Another installment of Traveler’s Spotlight on Jay Travels. This spotlight features Maureen from the “Urban Travel Girl” travel blog. She enjoys creative writing, foreign films, sampling ethnic cuisine (which she also writes about as a freelance writer) and checking out as much of the world as her budget allows.
Quick Bio on Maureen
How Often Do I Travel
It depends on travel dictated by my “day job,” but generally at LEAST twice internationally (for pleasure) and 5-8 times domestically during the year.
Where to Next?
Believe it or not, this global girl is likely off to Cincinnati for a former colleague’s wedding. Very exotic, yes?
Favorite Travel Gadget
My BlackBerry, with its international calling feature. And good old-fashioned books (no Kindle here!) I can delve into on long flights and in foreign cafés.
The last big one was to London and Paris in February, a combination of freelance writing work and pure pleasure! The last domestic one was to Cincinnati for the weekend.
No. And never!
Go to Outer Space if You Could?
No real interest—sorry!
Does sleeping count? Other than that, traveling (or reading about it, if I can’t hit the road—or skies, or rails)!
Connect with Maureen
Urban Travel Girl
Where have you traveled Internationally? I’ve visited nearly 30 countries and territories on four continents. Some of the MOST interesting have been Saudi Arabia (yes, I donned a burqa for this three-day business trip); Dubai (just because it felt like a Middle Eastern Las Vegas and a bit surreal); rural eastern Turkey (city of Kars and the Ani historic architectural site near the border of Armenia, where you’re transported back nearly 1,000 years) and Buenos Aires (one of the liveliest places I’ve ever been, and one that reminded me of many other European cities I’d visited before).
If you could describe your favorte destinations in a single word or phrase, how would you do it?Where have you traveled Internationally?
- Barcelona, Spain – Trendy and energetic
- Buenos Aires, Argentina – ALIVE
- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – Fascinating
- Rome, Italy – Timeless
- Lisbon, Portugal – Woefully underrated travel destination.
What are the Top 3 destinations on your Bucket List?
Has any trip changed the way you think or act – whether politically, socially or otherwise?I don’t think any one specific trip changed the way I think, but my collective travels have made me the open-minded (I hope) citizen of the world I TRY to be. Rather than always viewing other folks and their cultures through an American lens, I respect them from THEIR perspective. My Saudi Arabian host paid me one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received: He said I was a perfect “Bedouin,” or someone who knows how to seamlessly fit into another’s culture. And that’s my goal, wherever I visit. I’m not there to judge; I’m there as another country’s guest and want to experience life as it’s lived there, even when it’s 180 degrees different from my life in the States.
Have you ever experienced a problem when traveling (passport, victim of crime, etc.)?I’ve been really fortunate in all my getting around. I’ve dealt with airport strikes in Rome (of course) and Metro slowdowns in Paris, but you have no choice but to be patient. On my first trip to Rome, my two girlfriends and I arrived at our hotel (after a three-hour delay at the airport because of a strike) and found our first night’s reservation was messed up. Thank GOODNESS I was also there for business, and two women at my company’s Rome office hooked us up with an incredible hotel—one that STILL holds great memories for us. Better yet, over the years these two Italian colleagues have become wonderful friends of mine and my family!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten when traveling?Hmmm… I’m a freelance food writer and can’t recall eating anything so strange it stands out. Which is surprising, because I’m quite an adventurous eater and will try MOST things (well, a lot of things) once.
What was your least favorite travel experience and why?I can’t really say I’ve had a least favorite, only because I believe every experience is an adventure and has something to teach me—that is, if only I have sense enough to learn the lesson.
What kind of vacation do you prefer, adventure, nature, backpacking, luxury getaways, shopping, relaxing, other?I’m not into climbing mountains, but love “culture vacations” that let me live like a local in whatever place I’m visiting for that time. I want to have coffee where they do; I want to eat at family-owned hole-in-the-wall restaurants off small side streets that only local residents know about. I’m not big on shopping, but I love finding boutiques that aren’t overrun with tourists who read about them in a guidebook. Museums are fine, but I find you really get a sense of a culture and its people by walking—and by taking public transportation at rush hour.
What’s the best thing about traveling? What’s the Worst?
- Best – The anticipation you feel at the airport before leaving on a trip. I know folks hate the TSA and the security hassles, but the whole airport experience energizes me—even when I’m flying coach (which I usually am!)!
- Worst – Coming home. I know I probably need some psychological analysis for this, but as much as I love my place in Chicago, I’d always rather be on the road and somewhere else.
When you’ve traveled internationally, did you prefer to do things that are familiar (American food/activities) or go outside of the tourists areas and see how the natives live?I’m ALL about trying to have as “local” an experience as possible. I purposely avoid staying in American chain hotels (for safety against terrorism as much as wanting to experience that country’s culture), but rather look for small B&Bs that are owned (at least partially) by people FROM that country and speak its language. I stay away from restaurants that post menus in multiple languages—a sure sign they’re trying to woo tourists. And I love traveling alone, as I find that locals are more likely to approach you when you’re not sitting there giggling with a bunch of girlfriends. I’ve met great folks all over the world this way who have introduced me to slices of their culture that I’m SURE I would have otherwise missed.
Do you look for Americans when you travel? Also, do you try to ‘blend in’ or don’t think about it.I keep an eye out to see if I spot any Americans (unfortunately, I rarely see any African-Americans, which always disappoints me). In some places, I’ve found that tourists from the States are often far too loud, dressed far too casually for the culture they’re visiting, and demand things be “like they are at home.” I definitely think about the whole “blending in” thing. My goal is to look like a “daughter of the diaspora” so that until I open my mouth, I could be from the Caribbean, London, Paris, or anywhere in the world—not just from the United States. I don’t want to be typecast.
Do you have any travel tips to share?No matter how hard the language, learn at least the BASIC greetings. I’m always amazed at how far that’ll get you in any culture or country, as it shows you’re at least making an effort. Don’t worry about whether there will be any other black folks in the place you’re visiting. Just be your genuinely fascinating self and GO. And similarly, don’t be afraid of traveling solo. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve had incredible adventures and met great people I likely wouldn’t have encountered had I been traveling with a group. Keep your wits about you and have fun—but as my dad always admonishes me, “Don’t be over there doin’ nothin’ stupid.”
Any parting shots or Shout outs?As I wrote in a recent UrbanTravelGirl post, get out there and experience the world—and then let the world experience YOU in all your African-American fabulousness. Let people see beyond the Hollywood hype and stereotypes.