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The “Lived” Travel Experience

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take a journey with me

My travel experience

My travel experience

As a former flight attendant, I look at travel much differently than the average traveler.  What taints my view of travel is my knowledge of the behind-the-scenes, the goals behind airline decisions, and the inner understanding of airline personnel and their behaviors.  That view colors my travel blog and the topics I choose to discuss on social media.  Here are a few realities of the travel industry and what I find frustrating about some people who have opinions about travel.

Travel for travel’s sake.

Many people sharing thoughts on travel  speak from the point of having “traveled all over the world” or “to so many places.” I often see people giving opinions on the country they have traveled to after only one or two visits.  If there is one thing my years of travel experience have taught me, it’s that no two travel experiences are ever the same.  There are many facets to a country, and one area may be vastly different from another.  Similarly, simply because a traveler has been to many destinations does not make them an expert on that destination.  Taking a single trip will not expose you to all there is to know about a country.  It simply means you have checked off visiting a destination.

Travel is unique.

Traveling during a peak travel season will be entirely different than traveling during an off-peak season.  Traveling in your younger years will be vastly different than traveling as an adult.  Traveling to say you’ve been to a destination is not the same as living or spending time in the country.  Traveling when you are self-confident and self-assured is distinct from traveling when trying to find your purpose, passion, or self.  Experiences during all these stages are distinctive to each traveler, even though travelers may simultaneously travel to the same destination.

Travel opinions.

As a travel blogger who follows all things travel, it becomes frustrating to understand the level of expertise given by travelers who travel for travel’s sake or the uniqueness of traveling.  For me, travel opinions are individual, and the fact that some people who have had the opportunity to travel can try to color or advise others on travel is annoying.  I do not color myself as an expert on travel, but I have over twenty years of experience in the travel industry and the critical thinking skills of someone who has earned a doctorate.  Therefore, I feel I am more capable of having a travel opinion worthier than the average traveler.

So, although I encourage you to follow my travel experience through my blog, I’d like you to follow it not for the sensational or trending topics but for the depth I bring to my stories on travel.   Do you agree with my blog on travel experience?  Please drop a comment below and let me know what you think.

5 tips for international travelers.

5 tips for international travelers.

In many travel industry news lately, there has been a resurgence of travel, and international travel is part of that recovery.  As the world has sprung back from the many restrictions from the Covid pandemic, so has travel.  Covid restrictions have relaxed worldwide, and Americans now have many more travel options.  There are many tips  I can give if international travel is in your future.  But after talking to a few friends currently traveling internationally, here are five tips for international travelers.

QR Codes.

Although many Americans think of the US as the world’s trendsetter, Covid realities have proven that the US trails the world regarding Covid documentation.  QR codes in the US are far more uncommon than in many international destinations.  Worldwide, digital QR codes allow others to access Covid test results and Covid vaccinations.  Many international destinations require this digital proof for entry rather than a photocopied or scanned copy of a vaccination report or test.  In many cases, you may be denied entry or turned away from your destination without a QR code, so check the requirements and prepare accordingly.

Visa travel requirements.

Again, many Americans think that the US passport is all that is needed for travel.  Although the US passport allows for visa-free travel to many countries, many international destinations require a visa upon entry.  In some cases, a visa upon entry into some countries is available.  However, many travelers will find the error of not considering visa requirements at the airport check-in when they are denied boarding.  Other times they will discover this fact when they are denied entry and never get to leave the airport of the country after hours of travel.  Travelers can apply for travel visas at the country’s embassy, consulate, or online.  Please ensure you apply when necessary and be aware of scam sites using an online platform.

Travel information.

After years of traveling, it’s amazing how many travelers travel with little travel information.  At most international destinations, a landing card or arrival card is required.  This card is considered a legal document presented at immigration and used by the country authorities to collect information on passengers entering their country.  This includes personal details, flight information, and travel details such as hotel stay with name and address.  It’s incredible how many people simply know the destination but not the flight number of the airplane they are traveling on.  Please try to have all this information and a pen in your hand-carry luggage when traveling internationally.

WhatsApp messenger service.

While not as common in the US, the WhatsApp messenger service is used worldwide.  It only requires Wi-Fi in some cases but may incur international charges based on your cellular plan.  Please remember to turn roaming off on your phone to avoid fees.  Most importantly, WhatsApp calls are free when connected to the internet.  The key to using this service when traveling internationally is downloading and setting up the app before leaving your home country.  Additionally, have those you plan to stay in contact with download the app.  I have found that calls and chats are easier on the app if the person you are trying to contact is listed in your WhatsApp contacts.

Medication

If you are taking prescription medications, please travel with your prescription bottle and carry medicines in your hand-carry.  Many people carry weekly pill carriers with medication they may identify on sight.  However, if you ever lose your medication when traveling, having the prescription bottle, which has your identification information and the medication name, will make it much easier to access the replacement medication.  In some countries, you may simply go to the pharmacy with the information and bypass seeing a doctor.

These are but five tips that are useful if you’re thinking of international travel.  There are many more, so look for future blog posts with even more tips and information.  If you found any of these helpful.

Race and nationality when traveling.

Race and nationality when traveling.

Travel comes with some inequities in the travel and tourism industry for people of color.  Often that impact is also affected by race and nationality.  The reality is that traveling while black comes with some individual challenges.  In my travels as a black woman, I have experienced being denied certain privileges because of my race by non-blacks and other people of color.  With non-blacks, I have encountered people thinking I am not good enough or entitled to enjoy the same travel experiences.  With some people of color, there is sometimes a judgment or derision that I think I am better because I am experiencing certain travel opportunities.  Race, nationality, and ethnicity are the realities of traveling while black.  Here are my thoughts.

Race

I define EbonyTravelers, as any traveler of color.  As someone who has experienced the travel space professionally and personally, I am confident that travelers of color are identified primarily by their race.  If someone were to ask me, I would say we are all one race, the human race.  However, the reality is that at first sight, I am recognizably a part of what many define as the black race.  That racial identity is a part of my reality when I travel because, in many countries, my race often defines me as a minority.  Usually, I travel and go into quaint little stores in the tourist areas.  Because of my race, I  prepare myself to encounter issues from those who may not see me as simply a tourist.  I am careful not to put my hands in my pockets or go into my purse, as someone may assume I have taken something.  Unfortunately, this experience is a common one for many travelers of color.

Nationality.

With travel, race and nationality are two distinct constructs.  Travel identification first comes from one’s passport, which automatically defines nationality.  When traveling internationally, one’s identity is often determined by the passport one carries.  I travel under an American passport, so my travel identification is based on that nationality.  I’ve found that when I identify as an American, even though my black race is apparent, my travel experiences are more favorable.

Ethnicity.

Ethnicity and nationality are different constructs but sometimes just as important as race and nationality.  Ethnicity is related to race and culture.  I was born in Barbados, even though I travel under an American passport.  The ethnicity of Barbados also includes race, but ethnicity does not seem to be a factor in travel as much as race and nationality.  When I travel, it is not until I have conversations with people that my ethnicity is recognized, so I find that it does not often affect my black travel experience.

Regardless of race, nationality, or ethnicity, there is racism in the travel industry, and it affects the experiences of EbonyTravelers.  There is often a need to produce more identification and a justification of reason for traveling than other travelers experience.  Additionally, people of color are subject to more random searches and checks while traveling than non-blacks.

Despite the realities of traveling while black, I believe there is a need to show the experiences to black travelers more than ever.  While there has been a surge in black travelers, there is still a lack of inclusion in mainstream travel advertising.  As a result, many people of color are unaware of the many travel experiences they can experience.  A more diverse travel perspective needs to be shared so more travelers of color can enjoy the travel experience.  Travel makes us better, and the more black people are exposed to travel, the more race, nationality, and ethnicity mean less.

Traveling with a non-visible disability

Traveling with a non-visible disability

After having emergency brain surgery, I have had some experiences and realizations that I never envisioned.  One of the most striking realizations is about non-visible disabilities.  The side effects from my surgery are not noticeable, but I consider them a disability.  I am blessed to say that I am fortunate not to have any extreme adverse side effects from my surgery.  However, I still suffer from headaches, short-term memory loss, and tiredness.  I will be traveling with a non-visible disability for the foreseeable future.

An invisible disability is defined as “disabilities that are not immediately apparent.”  For example, I was out shopping with my daughter.  Even though there were no outward signs of my fatigue, headache, or exhaustion, I was experiencing those symptoms.  As my daughter shopped, there was no place to sit, and the few places available were occupied by men waiting for their wives/girlfriends.  I knew from personal experience the wisdom of the saying, “you never know what someone is going through.” Now more than ever, I can say that I genuinely understand empathy and kindness.  Through my personal experience, I can now add an awareness of non-visible disability to my reality.

As a purser flight attendant, I remember coordinating the boarding process with the boarding agent.  Part of this coordination was the early boarding process of wheelchairs, as it took extra time for wheelchair passengers to board.  I remember being so frustrated with departures from Santo Domingo in particular because there were so many (in my mind) non-disabled young women in wheelchairs.  At the time,  I assumed these wheelchair passengers were non-disabled.  I did not realize that the destination, besides a place for beautiful all-inclusive resorts, was also a popular destination for plastic surgery.  So, although they looked fine on the outside, these young women were probably in considerable pain from their surgeries.  They needed the wheelchairs I assumed were unnecessary.

In another experience, I was once working on a flight.  The crew consisted of flight attendants who had been flying over.  The junior flight attendants complained about the senior flight attendant not knowing what she was doing.  As the purser, I talked to this senior flight attendant about her impact on the flight and crew.  She explained to me that her father had unknowingly run over her little boy, and this was one of her first trips back to work since this unfortunate accident.  She did not want to come back to work and admitted she wasn’t emotionally ready.  Still, she had no choice because of finances.

Those experiences were life lessons for me in empathy and kindness.  I could not imagine the pain that the flight attendant was feeling, not only for herself but for her father, and the trauma of the accident for him.  These experiences made me realize that all disabilities do not have outward signs as I became older.  My inability to do certain things I took for granted has cemented my thoughts on disabilities, not just being outward showing.

As you travel or go about your daily lives, I hope you consider those around you that may not behave as you would like them.  You never know what non-visible disability that person may be experiencing.

Traveling and healthcare

Traveling and healthcare

My first experience with traveling and healthcare occurred while pregnant with my son. At the time, I was living in the UK and went to the doctor for a pregnancy checkup. My prior experience of any well-woman checkup included an examining table with footrests. When I got to see the doctor in the UK, he told me to bend my knees and spread. I decided then and there that I was going back to the US to have my baby. I’ll never know what the experience is like to have a baby in a foreign country. Still, after being in foreign hospitals, I now know that expectations and realities are different. Most importantly, care can be much better than expected. I was recently diagnosed with brain aneurysms and had brain surgery in Singapore. Here are a few positive realities from my recent experience in traveling and healthcare.

In Singapore, doctors and their affiliations with hospitals are invaluable. In comparison, in my US experience, even though the doctors have partnerships with hospitals and testing centers, the coordination of appointments is not always timely. For example, when my friend in the US had test results that indicated she had breast cancer, she still had to wait at least two weeks to meet with a specialist. With my recent Singapore experience, I made a doctors’ appointment, saw the doctor, and was sent for an MRI the same day. Based on the results, I was admitted to the hospital the next day and had emergency brain surgery the following day. The entire process of diagnosis to treatment with brain surgery took three days.

Having medical insurance in Singapore was a benefit. However, the availability of medical insurance did not affect my treatment plan. My hospitalization happened over the weekend, so coordination with my insurance company was not available. Admission to the hospital was due to my diagnosis, not my insurance plan. I was given an estimate of $57,000 for my hospitalization and surgery during the admission process. Not once was I asked about employment or verification of insurance. In comparison, I have been to the emergency room in the US and have had to wait until the hospital verified my insurance before a doctor would attend to me.

I have also noticed that my experience with foreign doctors is more collaborative. The collaboration could be because I am more into wellness care than health care. I am very proactive when it comes to my health and not only visit the doctor when I have symptoms but also keep a schedule of health checks with a specific doctor. On almost every visit to a foreign doctor, I have left with a medical report of my testing results with ranges that show my health status so I could jointly decide what I needed to focus on.

This post is specifically about my recent lived experience in Singapore. I have had similar medical experiences in Thailand and have been to doctors in the UK and Germany. Overall, I think healthcare outside the US is a more positive experience. Like flying international carriers, it’s been my experience that customer service in the healthcare field is a much more positive experience. Have you had experience with healthcare outside the US? Are you surprised by my experiences? I’d like to know, so drop me a comment below.

There’s a reason for airline rules.

There’s a reason for airline rules.

As a former flight attendant, I have seen many travelers take offense to a flight attendant’s request to follow an airline rule.  I can honestly say that flight attendants do not try to make passengers unhappy.  In contrast, happy passengers make for a comfortable flight for everyone.  Flight attendants are simply doing their job, and that job comes with rules and regulations they must follow and ensure that you do as well.  Not enforcing the rules exposes flight attendants to fines and loss of employment.  Here are a few reasons for the rules some passengers take offense to.

Seatbelts.
Although it may be comfortable not to wear a seatbelt, there is an excellent reason for ensuring that passengers wear their seatbelts during the flight. One of the most compelling reasons is air turbulence.  There are times when turbulence occurs without warning.  If this happens and a passenger is not wearing a seatbelt, they can be severely injured or killed.  One of the reasons this does not occur often is because flight attendants ensure seatbelts are worn.

Exit seats.
Airplane exit seats are desirable because of the extra legroom.  However, many passengers conveniently forget that the extra room is there to get people out of the airplane in an emergency quickly.  This reason is why young children and disabled people are not allowed to sit in the exit row.  Imagine a young child trying to open and throw a 70-pound window exit or someone unable to get out the exit quickly.  Flight attendants are required to ask before every flight if a passenger is willing and able to assist in the event of an emergency.  Moreover, there is no time to rearrange seats in an emergency.  Therefore, even when the exit seat is available, there may be a reason a passenger is unable to sit in it.

The seatbelt sign.
Passengers must be seated before the aircraft can leave the gate and stay seated until the seatbelt sign has been turned off.  This rule is not an airline rule but an FAA rule.  Although there are rare cases, flights have had to stop on the runway suddenly, and if not seated, passengers can be hurt.  In addition, airplanes can occasionally collide, which is another chance for passenger injury.  However, these occurrences are rare, and so often, passengers think walking around to be of no danger when that is far from the truth.

Disruptive passengers have become more and more common recently.  However, passengers should understand that flight attendants are doing a job that requires them to enforce the rules.  Not following these rules can impact passenger safety and jeopardize a flight attendants’ job.  Challenging flight attendants on basic rules is simply being rude.  By sharing this information, I hope that the reader will be just a bit kinder to flight attendants next time they get on an airplane and merely follow the rules.