Salut, and welcome to UrbanTravelGirl, a blog featuring my thoughts on black women living globally through international travel. I’m a passionate believer in the ability of travel to not only transform the way we see the world, but ourselves. As an African-American woman, I’ve developed an even stronger sense of who I am by visiting nearly 35 countries and territories — and by living outside the United States. I spent nearly one year working as a freelance writer in Florence, Italy and in 2012 lived in the charming French village of Samois-sur-Seine, an hour south of Paris. I don’t believe in letting other folks define ME — and you shouldn’t, either!
I hope to spark conversation among African-American women who love (or WANT) to travel abroad, who are never happier than when we’re in new and challenging foreign environments. I want to hear your comments about my trips – and I want to hear about yours. Wondering whether it’s cool to travel solo to Paris, or how you’d be received as a black woman in Rome? Put it out here and we UrbanTravelGirls will jump in and give you the scoop. Looking for some fab, locals-only restaurants and boutiquesin Florence, Barcelona or Buenos Aires? I’ll dish about it and hope other chicas visiting here will also share.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there, hit the road, discover your own global bliss — and let’s chat about it!
August 11, 2014
Here I am on one of the main streets in the legendary city of Granada in southern Spain, where I traveled last month with a group of fellow freelance Travel writers.
As you can see by the date of my last entry, it’s been a challenge to regularly write and post lately. With a full-time job and my freelance Travel writing, there always seems to be some deadline or priority competing for my time and attention. But I’m determined to get back to my regular conversations with you, which I’ve certainly missed. International travel is my true love—and sharing this passion with UrbanTravelGirl readers for the past five years (!) has been an honor and a joy. While I love sharing insights I’ve discovered through my travels, hearing about your global adventures keeps me encouraged and inspired. So I’m back, and looking forward to reconnecting!
Even though I often feel as if I’m moving 100 miles an hour, I was flattered when my friend and fellow freelance journalist Rosalind Cummings-Yeates invited me to take part in a “Blog Hop” that introduces bloggers from around the world to each other as they talk about their own writing processes—and how they uniquely share their perspectives. (Read about Rosalind and how she brings her words to life in this post.)
Going through this exercise and consciously thinking through what makes me tick—and how I move from concepts and ideas to a notebook or laptop to published articles and blog posts—has been a treat in itself. And I’m thrilled to introduce you UrbanTravelGirls to three other writers and bloggers I greatly respect—and who you’ll love getting to know. Please read on ….
What am I working on/writing now?
I recently visited the enchanting Spanish city of Granada, as well as its surrounding province, on a press trip for Travel journalists from the Midwestern United States. While in España last month, I also traveled to the capital city of Madrid and the much smaller but historically important northern city of León. I’m currently writing a series of posts for my Today’s Chicago Woman Magazine Travel blog and full-length articles based on that nine-day trip, from the incredible new Business Plus in-flight service offered by Iberia to the awesome cuisine offered at León’s Michelin-star Cocinandos to high-end experiences for About.com Luxury Travel.
Although I have a full-time “day job,” being able to still stay engaged as a freelance Travel writer gives me a way to maintain my creative muscle and endless sense of wanderlust. Obviously, I don’t have the time or flexibility to travel as often (or as far) as I’d like, so I’m delving more into scenes and stories closer to my home base of Chicago. Sometimes we’re so focused on exotic and far-away locations we miss rich adventures right in front of us!
How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?
Because I studied journalism as an undergraduate at Northwestern University’s renowned Medill School and have had the pleasure of covering everything from fashion and beauty to popular culture and music as a newspaper and online reporter, I bring a range of insights to the Travel writing I do. I’ve done Corporate Communications for large multinational companies like Boeing, and have been fortunate to see much of the world while on work assignments in countries as diverse as Iceland and Saudi Arabia. I also earned a master’s degree in Theological Studies at a United Methodist seminary on Northwestern’s campus, where many of my courses explored cross-cultural ministry and world religions. Delving deeply into the fundamental ways people of all races, ethnicities and cultures experience the spiritual and divine has given me invaluable insight into what makes us wonderfully different, yet on some levels very much alike.
My writing is (literally) richly colored by my perspective as an African-American woman who grew up in the American Midwest, but who’s traveled to nearly 35 countries and territories on four continents and lived abroad in Florence, Italy, and in a charming village outside Paris. So whether I’m waxing poetic about the rustic Italian cuisine at a restaurant on Chicago’s North Side, offering tips on renting apartments when traveling abroad, or encouraging folks to check out houses of worship when they’re on the road, I infuse this sensibility into everything I write. And in fact, my personal background often inspires the topics I choose to explore in the first place. That’s the importance of bringing your “full self” to the table, regardless of your career.
Why do I write what I do?
Paradoxically, I’m never more comfortable than when I’ve chosen to be an “outsider”—and I’ve made the challenging decisions to live as an expatriate and an immigrant in two European countries. At heart, I’m all about exhorting and evangelizing about the life-changing aspect of travel, whether you do it in your own backyard or on the other side of the globe. I believe it broadens your worldview, makes you more tolerant and accepting of other folks’ perspectives and viewpoints—and gives you greater appreciation for your own.
That’s why I encourage my readers to occasionally take the road less traveled. To “do one thing every day that scares you,” as former American First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is often quoted as saying. I’m adaptable and comfortable with ambiguity, and try to go with the flow as circumstances change and evolve. While moving to the other side of the world isn’t possible, practical or even desirable for most people, sampling the unfamiliar—whether it’s a cuisine you’ve never tried or checking out an ethnically different neighborhood in your own town—often leads to a much richer experience than you ever imagined.
How does my writing process work?
After more than two decades as a journalist, I believe that everything I write—whether for UrbanTravelGirl or my Today’s Chicago Woman Travel blog—needs to be professional-quality before I put my name on it. (Yes, my perfectionist Capricorn tendencies are as strong as ever!) I’m TOTALLY old-school about taking notes, scribbling furiously and illegibly (at least to others’ eyes) in narrow reporter’s notebooks when doing interviews or on the road. Once I’m back at my laptop, I need utter silence to write. No TV, no background music. While it drives me nuts, I’m a procrastinating writer—but I feel I do my best work with deadline pressure staring me in the face. Tortured or not, I absolutely love the work.
Whether I’m on staff as a reporter, freelancing Travel stories for publications such as CNN.com, or working full-time in Corporate Communications, I always define myself first and foremost as a WRITER and a storyteller. You know when people ask whether you’d keep working even if you won the lottery? THIS is the work I’d do for free, even if I didn’t get paid (and very often, I don’t!). Words help me make sense of the world—and hopefully, those I write help others do the same.
Here, please meet my fellow “Blog Hop” writers!
Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a freelance journalist, blogger and arts critic specializing in travel and lifestyle topics. She’s the author of Exploring Chicago Blues: Inside The Scene, Past and Present (History Press), a guidebook to Chicago blues history and landmarks. Her other credits include Woman’s Day, Hemispheres, MSN, Salon, Brides, Yoga Journal, Travel + Escape, Go Magazine, Relish, Time Out Chicago, Mojo, Allmusic.com, Get Lost, Rough Guide to Women Travel, and the Chicago Sun-Times, among other publications. She writes a monthly blues column for the Illinois Entertainer, travel blogs for various publications and teaches journalism at Columbia College Chicago. She’s based in Chicago, from which she manages to escape during the Windy City’s six official winter months. You can read more of her work on her website and on her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl.
Kelly E. Carter
Kelly E. Carter is a New York Times-bestselling author and founder of TheJetSetPets.com, the luxury travel source for pampered pets on the go. Her latest book, The Dog Lover’s Guide to Travel, was released in spring 2014 and marks National Geographic’s first dog travel guide book. Carter and her posh pooch Lucy, a longhair Chihuahua, have globetrotted together for 13 years, including a two-year stint in Italy. A popular speaker at travel conferences, Carter is also the pet travel expert for AOL’s pet site PawNation and Elite Traveler, where she’s a Contributing Editor. She has written for numerous publications and websites, including on staff for People and USA Today and as a freelancer for Departures, Men’s Fitness, Black Enterprise, Los Angeles Times, History Channel Magazine, South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, TownandCountryTravelMag.com and CigarAficionado.com. With Venus Williams, Carter co-authored the New York Times best-selling book Come to Win: Business Leaders, Artists, Doctors and Other Visionaries on How Sports Can Help You Top Your Profession.
Terra Robinson is an American Black Chick in Europe. She chronicles her time living, working and travelling in Europe through the filters of being an American, a woman and black. One part travel, one part expat and one part personal blog, American Black Chick in Europe serves up tidbits and information about life in Europe straight up with no chasers. Having lived in Europe since 2008, with stints in England, France, Belgium, and currently Denmark, this American Black Chick in Europe seeks to demystify what she affectionately refers to as these crazy Europeans.
Kate Silver has been writing professionally for 15 years, seven of which have been full-time freelance. She got her start writing news and features as a staff writer in Las Vegas in 1999. Along the way, she’s stalked celebrities for People Magazine, co-authored guidebooks on Las Vegas, and investigated off-the-beaten path stories (like one about the so-called “Wedding Chapel Wars”) for national outlets. In 2007, she quit her job as associate editor with Las Vegas Life magazine and took the freelance plunge, eventually moving to Chicago to live closer to family. Today, she juggles a healthy mix of editorial and corporate work, specializing in travel, food, wellness and feature stories. Her work appears in Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Crain’s, and she also writes and blogs for a number of businesses and non-profits, including Chevrolet, General Motors, American Heart Association, Behr Paint and others. Silver also works on a number of ghostwriting projects, large and small, and is wrapping up her second ghostwritten book. In addition, she recently completed the 2015 Frommer’s Easy Guide to Chicago, to be published in the fall. She is a member of Association of Women Journalists (AWJ) and the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), and serves on the planning committee for ASJA’s Content Connections, an annual writer’s conference that will be held in Chicago Nov. 13-14. Silver also blogs and maintains a website.
June 26, 2014
Ah, memories! Here I am, standing under the Tuscan sun during my living-in-Florence days in 2004.
As you UrbanTravelGirl readers know, Italy is near and dear to my heart. It’s the first place I lived abroad, and I’ll always look back fondly on the seven months I spent in romantic Renaissance Florence. I not only got to write incredible freelance Food and Travel stories during this time, but those assignments sometimes took me into the breathtakingly beautiful countryside of Tuscany—the region in which Florence sits. Gorgeous films like “Under the Tuscan Sun” extol the sensual pleasures of Italian life amidst rolling hills and stately cypress trees. No wonder Tuscany is so popular with travelers from around the world … who wouldn’t consider this a trip of a lifetime?
I know it’s Christmas Eve, and whatever gifts you’re planning to give have already been purchased. But what if, just for argument’s sake, you were blessed to be able to give someone (or even better, yourself) the gift of Tuscany this holiday season? And I have one specific gift in mind.
Want to experience the Tuscan sun yourself? From April 5-12, 2014, SimpleItaly’s “Celebration of the Senses” tour will call this luxury villa near Siena its home base.
As I just wrote in a post for my Today’s Chicago Woman Travel blog, my fellow Italophiles and former Florence, Italy, residents Sharon and Walter Sanders are leading a fully escorted eight-day tour of Tuscany through the lifestyle company they call SimpleItaly: Celebrating Your Inner Italian. From April 5-12, 2014, guests who sign up for “SimpleItaly Adventure in Tuscany Tour: A Celebration of the Senses” will call Villa Pipistrelli, a luxurious 17th century villa near Siena that’s a converted farmhouse, their home.
Walter and Sharon Sanders are diehard Italophiles who formerly lived (and actually got married!) in Florence — and they’ll be your engaging hosts for SimpleItaly’s eight-day tour in April 2014.
The trip’s incredible itinerary comes courtesy of Sharon and Walter, Americans who were fortunate enough to marry in the historic Basilica of Santa Croce in Florence. Like me, Sharon MUST have been Italian in a past life. My former editor at the Chicago Sun-Times, she’s a celebrated food writer, editor and author whose Cooking Up an Italian Life: Simple Pleasures of Italy in Recipes and Stories is a must-have for anyone who dreams, thinks and wants to cook Italian. (An aside: a few years back, Sharon invited me to tap into my “inner Italian” and share my thoughts on her SimpleItaly website. Read this, and you’ll see why I—and millions of others—have fallen completely under Italy’s spell.)
Imagine taking advantage of these incredible activities during SimpleItaly’s springtime in Tuscany tour:
- 7 nights accommodation at Villa Pipistrelli
- Transfers to and from the Florence Airport
- Ground transportation to all scheduled activities
- All breakfasts; seven dinners and fine lunches with wine (certamente … you’ll be in Italy!)
- Casual learning sessions with English-speaking local artisans, guest experts and authors
- Olive oil samplings and wine tastings
- Pecorino cheese-making demo and tasting
- Foraging in the local woods and tasting edible wild greens
- Pasta- and pizza-making classes
- Sessions with Tuscany-based authors Jennifer Criswell of At Least You’re in Tuscany and Dario Castagno of Too Much Tuscan Wine (as if there’s such a thing!)
- Tour of UNESCO World Heritage city of Siena—including its lively outdoor market
- Visit to Arezzo Antiques Fair
- Free time to explore the gorgeous Tuscan countryside
Guests on SimpleItaly’s “Celebration of the Senses” tour will learn to cook the Tuscan way in this gorgeous Villa Pipistrelli kitchen during a group cooking lesson.
Many gifts we’ll give and receive this holiday season are the kind we’ll gush over and then stash in a closet. But investing in travel—either for those you love or yourself—will pay dividends your whole life long. This SimpleItaly trip is $2,495 per person based on double occupancy (not including airfare). Experiencing bella Italia the way the locals do, along with like-minded tour guides and travelers, is quite simply priceless. Less than a handful of spaces are left, so you’ll need to move fast.
If you’re one of those who’s promised to think and live more globally in 2014, what better way to start?
Buon Natale e Buon Anno, my fellow travelers!
December 24, 2013
Here I am, standing underneath the Eiffel Tower — in my favorite city in the world — in November.
When cleaning out a dresser drawer this week, I ran across my permesso di soggiorno per stranieri, or the Italian “Foreigners’ Permit of Stay” that became a prized possession during my time in Florence nearly 10 years ago. It allowed me to legally live in Italy and to work as a libero professionista, a freelance professional. Just seeing this folded piece of blue-tinted paper—to which a passport-sized photo of me is loosely stapled—took me back to those days in 2004 and 2005 when I temporarily called Firenze home. Looking at my smiling, youthful face, surrounded by freshly done two-strand twists, I remember how idealistic and fearless I was when launching my first living-abroad adventure as a freelance writer.
In many ways, I felt the same way when leaving Chicago last January for my year-long stay in the charming French village of Samois-sur-Seine. It wasn’t a well-known Renaissance city like Florence, but it has its own renown and as a welcoming place for artists and writers over the centuries. When I left for Samois with a French visa glued into my nearly full American passport, I also was excited, hopeful—and dare I say, wonderfully optimistic about this new chapter overseas.
With a scenic village as a backdrop—and a central location in the middle of Europe—I planned to write freelance Travel and Food articles for a wide range of publications. I wanted to travel to nearby European countries and to explore France. Since Samois was about an hour south of Paris, I vowed to take the 40-minute SNCF commuter train into the City of Light at least once a week. I hoped to finally become a fluent speaker of French. And I wanted to start writing a book on African-American women and our love affair with France. Nothing like having a list of goals as long as your arm, right?
But alas … I decided it was time to close this year-long chapter of “cultural immersion,” or what I came to think of as my “mid-life sabbatical” in France. Some weeks ago, I moved back to Chicago, realizing it made more financial sense to return and resume my freelance writing and communications consulting career here. Since coming back, I’ve been working nonstop, settling back into my condo in downtown Chicago, and readjusting to an American life that after a year away sometimes feels a bit foreign. Although there are many things I miss about France—crusty baguettes, safe streets and charming accents are near the top of the list—I’m surprisingly happy to be home.
Still, I managed to do much of what I hoped during my year in France. I got lots of great writing assignments, expanding into publications like CNN.com, About.com Luxury Travel, and Ebony. I traveled some, mostly to the south of France and across the border to Italy for media trips. I got myself to Paris as often as I could, as it’s still my absolute favorite place in the world. Every time I’d get off the train at Gare de Lyon and stroll out into those city streets, I instantly felt lighter and more at home than I often feel in my native Chicago.
Sadly, I’m nowhere near fluent in French. I’d hoped that living in an authentic village would have me conjugating verbs in the subjunctive in no time, but when you report and write in English all day, it’s hard to develop the fluency that comes from truly LIVING a foreign language day in and out. But I haven’t given up. I’m going to enroll in classes here in Chicago to keep myself engaged with le français. And I definitely plan to still write that book about black women and France. I got a start on the project while I was overseas, but there’s much more to be researched and great stories to be told. I’ll need to do it during occasional trips abroad, but I’m determined to get it done.
What I DO know is that my year in France will continue to shape my perspective—and my outlook on life—in ways I can’t yet imagine. I’ll write about some of my initial impressions in my next post, and about others as they hit me later on.
Charming restaurants, like the La Patte d’Oie gem in the small town of Mennecy, are among things I miss about France. But fortunately, the country — and the wonderful folks I met over the past year — are just an airplane flight away.
One thing I’ve realized is that my adventure wasn’t mine alone—or really even about me. I’ve been touched and amazed to find that family, friends and my UrbanTravelGirl readers felt as invested in my time abroad as I was. I’m psyched that I inspired many of you to pack your bags, grab your passports, and head out on those first overseas trips. Others have told me that like me, you long to live abroad and are preparing for the day that you make that move. I can’t wait until I can return the favor and become your cheerleader, encouraging you to do it and to just go. We only live once—and we owe it to ourselves to experience as much of this incredible world as we can.
But this is hardly the end of my traveling and wanderlust. Even though I’m back in Chicago, being a traveler is who I am, an intrinsic part of my being. I’m making a trip back to France with my pianist dad Farnell Jenkins this summer as he pursues his own overseas adventure—and I’m thrilled beyond words to know my time there helped inspire it.
And that’s the reality of life. Our international journeys are often circular; they don’t always lead us in a straight line. Some of us discover them early in life, others later. But the point is to get there and to take advantage of all the great stuff we find once it presents itself.
Personally, I can’t wait to see where my own journey leads from here. But you’d better know that wherever it goes, I’ll have my passport firmly in hand. As European travel legend Rick Steves always says at the end his public television shows, “Until next time … keep on traveling.”
Amen to that!
March 12, 2013
When you move abroad from the United States—and even when you move to a progressive, equally developed country—the adjustments you need to make in daily life are huge. That’s not to say that they’re BAD; they’re not. They’re just different. You might not find the same cough drop brands at the local pharmacist; out in the villages, you’re not likely to find a walk-ins-are-welcome manicurist seven days a week. But obviously, you’ve decided small changes like these are worth making in order to live the life you have now.
As I go about my daily routine, I’m finding that many of the experiences I have here in the lovely village of Samois-sur-Seine, in the surrounding towns, and 40 minutes away in Paris are nearly identical to ones I faced in Florence, Italy, when I lived there back in 2004 and 2005. Thank goodness this time around, I feel much more prepared to tackle the inevitable challenges that crop up on a daily basis. As anyone living abroad can attest, it’s during your first experience that you learn to juggle the truly unfamiliar until it becomes comfortable ….
Continue February 29, 2012
So I’m headed to France in a little over one week, and am alternately super-psyched, nervous, thrilled, stressed to the max, giddy with excitement, and worried. While part of me cannot WAIT to board that Iberia flight headed for Europe, my evil twin fears that I’ll spend all those trans-Atlantic hours obsessing about … STUFF.
Will my limited French-speaking skills make me feel (literally) like the “village idiot” when I get to Samois-sur-Seine, the picturesque place south of Paris where I’ll be living? Will I find enough freelance writing and consulting work to keep me challenged—but not so much that I end up overstretched and fall back into my workaholic ways? Will I finally meet a decent man who is what he claims to be—or will the language gap (and his sure-to-be-charming French ways and accent) make it that much tougher to figure it out?
When you decide to pull up stakes and move by yourself to the other side of the world, the tasks you need to handle before leaving home are LEGION….
Continue December 20, 2011
Those of you who follow this blog know how much I love Europe—and that there’s a super-special place in my heart for France, where I’ve spent many incredible times over the past several years, from the north to the scenic south. FINALLY, I’m getting the chance to actually LIVE there … and I’ll be a mere 40-minute train ride from Paris, my favorite city anywhere in the world!!! The plan is to leave the States soon after Christmas and launch my “new life” in France—JUST in time to ring in the New Year ….
Continue December 4, 2011
¡Hola, salut et ciao, UrbanTravelGirls!!! Lo siento, je suis desolé, et mi dispiace–in short, my apologies for having gone off the grid for awhile. My freelance consulting and writing has kept me très busy the past several months, but I promise that I’m back, ready to inspire my chicas to experience the world and let it experience THEM!!
Since I last wrote, I’ve had incredible experiences in Panama City, Panama, and am counting on loads more of overseas trips in the near future. (More on that later!) But I’ve also been living vicariously through the adventures some of YOU ladies have been having this summer… which leads me to this post. None of us is an island—and neither should we be, even when we love hitting the road solo (as you know I do). It’s one thing to visit a city or country on your own, but quite refreshing to see it through the eyes of those who live there. And even if you don’t happen to know anyone in Amsterdam or Hong Kong or Cape Town, chances are someone that you know DOES. That’s why it’s a great idea to find out in advance if folks you know have any local connections in the place you’re heading….
Continue October 16, 2011
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 March 13, 2011
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 December 21, 2010