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 most recently lived in the charming French village of Samois-sur-Seine, a 40-minute train ride 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 boutiques in 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!
December 24, 2013
Appropriately termed “Duchess Rooms” when transformed for female guests, those like this one at the boutique-chic DUKES London Hotel in Mayfair pamper women with women-sized slippers, makeup mirrors, lifestyle magazines, and fresh flowers.
As a woman who used to travel solo for my work with a global corporation—and who’s done the same for pleasure to countries around the world—I’d try to plan my trips with an eye toward comfort and convenience. When traveling for work, I’d often stay in large, plush hotels that catered to their guests’ every need. Even when I was footing the bill, I looked for bed and breakfasts that offered more than just a bed and breakfast, but where owners offered personalized service, helping arrange restaurant and tour reservations and off-the-beaten-path advice.
But I never thought to ask for special services—or stay in a particular place—specifically because I’m a woman.
These days, more and more hotels have decided female business travelers and tourists are a niche market they need to reach—and articles have cropped up on newspaper, magazine and travel websites detailing this new approach. USA Today recently published a piece about Washington, D.C.’s Hamilton Crowne Plaza and the special bath salts, magnifying mirror, and manicure accoutrements they make available on their female-focused floor. “In other words,” wrote Nancy Trejos, “you’ll get pretty much anything you need to pamper yourself.”
Then there’s the DUKES London Hotel on chi-chi St. James’s Place, with its aptly named “Duchess Rooms.” Rather than setting aside a specific floor for female guests, this Mayfair boutique property can transform any of its rooms by adding smaller slippers, makeup mirrors, female-friendly magazines, and fresh flowers. USA Today and Condé Nast Traveler’s website also dished about the women-only perks at Vancouver, B.C.’s 4-star Georgian Court Hotel, which include female-only floors awash in “curling irons, yoga mats, and satin-padded hangers.”
From a marketing perspective, it makes sense. Marybeth Bond of GutsyTraveler.com reports that a whopping 80% of all travel decisions are made by women, regardless of who they travel with, who pays for the trip, or where they go. No wonder hotels the world over have trained their sights on us.
I suppose there are SOME things we women consider differently than men do when we’re on the road—and one of those is likely safe transportation. When I travel—and especially getting around by myself—I generally scout around ahead of time for affordable get-from-the-airport options such as shuttle buses that drop you off in the center of town, such as the $15-to-$26-one-way fares on Les Cars Air France in Paris. Or I’ll choose easy-to-navigate city trains, such as the $5 Blue Line “L” from O’Hare International in Chicago or the $21 Leonardo Express from Fiumicino Airport in Rome. But since I’ve never mastered the art of packing light, even after all these years of hoofing it all over the world, that means a LOT of schlepping suitcases, purses and laptop bags.
Female travelers who want to roll like rock stars–or at least pampered VIPs who don’t have to schlep their own bags–can splurge and opt for Blacklane chauffeured service in major cities around the world.
And since I’m a woman who likes to travel with all of her stuff (it’s hard for me to leave things I know I’ll need at home), it’s sometimes nice to spend the extra cash and know certain perks and conveniences will be waiting when you arrive at your destination. While I rarely splurge on a car service, those like Blacklane—which offer rides in luxe, grown-up vehicles in some of my favorite cities, including New York, San Francisco and Paris—start your trip off an a classy, stress-free note. Talk about making a girl feel like a rock star when she arrives at the airport late and exhausted, with multiple bags in tow.
If you’re traveling on company business and can write off the cost, such a service can be worth its weight in gold. Rather than hoping to hail a taxi or navigate an unfamiliar large city and its traffic-choked streets, hiring an hourly chauffeured service like Blacklane’s to transport you between appointments can be a smart business move. And for women who occasionally like to roll like a “Sex and the City” gal in a Lincoln Town Car or Mercedes E and S Class sedans, it’s the way to go. Even we independent women (and we are those!) appreciate a bit of pampering now and then.
So tell me—would you be jazzed or just ticked off by female-only amenities and hotel floors? Would such conveniences encourage you to patronize businesses or hotel chains that specifically target you with services because of your gender—especially if it makes you feel safer and more secure? I’m curious to know what you UrbanTravelGirls think about this “trend.”
December 19, 2013
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
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 October 15, 2010
Late last month, I wrote about the “hair issues” we black women often face when traveling abroad—and promised to offer some tips about handling these when you’re overseas.
When I first traveled to Europe in the late 1990s, visiting a friend who worked on a U.S. Army base in Germany, I was doing the relaxed hair thing, toting multiple curling irons and assorted lotions and potions in my always-overstuffed suitcase. But once I started hitting the road with friends, all those curling irons became a royal pain. What a hassle to constantly be plugging in, moving irons from one room to the other, waiting for them to cool down before you could pack them, etc. And then there was always the issue of “what if it rains?”
Now that I’ve been wearing two-strand twist extensions for most of the past five years, that’s no longer a concern. BUT, I have gotten overseas and much to my dismay, realized that I forgot to pack my favorite olive oil sheen or softening lotion. This, my friends, can be a challenge—especially since overseas trips tend to last for more than just a weekend.
But if you find yourself in a city—especially in Europe—and have arrived sans products, I’ve discovered that black folks and Arabs (who frequently have similar hair textures as ours) often live near the city’s main train station….
Continue January 10, 2010
I don’t know about you, but I’m often more psyched about going to church on the road than hitting a bunch of must-see museums and boutiques. Although mornings and I have never been friends, when I’m overseas, I make a point of finding an English-speaking service, whether I need to hop on a subway or bus or use my own two feet to get there. I enjoy the religious aspect of worship but for me, it’s also about experiencing local culture in one of its most authentic and expressive ways….
Continue August 16, 2009