Another installment of Traveler’s Spotlight on Jay Travels. This spotlight features Nicole. Nicole is a novelist and grad student pursuing an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. She blogs at The Dysfunctional Diva Project, hoping to inspire women of color suffering from mental health disorders to find their voice.
Quick Info on Nicole
Los Angeles, CA
How Often Do I Travel
Two or three times a year.
Where to Next?
If I’m lucky, a week in Rome for my birthday.
Favorite Travel Gadget
I love keeping my family and friends updated on my travels, so my iPhone with the Facebook app really helps me stay connected.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but I went abroad for the first time last year when I visited Europe. My last trip was to Sydney, Australia. But have passport (and stilettos), will travel! My fortune cookie says, “Your foot will touch the soil of many countries.” I’m hoping to make that a reality within the next several years.
No, but I’ve “walkhiked.” I was meandering through the streets of Paris one morning, trying to find my way back to the hotel from L’Arc de Triomphe and Champs Elysées, when I got lost. After a half hour of pretending to know where I was going, I stopped this nice Filipino man named Estancio to ask for directions. He escorted me halfway to the hotel, which turned out to be about a mile away.
Go to Outer Space if You Could?
I’ve always felt like a stranger on earth, so why not? Beam me up, Scotty!
Writing short stories, reading and discovering new vegan restaurants in L.A.
Connect with Nicole
The Dysfunctional Diva Project
Where have you traveled Internationally? If you describe that location in a single word or phrase, what would it be?
- Sydney, Australia – A jewel of a city
- Barcelona, Spain – Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi!
- Amsterdam, the Netherlands – Red Light District, anyone?
- Paris, France – Oui to the architecture and culture, non to the food.
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?Initially, I had reservations about Australia as a destination. I have not been to the Motherland yet, and I felt like a sell out for choosing to vacation in a country where 90 percent of the inhabitants are of European descent and that has a history of marginalizing its indigenous population. But as I was making my travel plans, I realized that I was in the midst of a spiritual and emotional crisis, so I had to put my nationalism on hold. I just wanted to get as far away from my life as possible, so I found myself on the opposite end of the earth.
Once I got there, I didn’t want to view my trip through the lens of a black American tourist a few valium shy of a breakdown. I felt fully engaged with the culture – indigenous and otherwise. An Aborigine named Sonny taught me how to throw a boomerang and he told me about his tribe, about the meaning of their flag, his experiences as a black fella. I went pub hopping with an elderly British man, whom I later learned had an Aborigine grandmother. Even though I was often the only sister within a thirty-mile radius, I didn’t feel like an outsider. Sure, some people stared, but for the most part, I felt as if I belonged in the land of koalas and kangaroos. I think the trip was my rite of passage as a citizen of the world.
Have you ever experienced a problem when traveling (passport, victim of crime, etc.)?Yes, when traveling … by surfboard! I took a two-hour lesson on Manly Beach in Australia, and although I loved the experience, I must have swallowed about a gallon of salt water. When I returned to my hotel room, I had a headache, sore throat and flu-like symptoms, which lasted for two days. As I was traveling on my own, it was scary to fall ill in a foreign country. Nevertheless, being sick didn’t stop me from going on a wine-tasting tour in the Hunter Valley region the next day!
What’s the strangest thing you’ve eaten when traveling?I tried monkfish for the first time in Barcelona and fried octopus at a seafood restaurant in Sydney. I sucked on a cannabis lollipop in Amsterdam. Does that count?
What was your least favorite travel experience and why?Outside of getting sick in Oz, I don’t think I have a least favorite experience. Every city or country that I set foot in contributes to my growth as a writer, as a woman and as a student of the world.
What kind of vacation do you prefer, adventure, nature, backpacking, luxury getaways, shopping, relaxing, other?My ideal vacation is a combination of adventure and relaxation. I don’t just do touristy things; I like to explore off-the-beaten-path places. In Paris, I wanted to follow in the footsteps of ex-pat black writers like James Baldwin and Richard Wright. I wanted to see the city through their eyes, sip café viennois and people watch. I also try not to cram my days full of excursions, so I can have down time just to journal and reflect on the trip.
What’s the best thing about traveling? What’s the Worst?
- Best – Your quote from Mark Twain sums it up: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” It takes all kinds of folks to make the world go round, and our lives are enriched by learning new languages, trying different foods, checking out centuries-old architecture. Your perception is altered when you meet people face to face rather than researching them on Google.
Before I ever traveled outside the United States, I wrote a short story “Finger of God” based on a rock formation at Montserrat Mountain in Catalonia, Spain. When I finally stood atop that mountain a few years later, I realized that I was so off base with my online research. Nothing could compare to actually being there, inhaling the scent of rosemary and pine, staring at the River Llobregat below. It was like a spiritual awakening.
- Worst – The airport experience! My anxiety builds just thinking about getting through customs, losing luggage. I try to minimize this by packing light.
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 think it’s a combination of both. I’m not going to lie; when I couldn’t stomach another bland Parisian dish, I ate pizza three days in a row at the pizza joint down the street from my hotel. But when abroad, I prefer a splash of local color. I’m not a beer drinker, but I took a pub tour in Sydney to learn about the city’s early history and to mingle with the locals. I’m a bit of an introvert, but I force myself out of my comfort zone to talk to strangers in restaurants, on the metro, in a club.
Do you look for Americans when you travel? Also, do you try to ‘blend in’ or don’t think about it.It’s comforting to spot other black Americans abroad, particularly black women, not only for the cultural solidarity, but also to know that people of color are seeing more of the world. As a sister with natural hair, it’s kind of hard to “blend in” internationally, so I don’t attempt to hide my shine. In Sydney, I tried to familiarize myself with the city as quickly as possible. Then I would throw on my iPod and walk the streets and catch the ferry as if I had been doing it for years. The highest compliment I was paid Down Under was when the man sitting next to me at a restaurant said, “You don’t sound like you’re from America; you sound like an Australian.” G’day mate!
I do regret visiting Paris and Spain and not learning the language beforehand. To me, that’s an Ugly American trait of thinking the world must accommodate our lack of culture. The next non-English-speaking country I visit, I will be sure to learn as many phrases as possible.
Do you have any travel tips to share?All the single ladies, don’t be afraid to get your solo travel on! Don’t fear the far. Exotic locales await you, as well as a sense of independence and adventure. If you are traveling on your own, make sure to leave a copy of your itinerary with a loved one as well as a copy of your passport. Be aware of the country’s requirements for entry, because sometimes you’ll need more than a passport. I had to apply for a visa to enter Australia, but l was able to do it online in less than fifteen minutes. But most of all, open your mind to different experiences. And don’t worry about your hair!
Any parting shots or Shout outs?I’m not a travel writer, but on my blog The Dysfunctional Diva Project (http://www.thedysfunctionaldivaproject.com), I encourage women of color to give voice to their fears. Traveling to faraway lands is a big fear for many women. As a recovering dysfunctional diva, let me leave you with this advice: if I can sit on a plane for fifteen hours, travel 7,300 miles from home, and lose (and find) myself in another culture without the aid of antidepressants, anyone can!