Unplugged Moments: Q & A with Mary

Someone once said “A life untraveled, is a life unlived.” Do you agree? Why do you think traveling is important? 

I wholeheartedly disagree. Travel requires money and to those who can afford, it’s leisure or luxury.  I often tell people, if you cannot afford to travel, read books. Read all kinds of books about other countries and let your imagination run wild. I just finished reading a book that took me on a travel journey. The setting started in Brazil, then to Switzerland and the story ended in Paris. Needless to say, since I've never been to the two former countries, but my imagination ran wild as I tried to picture Switzerland and Brazil. But more than that, I felt connected to these places. To me, this is living. A life unlived is staying in your comfort zone because it’s safe. While traveling takes you outside of your comfort zone to unfamiliar places, I believe books can do the same ... read and enjoy and let your imagination run wild, push yourself intellectually and creatively and live a full life.

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With that said, I encourage people to travel if they can. Traveling is so important because it prevents the danger of the single story. Pico Iyer wrote a beautiful piece on "why we travel" and one of my favorite lines from that is, "we travel to open our eyes and hearts to learn more about the world than our newspapers (and i'll add television screens) would accommodate." This resonates deeply. For many years, every story told on TV about the African continent, for instance has been told one-sided, though now many are working tirelessly to change that narrative. We all know that poverty story and visuals too well, but i’m so glad that since travel is more affordable and accessible now more that ever, many of us are constantly pushing the boundaries and rewriting these stories to also show the beauty of the continent. 

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Do you believe you were born to travel? When did the travel bug bite you?

Without question, travel is on my priority list, but to say that I was born to travel would limit myself to the many other things I’m good at, or have yet to discover about myself.  I don’t think I was born to travel, but I am passionate about connecting with people and their stories. Travel, whether near or far, affords me the opportunity to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. It allows me to leave my assumptions, stereotypes and bias' at home, though as a WOC, it's often the reverse. I often encounter people who overtly express the stereotypes they hold because l’m the one bringing something different to their space — like my skin color, a twist of my Caribbean-American accent and most times my big, long, messy havana twist. People in other countries always seem to be intrigued and are not afraid to show it. If I'm born to do anything, it is to see the people and meet them exactly where they’re at, remind them that every story matter, mine and theirs. It is to see people first, dismantle stereotypes, connect with their story and share mine. Thus far travel has given me that, so maybe I was born to travel after all.

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I've always wondered when the bug actually bit me. I took my first flight at the age of 16, and it was not just a short trip. I moved from Grenada, a small island in the Caribbean to the UK and I lived there for over a year and a half. The culture shock was like a sudden rush of violent wind in the winter, you know the brutal gush that smacks you in the face?  I wanted to see the rest of the world, but that came years later when I could actually afford to buy myself nice things, like a plane ticket. I think the travel bug really bit when I decided to do a study abroad trip to Greece. It was awe-inspiring. That year I I decided to visit Italy and Paris and since then I have not stopped traveling.

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What does your ideal "travel outfit" look like? 

My travel outfit is simple and it really depends on where I'm traveling to and the season. I usually err on the side of conservative, comfortable and cute. Anything with a pair of sneakers is a perfect for me and jeans and sneakers or a jumpsuit and sneakers is usually my go-to. When visiting a new country, i'm always out and about doing things that probably requires a lot of walking, and most times I don't go back to my hotel/airbnb until later at night. 

Recently, I took a solo trip to Morocco, this was a trip of self-love and self-care, but I also wanted to be respectful of the culture so decided to pack more long flowy dresses. Conservative, yet sexy and I rocked them all with sneakers.

How do you prevent overpacking when traveling? 

I think I officially called myself a traveler after realizing that my luggage became lighter with every trip. 

Packing is the hardest part of planning for me. At first it's exciting and then it quickly becomes frustrating. For my first few trips, I definitely overpacked, but the more you travel you'll realized that you don't wear or use half the things you carry and it becomes easier to omit all the extra stuff.

To avoid overpacking I plan one outfit a day, and make plans to recycle outfits. I also pack clothes that can be layered and I leave all the fancy heels at home. I carry no more than 2 pairs of shoes in my luggage.

I also try to (try being the operative word) follow these three rules: If you're struggling to close the luggage, then you're overpacking, if you spend too much time thinking about how much you love this outfit, but not sure when you'll wear it on the trip, leave it in your closet and lastly, if there is no room to add a souvenir / memorabilia, then you are overpacking. I challenge myself to live simple when I am abroad and it's totally worth it.

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What are your top 3 requirements for the perfect travel squad?

I genuinely don't like to impose myself or my time on anyone and as a result, I prefer traveling solo, but even traveling solo can feel lonely sometime. I like to think i’m easy going so if the travel squad can meet the requirement one stated below, then everything else is a given. To be considered ‘perfect,’ they must meet all three, it's quite simple…or maybe not.

(1) squad must love travel a billion times more than the idea of travel — everybody loves to travel until they get to the destination. Traveling is not always as sexy as it sounds. Besides being out of your comfort zone there will be many challenges, you will encounter micro-aggressions, language barrier, cultural differences. If squad can handle maturely, then we're good to go

(2) squad must be independent and must not complain, esp. about missing home and calling home every minute of the day, unless in emergency situations.

(3) squad must definitely take good photos because it's my only souvenir…..jk, but no seriously. 

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How do you feel about people who consider traveling a luxury? Any secrets to securing the BEST travel deals?

I've often wondered why every year more than 50% of Americans do not take their vacation days. I believe a major reason is, vacation for many people is unpaid. As a result, I wholeheartedly concur that travel is a luxury, and as a travel story-teller I stand in the gap to write and tell stories to those who cannot cannot afford to travel. 

While traveling has certainly become more affordable, still not many people cannot afford to go away without paid vacation. If you live in a city like New York where rent is forty percent of your income and you're next in to receive a call from your creditor then chances are you're living a nightmare and travel is merely dream. 

People would often say to me, "I wish I could travel as often as you,” or "how do you do it?" To which I would jokingly respond with, “how many cups of coffee did you buy today? (sorry coffee lovers). But seriously, making coffee at home so you can add that extra cash to your travel fund can go a long way.. Not to pick on coffee lovers, but my point is sometimes you have to say no to a few small things so that you can say yes to that one big thing. I’m sure we can all agree that travel is really worth the sacrifice. You don't need to travel across the world or take six trips and year,  and it does not have to be a dream or an envy, you can start by exploring your backyard / city.

As part of my preparation, I make sure to scout cheap deals, that requires time and research. I always start with google flights explore destinations, then I look at specific dates and destinations. If I'm really interested in a destination, I will turn on the notification alerts for updates on projected changes in prices. I recently booked a one way flight to Denpasar, Bali for $350 and another to Australia for $500 round trip. What a score! It could be better than this, believe it or not. Check out the resource page for other options.

Which do you prefer: hotel, Airbnb, or hostel? Why?

I'd like to think I'm a frugal traveler so when it comes to accommodation I first think about how much I want to spend coupled with customer reviews, then I think about location and the aesthetics/cleaniness of the hotel / airbnb.   Ideally, I prefer Airbnb because it is less transactional and I appreciate the personal touch of staying in a local home. With Airbnb, I try to find homes where I know a family will be there because staying with a local family means I get to see their way of life and they can show me around and tell me all about life in their city/country. That's a big win for me.

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Describe your fondest travel memory

Choosing between countries is not the easiest since each country i've ever visited holds its uniqueness and fond memories. My fondest would be my trip to Israel/Palestine in 2017.  Travel can become a scared thing and my trip to Israel / Palestine was exactly that.  Ever so often I relive my travel experiences, but I think I do with Israel/Palestine more often than not by merely reading my bible and remembering all the places described that I also got the opportunity to visit. For instance, I've read about a place called Nazareth for as long as I could remember, but then I visited and spent four days there -- un-freaking-believe-able. I'm still shocked whenever I would tell others I visited a place called Nazareth, worshiped on the Mount of Olive, visited the Garden of Gethsemane or took an ancient wooden boat out on the Sea of Galilee and worshipped there too. More than that, my visit to Israel / Palestine is the most fondest because it was more than another vacation or travel experience, it was a sweet sacred reminder of why I travel and God's faithfulness to me.