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The “Lived” Travel Experience

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take a journey with me

Is black travel different?

Is black travel different?

While there will be many different opinions on the topic, I believe that black travel is different. Historically travel brands have excluded black and brown-skinned people in their marketing photos and videos. In recent years, there has been a plethora of travel media posts that show black travelers. A black travel movement has evolved over the past decade, allowing travelers of color a sense of community and acceptance to explore the world. From that movement, blogs like mine have exploded, giving advice, inspiration, and sharing experiences to many eager travelers and encouraging people of color to travel more.  But, make no mistake, traveling while black is different.

While there will be many different opinions on the topic, I believe that black travel differs.  Historically travel brands have excluded black and brown-skinned people in their marketing photos and videos.  In recent years, there has been a plethora of travel media posts that show people of color enjoying their travel experiences.  A black travel movement has evolved over the past decade, allowing travelers of color a sense of community and acceptance to explore the world.  From that movement, blogs like mine have exploded, giving advice, inspiration, and sharing experiences to many eager travelers and encouraging people of color to travel more.  But, make no mistake, traveling while black is different.  Much advice has also been given to make black travelers aware that their travel experiences may differ simply because they are people of color.

My travel experiences started as a flight attendant in the late 80s.  The airlines were beginning to hire people of color, and I was part of that hiring scheme.  That scheme is a whole other topic I’ll leave for another time.  Flight attendants then were predominantly white, and I was often the only person of color on the flight crew.  Being on the flight crew did not mean I experienced the same treatment.  I was often not included in the dinner plans or activities while on layovers.  I would be overlooked when getting a briefing from pilots even though I was the lead flight attendant.  Even agents would bypass me and give paperwork to other white flight attendants instead of to me as required.  It was not until later in my career that I began to have better flight attendant experiences because I got to be around more flight attendants that looked like me.

Since then, I have had significantly more travel experiences as a black ex-pat.  Again, I have had to adapt to the expectations of dominant cultures who do not look like me.  As an ex-pat in Asia, it has meant adapting to the fact that ex-pats tend to be white.  In addition, I have found that locals see my color through the lenses of pop culture or local prejudices.  When I identify as an ex-pat, I’m often associated (by some locals) with a husband who plays sports or is a singing diva (can’t sing a lick).  I’ve even been mistaken for being Serena Williams (not a sports bone in my body).

Being a black ex-pat in Asia, notably SE Asia, has allowed me to travel extensively.  Many popular travel destinations are here, including Bali, Bangkok, Hanoi, Phuket, Chang Mai, and Cambodia, to name a few.  My travels here have primarily been with my husband, who happens to be white, and there have been plenty of incidences where I have noticed a difference in my treatment.  When my husband checks in, he is usually offered an upgrade to the room, and his room will have a spectacular view or new décor.  When boarding, he can be in a boarding queue without being asked for his boarding pass; I usually must provide one.  Once, while traveling, my children and I had to undergo a different security screening, even though we were traveling together and ticketed the same.

I can go on and on about the many tone-deaf comments I get from others that validate my opinion.  However, the fact remains that traveling while black is different for me and many others.  Let me know your opinion in the comment section below.

 

Is it safe to travel?

Is it safe to travel?

One of the most asked questions I get about traveling is whether a destination is safe for travel.  Historically it has been asked regarding the safety of traveling to a foreign country.  More recently, it was associated with Covid and the safety precautions of different countries.  However, with the many highly publicized mass shooting incidences in the US, some foreign countries are now issuing travel warnings about visiting the US.  As a frequent traveler, I can confidently say that a perfect safety guide does not exist.  But the US, long considered a highly desired destination, now has a safety warning for foreign travelers, which is a shocking new reality.

The US is not the only country that cautions its travelers about travel and issues travel advisories.  Many countries consider incidences such as political turmoil, terrorist activities, and criminal activity when establishing travel guidelines.  Just as the US has a travel advisory site where people can get information to help them plan their travel, so do many other countries.  Japan is rated as one of the safest countries in the world and has stringent gun laws, which make shootings rare.  It has now advised its citizens planning on traveling to the US that the US is a “gun society.” New Zealand warns its citizens about a higher likelihood of violent crime, firearm possession in the US, and possible incidences of terrorism.

Travel can be intimidating, and a natural fear of the unknown exists.  Indeed, cultural differences can confuse travelers and, more importantly, result in serious legal consequences for travelers.  But now, the US is also a travel destination to be given careful consideration.  France recommends its citizens be cautious of avoiding charges of sexual harassment while in the US.  The Bahamas issued a travel advisory warning its citizens, particularly its young men, to exercise extreme caution while interacting with police in the US.  Ireland warns citizens traveling to the US to always keep their travel documents on them to avoid being targeted as illegal immigrants.

Among many foreign countries, Americans have long held a reputation as needing to be better tourists.  Whether it is because of politics, race relations, gun violence, or terrorism, the reputation of the US as a favorable destination has diminished.  Many American citizens feel that the US and its tourists are much less respected because of unfavorable views of the country.  However, the overall risk of travel to the US is low, and as with planning travel to any destination, there is no absolute risk avoidance.  I recently traveled from Texas to New York, and while I felt the need to be more cautious, that feeling was more because of unfamiliarity than outright fear.

Safe travels wherever you decide to travel, and when foreigners ask you the famous question, “is it safe?” It is okay to say, “absolutely, as long as you take care.”

Travel Programs

Travel Programs

If you’re well-traveled, there are a few resources to know that will make your travels more manageable and less problematic.  Most people have heard of TSA PreCheck as it is so visible at airport security lines.  However, a few other trusted traveler programs are available that are especially helpful to not only international but all travelers.  This week I will discuss not the travel accessories that can make travel less stressful but the available travel resources that can make a trip less complicated.

The best place to start finding a travel program right for you is the Department of Homeland Security website at the trusted traveler program page.  Here you will find the most popular travel programs and a handy chart that will help you determine which program is best for you based on your citizenship, type of passport, and the kind of travel you plan on taking.  This site will also give you information on all the different programs and the processing times you can expect.  While TSA PreCheck and Global Entry are some of the most popular programs, others such as Nexus, Sentri, and FAST are also options.

The Global Entry program is popular with international travelers as it makes entry into the US smoother and much faster. This program is available to US citizens, permanent residents, and select foreign nationals. One of the most significant benefits of the Global Entry program is that it includes TSA PreCheck, one of the most popular travel programs.  While the application fee for TSA PreCheck has recently been reduced to  $78, the cost for Global Entry is $100 but also includes TSA PreCheck. Applicants must provide fingerprints, have citizenship and identity documents, and pay the application fee.  Once approved for the Global Entry program, your membership is valid for five years.

With TSA PreCheck membership, travelers will not need to remove their shoes, laptops, or 3-1-1 liquids from their carry-on luggage.  They will also be allowed to wear belts and light jackets when going through security.  This is why going through security is much faster than regular security lines and why most travelers can get through security in the promised five minutes.  However, the approval time for a TSA PreCheck application is much less than for a Global Entry one.

The most important thing to do after acceptance into these travel programs is to add your membership number to your airline reservation to get the most of these travel program benefits.  When adding information to your reservation, there is often an option for a Known Traveler Number.  You can add your program membership number here.  However, not all airports and airlines participate in these programs.  In addition, not all security lines include TSA PreCheck.  Some airports will have designated TSA PreCheck security checkpoints, so travelers need to research to take advantage of the programs at their departure airport.

Please take advantage of these traveling programs; they make the journey much more manageable.  Let me know if you found this information valuable in the comment section below.

Has travel changed?

Has travel changed?

There’s no doubt in my mind that travel has changed since Covid.  It seems people now have a sense of urgency to travel.  Covid has reminded many people of their mortality, and many now feel like they need to make up for the past two years of being unable to travel and do the things they took for granted.  Here are a few things I’ve noticed about travel.

Business travel is no longer the driver for airlines.  With remote work, videoconferencing, and less business travel, many airlines are now seeking to fill business class seats typically targeted to business travelers to upmarket leisure travelers.  Many travelers have a pent-up need to travel and experience the ultimate travel experience in getting to their destinations.  More and more airlines are recognizing this and trying to meet this demand by creating business-class mini-suites with privacy doors that help travelers to create their own space.  While this has been more prevalent with international airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Emirates.  Domestic airlines such as Delta and JetBlue now have offerings such as the Delta One suite and JetBlue’s Mint suite.

I recently flew Qatar Airways Qsuite, and the experience was all that it promised.  There was ambient mood lighting, plenty of power ports, fully lie-flat beds, generous seat storage space, privacy doors, and a do not disturb button for total privacy.  I traveled alone and opted for a window seat.  However, when traveling with family and friends, there is an option of seats with movable panels that allows you to have room to socialize and sleep with your travel partner.  I did take advantage of the turn-down service, and the flight attendant made my bed with a quilted mattress, pillow, and duvet.  Pajamas and slippers were provided, but although the suites come with doors, they are not floor-to-ceiling, so privacy is incomplete for changing.  However, all the bathrooms were sizable to change in comfort.

The onboard dining experience was truly top-tier.  Meals are not delivered on a tray, but flight attendants individually each table with freshly baked bread, delicious appetizers, and plenty of meal choices available.  There were also options for dietary needs.  I could dine at once, have my meal served in courses, or dine on demand.  My flight was over 16 hours, and since a full-service restaurant was available in the airport lounge, I ate at the airport and had my onboard meal much later after a nap.

In all my recent travel, which have all been business class, travel indeed has changed.  Business class was much more relaxed, and travelers appeared to be more leisure travelers than business travelers.  Many have said that the new trend in travel is to go big and spend big.  I would say there are much more leisure than business travelers, and people choosing to travel long distances and budget for their bucket list destinations rather than tourist travel.  What do you think?  Let me know in the comment section.

Long-distance travel options.

Long-distance travel options.

Flying back and forth from Singapore to the US is a true example of long-range flying, and I have been flying this route for over ten years.  A non-stop flight can be 17 hours or more, and a stopover is a minimum of 24 hours.  So, when flying, I am very thoughtful of my options, and since I have been making this trip for many years, comfort is my number one priority.  For others, it may be budget over comfort.  Knowing and understanding your travel options can make a difference when contemplating long-distance travel.  Here are a few considerations to think of when evaluating your long-range travel options.

There are many options not only with airlines but also with the travel routes available when flying long-range.  On my recent flight from Singapore to the US, my options included many international and US carriers.  In addition, my stopover choices ranged from Paris, Germany, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Dubai, and Doha.  However, those were not my only possibilities, as I also had to consider my layover times, which ranged from 3 hours to over 11 hours.

When considering airlines, reputations make a difference.  For many years I preferred US airlines because of familiarity.  Later, my preference changed to international carriers after trying Singapore airlines, which had long been considered one of the best airlines.  However, I also realized I preferred something other than Singapore Airlines as it only flew non-stop to the East or West Coast, and I then had to travel to the Central US.  I then began to consider Asian airlines such as ANA All Nippon Airways or Japan airlines, to name a few.  I then learned I could fly directly into the central US with a stopover in Europe or the Middle East.  Middle Eastern airlines such as Qatar and Emirates also offer great travel options for flying into the Central US.

After flying into and around Asia for many years, I have found that many international carriers are more adept at customer service than US airlines.  As a former international flight attendant for a major US carrier, I know that cabin crews have a significant impact.  From experience, US crews are often more arrogant, discontent, and unnecessarily rude.  Many international carriers I have flown with seem to have genuinely caring crew members and are more considerate of passenger needs. 

In short, my advice to travelers when considering long-range flying options is to consider the many choices available.  At a minimum, consider the costs as well as the travel itinerary.  The airline’s reputation should also be a consideration and general acceptance by the public.  These considerations will ultimately lead to your list of preferred airlines, which you will consider only as a last resort.

I can go on and on about travel options, but to keep my blog short and impactful, I hope these options will make travelers more thoughtful when making travel plans.  I considered my options on my last long-distance trip and chose Qatar airlines.  The crew members were great, and so was the service.  The layover was short, and the airport was fantastic.  Overall I was delighted with my choice.  If you will give more consideration to your long-distance decisions now that I have given you food for thought, let me know and drop me a comment below.

Travel delays; a flight attendant perspective.

Travel delays; a flight attendant perspective.

I’ve seen many articles, news stories, and social media posts about travel delays many are enduring since the rebound of the travel industry post-Covid.  However, having been a flight attendant and still having friends that are flight attendants, I find it essential to add another perspective to travel delay realities.

Although pilots can indeed fly airplanes without flight attendants, they cannot fly with passengers without flight attendants on board.  In truth, passengers cannot even board an aircraft without a designated minimum crew of flight attendants onboard.  As a flight attendant and passenger, I have been at boarding gates and heard passengers being advised of delays due to inbound flight crews.  Understandably, passengers are upset when the flight attendants arrive.  While this may be true in many cases, flight attendants cannot board an airplane without being told to do so by management.  It is the airline management’s responsibility to ensure that flight attendants are in a position to ensure a smooth operation without delays caused by flight attendants.

Flight attendants are also affected by flight delays.  In normal operations, a flight lands, and there is enough time for the flight attendants to get off the aircraft and make it to their next assigned aircraft on time.  The reality is that flight attendants must wait until all passengers have departed the plane before they, too, can leave the airplane.  If you have ever been in the back of an aircraft waiting to deplane, you know how long this process can take.  In addition, if you have been delayed and must get from one gate to another, you will no doubt remember how much time it can take.  Flight attendants, just as passengers do, must also entertain these realities.

In addition, flight delays often mean flight attendants aren’t getting paid.  Flight attendants are paid for flight time when the plane leaves the gate.  Time on the ground is also a nuisance for them.  A flight disruption usually means the airline can reassign the flight crew.  Imagine leaving home thinking you are going to California and ending up in New England.  You may have packed for warm weather, but now you must prepare for a cold climate.  Furthermore, you may not be home to your family as expected.  Kids, pets, and loved ones must be cared for, and your schedule is at the airline’s discretion and operational needs.

Flight attendants also need to get to work on time.  In comparison, the commute for many of you involves cars and trains.  Many flight attendants, known as commuters, also have no choice but to travel by plane for work as they may live in a completely different state or country.  A delay means they can’t get to work on time, which means another flight will be short a crewmember and further delayed or canceled.  Once again, that delayed flight attendant will not get paid as expected and has to readjust.

If this post has made at least one of you think differently about flight attendants and airline crews during a delay, it has served its purpose.  No delay is greeted with delight unless you are running late for your flight, which is to your benefit.  However, I hope you will now be kinder to your airline crewmembers as they also suffer consequences with flight delays.  Please drop me a comment and let me know your thoughts.