony Bourdain, the host of CNN's "Parts Unknown," was found dead in his hotel room in France after an apparent suicide. 

During the weekend, people in the travel community reflected on Bourdain's legacy of not "Columbus-ing" other cultures and for always keeping it real. The former is essential -- Bourdain frequently chopped it up at the Waffle House and in kitchens in Hong Kong -- but the latter is what I want to talk about.

Bourdain said in "No Reservations" that traveling isn't always pretty. Curated Instagram posts and YouTube vlogs may make us feel otherwise, but Bourdain was correct. It isn't always pretty. In fact, at times it can be downright nasty.

I'm thinking back to a trip I took some time ago. I planned the trip almost a year in advance. I did my due diligence and made sure I registered with the State Department before leaving. I thought I was about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. But when I got on the ground, it all fell apart. And when I say fell apart, I mean that the entire trip blew up in my face. Without going too much into specifics, I'll say that the trip involved a lot of tears, broken glass, and the strange feeling that I was being watched. 

That's the ugly side of traveling. It's the side no one tells you about -- of ruined plans and feeling like your life could potentially be in danger. I'm guilty of romanticizing trips myself. I'm guilty of using a lot of Instagram filters and posting dozens of hashtags of me in front of tourists spots faking like I'm having a good time.

It's been some time since that trip, and I'm still affected by it. It made me look at people differently. I lost some friends but got closer to others. I lost a lot of money. I'll even say that trip changed the way I approach traveling. 

But one of the upsides to the trip was that I got to connect with the local culture and people more. That trip, filled with heartache as it was, took me out of my comfort zone more than anything. It also taught me a crucial life lesson that I don't have to make everything look pretty for other people's sake. 

Rest, Anthony. And thank you. 

Thank you!

Vikkie Ventures turns a year old today.

Since then, a lot of things have changed. Some good, some awful.A year ago, I had an idea for a blog that would offer cheap travel hacks, muse about life, and make travel feel accessible for people of color. I'd like to say that I accomplished much of that.

In the year since this blog launched, I've gotten so much great feedback from yall. What has been the most heartening to me has been the people who reached out to me for travel advice or to tell me that they were planning a trip because of my advice. The travel industry has missed a huge market by ignoring the experiences of people of color in general, and black people in particular. I hope this blog helps to fill that void.

This website was started with the mission to help you reach your travel goals, to take risks, and to see the world.

If this blog inspired you at all, I consider my work to be complete. But it doesn't stop here. Stay tuned for more.

Thank you,
Vikkie

13 hours in Brussels, as told by Instagram

 Brussels, Belgium

I'm back from my brief Europe trip. I ate well, drank well, and took great photos. More on that later.

When I booked my flight in early January, I added a free stopover to my itinerary for a quick day trip. I had the option of having a stopover in Geneva, Zurich, Munich, or Brussels. I figured I'd be bored in Geneva and Zurich, and I'd been to Germany before, so I decided on Brussels.

I got into Zaventem airport around 6:30 a.m., and after waiting in the passport control line, I was finally out of the airport.

I did the smart thing and checked my bag at JFK airport through to my final destination in Barcelona, so I didn't have to lug it around during the day.

After leaving the airport, I hopped in a cab to the city center, which is Grand Place. It was still pretty early and dark outside and few people were outside. There was a light drizzle and still quite cold, so I decided to get a cheap room at L'hôtel La Madeleine for a few hours to shower, nap, and kill some time before starting the day. I got up around 11:30 am feeling refreshed and ready to explore.

My French isn't great, but most people in the city spoke fluent English. Basic conversational words in French are always helpful, however, and people will appreciate you knowing a few simple words.

Here's how I spent the short trip.


 Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert

Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert


My first stop was at the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert. It's a cool indoor shopping market with a few chocolatiers, shopping, and other eateries.

It was still early, but couples and young families were making their way through the gallery in the leisurely way I soon found was commonplace throughout Europe.

It's a beautiful market. If you're an architecture geek like me, you'll appreciate how pretty it is. It's light-filled and makes for great photos. 


giphy (1).gif

The Royal Palace of Brussels


The Royal Palace!

I took a hop-on-hop-off bus to get here, which was a waste of time because I almost completely bypassed this place. It's across the street from a park and very, very pretty.
 

 

 

 

 


Grand Place


In the heart of Brussels, lies the central square of the city, Grand Places. Grand Place houses the Town Hall, and the King's House, a Hard Rock Cafe, and unsurprisingly, a beer museum. 

It's completely closed to traffic, so my Uber driver dropped me a few blocks away. There were tourists and locals milling about, taking photos and chasing after their children.

I was awestruck by how beautiful the buildings were. Again, I'm obsessed with nice architecture. According to UNESCO, many of the buildings date back to the 17th century. 

A group of Boy Scouts were running around in shorts even though it was chilly in the city. I grabbed a coffee and some chocolate and took a bunch of pictures. By this point it had started to drizzle again so I decided to find a place to buy a waffle.


200w_d.gif

Ate a waffle


I stopped briefly at La Rose Blanche, a tavern-style restaurant. I wasn't particularly hungry, but I felt like I could leave Brussels without at least ordering a waffle.

The waffle was crispy and came drizzled with hot chocolate and ice cream, complete with a side of whipped cream. I was pretty satisfied. 


IMG_0832.JPG

Parc du Cinquantenaire


My last stop was at the Parc du Cinquantenaire. The Cinquantenaire was built at the request of King Leopold II, who wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Belgian independence.

When I arrived, there was some kind of event for Volkswagen going on, as I saw all kind of cars, beetles, trucks, and vans parked beside the arch. 

Despite the cold weather, I was struck by how colorful and green the park was. The park is surrounded by a busy highway but it felt peaceful just strolling through the park and under the arch.


Back to the airport


13 hours in Brussels and over a day of traveling later, I headed back to Brussels Airport to catch my connecting flight to Barcelona. All in all, a good day and a great use of a stopover.

IMG_0833.JPG

The advice I'd give to a first-time international traveler is...

IMG_5108.JPG

So you've booked your first international trip. You've booked your round-trip flight. You've found hotel/Airbnb/hostel accommodations. You have your visa. Maybe you're going solo, or perhaps you're going in a group. Your friends in the group chat can't stop talking about the trip.

You're excited, but yet, you're also terrified. Maybe this is too much, too soon? Perhaps you aren't ready yet? I get it. I wish I could tell you that your first international trip will go entirely without a hitch, that you'll hit the ground running as soon as you land, and that you won't get food poisoning. I can't tell you that -- but I can tell you the experience will change your life. What you make of that experience is up to you. Here are three tips:

1. Being afraid is alright -- and normal
I can't tell you how terrified I was on my first flight out of the country. I worried about my health, whether I could acclimate to a new culture, the plane, not having cell service, being harassed, missing my family, and whether I would mesh well with the people on the trip. Some of these worries are uniquely "American," I can admit. Some are specific to traveling the world as a Black woman. But some were real worries. My advice is to embrace your emotions at all ends of the spectrum, but don't let them consume you or make you feel like you aren't brave enough. You are. 

I've always thought that travel was an exercise in vulnerability. On my trip to Haiti -- which was the second time I'd ever been out of the country, and the first time I flew on an airplane -- most of those fears disappeared. I loved the folks I traveled with. I found myself rarely checking my phone, and my health wasn't an issue. I'm not saying all of your fears go away once you land, but you may think less about them once you arrive. 

2. Flexibility is key/plan for anything
I can't stress this enough. As much as you want to avoid it, missed flights are possible. You may get to your destination and lose your cash. Or your AirBnB suddenly cancels. Or -- God forbid -- you get the dreaded food poisoning. It sucks, but it happens. I try to minimize risks as much as I can by staying prepared. If you're prone to sickness, I recommend keeping Cipro and ginger ale handy. Keep your doctor's phone number on speed dial if you have service. If you don't have service, buy or rent a cheap burner once you arrive.

To that point, I always recommend registering for the State Department's STEP program, so the U.S. government is aware you're in the country. Keep your credit cards on you, but always have local currency to catch a cab or pay a tip.

If time is an issue, I recommend signing up for TSA Pre-check or Global Entry to expedite getting in and out of the country. No lines are the best lines!

3. Try new food!
As Americans, we can sometimes be picky about our food. We go with what we know -- and I get it. But you aren't home, and it's alright to step away from what you know and try something you don't. You're in a new place -- don't go to iHop. Or, if you do, have dinner somewhere else.

I'm very guilty of this -- I won't tell ya'll the story of the time I flew nearly 30 hours to Malaysia and ate at Red Lobster. But the point of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone. Try something different! Ask the locals what they recommend -- folks are usually more than happy to tell you where and where not to grab a bite. People worldwide can bond over food. Ask the front desk/AirBnB host/hostel host what the best restaurants are in the area. I'm a huge bruncher, so in Cape Town, I made sure to hit a restaurant that had an authentic South African brunch. In Cuba, one of the first meals I had was at a hole-in-the-wall spot that served ropa vieja, and I immediately fell in love. You can eat American food in the States. Try something new!

Here's to a great trip! 

#MeToo at home and overseas

The #metoo movement, initially founded by activist Tarana Burke a decade ago and made famous by actress Alyssa Milano, has caused men and women around the world to take a more in-depth look at sexual harassment and assault.

Accusations of sexual harassment and assault against powerful men have roiled the entertainmentjournalism, and technology industries. Congress saw three lawmakers resign or retire in one week in the wake of sexual harassment allegations against them. There have been calls for others to resign.

As a traveler, I’m aware that women are not immune to physical and sexual violence in transit and overseas. There have been chilling reports of young girls groped on airplanes and women who said they were raped abroad by police officers. Attempts to stay safe by doing research and reading reviews aren’t foolproof, either. Review company TripAdvisor came under fire in November for reportedly deleting negative reviews from its website that detailed a rape at a Mexican resort.  

Being a black woman means to continually be aware of your body and how your body is perceived in different spaces. That is true for me in the U.S. and when I travel abroad. People have asked me before if I feel “free” when I’m traveling. The answer is a resounding no. If anything, I am more aware of my body and who is looking at it.

There are numerous instances of documented incidents of black women harassed abroad and an even longer, painful history of foreigners sexualizing black women. I am conscious of this wherever I go.

Unlike the men in Hollywood and news and tech, there’s no way to out the countless number of nameless, faceless men who have sexually harassed me overseas, or, at a minimum, made me feel uncomfortable in their presence.

There’s nothing I can do about or to the men who touched my body and my hair, who cat-called me in the streets, who made creepy comments during Uber rides, who assumed that I was a prostitute because of my black skin. I was too afraid to speak up then.

And as uncomfortable as it is to write, I am unsure if I will have the strength to speak up the next time it happens to me. I am bold when I see it happening to other women, but I’ve remained quiet in the face of my own abuse. I’ve stayed silent while considering whether to escalate an incident for fear of retaliation of not being believed.

I won’t stop traveling the world. I won’t stop meeting people and learning new languages and experiencing different cultures. But after the #metoo conversation, what comes next? How do we stay safe at home and overseas?

17 hour flight? No big deal! 3 tips for surviving long-haul flights

IMG_0727.JPG


Plenty of people hate flying. We want to get to our destination, but there's a way to enjoy the journey as well. 

I tend to take a big trip at least once a year -- and that requires me to be on a plane for an extended amount of time. I've flown to Abu Dhabi (non-stop), Kuala Lumpur, and Johannesburg, among other locations. Long-hauls can be tough, but I think I have created a system that works. Below are a few tips to survive your next long flight, and how to arrive at your final destination not looking so jet-lagged. 

Dress comfortably. Wear loose clothing and layers
I can't stress this enough. I don't care about looking cute on long-hauls. I'm in Adidas track pants, a hoodie, and flip-flops. I wear compression socks to minimize the risk of deep-vein thrombosis, which can be fatal. Because space is at a premium, especially when flying economy, I try to be as comfortable as possible.

Planes can be really warm or freezing cold. Rarely have I been on a long flight that was room temperature. I wear layers that can be put on or taken off easily. I usually wear a loose, long-sleeve shirt and a hoodie to maximize comfort.

Don't tire yourself out before a long flight
I know people who try to tire themselves before long-flights believing that they can just sleep during the flight. It might work for them, but I haven't had much luck. Every time I arrive to a flight dead tired, I get maybe an hour or so of sleep during the flight. That means my jet lag is brutal when I arrive at my destination. 

Two days before I depart, I try to sync my body to the time of my destination. Example: Johannesburg is seven hours ahead of D.C., so if it's 10:00p JNB time I try to be in bed by 3:00p D.C. time. It's weird, but it's worked for me!

Hydrate and eat healthy foods
Planes are notorious for serving foods high in sodium. I always pick my meal when I book the flight to ensure that I get a low-sodium meal. Plane food isn't usually great, but low-sodium meals usually come with fruit. 

It can be easy to make a pit-stop at the airport shop and buy $30 worth of junk food. I shy away from salty and overly sweet foods when flying. There's nothing worse than feeling uneasy or ill on a flight when there's no way to get off. I opt for salt-free pretzels and lots of water. Water is your friend!

 

Why #squad is so essential

 YBJ squadron. #issabrunch

YBJ squadron. #issabrunch

The older I get, the more I realize how essential friendship is. When I was a young, angsty teenager, I would always say, "I don't like people" or "I run solo." True -- I do like my alone time. It allows me to recharge and recalibrate. But I appreciate the company of dope people.

This past weekend, some friends and I hosted a brunch for some of the young, black journos in D.C. It was super casual -- I put out an invite on Facebook to people I knew and told them to bring a friend. The idea to do a brunch for journalists came about on a whim. I wanted to give folks a safe space to drink, connect and laugh. I'd say it was a success. Over 20 people showed up! I made some new friends and reconnected with old ones. Everyone was super chill and

We had brunch at Pursuit on H Street. What I love about Pursuit is how excellent the service is. The staff took excellent care of us. We had the entire second floor to ourselves, they let us play our own music, and we had unlimited food and drink for three hours. We ate shrimp and grits and chocolate blueberry waffles and threw back mimosas for hours. The staff was gracious and accommodating. It's one of my favorite spots to brunch at in D.C., and I'll be back. 

It's been a stressful few weeks in the news. What we do is hard. And as black folks, we sometimes feel undervalued and underappreciated. We're smart and strong, but it sometimes takes a toll. But giving people the space to be themselves, to connect, to form relationships, and to form a #squad is meaningful to me.

I owe my #auntiesquad, my #worksquad, and my #journosquad a lot. My heart is full from Sunday afternoon. I love bringing people together and I can't wait to do it again in the future.

Deal of the day: New York to Auckland for only $633 round-trip

 Photo by stefaniedesign/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by stefaniedesign/iStock / Getty Images

It's hard to find a good deal from the East Coast to New Zealand or Australia. They're hard to come by and if you find a deal for under $1200, I'd consider it a good deal. While putting together my newsletter, I found a crazy cheap flight from New York City to Auckland for only $633 round-trip. The deal includes two long layovers in Beijing if you want to explore. Check it out below, and let me know if you decide to book:

NYC – Auckland $633 round-trip, March 2018 dates