travel

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

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

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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! 

Leaving town is great, but don't forget about your backyard

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I love living in D.C. I was born here, raised in Virginia, went to school here and stayed here after graduation.

Tourists get a bad rep here – sometimes with good reason – but I completely understand the wide-eyed looks in their faces when they step into Union Station for the first time. D.C. is beautiful.

It's easy to take the sites in D.C. for granted when you're constantly caught in the bubble of Washington. One of my favorite things to do is walk through D.C. on a weekend night, without any plans or directions. I usually end up strolling the National Mall, watching the sun set over the National Monument. I'll wander down to the wharf and get a crab cake sandwich and a mix. I'll wander through Chinatown, listening to guys beat on buckets or drum pads, or watch. I'll stroll up to Logan Circle and watch toddlers wobble alongside their parents and dogs chasing after squirrels.

I've spent the last few years adding stamps to my passport and collecting memories. But one of the best things about traveling, to me, is returning home. I never get tired of looking at the Washington Monument during landing at DCA airport, or pulling into Union Station on the Amtrak. It feels new to me every time, like it did six years ago.

Sound off: What's your favorite spot to relax in D.C.?

Why I never check bags and why you shouldn't either

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You know those people. 

They're at the ticket counter, screaming at the agent to let their oversize bag for a three day trip on the plane without paying extra for it. You know those people, don't you? I do, too.

Unless it's absolutely necessary, (like I'm leaving the country for weeks at a time) I try to never check a bag. I don't even want the gate agent to "complementary" check my bag to its final destination. I'm good. Let me keep my bag, fam. 

I like to pack light. I hate digging in suitcases for things and I have a tendency to lose stuff when I'm unorganized. 

I just wrapped up a three-day stay in Los Angeles — more on that later — and I took only a backpack. I stuffed three days worth of clothes and toiletries into two packing cubes (which I highly recommend! They're great) and used my backpack as my personal item. It's a Burton backpack. I think I got it from Urban Outfitters a few years ago. It has a bunch of pockets to keep things like your wallet and passport in. I have two packing cubes, a pair of Vans, a pair of flip-flops, my Beats by Dre headphones, and my glasses case all in this backpack. I'm able to quickly reach for whatever I need without tearing my bag apart. I don't have to fight my seatmate for overhead bin storage because my bag goes under the seat in front of me. 

For short trips like the one I'm on, I recommend a backpack. If you're going out of the country for less than a week, then a small suitcase is fine. I still prefer carry-on sizes to avoid having to check a bag. There's no better feeling like getting off of a flight, grabbing my backpack, and heading for the exit. No waiting at the baggage carousel, or, God-forbid, searching for a bag because it didn't make it on the flight. Save yourself some time, if you can, and pack lightly. 

'You can have the whole world, or be satisfied with the boulevard'

The writer in Cape Town, South Africa.

The writer in Cape Town, South Africa.

My favorite song on Outkast's "Speakerboxxx/The Love Below" is a song called "Flip Flop Rock." It features Big Boi, Jay Z and Killer Mike. It's a pretty epic collaboration, given the year it was released. Half way through the song, arguably the best line on the album is dropped by Killer Mike. 

"You can have the whole world, or be satisfied with the boulevard." 

When I started to travel as a hobby, I was greeted with some support and a lot of skepticism. 

"The world is so big." "The world is scary and dangerous for Black girls like you." "When are you going to settle down? What man wants to marry a woman he'll never see?"

I heard all of this and more. And, with the exception of the last comment, they're all true. 

It's easy to get comfortable and put yourself into boxes other people have created for you. It's natural for people to want to mold you into their image for you – but it can also go awry when it doesn't work.

I was determined to see the world on my terms. I traveled to three continents in two years. I started saving money for experiences, not just clothes. I backpacked through Southeast Asia. I started this blog. And I started to apply that determination not just to traveling, but to my life in D.C.

I started to define my life, for me. I've always been clear about who I am and what I stand for. Favorite raised me that way. When people who lacked those ethics went low, I went high. I wanted the whole world.

Success isn't guaranteed to any of us. Failure is. But would you rather shoot for the world and fail, or be satisfied with something lesser than and call it a success?

What I'm trying to tell you is that the world is at your fingertips. Don't settle for anything less than what you deserve. Killer Mike is right – you can have the whole world; you don't have to settle for the boulevard.

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