Planning an international getaway is (more than) half the fun

For some international travelers, NOTHING compares to the moment of arrival, when they touch down in a new place and are ready to check out the scene. Others love arriving back HOME, posting their photos on Facebook and Flickr, sharing their travel memories with family and friends. But for me, a pseudo-obsessive Type A, what I love most about travel is the PLANNING that goes into crafting and shaping a trip.

Take my trip to Europe early next week. A wonderfully thoughtful friend in the south of France owns several beautifully furnished Riviera Experience (www.rivieraexperience.com) vacation rental apartments and had a vacancy in one that overlooks the breathtaking Bay of Villefranche. During an e-mail exchange, she invited me to come for a visit. I thought her offer was far too generous and started to decline, but finally graciously accepted, as I’d LOVE to see her and return to one of the most gorgeous places on earth. And for me, a planner to my heart, that’s where the fun begins!

Continue 14 Comments March 13, 2011

Turning a trip abroad into a ‘permanent vacation’

We’ve all read books and watched films about folks (often single women, it seems) who travel to some exotic locale in search of self-discovery, fall in love with this new place, and decide to trade in their not-quite-right lives at home for a new one overseas. You UrbanTravelGirls know the 2003 film “Under the Tuscan Sun” motivated me to move to storybook-perfect Florence, Italy. The Frances Mayes book that inspired the film, Under the Tuscan Sun, has been translated into dozens of languages and prompted countless reader pilgrimages to Mayes’ adopted Tuscan hometown of Cortona.

Author Peter Mayle jump-started the modern expat-exchanges-hectic-urban-life-for-adventure-abroad trend with A Year in Provence, a book that when became an international best-seller when first published in 1989. In it, Mayle chronicled his life as a British expatriate in Ménerbes, a town in this gorgeous part of southern France. This former London ad executive and his wife traveled to Provence on vacation but eventually took the plunge, relocating completely from the UK to France. And once his books caught fire and made him rich—no doubt inspiring legions of folks with visions of living abroad—Mayle became the patron saint of reinventing oneself in a foreign land.

But when does an UrbanTravelGirl decide that a mere vacation doesn’t do it, that she’d rather pull up stakes and actually MOVE to another country and build a life for herself there instead of here (wherever that happens to be)? ….

Continue 14 Comments December 21, 2010

Doing the Argentine ‘wine thing’ in lovely Mendoza

I’ve already declared my blind love for Buenos Aires, but there’s another fabulous part of Argentina that’s a must-see: the gorgeous wine-producing province of Mendoza. Located in the north-western part of this massive South American country, Mendoza’s most famous export is Malbec, a medium-to-full-bodied red wine that’s a perfect complement to Argentina’s legendary beef. And while the Malbec grape originated in southern France, it’s certainly got strong Argentine roots today.

While in Mendoza, I was the guest of Club Tapiz (http://www.club-tapiz.com.ar/en/index.php), an incredibly gorgeous vineyard/winery/restaurant/hotel in the town of Maipú. With seven gorgeous rooms—many of which look out onto the property’s back garden and swimming pool—Club Tapiz is the perfect destination for oenophiles, or anyone else interested in the art of living and dining well….

Continue 1 Comment November 29, 2010

How do I love thee, Buenos Aires? Let me count the ways….

I’m in love—and it has nothing to do with a man.

You know how you feel when you’re in the early throes of a new romance? All you want to do is think about that gorgeous guy, how great he smelled, what he said, when you’ll see him again. And you want to TALK about it. All the time, to anyone who will listen.

Well, that’s how I feel about Buenos Aires, the charming and seductive Argentine city where I spent the better part of the past two weeks. In theory, a city can’t hug you back—but this one sure felt like it did. As you UrbanTravelGirls know, I’m a huge Paris lover—but I am SO ready to cheat with BA. Even when folks ask me, “What did you like so much about it?”, I find it hard to put into words. Some places just seem to embrace you, to make you feel like you’ve come home to somewhere you never knew you left….

Continue 22 Comments November 23, 2010

UrbanTravelGirl talks about being a sister living abroad on “The Traveling Eye” radio show

There’s nothing like reliving old memories—especially those that have shaped you into the person you are today. And last week, thanks to a fabulous Chicago-based Travel radio show, I got the chance to reminisce about my sistagirl-living-abroad-in-Italy experience from five years ago!

The hour-long show is called The Traveling Eye (http://www.thetravelingeye.com/), and its programming is especially designed to appeal to upscale African-American consumers and travelers. It’s hosted by two dynamic sisters: my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., soror and Chicago radio legend Bonnie DeShong and travel specialist and Advantage International President and Founder Ja’Vonne Harley. Listen to THEIR show and before it’s over, you’ll want to be online or on the phone booking some fabulous getaway. And some advertisers don’t believe that black folks travel—and travel in style? Along with WHUR-FM in Washington, D.C., Bonnie and Ja’Vonne are leading a tour of nearly 100 folks to Egypt and Dubai in February—and this nearly two-week trip is SOLD OUT!

During last week’s show, Bonnie and fill-in host Gene Harley asked me and a super-bad American expat sister named Tiffany Zunker who’s lived abroad for half her life to share thoughts on why we first got interested in living abroad….

Continue 27 Comments October 15, 2010

Gorgeous ‘Cairo Time’ makes me want to pack my bags for Egypt

After spending almost NO time at the cinema this summer, I’m on another film kick. Forget “Eat Pray Love” as the so-called thoughtful “chick flick” of the season. For me, the UrbanTravelGirl must-see movie is “Cairo Time,” an absolutely breathtaking film that places the ancient-yet-modern and chaotic Egyptian city of Cairo in a starring role.

I recently raved about “Cairo Time” in “TCW Travel Connection,” the blog I write for the monthly Today’s Chicago Woman magazine. (I hope you’ll check it out!) But beyond making me think long and hard about the movie’s central premise—that “sometimes you need to forget the rules and follow your heart”—and inspiring me to see it twice, this travelogue of a film has me SERIOUSLY thinking about booking a trip to Cairo….

Continue 17 Comments September 8, 2010

Why don’t films about traveling or moving abroad ever feature black women?

For most folks, spending 10 bucks and a couple hours at the movies is all about passive entertainment. But sometimes, you encounter a cinematic gem that literally becomes life-changing, that totally alters the way you see the world. That one for me was 2003’s “Under the Tuscan Sun,” (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0328589/) which inspired me, following a major surgery and reordering of life priorities, to quit my corporate job and pack my bags for fabulous Firenze (Florence), Italy.

Even now, if I’m flipping channels on the TV and “Tuscan Sun” is on, regardless of whether the film’s at the beginning, middle or end, I plop down and watch. And certamente, I own the DVD—and when I’m feeling the need for a bit of inspiration, I’ll view it again. I recently interviewed Under the Tuscan Sun (http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780767900386) author Frances Mayes (http://www.francesmayesbooks.com/) for a national Travel story, and that conversation took me back to those dreamy days of living in bella Italia.

The latest film buzz, of course, is about Julia Roberts’ “Eat Pray Love” (http://www.letyourselfgo.com/), which hit U.S. cinemas earlier this month. As I’m sure you know (or have heard, whether you wanted to or not), it’s based on Elizabeth Gilbert’s monster best-selling memoir (http://www.elizabethgilbert.com/eatpraylove.htm) about ditching New York City after a traumatic divorce and subsequent love affair and spending a year traveling through Italy, India and Indonesia. (Her gig was WAY easier than mine, as her publisher’s book advance funded her year of self-discovery.) Personally, I never got past the “Eat” portion of the book, but perhaps that’s because I’m too Italy-obsessed to care about the rest.

But here’s what got me thinking: none of the films I’ve seen extolling the joys of traveling and/or relocating abroad has ever starred a black woman—or a woman of color AT ALL….

Continue 22 Comments August 27, 2010

Sisters in Spain: Michelle Obama and Sasha wrap up mom-daughter trip abroad in style

I don’t know about you, but it’s absolutely thrilled me to see First Lady Michelle Obama taking 9-year-old Sasha on a mom-and-daughter holiday—to SPAIN, no less! I don’t have kids, nieces or nephews, but if I did, I’d be booking us on some overseas trip as soon as they were old enough to appreciate it. And I’d be sitting them down right now to watch video of adorable Sasha meeting the king and queen of Spain (http://news.yahoo.com/video/politics-15749652/michelle-obama-meets-king-of-spain-21295458). How it does my heart proud to see this darling young brown-skinned girl looking confident alongside her mom, realizing she’s a princess in her OWN right. Nothing like self-assurance, even when it comes in the package of a preciously dressed pre-teen.

I was super-proud and psyched last year when the President and Michelle took their two girls with them to Paris and London (http://urbantravelgirl.com/2009/06/10/young-americans-in-paris-the-obama-girls-take-europe-by-storm/). I wrote then about how important it is for youngsters—and especially African-American ones, who don’t always see themselves portrayed positively in the American media—to travel abroad and experience life through a different lens….

Continue 15 Comments August 8, 2010

Celebrate Bastille Day Afro-Parisian style in Chicago at ‘Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris’ book launch

UrbanTravelGirl readers will remember my recent shout-out (http://bit.ly/bCc9kq) to fellow Chicagoan and new author Kiratiana Freelon, whose FAB Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found (http://amzn.to/dqsEpY) recently made its debut.

Those of you in Chicago who like me love all things French should be SURE to check out Kiratiana’s “Passport to Black Paris: A Bastille Day Celebration” and “Travel Guide to Black Paris” launch event (http://kiratianatravels.com/). Not only can you pick up signed copies of her book (I DARE you not to plan a trip to the City of Light after checking out this take on Paris!), but the 6-8 p.m. July 14th event will feature Afro-French cuisine, adult libations, Afro-French literature and bien sûr, good sounds ….

Continue 4 Comments July 11, 2010

Venus Williams’ new book ‘Come to Win’ gets STRONG assist from travel writer and former black Italy expatriate Kelly E. Carter

I’m TOTALLY proud of my good friend, Delta Sigma Theta sorority sister, and former fellow Italy expatriate Kelly Carter (http://www.kellyecarter.com/), for co-authoring Venus Williams’ FABULOUS new tome, Come To Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors, and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession (http://www.amazon.com/Come-Win-Business-Visionaries-Profession/dp/0061718254/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1278370645&sr=1-1) (Amistad, $25.99). This incredible new hardback features Venus talking to some of the world’s most impressive folks—from former President Bill Clinton to Four Seasons Hotels founder Isadore Sharp, from Virgin Group’s Sir Richard Branson to global chef extraordinaire Marcus Samuelsson (http://marcussamuelsson.com/)—about how taking part in sports helped drive their success in a host of other fields.

And Kelly should know. A former sportswriter for some of America’s top newspapers, she covered national and international sports for USA Today, the Dallas Morning News, the Orange County Register, and many others. And she’s no stranger to the famous folks’ beat, either, having covered celebrities for People Magazine, USA Today, and other global publications.

A travel writer who’s literally circled the globe (I’ve lost count of how many countries she’s visited), Kelly and I met during our days as fellow sistergirl expats in bella Italia….

Continue 8 Comments July 5, 2010

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