So I put a “travel” section on my blog with the intention to put posts into it (obviously)… but also for inspiration for myself to do the right thing—shop less and save more so I can travel often. I have hella student loan debt so as a young adult, if I want to live a certain life, I have to be somewhat fiscally responsible at this point.
I’ve always loved to travel, and growing up as a military brat, I was always accustomed to being in a car or on a plane going somewhere. I was literally always traveling around the country from state to state, but unlike some military families, never outside of U.S. soil. I was born in North Carolina, moved to Florida when I was 2, then to Southern Virginia—Newport News, to be exact. From there, my parents got divorced and my mom, little sister, and I moved to Northern Virginia—Alexandria. But I was always traveling on holidays or when school was out to be with my dad (Marines) wherever he was: Texas, Ohio, California, etc. I spent the rest of my life in VA, until I graduated high school and moved back to North Carolina for college (5 yrs.), back to Florida for the Disney College Program (6 mos.), and up here to New York for grad school.
But around the age of 20, I started to notice this actual craving for travel. Just wanting to go and see and experience new places. I’d been to at least 35 of the 50 states, but never outside of them. This was probably during the time of the huge resurgence of young Millennials, and more specifically, young black Millennials going abroad. It became so interesting and inspiring to me, and all I ever thought about doing was planning trips all the time. I’ve always been a planner by nature. Always planning and organizing something, it’s just me. I plan all the trips I go on, for myself and other people, and oh, I’m thorough. I book accommodations (bomb ones at that), find the best spots to go/eat, the best things to do… curate the whole damn thang. And I’ve found that people (or my friends I should say) really trust me, too! Blindly. If I’m going on a trip with a group, I can tell them to give me $500 each and I’ll handle the rest and nobody would ask questions, because they know I got it and I’m good at it. That’s the kind of reputation I’ve built up by this point. What can I say? I’m on my shit.
So far, I’ve been to the aforementioned-hella-states, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, and most recently, Mexico, which in between all my stateside travel, averages out to about 1 out of country trip per year since I’ve been 21. I’m cool with that! For now.
How I thought of it was, I’ll start in the Caribbean and work my way out. And so far, that’s what I’ve been doing, aside from Mexico, but even that’s just south of the border. It’s been going well, but all the super faraway places on my list have been screaming at me lately: Bali, South Africa, Morocco, Croatia… The list goes on and on. But of course here comes that “fiscally responsible young adult” voice in my head again, *sigh.* Budget undoubtedly plays a major role in location selection as well, but my mom always said, “you gotta do what you can with what you got.” I’m not sure where’s next, but when I figure it out, I’ll be sure to share!
My whole thing with traveling is structured payment plans. You’d be surprised the things you can do and afford by setting them.
We stayed in Playa del Carmen for 4 days, not too long, not too short; good amount of time to be out of your home country if you’re not traveling with someone from that foreign country (especially given the political landscape right now). Flew into Cancun, (the nearest airport) and met up with the rest of the travel crew—9 deep. And not everyone knew each other prior to. It was essentially a group of my friends from different stages in life put all together to go on an International trip. Risky business—and yes, some people may think it’s absolutely crazy to travel with this many people, and I had my doubts, too. Thankfully, it worked out considerably well for this group of personalities! By the end of it, no matter what little spats we’d gotten into or how much we annoyed each other over the 4 days, we were literally like a little travel family. It was an experience similar to, assumably, living in the Real World house. (Except it was only 4 days and not 4 months.)
We stayed in a 6 bedroom, 5.5 bath villa in Playacar Phase II. Ridiculously spacious, modern, and clean. Our own pool, hammocks, rooftop grill, wall-size TV via projector, bikes, the whole 9; it was perfect. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the actual house (although we had no running water whatsoever the first night in town—humbling experience #1). Super quiet gated community made up of vacation homes like ours, and surprisingly open—meaning, basically anyone could kind of waltz into the property or back to the pool if they wanted (Thank God we didn’t deal with any craziness concerning that).
Alux. Super fancy (as in, you will not recognize anything on the menu) but sooo pretty. It’s an underground natural cave with a bunch of different little areas that are attributed to different energies—love, hate, passion, etc. They’ll take you on a tour and explain the history and legend behind it and everything, but I literally cannot explain how beautiful it is. Not to mention, the service is impeccable! A1. People even host wedding receptions there. They have interesting foods you probably don’t eat on the regular—deer, snails, ant larvae to name a few (like I said, it’s a super fancy eatery), so be prepared for that. Almost everyone I was with hated their food. I had the bacon wrapped chicken dish… no complaints here. I was interested in going more for the experience and atmosphere than the actual menu.
Zenzi. Beach bar and restaurant that is so pretty at night, and I’m sure even prettier during the day. It’s a restaurant on the literal beach, but you have the option of whether or not you want to have a beach table or not (they have cabanas, too). They’re open ’til 2am and have live music. The guac is also bomb. We ate on the beach our last night there, feet in the sand, lookin’ like quite a heavenly bunch in all white. So calming and relaxing.
Shark Burger. The cutest little burger and BBQ joint in Playacar. Open ’til 2am. Super clutch.
Local. If you go out into town there are a bunch of little local hole-in-the-wall spots to eat from. Pure, traditional Mexican food. We went to one and a rat came running straight under our table from across the room. The waiter caught it by the head with his foot (as if he had done this a million times) and while we jumped around and on top of chairs like outraged frenzied tourists, everyone else in the place looked at us and chuckled in dismay, as if we were the ones trippin’. Needless to say, we left, but we realized afterwards that this is common place and we probably could have handled it a little better (extremely humbling experience, to say the least). After that, we had better luck and found another little spot and got handmade quesadillas. (Don’t expect them to taste like Americanized “quesadillas”—may be common sense, but you’d be surprised…) If you’re looking for a familiar taste, try somewhere you recognize the name, like Señor Frogs.
Mayan ruins at Tulum or Chichen Itzu. We were supposed to do this on the last full day we had in town and didn’t get a chance because we were just doing so many other things.
A traditional Mayan culture display/show. Can be seen on the beach at any given time of day.
Beach art. Goes without saying—you’re in Mexico! Try to visit a few different beaches if you can, they have so much art (similar to what you’d see in NYC or LA) and it’s nice to see all the beautiful murals/graffiti if you’re into that sort of thing.
Get off the resort at some point, if you’re staying on one. If not and you’re traveling in a group, I highly suggest renting a villa. It’s the best choice. There are endless amazing and affordable options on Airbnb and VRBO.
Visit a Mayan village. It’ll be easy to find people around who will be trying to get you to sign up for activities; I’m sure they’ll actively seek you out and approach you at some point. After all, you are a tourist.
Zipline & ATV through the jungle. See above.
Swim in a Mayan cenote! A cenote is a natural sinkhole. It’ll be hella deep and dark with unknown creatures and you may not want to do it, but trust me… just do it, scaredy cat. The experience is worth it! Added bonus for jumping off a cliff into one or bathing in ancient Mayan minerals (the myth is they have “fountain of youth” effects).
Don’t go without:
Sunscreen, please! Apply liberally. My boyfriend literally looks like a lobster.
Insect repellent. Oh. my. Lord. When I tell you, those mosquitos had a whole entire field day feasting on my flesh while I was out there. I had HUGE bites all. over. my. body. Arms, hands, butt, thighs, feet, #YOUNAMEIT. And those mosquito bites have since turned into dark spots. Something like scars, so yea. I’m now googling “how to get rid of dark spots from mosquito bites.” Be warned.
Cash. Do not attempt to swipe your card. Also, do not exchange your cash for pesos at the airport, it’s worth much more on the outside.
Translating device of some sort. An app, Google translator, something. We didn’t stay on a resort so we were pretty much on our own. We had to figure things out which sometimes frustrated us, but we made it work. If you’re not planning on staying at a resort, the language barrier is deeper than you might expect. My Dominican best friend was speaking Spanish to natives and most of them didn’t even understand her. During our time we didn’t actually see many American tourists at all. It was mostly natives or visitors from other Spanish speaking countries. It was actually a little weird how scarce we were. I assume it’s due to the fact that we didn’t stay on a resort, but still, you would think they’d be out and about in town a little more… guess not *Kanye shrugs*.
Polaroid and video cameras. Polaroid for the nostalgia of it all… it’s so nice to have physical photos that you can put in a scrapbook or up on a bulletin/memory board. And you’ll want to record the things you do and places you go!
Be prepared to not drink the water. Don’t even brush your teeth with it. Bottled water only. Our bodies are not used to the toxins in water abroad and it will make you very sick. We didn’t even drink the water and half of us still had Traveler’s diarrhea, it’s totally normal.
We didn’t actually “go out” and party at all. It wasn’t really that type of trip. We tried to one night but… long story short, it got a little dangerous in these Mexican streets so we took our American asses right back to the villa for the night. Also, while I’m thinking about it, please always be culturally aware and realize how fortunate you are to live in a country like America. This applies to any foreign place you go. I’ve been guilty of throwing the middle finger to America too lately, and trust me we have our own issues (being Black in America hits a soft spot), but in other countries it’s a totally different life. They have to fight for every peso they get and they will defend their territory, down to the very cab tourists take coming and going. Anyway, I hear Coco Bongo and Mandala are pretty popular clubs and there are bars all along 5th Ave. if you’re looking…
Traveling is so hard because anytime I go somewhere I always wish I could do and see more. It’s not “dangerous,” but it can be. It’s just different. And in America, we’re taught to fear anything that we’re not familiar with. Don’t believe the hype. Mexico may be poor but it’s a beautiful country with people trying to make a life just like you and I. Go there open-minded ready to see some things you won’t see here, and just be cautious, but don’t let anything stop you from exploring and appreciating the culture!