This article was originally published on CurlzandtheCity.com.
Every now and again, we hard-working city girls need a vacation. So two months ago I packed my bags, turned off my work phone, grabbed my passport and headed to Morocco for two glorious weeks.
I rode camels across the golden sands of the Sahara Desert. I got lost in towns with streets only wide enough for people and donkeys to walk though. I traversed the great Atlas Mountains. I explored the beauty of the rich textiles and brightly colored mosaics Morocco is known for. I was proposed to by more than a few strange, yet very kind and sweet men. To sum it up…I LIVED!
As I prepped for my trip, I debated about what I wanted to do with my hair. I considered Havana twists for a while so I wouldn’t have to fuss over my hair at all, but I really wanted some pictures of me in the Motherland with my tapered curly crop I love so much. Since my wash & go’s usually last about 5-7 days, I was in search of a way to stretch my ‘do’ the remaining week of my trip without having to take up space in my suitcase with a blow dryer, diffuser or hair products.
Days before my departure, I stumbled upon fellow Harlem-ite and head wrap designer Paola Mathe of FANM DJANM (which stands for ‘strong woman’) at the pop-up Sugar Hill Market. She was displaying her new collection of African print headwraps and as I approached her booth, gazing at the beautiful fabrics displayed on the table, Paola greeted me with a smile and spun me around to try some different wrap styles on my crown.
THE LOVELY PAOLA TRIES SOME HEADWRAPS ON ME AT SUGAR HILL MARKET (PHOTO: FINDING PAOLA)
She wrapped the scarves so effortlessly, creating works of arts on my head so stunning it made even me do a double take at myself in the mirror. I had found THE PERFECT solution for my hair maintenance while abroad. I snapped up two different wraps in versatile prints that could be worn many ways and headed out for Morocco.
My headwraps were a huge hit among the locals and tourists alike in Morocco. Paola got my creative juices revved up so much during our mini wrap session back home that I found ways to make headwraps out of other scarves I had brought with me on my trip that I only planned to wear as neck-scarves or cover ups.
So, you want to plan a trip with friends and family but no one in your entourage is ‘rolling’ yet? If you add up the cost of flights, resort fees, food, activities, and rental cars, trips can get pretty costly. Oh, and then there are all these destination weddings you are getting invited to this year… I mean come on. The invitation is flattering but, when you get down to it, you have to figure out where you’re going to get $1,000 of disposable income. If you wait until you’ve stacked up cash, you may never get to spend a fun, relaxing weekend with loved ones. Life is made up of a series of wonderful moments - here are tips to plan a memorable getaway without breaking the aqua bank.
1. Pick a vacation destination central to the majority of your party. Consider where your friends and family are coming from. If you’re lucky, they’re all in the same general area, so picking somewhere convenient to travel to together will be easy. But if you’re like me, they’ll all be spread out. In this case, try selecting a location convenient for the most folks, or for those whose budgets are less flexible. It’s the nice thing to do…
2. Pack light! With the exorbitant fees for checked baggage these days, you can save yourself upwards of $100 by only taking a carry-on. If you are going away for just a weekend you should be able to pull this off… Just say no to that third pair of stilettos!
3. Keep an eye on flash deals! One of the keys to cheap and chic travel will be to remain flexible. You never know when deals will become available. I have found fantastic opportunities via resources like Gilt City, Jetsetter, Groupon, Travelzoo and Vacationist. The one caveat is, you have to be ready to pull the trigger. So, if you want to welcome adventure, flash deals could be the right move!
4. Take advantage of the off-season. Some of my best vacations have been during the off-season. Prices are way more reasonable and there are crazy deals. No snow on the slopes? Try Lake Tahoe. A little warmer than usual, check out Miami. This past Fourth of July, some friends and I visited Palm Springs. Sure, it was 107 degrees at its peak, but we spent the majority of the time in the pool or inside our wonderfully air-conditioned house, which brings me to suggestion #5…
5. Find home and vacation rentals. I wanted to get a big group of friends and family together for the 4th of July. We were all on a budget, so it was important that this be a quick, cheap, and easy getaway. Given that we had eight people, I searched for home rentals via: www.homeaway.com, www.vrbo.com, www.airbnb.com. Eight people contributing to the rental widened our net. Suddenly, we were able to afford a three bedroom three bathroom house, with a pool and gourmet kitchen (see picture above). I was really nervous about renting through a website. I worried that someone might run away with my money, or that the home wouldn’t be as advertised.* Fortunately, it turned out better than expected! Having a kitchen allowed us to cook for ourselves and save money on dining out. In preparation, I planned out our meals for the two-day stay and got just the right amount of supplies from Costco and Whole Foods. Once there, we happily chilled at the house, swimming, cooking, drinking, talking, and playing games. Our two-day Palm Springs vacay worked out to under $140 per person!
*TIP: Read reviews and customer advice before purchasing. Obviously, the more positive reviews the better, but don’t just look at the number of stars, be sure to read the text. Other vacationers will help you determine if the house will fit your vacation needs.
If you’re jonesing for time away with friends, try something a little non-traditional. Even if it doesn’t turn out like one of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s fabulous vacations, at least it will be an adventure.
Brace yourself. I am about to divulge my morning routine. Perhaps when I find my one and only, I’ll spend my first waking moments staring at his handsome face while he sleeps. Until then, here it goes…
6:30am: Alarm goes off.
6:31am: Hit snooze.
6:41am: Hit snooze.
6:51am: Open eyes. Check text messages.
6:52am: Check missed calls and voicemails.
6:53am: Check emails.
6:54am: Check Facebook.
6:55am: Check CNN
7:00am: Morning run.
So, at least I get a morning run in, right? It’s pretty sad that the early moments of my day are spent “plugging in.” Truth be told, the only time I’m not readily connected to the Internet or reachable via text is when I’m sleeping. It’s the same way for many of my friends. No longer can we just turn our computers off and walk away from the mesmerizing Internet. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 90% of adult Americans have a cell phone, and 50% of them use it to browse the Internet. That, combined with the fact that more people are freelancing and becoming entrepreneurial, makes it almost impossible to disconnect. Who knows when they’ll receive an important email, a job offer, or god forbid, an emergency phone call?
Learning to unplug on a daily basis may be too large a task at the moment. But what about taking a periodic vacation? It should be easy to stop working, unplug and lay on the beach with a Mai Tai…right? Not necessarily. Checking email, texts and Facebook becomes such an ingrained habit that even a beautiful, sandy shore can’t distract you. So, for right now, here are a few suggestions on how to unplug during a vacation:
Alert Those Closest to You About Your Vacation and Why It’s Important
This goes for family as well as co-workers. Of course you’ll tell your mom, your best friend and your boss that you’re leaving town. But I’ve learned that dropping hints about said vacation and its importance will encourage them to leave you alone. Emphasize the aspects of your holiday that you’re looking forward to: relaxing, spending quality time with a loved one or exploring. When a couple goes on their honeymoon no one ever calls, texts or emails them. That’s because everyone understands the significance of the moment.
Set Auto-Response on Your Email
I’ve always believed you should never email when you can call. If someone has something important or urgent to discuss with you, they will call. If not, they will email. Setting up an auto-response about your limited availability will keep those eager for a quick response at bay. Auto-response will act like your personal assistant letting clients or co-workers know who to contact in your absence. Everyone else will just be inspired by your vacation.
Travel ‘Tech’ Light
Very rarely does anyone go on vacation without work to do. Figure out exactly what needs to get done during your precious down time and if you really need your iPhone, iPad and iBook. When I have writing to complete on vacation, I leave my computer at home and bring a journal. This helps reduce my urge to search for free Wi-Fi.
OK. You have work to do and there’s no way around it. May I suggest that you schedule time to plug in? Give yourself a time limit. Maybe you’ll work online from 8am to10am. Whatever you choose, once your time is up, it’s up. Shut everything down and go enjoy your day of freedom!
Vacations and holidays are supposed to be set aside for relaxation, adventure and/or family time. We usually allow ourselves a short break in discipline. So, of course it should be easier to break free from our need to be accessible during our time off. With that said, I do believe it’s important that we learn to set boundaries at all times. For the record, last week I found myself without a cell phone for an ENTIRE day. At first, I was uneasy. By the end of the day, I was relieved. Who cares that I’d missed 5 phone calls and a couple of texts. At some point, I’d forgotten about my nagging need to hit refresh on my inbox, and I took the time to be thankful for and enjoy the sun, my freedom, and the company I kept.
Anyone who knows me even semi-decently knows one thing: I. LOVE. Food. Culinary exploration is one of my favorite parts (and biggest expenses *sigh*) of traveling and experiencing new cultures. Stop number two in my travels across Europe was Ireland. My grandmother--although US-born--was 100% Irish by blood; so as I left Barcelona and headed to Dublin, I was definitely looking forward to learning more about Irish culture. But leaving tapas and Sangria behind, I can’t necessarily say that I was psyched about Irish food. I mean, I like potatoes as much as the next girl (okay, probably more), but how many can a woman be expected to consume over the course of a week?
Luckily, Irish cuisine has much more to offer than I originally surmised. Of course, a bustling city like Dublin offers more than just traditional Irish fare, but I don’t travel to have a burger and fries (…I’m sorry, “chips”) wherever I go. I wanted to get a feel for some of the typical dishes, which—in most places I found—are served with a fresh new twist. I invite you to tag along with me through my day of Dublin cuisine:
Naturally, I couldn’t make it all the way to this country and not try an Irish breakfast. That’s about as sacrilegious as building a pub in an old church! Okay, maybe that’s a bad example for Ireland (see: The Church Bar, Dublin, Ireland):
But I digress. Generally speaking, this traditional dish includes bacon, sausage, fried eggs, black and white pudding, toast, fried tomato and sautéed mushrooms. Chatham Brasserie’s version includes tasty, crispy breakfast potatoes and their choice of a poached egg offered a bit more polish to the traditional dish. And although I did taste the black pudding, I can’t say that I will be going back for seconds (hint: one of the main ingredients is blood). Definitely NOT Bill Cosby approved. But pudding aside, an Irish breakfast is a tasty and filling way to start the day. Wash this one down with an Irish coffee--coffee with whiskey, topped with a thick cream--and I wasn’t feeling too shabby. Off to a decent start!
After such a huge breakfast, I wasn’t that hungry around lunchtime, so I decided to take a local Irishman’s advice and hit up Grogan’s. Described as a good place to “relax in the middle of the day”—read: drink a couple of pints—Grogan’s is a low key, artsy pub where you’ll encounter “relaxers” of all ages. It was a beautiful day, so I enjoyed my pint of Smithwicks Ale and one of their toasted sandwiches on their comfy yet crowded patio.
Situated between the centuries-old George’s Street Arcade and the Powerscourt Antique Gallery, it felt a bit more authentic than, say, the Gourmet Burger Kitchen across the way, advertising their €9.99 “meal deal.” The patio is perfect for people-watching--and eavesdropping on discussions between the locals about important cultural issues like the authenticity of Margaret’s Irish accent on Boardwalk Empire, among other things. While far from gourmet, their toasty sandwich of Irish cheddar cheese, traditional deli ham and tomato was surprisingly tasty, and I found Smithwick’s to be a nice local beer for those who find Guinness to be a bit on the heavy side. If you’re looking for a cool, non-touristy pub in Dublin, this is a great option.
For dinner, I stepped out on a non-Irish limb and was genuinely impressed by the offerings of Roly’s Bistro, a French-Irish fusion restaurant whose café offers quality yet reasonably-priced set dinner menus. I opted for the Thai spiced fishcakes as a starter, the confit of duck as a main and two of their “tapas style” desserts. Far from traditional Irish, the restaurant came highly recommended by several Dubliners I met on my trip. And for good reason. The fishcakes were flaky and seasoned just right, and the duck perfectly cooked and served on a bed of Asian-inspired noodles and veggies. The mini dessert of a Pavlova pillow with fresh strawberries and chocolate mousse with malteasers complemented each other perfectly. The staff was friendly and helpful, and quick with recommendations. Highly recommend!
I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by Irish cuisine as a whole, even as I ventured out of Dublin to the west coast of the country. I loved that I could indulge in modern, fusion dishes as well as those with old-world, traditional charm. But as I’m not a vampire, there will be no black blood pudding in my future. Next stop: London!
Your mini-vacation to Vegas to celebrate insert-big-event-here with your friends is quickly approaching.
Your flight is purchased, the hotel suite is booked, and you’ve added some hot new heels to your collection that you can’t wait to show off. But there is one lingering conundrum that you haven’t addressed – letting your boss in on your big summer plans. In fact, even though you had lunch with your boss twice last week and have attended several meetings together, you’ve been deliberately avoiding the conversation. As Lauryn Hill said, “It could all be so simple, but you’d rather make it hard….” Why is this? Why is it so difficult to request the time off that, quite frankly, you deserve for all of your professional dedication and efforts?
You are not alone in feeling this anxiety that causes you to delay this inevitable conversation. I have been in the HR field for over seven years, and I still get nervous about requesting to use the annual vacation time that was promised to me when I signed my name on the dotted line of that offer letter. Everyone needs time off now and then—even your boss. Still, it is never an easy task to have that awkward discussion. It all boils down to how you handle the situation, which is also a direct reflection of your level of professionalism.
The following is a step by step guide to getting time off the right way:
Notify your boss as soon as possible. If you ask for time off the right way, your employer will have ample time to make the necessary arrangements for someone to cover for you in your absence.
Enlist someone to help out. Limit your boss’s anxiety about your departure by taking the initiative to identify someone in your department who can assist while you are M-I-A.
Wrap up loose ends. Complete as many projects as you can prior to your last day in the office. For any projects that you can’t finish, create a detailed list or spreadsheet clearly outlining their statuses and what will need to be done in your absence. Review this document with your supervisor as well as with any co-worker(s) who will have your back while you are drinking mai-tai’s on the beach. God love them.
Let everyone know. By spreading the word, you are also managing the expectations of everyone else. If they have a question or concern about a work-related issue, they can be sure to get it addressed prior to your departure.
Set an Out of Office on Email/Voicemail. These notifications should detail the dates you will be away and the contact with whom people can follow-up. Demonstrating this level of preparedness is a great way to express your loyalty and dedication to your employer.
Check in Occasionally. While we all dread checking the infamous Blackberry while vacationing, it is a good idea to check your email and respond to a few. This will really convince your boss that you’d much rather be working than sunbathing on the beach. Okay…maybe that’s a stretch, but at least it will show how much you value your role.
Come back ready to work. Showing up a little early to the office on the day you return will allow you to catch up on emails and greet all of your colleagues with sun-kissed skin and a smile. This will also give you the perfect opportunity to share some photos and brag about the amazing time you had in paradise before getting back to the grind.
As a professional, you’ve done your part in disclosing all information to your boss, so you can rest-assured that your time off schedule is confirmed. Now you can focus on flirting with that fine bartender while relaxing at the pool with a clear “work free” conscience. Bottoms up!
If every time you hear that famous airline commercial ask, “Want to get away?” you answer “yes!,” it may be time to jump online and book yourself a ticket. The problem is, sometimes we are in such a hurry to get away that we don’t think rationally enough. Planning is everything when it comes to a fabulous vacay. Here are some tips to improve your traveling experience and make it memorable enough to forget that embarrassing scene at last weekend’s party/fight with your bff/meeting with your boss….
The Early Bird Catches the Best Deal…
First things first: don’t just jump on a website and buy a ticket for the next flight out. Plan as far in advance as you can stand. The later you start planning, the more money it will end up costing you. This will also lead to you settling for whatever’s leftover when it comes to rental cars, hotel rooms, etc. We know, you want to leave ASA-Now, but good things come to those who wait. You will also want to plan a bit in advance so you can get that precious vacation time approved and make sure loose ends are tied up in the office. By planning efficiently, you prove to your superiors that you are reliable enough to go on vacation again without falling behind at the office.
Bargain Hunt Your Way to the Bahamas
When you’re ready to purchase your flight, there are a few ways to save. If you are traveling domestically and your schedule is flexible, consider flying Southwest (www.iflyswa.com). They offer one-way rates for as low as $69 and don’t charge baggage fees for up to 2 checked bags!
By signing up with travel sites such as Expedia, Orbitz, Priceline, Kayak, Jetsetter and Travelzoo, you get weekly offers for combined rooms and airfare. Keep in mind that although you may find a great deal on one site, there could be better ones out there. I recommend opening multiple tabs on your browser and comparing window to window. I’ve saved a lot of money by comparison shopping on each site rather than trusting the advertised compared rates.
There are more ways to book than just online. If you are open to a grander destination or perhaps a cruise, you can always look into deals offered through grocery club memberships. Costco offers great deals to their members on cruises and international getaways.
Another option for discounted airfare is Craigslist. It is possible to find sellers for airline tickets at amazing rates; just make sure you obtain a confirmation number and exercise caution. While there are lots of scammers on Craigslist, there are also reliable leads. I purchased airfare to Kauai for half off during peak travel season. However, I made sure to check out the seller’s reputation, ask them for a flight confirmation number, and paid for the tickets through PayPal. Remember, the more money you save on your ticket purchase, the more money you will have to burn when you reach your destination.
Do you travel a lot for work? You should be earning travel points through a credit card or airline rewards program. While doing your research, check and see how many points you have accumulated. This is the perfect time to consider cashing them in to knock some money off of your trip, or maybe even cover it entirely!
When it’s time to start looking into lodging, some good places to start are Hotels.com and AAA. It is also good to put the word out amongst friends and family when considering a destination. You might discover that Great Aunt Sofia lives in San Francisco or your old college roommate moved to New York and has a guest room with your name on it. By staying with someone rather than paying for a hotel, you get the perks of feeling more at home, being with someone you know and trust and having a person to show you around. It might even be best to think of who you know in an area then planning your trip around their location once they’ve agreed to let you stay.
For international traveling, hostels are an appealing option. They are cheap and full of tourists, just like you. If you are willing to camp out, go backpacking, have a strict budget, want to meet people from all over, and/or simply need a place to rest your head, then these are a great bet. Travel guides offer up all sorts of hostel listings; all you have to do is get to Googling or check out your local bookstore. It’s important to note that if you want a more relaxing getaway with some pampering and minimal noise, hostels are not the way to go. In this case you should cough up the extra money and opt for a hotel.
Regardless of where you stay, be sure to read up on reviews on travel websites, such as tripadvisor.com. These reviews are left by guests who have actually stayed at the places you’re considering and it’s better to get the inside scoop before you commit to anywhere. And if your friends, family or coworkers have any suggestions for where to stay, look into it. It is always best and safest to stay somewhere reputable, where you know what to expect.
Guest List to Greece
It is just as important to choose the right travel buddy as it is to pick the best trip. Make sure you are asking reliable friends and family members who will be financially responsible. Sure, everyone wants to go away with you at first, but when the credit cards have been billed, you will want to make sure the people who signed on are going to pay you back. If a friend of a friend is being invited, don’t hesitate to suggest a group outing prior to traveling together to make sure everyone gets along and is on the same page when it comes to money and travel arrangements.
Editing is Key
Chances are you will be tempted to raid your closet and bring outfits for every possible weather situation you can imagine. After all, you are a Made Woman and you want to be prepared for anything and everything. While you may want to pack your Louboutins in the event that you will be invited to a gala in the middle of your family vacation to Ohio, think twice. Is it really important to pack such an expensive item that would bog you down and be hard to replace if lost or damaged? Probably not. Check with your travel companions to see who is bringing what that can be shared or borrowed, so not everyone is wasting precious suitcase room on a blow dryer.
Lastly, don’t bring things that can easily be purchased at the airport or found in a host’s home. Remember, airline restrictions are firm and fully enforced. No use wasting your money and minutes in the TSA line just to have your items thrown out. Visit www.tsa.gov to find out what you can and can’t bring on your trip. Check the weather forecast and make sure you are packing correctly.
When that tropical vacation starts calling your name, figuring out how to make it all happen does not have to cause your next migraine. There are a lot of things to consider when you get into plotting mode, but if you keep yourself organized and give yourself time to work out all the details, you will be flying your Made self into a new area code in no time. Keep these tips in mind the next time you want to get away and get ready for smooth sailing…or cruising…or flying… or skiing… You get the idea. No matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, be sure to remember the most important tip of all: Have fun!