Style // September 2, 2014

If there are two things every Made Woman loves it’s travel and fashion. Now there’s one app that brings the two together: 1st Class Fashion. Designed by Cindy Nkem, co-founder and creative director, 1st Class Fashion marries the love of style with the love of travel. More than just an app, the lifestyle brand has expanded to include events and merchandise. The company is a family affair as Cindy works with her brother Dr. Collins Ezeuka, who came up with the idea while traveling over the holidays. The company grew and Cindy eventually left her job in public relations to sign on to 1st Class Fashion full time.

Made Woman Magazine is excited to be a media partner for 1st Class Fashion’s Luxe Lane event this Thursday. Get more details here and learn more about Cindy and 1st Class Fashion below!

Co-Founder of 1st Class Fashion Cindy Nkem 

Serena Watson : The idea for 1st Class Fashion is pretty unique. Can you tell me about it in your own words?
Cindy Nkem: 1st Class Fashion is a revolutionary and interactive social media platform designed to provide sartorial and travel related content to style savvy consumers around the world. Through the platform, we strive to foster luxe, in-person experiences for our online users. Fashion lovers connect online by sharing photos of their daily style, then their friends and other community members "like" the photo. At the end of each month, those who receive 300 likes or more are awarded a 1st Class round trip ticket to anywhere in the world. This unique experience is designed to empower members to showcase their style and inspire new trends, while celebrating their individuality.

SW: How do people enter?
CN: Participation in the platform is easy, just upload a photo of your daily style to our Style Cycle and get your friends, fashion community members and family to like the photo.

SW: Where are some of the places you've sent people thus far?
CN: We’ve had winners from all around the world travel to culturally rich locations like Istanbul, Ghana, Tokyo and England.

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SW: We are so looking forward to your event! What are your goals for the event and what can people expect?
CN: We’re super excited as well, and we have so many fun things in store. There will be unique vendors offering exclusively discounted merchandise, complimentary cocktails, a premier screening of our latest promotional video, sounds from LA’s finest DJ’s NoMBe and Ariel, and last but not least, the official presentation of our new 1st Class Fashion mobile app.

SW: What's next for 1st Class Fashion? Tell me about some of your other initiatives.

CN: If there’s one thing you can say about 1st Class Fashion, it’s that we’re always progressing and on the move. We’ve got a number of exciting projects in the works, including a unique and ultra luxe line of luggage, small leather goods and accessories. While this line is still in the development stage, the gorgeous materials we’ve been sourcing for the products already have us eager to see the final pieces!

Entry in 1st Class Fashion Style Cycle

SW: What has been the response from your user base?
CN: Audience reception has been extremely positive and enthusiastic about the platform, and we find those that engage with 1st Class Fashion to then become loyal followers of the brand. There is an appreciation for a company that is willing to give more in return to its users than any other photo-sharing platforms on the market.

SW: Why do you think it is important for young professionals to travel?
CN: Travel and self-discovery are important in the development of an individual. As a team of young professionals ourselves, we have each personally benefited from our international travel experiences. Our travels have taught us greater understanding of different cultures and points of view, which in turn have made us better real-world communicators and listeners.

@AvantBlargh Winner From Current 1st Class Fashion Style Cycle

SW: How long did it take to develop your app?
CN: The entire process has been a labor of love. We’ve gone through numerous iterations and design schemes over the past eight months or so, and started putting the technical development gears in motion about two months ago. The app is currently going through Beta testing to be ready very soon for our 1st Class Fashion members who are always on the go! Look for it in the iTunes app store on September 5th!

Published in Current
Sunday, 29 December 2013 01:55

Travel | Five Travel Destinations For 2014

Travel // December 28, 2013

After the festivities of Christmas and New Year have come and gone, you might be looking for another reason to celebrate. The good news is, there are plenty of fabulous festivals taking place around the world in spring. By conducting an online holiday comparison, you should be able to find the ideal trip for you.  For example, from February 14th until March 4th, Nice in southern France will come alive to the sights and sounds of the Nice Carnival. Centered on the Place Masséna, this spectacle presents a procession of huge floats while musicians and street artists strut their stuff before excited crowds. This is one of the largest carnivals in the world and it takes place day and night.

On the other hand, if it’s unbridled sun and sand you’re after, perhaps a vacation to the Caribbean would suit. While the cost of trips to this part of the world tend to soar over the winter period, they start to fall again in springtime. Barbados is a great option. This island has something to offer everyone regardless of their budget. On its west coast, Barbados features luxurious resorts that are the perfect place to enjoy some pampering. Alternatively, its east coast offers wild waves that make superb surfing conditions. Its lush interior, meanwhile, features impressive plantation homes complete with museums that document the island’s fascinating and complex history.

In the Indian Ocean, the Maldives provides excellent holiday conditions year-round, and can be especially appealing during the spring. These coral isles boast beautiful beaches, clear waters and plenty of sunshine. It’s no wonder then that they have become something of a mecca for holidaymakers who are keen to relax and unwind. This is the perfect spot to enjoy some diving and to top up your tan.

Costa Rica is also well worth considering
. Its tourist high season runs from December to April. While in the country, you can get close to nature, spotting howler monkeys, tropical birds and iguanas, among other species. You can also surf, hike and snorkel, meaning you won’t run out of activities to keep you busy. Given the natural beauty of this Central American land, it is no wonder it attracts 1.5 million visitors each year.

North African nations can also make fabulous holiday destinations in spring and Morocco is no exception. This country boasts myriad landscapes, ranging from arid deserts to the snowy peaks of the Atlas mountains. No vacation to this part of the world is complete without a trip to the ancient medinas that can be found in its towns and cities. These bustling centers, complete with their souks, are truly mesmerizing.  

There are so many destinations to choose from if you fancy a springtime holiday. With a little imagination, you should be able to find something that fulfills all of your vacation needs.

Published in Travel
Monday, 07 October 2013 04:22

Destination Coupledom: Travel for Lovers

January 30, 2012

In a relationship there are many milestones to cherish: the first kiss, meeting the parents, saying “I love you” … and of course that first vacation together. Here are some tips and destination suggestions to help you plan a fun holiday in Blissville.

For Travel Newbies: San Diego

For those of us who live in and around L.A., a trip to this beach city is a toned-down home away from home. You can stay on the beach or in the Gaslamp District; go shopping at Fashion Valley or go to a baseball or football game. From Coronado Island to Balboa Park, there’s more than enough sights to see, museums to tour, and cool eateries to try out. This day trip is ideal for couples who are sports fanatics, those who want to get away without emptying a savings account, or those who don’t want to do too much traveling.

Blame It On the Alcohol: Wine Country

Think Napa, Temecula, or maybe even Bordeaux. These locales are frequented by people who love the sensuality of the senses. Wine tasting is a skill and activity you two can indulge in together. Think about it: most other romantic getaways include cocktail hours and snazzy dinners, so why not learn something in the process? These wine regions are secluded and country-like which means you can stay at a bed and breakfast, and enjoy activities like horseback riding or golfing. Plus, when it comes to wine, pairing is everything, so this getaway ensures lots of romantic meals (think swanky restaurants and cozy picnics). Not to mention, you have a chance to score primo souvenirs…That’s right, more bottles of wine! Who knows, you two may become such connoisseurs you end up joining a wine club or taking classes back at home. Wine tasting will provide you with a new way to enjoy each other’s company at the table, become a more knowledgeable dinner party hosts, and be that cool couple who all your friends look to for recommendations on a good Merlot.

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Bathing Suits Only: Hawaii

My parents went to Hawaii on their honeymoon, and while it is a bit cliché, there’s a reason for it. Hawaii and its many islands are a romantic paradise right in our own backyard. If you are a history buff, you may want to travel to Oahu; if you love hiking you may want to journey to Kauai; if you love cruises and beaching it, you may want to consider a cruise around all of the islands. With romantic sunsets, breathtaking scenery, and mai tais galore, Hawaii is as relaxing as it gets.

The On the Go Couple: San Francisco

If you’re a Made (City) Woman like me, gazing at a beautiful skyline is the epitome of a fabulous vacation. A cityscape is an especially appealing vacation if your home is in suburbia or in the country.  San Fran would also be a good stepping stone getaway for those who want to get out of town, but aren’t ready to ditch civilization yet. San Francisco is full of history, shopping, and many landmarks. It’s also extremely populated, and that means lots of socializing.  If you’re a pair of social butterflies, this city could suit you perfectly. If you’re an active couple, maybe a run across the Golden Gate Bridge is in store. Do you both love to shop? Then treat yourself to the stores at Union Square. Next, take in tourist attractions with a visit to Coit Tower, Fisherman’s Wharf, or Alcatraz. You can walk around the city for exercise, take BART, or drive down Lombard Street (if you dare). Get in touch with 60’s San Fran at Haight-Ashbury, or simply enjoy the night life of this contemporary city that has so much to offer. From Little Italy to Ghirardelli Square, there’s something for everyone.

Lovers Abroad: Italy

This destination has always been a bit of a fantasy getaway for me. I just don’t think you can go wrong with a trip to Europe, and to one of its most romantic countries no less. Take in food, art, wine, and culture. You can backpack across the country and stay in hostels if you both are adventurous (read: low on funds). Or you can stay at fancy hotels and shop in exclusive boutiques, the choice is yours. rated the top 10 couple’s destinations, and Italy was on the list twice (Tuscany and Venice). This proves men want to go to Italy too!

No matter the destination, a good relationship is made better by agreeing on and planning a trip. The best advice I could give you is that you make sure the timing is right for a vacation together. Believe me, I’ve gone away on trips with boyfriends who I had problems with, and it never turned out well. Take your carry-on with you, not your emotional baggage. Time alone can give you a chance to get to know each other better, learn from one another, and allow you to make memories and decisions together. Strengthen your relationship and see the world? Sign me up!  

Published in Relationships
Monday, 23 September 2013 01:59

Lifestyle | Travel Blog: Tanzania

Travel Blog // September 23, 2013

Go on Safari. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Lounge on the beaches of Zanzibar. Two years ago, if you’d asked, “What are you going to do in Tanzania?” I likely would have cited those three activities. When I finally visited Tanzania this past August, those items weren’t even priorities on my list. What was? Filming.

For fourteen days, my biggest adventure was filming One Day I Too Fly in Africa, a documentary following five African students at one of the U.S.’s premier technological universities. The purpose of our production trip was to follow our student, Sante, home. As expected, her reunion with family was emotional – but so was our visit to a new country. In addition to adjusting to an entirely different culture, my producing partner and I had to navigate foreign production laws. There was no time for jet lag. Nearly every day, we were up by 5am, out by 6am and home close to midnight. We researched a ton before leaving, but our trip ended up being mostly trial and error. My knowledge of Swahili has grown exponentially – though many people in the city of Dar Es Salaam understood and spoke English.

An Education

Four days of our schedule were spent in Sante’s family’s village of Kirua Vunjo. Within moments of arriving in their village, a squirrel and a large spider attacked me. I quickly realized that we were in Mother Nature’s arena. Located in sight of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kirua Vunjo’s primary source of water comes from the tippy-top of the mountain. Read: glacial shower water. For a chick who’s used to taking two hot showers a day, this was quite an adjustment. I can honestly say that those four days made me completely rethink my routine in the U.S. My luxurious 20-minute showers now seem over-indulgent. But despite missing certain creature comforts, Kirua began to feel like home.

For four lovely days, we embedded in Sante’s family, made new friends, and got our behinds kicked playing soccer with local kids. Our experience was one that we never could have had on a “vacation” in Tanzania. We witnessed lifestyles in the city and in the villages, saw the landscape of a vast expanse of the country, and learned stories that only locals could tell.

While I can’t give you the “traditional” must do’s in Tanzania, here’s a list of things to do and try, if you’re interested in sampling the life of a true Tanzanian:

1. Take a drive down Bagamoyo: This road connects Dar Es Salaam to the city of Bagamoyo, which used to be the center of slave trade. Bagamoyo means “Lay Down Your Heart. ”It’s believed that the name could be tied to slaves who were separated from their families, or perhaps to sailors who left for long trips from port.
2. Make a friend: This is very broad, but the best moments of our trip were spent over tea or dinner with people we’d just met. If you make a friend, they may just invite you over for dinner. Since returning home, I have decided to be equally gracious with my home and food.

3. Drive, drive and drive some more: If you’re going to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Ngorongoro Crater, or on a safari, it’s easy to catch a flight from city to city. But, if you can, find someone to drive you between cities (driving in Tanzania is 10 times more intense than driving in NYC, so you’ll want a driver). While passing through, slow down and observe as much you can. You’ll miss out on a lot if you opt to fly.
4. Go to Mblamwezi Beach Club: Have you ever dreamed of an open-air bar on the beach with late night Karaoke? This is it! The D.J. is great, but please note that we left the club as Karaoke legends – you have big shoes to fill.
5. Dance the night away at Club Bilicanas: Located in Dar Es Salaam, this club is a popular spot for locals. I now have an entire Spotify playlist dedicated to songs discovered at Bilicanas.

Our next production trip for One Day I Too Go Fly is to Rwanda, in December. If it’s half as amazing as Tanzania, it will be a success.

Published in Travel

Lifestyle // July 15, 2013

Ah, Belize. For me, this tiny nation with a population of less than 350,000 will forever evoke images of swaying palm trees, friendly smiles and sounds of the rainforest.

I just got back from a nine-day Belizean adventure with my husband, and although my skin hasn’t recovered yet from the scorching sun, I am grateful for the chance we had to relax and learn more about this Central American country where tourism is the number one industry.

Belize provided the best of both worlds: it gave us the chance to explore a new country but still stay within our comfort zone. Total travel time (including layovers) was about eight hours, and our Belizean friends speak English as their official language and widely accept the US dollar.

Jungle Fever

We began our journey in the mountains of Belize in an area known as the Cayo District. I thought it would be beautiful, but I never expected the laid back luxury we found at Chaa Creek, the secluded eco lodge where we spent our first three nights.

Our cottage at Chaa Creek was decked out in gorgeous hardwood finishes and featured huge indoor and outdoor showers – “in case you decide to shower as nature intended,” according to the staff. Cloaked in solitude, it was the perfect place to unplug, catch a nap or lounge in hammocks for stargazing.

From checking out the a butterfly farm to canoeing down the Macal River to lounging by the sparkling pool, Chaa Creek offers plenty of onsite activities and we couldn’t have asked for a more perfect stay.

But adventure abounds outside the resorts, too. We spent one day trekking to and through the Actun Tunichil Muknal, an ancient Mayan cave where religious rituals once took place. A few swims through dark corridors and several rocks climbed will take visitors to the ultimate artifact: a skeleton completely intact.

While we loved our time in the Cayo District, we were thrilled to head toward the coast and spend the rest of our vacation embracing the island spirit.

Island Adventures

Our first stop off the coast was the tiny island of Caye Caulker (“Caye” is pronounced “key”). Golf carts and bikes are the modes of transportation, and people here are very easygoing. We “splurged” for an oceanfront suite in Caye Caulker that cost us far less than a basic hotel room in any major U.S. tourist destination.

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Aside from little shops, restaurants and beachfront lounging, the major attraction of Caye Caulker is its access to some of the best snorkeling and diving on earth. We don’t scuba dive, but we decided to check out the snorkeling we’d heard so much about.

The reefs were teeming with wildlife. We were within two feet of gigantic manatees, half a dozen sea turtles, sting rays, nurse sharks and dozens of friendly fish I’d never seen before. Our guide was a local with endless knowledge and personality, and we shared our adventure with just four other visitors. If you ever make it to Belize, take the time to snorkel from Caye Caulker. Its small, family-oriented style made it the most memorable part of our trip.

After the snorkel adventure and a half day recovering from a pretty excruciating sunburn (even our SPF 30 couldn’t protect us from that blazing Belizean sun), we headed to the island of Ambergris Caye, Belize’s most well-known and frequently visited island.

Ambergris Caye is everything I imagined when I used to picture what it would be like to visit an island. Something about it just made me feel like I was on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the beaches are smaller than some, they are postcard perfect.

Since this was the last portion of our trip, it was time to take it easy. We walked along the shore, kayaked in the ocean and rented a golf cart one afternoon to explore the island. We also had fun trying the different restaurants and enjoying one Belikin (the official beer of Belize) after another. Our rooftop hotel deck made for some gorgeous sunset views and one very groggy but breathtaking sunrise.

Tastes of Belize

The food in Belize was my favorite surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but almost every meal was one of the best I’ve ever had while traveling. We learned about new, delicious foods such as fry jacks and coco (a root vegetable similar to a potato) and we enjoyed the local spin on pasta dishes, soups and salads. And let’s not forget the local fruits and freshly caught seafood. Shrimp and snapper were abundant, and most mornings we had platters of pineapple, papaya and watermelon – all grown in Belize. This trip was everything I hoped for. My style of travel is to visit a new place that will offer plenty of R&R but will also allow me to learn about a country through dining, excursions and activities.

What’s your summer travel style?

*Note: Chaa Creek kindly offered me a discounted room rate as a writer, but opinions are completely my own.

Published in Travel
Thursday, 04 April 2013 00:22

Lifestyle | Travel Blog: Ecuador

Lifestyle // April 8, 2013 

This winter, I officially became a card carrying adventurer when I traveled to Ecuador for the first time. When my boyfriend, Mathias, invited me to tag along to visit close family friends I jumped at the opportunity to experience this unique South American country. The combination of diverse geography, the remains of the Inca Empire and influence of Spanish-Colonialism make this equatorial nation rich in culture and natural beauty.

Our first stop was the quaint, Spanish colonial city of Cuenca. Nestled in a valley surrounded by the Andes mountains, the dominant features of the city's geography are also the inspiration for its name in Spanish: the four rivers of Cuenca (meaning a basin). These rivers are the Tomebamba (named after the Cañari culture), Yanuncay, Tarqui and Machangara. When we arrived, the friendly people of Cuenca made me feel instantly welcomed. Locals patiently listened to my broken Spanish as  I navigated the narrow streets, made purchases at the open air markets and ordered vegetariano meals at local restaurants.

Tourists from around the world flock to this cultural center, the country's third-largest city and the capital of the Azuay province. Cafes, clothing shops and art galleries are tucked among the weathered cobblestone streets. The main plaza houses both the old cathedral, built in the same year that the city was founded (1557) and the blue-domed Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, built in 1885. Cholas de Cuenca (women of Cuenca) stroll the streets as they deftly weave Panama hats to sell at the central shopping market, Casa de la Mujer.

Upon landing in Cuenca we were greeted with Pase del Niño Viajero (Passing of the Child), a rich cultural tradition that depicts the birth of Christ amid parades of locals dressed in traditional costumes. This colorful event combines Catholic and indigenous traditions and is a three-month-long activity, beginning the first Sunday after Advent and continuing to Carnival in early March.

       Pase del Niño Viajero

After enjoying the art and culture of Cuenca, the next stop was summiting Cotopaxi. Cotopaxi is a majestic, glacier capped mountain rising 19,347 feet above sea level (5,897 meters). We began our adventure by climbing Rumiñahui (a mountain next to Cotopaxi) to adjust to the altitude before the big climb.

       View of Cotopaxi from the base of Rumiñahui

Our journey to “The Middle of the World” led us to the equator (for which Ecuador is named), the imaginary line that divides the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. We straddled the equator, toured the equatorial monument and visited some friendly Llamas that roam the monument park grounds. Next, we headed back to Cuenca to visit the pre-Columbian Inca ruins.

Ingapirca, which means “Inca stone wall,” is a well restored site of Inca ruins located near Cuenca. A fragment of Inca road called the Ingañan remains leads past the highlight of Ingapirca, the Temple of the Sun, also known as El Castillo (The Castle). The Inca Empire’s last remaining sun temple stands on a hill 3,200 meters high with panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. It’s fun to imagine the temple as it was, lined with gold to reflect the sun in a way designed to create a religious experience.

Finally, we ended our trip with a relaxing visit to El Cajas National Park. Located 45 minutes outside of Cuenca,  El Cajas is a beautiful, high altitude park with  approximately 270 lakes and ponds,  rare species of bird and animal life, and more beautiful  plants and flowers than I could count.

The Spanish-colonial charm of Cuenca, the wild beauty of the Andes mountains and the vibrant culture of the Ecuadorian people made the trip to the middle of the world one that I’ll never forget.

Published in Travel
Sunday, 16 December 2012 23:04

Travel | Best Winter Travel Locations

Travel // December 17, 2012

Ah, wintertime. 8 years ago, I left Cleveland in search of a warmer climate. I never wanted to endure low temps again. Lake-effect snow? No thank you. Sun and sand? Yes, please! Growing up, winter was my only free time to travel. My trips had to include tropical beaches. Now, having lived in California and enjoyed years of almost constant sunshine, my pre-requisites have changed a bit. Below I have compiled a list of my favorite winter vacation spots, and you’ll be surprised to hear that they aren’t all toasty locales.

1. Kona, Hawaii

I have some friends who aren’t convinced of Hawaii’s allure. For the record, my favorite areas are low key. Spend one week on Kona side and you’ll become a part of the community. The locals are great, it isn’t too touristy, the resorts are awesome, and Oprah even owns a home there. If Kona is good enough for Oprah, well, then, enough said!

2. New York City

Okay, NYC isn’t warm, but there is nothing like the holiday spirit in New York. Walk along Fifth Avenue, listen to Christmas music, check out the tree in Rockefeller Center, or take a carriage ride through Central Park. You may worry about the hustle of NYC residents, but fear not. There is something about the holiday season that makes even the toughest New Yorker soften up.

3. Lake Tahoe

Here’s a secret: this location made my list and I don’t ski.  I’ve made many trips to Lake Tahoe and I’ve never even set foot on a slope! Just imagine how much fun this could be if you are snow-sport inclined. Truth be told, I took a boyfriend here once for his birthday. We went during an off weekend when there wasn’t enough snow. As a result, we were the only couple dining at the high-end restaurant where I’d booked reservations. The Chef improvised our entire meal! But even if you do go during a high traffic time, there are big draws: fresh mountain air, a beautiful, cool, crystal clear lake, and plenty of outdoor activities. Bring someone to keep you warm.

4. Grand Cayman

Growing up in Cleveland, Lake Erie was the closest body of water. Sadly, I NEVER got in because the bacteria levels were too high. The waters surrounding Grand Cayman are the absolute opposite. You can swim worry-free because clean, white sand, and tropical fish are the only things you’ll see. If you head to the islands in December, you’ll just miss hurricane season.

5. Tropical Cruise

So, you can’t pick one tropical location? Take a cruise! You really can’t beat an all-inclusive trip. Drink frozen drinks all day and soak in the sun. Go and get fries at 2am without feeling guilty; it’s basically free and you’re on vacation!

These are only a few of my favorite wintertime getaways—what are yours?

Published in Travel

July 2, 2012

Culture shock. It’s one of those funny little phrases that are difficult to fully grasp; it’s hard to really nail down what it entails exactly—until you find yourself smack dab in the middle of it. 

I would consider myself to be a somewhat “traveled” person. I’ve been to most of the major US cities (and some cornfields in between), hit the Caribbean a few times and went to Paris in college. I even threw Mexico, Canada, Hawaii and Puerto Rico in for good measure. From my childhood until now, I’ve lived in very diverse neighborhoods and encountered people from all backgrounds. Culture shock shouldn’t be an issue for me, right?

Uh…not quite.

Let me back up. A few months back, I made a decision. Although it was relatively simple in a lot of ways, it wasn’t an easy one for me to make. I decided that I was going to pack up everything, quit my job at a major record label in LA and just…go. I would work on my passion project, Made Woman Magazine, see the world (starting with Barcelona, Spain) and solidify my next steps in the music industry. And in June, that’s just what I did.

And never before have I experienced culture shock on this level.

I’m sure much of it stems from the fact that I decided to roll out here completely solo: I spent my first week and a half or so wandering the streets of Barcelona, seeing sites and frequently getting confused while doing seemingly mundane tasks. I’ll never view going to the bank, the post office, or generally communicating with other human beings the same way again.  I stopped at the market one day to pick up a few items, which sounds easy enough, right? Problem: my Spanish vocab needs serious work (how the hell do you say “bell pepper” in Spanish?). Since there are like a zillion stations spread out in a huge marketplace where the vendors select the items and ring up your orders separately, communication is slightly important. After roaming aimlessly for a few minutes trying to find bags for my produce (they bag it for you), I luckily found a sweet lady in the cheese section to take pity on me and figure out that I wanted mantequilla y harina. But the whole thing was kind of like being on Mars. Sure, I had been put in touch with some people in the city, but they had been in Barcelona for years, surely leaving moments like these far behind them. Taking in all this newness independently had me feeling like a Punk’d crew would come rushing out laughing at any moment.


Also—and this partially prompted this trip--I had never spent more than maybe ten days on a given vacation. I got in, saw some sites, hung with the friend(s) I had traveled with, ate more than I should, and then headed back home. Hey, ten days is a long vacay in the US!

This time, however, those ten days were spent finding my way around a huge city, working on my (rather broken) Spanish and just generally getting acclimated. Rather than being a true “tourist,” I’ve been able to take in some of the true nuances of the region’s culture.

Beyond the simple things like my feet hating me for making them do more than push some pedals in a car to transport me around the city (and where the hell is a good mani/pedi!?), eating dinner at 10pm, or paying $3 to drink water at a restaurant (wtf?); taking in the cultural differences definitely sheds a light on my own background and my personal ideals. It’s challenging! Seeing kids running down the street outside of arms-reach of their parents, or lighting fireworks in the Festival de St. Joan was shocking to me! Looking across my balcony and seeing people outside smoking a cigarette in their underwear the first time caught me off guard, I can’t lie. And learning about the differences between Catalan and Spanish people first-hand has been eye-opening.

So what does this all mean? For some travelers, it may mean that they should rush back to their home where babies aren’t running around with firecrackers. Hey, I wouldn’t judge! Everything isn’t for everybody. But personally, I think it makes sense to remain open to new cultures and situations and what you may be able to learn from the differences. Instead of labeling something as “weird” or “foreign” and rushing back to my bubble, why not try to embrace at least some aspect of it?

Sure, seeing people on a nearby balcony half-naked on a hot afternoon can be startling, but I think it’s nice to see people who don’t equate nudity with shame. In their mind, it’s just hot! And with the lack of A/C around these parts, they may have something there. And sure, you could consider it annoying that you have to chase down the waitress for your check every time you eat out, but isn’t it nice to not be forced on your way so that they can free up the table (read: get more tips)?

Clearly, I’ve felt more pangs of culture shock than can be named or explained in one article, —and will no doubt encounter more as my travels continue. But if I can offer my humble advice to someone considering travel of any length of time, it would be this: put away your preconceived notions, your expectations and, many times, your pride. Give your travels the opportunity to shape you for the better and take the experiences as they come. And most importantly, learn to laugh at yourself. Seriously. 

Have you had your own experiences with culture shock? Where were you and what happened? Let me know in the comments!

Published in Lifestyle
Monday, 21 November 2011 05:16

Travel | I Made This Look Good

November 22, 2011

There are a million reasons preventing you from planning the getaway of your dreams: You can't leave your boss for more than 12 hours. Your fear of flying is paralyzing. Its too expensive. No one will travel with goes on and on.

The thought of planning a vacation can be downright stressful. But the results of proper preparation can result in a new and memorable experience that will rejuvenate your weary soul. Keep the following guidelines in mind when planning your next getaway, and you'll discover that it's not that challenging to get out of the city after all.

First and foremost, what are you looking for in a vacation?
Time to brainstorm! Take a few minutes to truly think about where you would like to visit and what you would like to do. If miles of snow and bone-chilling weather excite you, then perhaps a ski trip to Colorado or Big Bear should be in your future.

Tip: Wander into the travel section of a bookstore and start reading for inspiration.

Who's tagging along?
So you've decided to head to the sunny tropics to escape from the bitter winter cold. Now the question is: who's going with you? If you know your boyfriend hates the beach, please don't handcuff and drag him with you. Instead, go with those who would enjoy your vacation as much as you would. This might be the perfect time to bond with your mom or to plan a girls getaway. Whomever you are traveling with, make sure that you can tolerate spending a lot of time with them.

Tip: Don't dismiss traveling alone. There are many organized travel tours that allow you to travel with groups who share the same interests as you.
Where to stay?
From luxurious hotels to hostels and everything in between, there are many options for lodgings. Your vacation goals, budget, and personal preferences should guide your final decision. Hotels,  especially international chains,  tend to have more accommodations that make a city feel less foreign and more like home. Bed and breakfasts and boutique hotels tend to have their own unique personalities and special quirks. Hostels tend to be the cheapest, but are also the least private.

Regardless of what type of lodgings you stay in, it's important to look for places that are in close proximity to the activities you want to do. Staying in the suburbs when all of the action is downtown will mean higher transportation costs and will waste your precious time. Also, have a Plan B for lodging in case the first place you booked does not meet your expectations for whatever reason.

Tip: Use the hurting economy to your advantage. Call hotels to book your reservations and see if you can negotiate the initial price they give you.

All of that is fitting where?
In most foreign cities, it's best to blend in as much as possible. Don't take the risk of being thought of as a rich, naïve tourist, and thus the target of a robbery. Leave the Louboutins, valuables, and expensive jewelry at home, and opt for a more nonchalant look. Research the fashion trends of where you're going. For example, if you are going to a more conservative locale like Mexico City, jeans and stilettos will be more appropriate when going out than that bright pink mini-skirt you wear in Hollywood. Also, check the weather forecast a few days before leaving to make sure you have the right clothing and that you will be as comfortable as possible.

Tip: Don't pack your suitcase to the brim... leave room for souvenirs!

Research, Research, Research!
It's important to know as much as possible about where you're going! Guidebooks often give great insight into a place's history, culture, and main tourist attractions; but for the real skinny, talk with friends, colleagues, and family members who have already traveled to your destination. They may even be able to refer you to acquaintances that live there. If you have the time, visit a consulate office in your local city to get other ideas.

Tips: Check out websites that give insightful user reviews, such as and

Know Your Budget.
Now that you have a destination, it's important to figure out how much this will cost. Get an estimate, and then adjust accordingly. Maybe you cant afford to celebrate New Year's in Rio this year, but that doesn't mean that you can't start saving for 2011. Or, maybe that means you should opt for somewhere that still has an exciting, beach feel, like Miami or San Diego.

Tip: Standard costs to consider are: airfare, lodging, food (breakfast, lunch, dinner), entertainment/activities (museums, tours, etc.), transportation, souvenirs, incidentals (extra toothbrush, etc).

Whatever You Do, Always Keep an Open Mind.
Be flexible and patient. Perhaps you were planning a marvelous tour to Northern Mexico, but the insurgence of violence related to the drug wars is giving you major doubts. That's OK. You can either wait it out, or find another destination to consider.  The possiblites are truly endless!

Tip: Follow travel trends on Web sites like Staying up on current events/world news is also essential prep work.

Published in Travel

October 10, 2011

Here at Made Woman Magazine we express a lot of our thoughts on what qualities make a Made Woman: ambition, dedication, a sense of charity and great style to name a few. But one of the most desirable qualities of a MADE woman is her openness to new ideas and her willingness to step outside of her comfort zone. It makes perfect sense, then, that a Made Woman has to get out there and explore the world!

Ok, we know what you're thinking. "I'm too broke and traveling is expensive!!," or “Does Vegas count?,” or, a personal favorite of mine, "I don't have a boyfriend. Exotic trips are a couples thing." The truth is, none of this should hold you back. Sure, you might not have an endless cash flow, but you'd be surprised at the vacations you can plan when you put yourself on a budget and start saving. Now, this might hurt a little bit. Some things (like getting your nails done every two weeks) will have to take a back seat to planning your dream vacation. But, if you can save even $100 a month, (and maybe get really into it and add $20 here and there to your travel fund) you're in excellent shape. That money adds up in no time, and you can buy that plane ticket!

Maybe you're single. Ok... Grab some friends and get to planning! You can try talking to them and getting them to commit to a set plan, but keep in mind that coordinating several people for something where money is involved can be difficult.  If an entourage isn't for you, call up one of your best friends, someone you trust and enjoy, and ask them to share this journey with you. You can motivate each other to save and  share an experience in a place neither of you have ever been before!

Now, when I say step outside your comfort zone... THINK BIG! I'm sure you have seen pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum or the Vatican in Rome. Wouldn't you like to take pictures in front of these monuments and experience a different country, different languages, different food… and different men?  Visiting new countries and experiencing what they have to offer can change your outlook on your life and other people. Traveling has the power to enrich your life in ways that most things you spend your hard earned cash on can't. The world is way bigger than these wonderful, but all too familiar 50 States of America. You're young and fabulous, so get to planning and start collecting some stamps on that passport!

Published in Travel
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