I wanted to experience something off the beaten path while visiting Montego Bay in Jamaica back in April of 2019 (pre-pandemic) and that is exactly what I got. While Croydon was once a plantation, it is probably more of working farm these days.
The bumpy winding road up to the top of the mountain is incredibly treacherous, but the tour bus drivers are experienced and confident. After miles of looking out the window at colorful humble homes with loose goats and free-range chickens roaming about, some out in the road, we safely arrived at the top of the mountain where a beautiful estate opened up before us.
The farm grows mostly different varieties of pineapples, coffee, and other tropical fruits. Fun fact, there are more than 37 types of pineapples grown across the world, each with its own unique set of characteristics. Among those grown in Jamaica are are Sugar Loaf, Red Spanish, Ripley and Smooth Cayenne. The Sugar Loaf is popular in the local fresh fruit market for its rich and sweet flavour. Each variety had its own unique flavor profile and texture. They tasted nothing like the flavorless GMO products that are often sold in the U.S.
On the tour visitors are treated to a sampling of some of the fruits and coffee grown on the farm.
At the end of the tour a delicious jerk chicken lunch is served. It was better than the jerk hut that was on my resort.
I definitely recommend this tour for anyone who enjoys nature or has a strong interested in horticulture, agriculture, and gardening.
Have you visited Jamaica? What was your favorite experience on the island? Leave a comment below.
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On a sunny day in March of 2020 I stood in the parking lot of my job scoffing at the prospect of shutting everything down for 2 weeks due to what we knew then simply as the Corona virus. I had no idea that 2 weeks would turn into 6 months, and 6 months would turn into a year. Fortunately, I didn’t have any trips booked. I hadn’t traveled since 2019 so I was itching to get back on a plane. Little did I know then that I would be itching well into 2021.
I spent the past year following the CDC guidelines and only going out for groceries, take out meals, and visiting the dentist for my half year check up and cleaning. I had gotten quite comfortable with my new normal. Then, exactly a year after the world shut down, I was eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine. The idea of traveling started to become more than just a longing and I immediately hit up the internet for discount air fares and hotel deals so I could spend my birthday somewhere other than inside of my home.
Unlike some people, I actually did not mind having a year to catch my proverbial breath. I did not miss the early morning work commute, spending money to fill up my gas tank weekly, and the general rat race that came with pre-Covid life.
I spent time at home taking a close look at my finances and creating a financial freedom plan. Since I was not spending money on travel I could use that income to pay off outstanding balances and figure out which credit cards offered the most value and which ones I can retire. And let’s not even talk about how the little Stimmies helped out a bit too.
All of that is to say that there is more to consider than just being vaccinated as we dip her proverbial toe back into the travel waters. How will I come out of this experience better than I went in? What lessons were learned from a year of being “inside?” Do I really need to rush back out there or can I slowly slip back into traveling?
I’ve decided to stick to my plan to continue working on my financial health. That’s not to say that if too good to pass up deal comes along that I won’t take advantage of it, but right now I want to focus on getting my life in order before running off to escape reality. I want to be smarter about the way I navigate the world. I want have richer experiences that I can truly enjoy without having to worry about money once I get back home. So my cards are going to get a chance to cool down and build up points, and I am coming back stronger and better in the coming months.
I can go into more detail in a later post if you are interested. Let me know in the comments section if that is something you would be interesting in. I can do a post or a podcast about it.
What have you been doing this year to improve yourself? Where are you planning to travel next?
My mama used to say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” We won’t delve into the logistics of that statement, but I was reminded of it while watching a YouTuber visit Costa Rica. She looked into the camera and with a sense of pride proclaimed, “So, one of the cool things about Central America is that you can pay in U.S. dollars.” Apparently she paid for a meal in USD and they gave her Costa Rican Colón back. Considering the fact that the Colón doesn’t have the same monetary value as the USD it seems to me that they might have gotten the better end of the deal. My advice is to always exchange your money for the local currency unless the value is dollar for dollar.
Exchanging your USD for local currency
A foreign exchange rate is the relative value between two currencies. Simply put, “exchange rates are the amount of one currency you can exchange for another.”
In travel, the exchange rate is defined by how much money, or the amount of a foreign currency, that you can buy with one US dollar. Exchange rates change daily so be sure you are checking regularly before and during your trip for the best exchange rates. Currency converters and current exchange rate calculators can help you make your money go further. If you can try to exchange your money with your local bank at least 2 weeks before your trip.
Currency exchange shops and kiosks in airports are not the best places to exchange money.
For the best rates, try a local bank or a bank ATM to make your currency exchanges.
Check to see if your U.S. bank offers foreign ATM fee refunds for using a foreign ATM.
Credit card and Bank Transfer fees
✅ Some credit cards do not charge an extra foreign exchange fee, and you will get your bank’s rate if you use your credit card for a purchase.
✅ Some U.S. banks offer foreign ATM fee refunds and do not charge fees for using a foreign ATM.
Final words of advice:
☞Always carry a small amount of the local currency with you.
☞Check with your local bank before traveling to set up alerts, change pins (if necessary) and find out the best way to extend your money on your trip.
When do you exchange your money? What are some money saving tips that you can add?
Thanks for reading! Be sure to like, share, and subscribe if enjoyed or benefitted from this post.
There is an old adage that says, “time is money.” If you agree that your time is more valuable than your money then you will want to look into getting Global Entry. After missing a flight last year due to being held up by TSA I decided that I would find a way to get Global Entry and TSA Pre✓. A year later I have both and I was able to get them for free! Let me explain how I did it and how you can do it too.
What is Global Entry?
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows faster entry for pre-approved, low-risk travelers arriving in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports rather than standing in long lines to be processed by an agent. Global Entry applicants must qualify for the program by passing a background check, being interviewed, and finally being fingerprinted. Your status is valid for 5 years. As a bonus, Global Entry includes TSA Pre✓ which expedites screenings through TSA security checkpoints.
Why should you get Global Entry?
There are several reasons someone might want to sign up for Global Entry:
If you travel internationally and hate standing in long lines when you return from traveling abroad.
If you like getting 2 for 1 offers. Global Entry comes with TSA Pre✓.
If you hate getting half undressed and being subjected to pat downs when you travel.
If you like getting things for free (more on that below.)
How do you apply?
To apply for Global Entry go onto the official website at Trusted Traveler Programs and complete the application for Global Entry. The cost is $100 and if you are approved your status is valid for 5 years. However you can get Global Entry for free every 4 years as a benefit of using some credit cards. If you pay for Global Entry using an eligible credit card then the credit card company will reimburse your account for the full cost of Global Entry. I used my American Express card to get Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ for free and within days my $100 payment showed up as a credit on my statement.
What happens next?
After you have submitted your paperwork then wait to be notified that your application has been conditionally approved. You might be expecting an email informing you of your status and you probably won’t receive it. It is my understanding that some people get an email telling them to check the portal and others don’t. I didn’t receive the email but my application was conditionally approved within a week. Log into the TTP portal to check your status about 7 business days after submitting your application. Once your application has been conditionally approved you can make an appointment for an in person interview.
How do I schedule the interview?
Scheduling the interview was probably the trickiest part of the whole process. Once you receive your conditional approval click on the link to schedule an interview near you. Unfortunately, your location might not have any interviews available for the rest of the year, or your interview might get canceled like mine. Find an interview location and time that works best for you and lock it in. If you can’t find an interview location or time near you then you have the option to interview upon arrival as long as you have received conditional approval.
What are they going to ask me?
Some agents are more serious than others. I was fortunate to get a relaxed agent who made conversation so it was less of an interview and more of a chat. She asked me to confirm the same questions that were on the application such as:
Occupation and location of my job
Where have a traveled in the past couple of years
Have I been in trouble with the law
Have I violated any customs laws
Do I have any upcoming trips planned
We chatted about the places I’ve visited, my job, and how she decided to become a Customs Officer. She entered the information while we chatted, took my picture and fingerprints, and just like that I was approved on the spot. The interview took probably about 15 minutes.
How long does it take to be approved?
Ideally the entire process shouldn’t take more than 3 weeks from start to finish but my process was more like 2 months. Delays can be caused by increasing enrollment numbers (especially during the peak travel months,) a backlog from this year’s government shutdown, and the reassignment of officials to the southern border. My initial interview was canceled the week that I was supposed to go due to the humanitarian and security crisis at the Mexican Border back in June of that year. Fortunately, I was able to reschedule a later interview in a neighboring city. The other option is to interview at an airport upon returning from traveling abroad. You must complete enrollment within 365 days of receiving your conditional approval. Not scheduling and completing the interview will result in cancelation of the application and no refunds will be granted.
Here is my timeline of events for reference:
May 13 – applied online
May 19 – received notice of being conditionally approved
June 26 – interview scheduled (then cancelled)
July 18 – interview rescheduled in another location
July 22 – notified that I was approved!
Are there options to Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ ?
Clear is a privately owned biometric security company.
When you get your passport updated remember to add your Global Entry number to the new passport.
Remember to add your trusted traveler number to your airline reservations. Your card is not going to give you access to the Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ lines in the airport. They are to be used when driving across borders in North America.
Your names must match on everything. If your middle name is used on your passport it will also be used for Global Entry. You should book your airline tickets using first, middle, and last as well if that is what is on your Global Entry and TSA Pre✓ . The easiest way to ensure that you remember to do this is by changing the profile of your favorite airlines to match your TTP information.
Your Global Entry expires on your birthday, not the date that you were approved. Plan accordingly.
Do you have Global Entry? What is the best part of having it? Share your comments below. Be sure to like, share, and subscribe to She Jaunts!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate and referral links that might share a percentage of sales with me at no extra cost to you. I use those funds to purchase cheap airline tickets, so thank you in advance for helping me to jaunt.
I used to believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure. Not only did I believe that I couldn’t afford to travel for pleasure, but I also believed that I didn’t deserve to travel for pleasure. Why would I think such negative thoughts? Well, I have consumer debt and a large student loan repayment plan. I also live in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Actually, the only cities I have ever lived in were the most expensive cities, so saving money has been a struggle for me.
I finally decided that the negative self-talk was getting me nowhere fast and I needed to make some serious financial changes. I began researching how to create a budget which led me to watching YouTube videos that described how to increase my credit score. My credit score had been stagnant for ages and I couldn’t figure out why. I later realized that it was because my utilization was too high so I made plans to pay off my high interest credit cards and decrease my credit utilization by getting more credit cards to balance the credit used with the additional credit limits. It worked!
Around this time last year, I was offered a pre-approved American Express card. I had a negative experience with American Expresswhen I was in college and it left a bad taste in my mouth, but I knew the value of having an American Express card so I applied for it. That decision was one of the best decisions that I’ve made in a long time because between the sign-up bonus, the interest-free period, and the other wonderful benefits that I can’t even begin to list here, having an American Express card offered positive value to my financial portfolio and sure enough my credit score grew.
Don’t get me wrong, having better credit wasn’t the only reason that I was able to afford to travel this year. I also took on two extra jobs that generated a bit of extra income. In addition I paid off my highest interest credit cards by using a personal loan that had a lower interest rate and my tax refund. I began using Dave Ramsey’s EveryDollarbudget app to plan my spending each month. For the record I am not Ramsey enthusiast, however Everydollar is a wonderful resource. As a result of diligent budgeting I was able to cut back on expenses like eating out too often, getting mani-pedis, and other extras that were eating into my savings. I was also able to put my student loans on hold for a while then I negotiated a lower payment plan. Basically I was being strategic about my spending.
As a result of paying off my high interest credit cards, I now have extra money to spend and pay towards my remaining bills. I am also looking into moving into a less expensive apartment (or city) and I plan to use that money to … you guessed it, travel!
So, let me give you a detailed break down of how I was able to take my trip toOjo Caliente Spa in New Mexico in April. Note: I am paying off debts charged to credit cards immediately or interest free.
I had Luv Vouchers from Southwest Airlines from two trips that I canceled last year due to cripplinganxiety. Southwest Airlines had one of their amazing sales so I used my expiring vouchers towards the airfare. I also earned points toward future travel by enrolling in the Southwest Airlines Rapid Rewards program. You might also consider applying for their branded credit card which is currently offering 40,000 reward points.
My hotel was probably the largest expense on this trip. I stayed in the least expensive option at Ojo Caliente for 2 nights. With extra amenities (including meals) added on my final bill was around $500. I used my American Expresscard because it provides the the best customer support if there is ever a problem on the trip. For example on my trip to Philadelphia last year I bought the wrong ticket and the bus company wouldn’t give me a refund. I paid for the ticket using my American Expresscard and they were able to credit the money back to my account. My American Expresscard was still in the interest-free period, however my interest-free period was expiring soon so American Expresssweetened the deal by offering a monthly payment plan called Plan It for large purchases over $100.00. Even though I have already taken my trip to New Mexico, I was still able to break up the payments for that trip into 3 smaller payments with no interest (at that time).
My next trip will be to a destination where I am using Airbnb for my accommodations . My housing expenses will be much cheaper as a result. Use my discount code to say up to $55 on your stay and experience.
I rented a car while I was in New Mexico however when I tried to use my American Express card to check out I was charged more than I was quoted more for my deposit. The agent said something about having extra fees for companies that were not Visa or Mastercard. So, I opted to use my Capital One Spark card. While the Spark card is not interest free, it does offer cash back on all purchases and since the bill was $151.00 it wasn’t a large expense to pay off.
So, there you have it. My tried and true tips and tricks for finagling a well deserved jaunt when you just have to get out of town. I am in no way shape or form advocating going into debt for the sake of travel I am just sharing what worked for me and my budget. As I mentioned earlier, I worked two extra jobs and I had extra money that I received from various sources (including a contract negotiation on my job.) The first step to traveling on a small budget is to create a realistic budget. Once you know how much money you are truly working with then you can go from there. The credit cards that I used were to maximize benefits. I received statement credits, interest-free periods, and in the case of the car rental, a smaller rental deposit. Happy jaunting!
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Check my travel deals page for exclusive discounts and ways to save money on your next trip.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate and referral links that might share a percentage of sales with me at no extra cost to you. I use those funds to purchase cheap airline tickets, so thank you in advance for helping me travel.
Someone once said that “the coldest summer I ever spent was in San Francisco.” I was born and raised in the glorious city by the bay and will agree wholeheartedly with that sentiment. During my childhood I didn’t spend my summers running around the city in shorts. As a matter of fact, I never knew that people had summer and winter wardrobes until I moved to the east coast. What would be considered summer clothes were only worn to summer camp in the mountains or on summer vacations down south. And when I say down south I don’t just mean the southern part of the United States, I’m including southern California.
Here’s a fun fact about San Francisco, it is made up of microclimates. It can be cold and foggy in the morning, then warm up once the sun comes out and the fog burns off. Suddenly, it will be cold and damp again. But that’s not all. There are pockets of the city that are in a sunbelt and other parts that are notorious for being in the fog belt. I obviously grew up in an area that is in the fog belt. Most people think that all of California is warm and sunny, but San Francisco is sassy and independent. She does what she wants, when she wants. To help first time visitors navigate my hometown, I’ve come up with 5 tips for people visiting San Francisco for the first time.
Tip #1: Dress in layers. You will want to bring a jacket or a light weight coat to wear at night when temperatures can drop 30 or more degrees. Hoodies are good to wear during the day with a short sleeve shirt underneath. Bring a few long sleeve shirts, a scarf, gloves, and a hat for that chilly ferry ride over to Alcatraz. Wearing clothing that can be layered is key. Most people dress casually so jeans and slacks are a good idea. I would not bring shorts because it’s usually too chilly unless you are going outside of the city.
Tip #2: Don’t drive. Parking and traffic in San Francisco and the Bay Area is atrocious! Unless you are staying outside of the city I wouldn’t suggest getting a car to drive around the city. Have you ever tried to parallel park on one of those jaw dropping hills in a tight space at night? Right. Instead, I recommend that you ride BART, MUNI, or catch an UBER or Lyft. San Francisco is a relatively small city and it can be quite walkable, but just be warned that those hills might take you out.
Tip #3: Eat your way through the city. Food is amazing in San Francisco and you will find delicious food from around the world all over the city. Great Chinese food is not only in found in Chinatown but some of the best food is found in the Richmond and Sunset districts. Mexican food, especially burritos are hearty and flavorful in the Mission district. Italian food can still be found in North Beach. If seafood is your thing then you can get amazing fresh out of the water fish and shellfish at Fisherman’s Wharf. One of my favorites things to do on a chilly San Francisco day is to get a bowl of clam chowder served inside of a San Francisco sourdough bowl.
Tip #4: Satisfy your need for culture by visiting local museums. The MoAD Museum is within walking distance of several other museums in the Yerba Buena Arts District. If you’ve got a sweet tooth then you don’t want to miss the Museum of Ice Cream. Stroll through gorgeous Golden Gate Park which will lead you to the California Academy of Sciences and the de Young Museum. While you’re there, stop and enjoy a cup of tea in the adorable Japanese Tea Garden. Visit nearby Fort Mason or The Presidio. When I was a child one of my favorite places to visit was the Exploratorium . Back then it was located at the Palace of Fine Arts but it has since moved to Pier 15 near the Embarcadero. While you are over there be sure to check out the beautifully restored Ferry Building. Other interesting activities include walking through the very colorful Castro neighborhood to learn the history of the LGBTQ movement in San Francisco. There are so many touristy things to do and you should feel free to partake in as many of them as you can.
Tip #5: Venture outside of the city. While I love my hometown I will admit that the surrounding cities and towns can give it a run for its money. There is the vibrant culture and history found in nearby Oakland and Berkeley. Visit the Oakland Museum and Lake Merritt. Head across the other bridge and you can enjoy the juicy flavors of a wide variety of wines produced in Napa and Sonoma. Ride a ferry over to Sausalito for lunch and a bit of window shopping, or if you are brave enough try to walk or bike across the blustery Golden Gate Bridge. Whatever you decide to do I’m pretty sure you will have an amazing time.
Perhaps I’m biased but I believe that San Francisco is one of the most beautiful cities in America. I leave you with my top 5 must dos for people visiting San Francisco for the first time. Jaunt over to Fisherman’s Wharf, / Pier 39 for Dungeness Crab. Take a trip to Chinatown to eat dim sum. Hang off of a cable car as it clangs its way up and down the rolling hills. Jaunt across the Golden Gate Bridge to sip wine and watch the sun set over the glistening bay. Finally, gaze down on the city from Twin Peaks while eating a two handed burrito.
ETA: Some people have been asking about places to stay in San Francisco. I would suggest staying in an Airbnbrather than a hotel but if you decide to stay in a hotel check out my travel dealspage for great money saving discounts.
Have you visited San Francisco? What tips would you offer a first time visitor? Share them in the comments section. Be sure to like, share, and subscribe!
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate and referral links that might share a percentage of sales with me at no extra cost to you. I use those funds to purchase cheap airline tickets, so thank you in advance for helping me travel.
I know what you are thinking, but hear me out. After I returned from Jamaica in April I started looking online for a birthday trip the following month. You see, my birthday this year was a milestone so I wanted to bring it in big. I found a reasonable all inclusive package and booked a trip to Cancun with Riu Hotels.
The problem with these packages is that the airlines they partner with are not always my first choice, and they often have layovers. The package that they were offering had a choice of several airlines but they all had layovers. Except one. After the experience of flying through Chicago ORD last month I decided to go with a direct flight. The only airline that was offering a direct flight was you guessed it…Spirit Airlines.
I’ve heard all of the horror stories about Spirit but I could not get past the fact that they were offering a 3 hour direct flight to Cancun from Baltimore so I went ahead and booked it. I’ve also read all of the blog posts and articles about how to outsmart Spirit. I tried them all but failed. Spirit remains undefeated when it comes to nickel and diming people out of their hard earned money. By the time Spirit got done shaking me down with its supposed chump change flights, I was left feeling like a chump. In all fairness I had been warned. I’ll break down how Spirit got me good in a separate post.
When I arrived at the airport it wasn’t too chaotic. Since I had printed my boarding pass ahead of time and I wasn’t checking a bag I was able to go straight to security. I felt like Ice Cube the rapper in his video “Today was a good day” when I managed to pass through security without getting felt up! Once I made it through security with my dignity still intact I casually strolled towards my gate. Since I knew that Spirit doesn’t offer complimentary anything I packed my snacks at home and just purchased a bottle of water, a diet soda, Lifesavers, and gum. Just enough for the flight since the resort was all inclusive.
I recently got the American Express Platinum which includes Priority Pass lounge access. I was just chiding myself for not getting to the airport early enough to use this valuable benefit when I happened to walk past a Priority Pass lounge. I pulled up my membership number on my phone and went into the lounge. I was surprised that it was in the Spirit terminal and close to my gate. I got some fresh fruit, a cup of coffee, and a granola bar to take with me since my flight would be boarding shortly. There wasn’t a lot to grab and go since the whole purpose of the lounge is to, well lounge.
The boarding process for Spirit was smooth, especially since I was in one of the early boarding groups. I was the second person on the plane and since I had paid extra for the “big” chair in front I did not have to struggle to make my way to the middle of the plane. While it wasn’t first class, the seat was almost as comfy as a first class seat would have been.
Don’t get me wrong, Spirit is as no frills as they come. No power outlets, no wifi, no in flight entertainment, and no freebies of any kind. O.K. you do get a free carry on. They are like the dollar cab of the sky…they will pick you up and drop you off. In its defense Spirit has improved its on time rate recently so I guess that counts for something. Yet, the fact remains that I have friends who have been left high and dry by Spirit so it is a real gamble as to whether you will have an uneventful trip like mine or a nightmarish trip like my friends Sarah and Conni. I think if you have a plan B lined up and you are getting the better end of the low fares that they offer it might be worth the risk, but check back with me after Spirit has screwed me over.
Up in the air
The flight crew on my flight to Mexico was quite spirited and played a trivia game to get passengers to sign up for the Spirit credit card. Passengers were able to earn extra points for completing the application on the plane and they were given additional freebies for birthdays and anniversaries. The crew divulged at the end of the flight that Spirit will be adding wifi and better seating. You can see the video on my instagram account. The crew flying back home were the laziest flight crew I have ever seen. They literally sat down and gossiped amongst themselves for the majority of the flight.
So you might be asking if Spirit is now my new favorite airline? Absolutely not. But I don’t absolutely hate it. I would take it again if they had the lowest fare and offered the shortest direct flight to my destination.
Have you ever flown on Spirit Airlines? Would you fly with them again? Share in the comments section. Be sure to like like, share, and subscribe.
When I still lived in New York I would make it a point to eat at Busboys & Poets every time I visited Washington, D.C. Busboys and Poets is a socially conscious restaurant located in the revitalized neighborhood of U Street near the campus of Howard University. There are other locations in the surrounding Washington, D.C. area but the location at 14th Street and V Street is my favorite.
The restaurant is large and usually busy to the point that you might have to wait for a table. There is a section in the front filled with telecommuters, students, and digital nomads feverishly typing away on open laptops. This location also has the largest of their independently run bookstores offering a wonderful selection of multicultural books for children and social-political books for women and people of color.
On one visit, I ordered shrimp and grits from Busboys and Poets. I was expecting traditional grits with shrimp on top, however Busboys served grits cakes that were surprisingly creamy inside, yet firm outside. The shrimp was served in a creamy sauce with a nice hint of spice and they were massive – medium size shrimp would have been sufficient. It was actually way too much food for lunch. I was stuffed to the gills!
When I visited another time I went for dinner service. The hostess gave me the option of sofa seating or a table. I chose a table that offered a view of bustling 14th Street. I ordered the turkey burger with a side of crab grits. To drink I also ordered the white sangria which was strong and well-balanced. As I waited for my food, I started a new book that I picked up from the in-house bookstore for 50% off. I enjoyed the music selection which could have been swiped from my personal iPod! The meal did not disappoint as it was absolutely delicious and flavorful. The grits were a nice consistency with just enough crab to make it worthwhile.
Each time I have gone to Busboys and Poets the service has been a bit inattentive so don’t expect to be offered a refill, an after meal coffee or tea, or dessert. While the food is delicious, I do suggest passing on the dessert menu as the desserts I have ordered from there did not seem to be as fresh as they could have been.
Busboys & Poets @ 14th & V 2021 14th St NW Washington, DC 20009 (202) 387-7638
The year before I moved out of New York, I obtained my first adult passport. A United States passport is one of the most powerful documents one can hold and it gives you open access to hundreds of amazing countries. Yet it seems that many Americans take for granted that the world is their oyster.
I got my first passport when I was a child living in Guam. We traveled across Asia to Japan, China, and the Philippines. It was that early experience with exploring unknown lands and unfamiliar cultures that sparked my interest in traveling. Once we returned to the mainland when I was around 11 years old I didn’t venture out of the country again until 2018. Let me share with you how I got my adult passport.
In 2012 I stumbled upon the Passport Party Project, a grassroots effort led by fellow California native Tracey Friley. Tracey put out a call for bloggers to attend the annual Passport Day in New York. At the time I was publishing a blog called Uptownflavor and I thought that it would be great for my readers to learn how to go about obtaining a passport. I attended the tour on March 10 and applied for my passport that same day. A week later I had my passport in my hand. It had been processed in only 3 days!
One recommendation offered by the State Department personnel is to get your passport during what is considered the slow season. If you wait until right before summer break or the holidays when most people travel then you are setting yourself up for unnecessary frustration. I wrote about my experience touring the passport facility and getting my passport on Black Atlas and Examiner.com (both are now sadly defunct online publications.)
By participating in the Passport Party Project and Passport Day, I learned that the number of Americans traveling internationally is significantly lower than citizens of other countries like the UK and Canada. The good news is that the number of Americans holding a valid passport has increased and the numbers continue to steadily climb each year. Sadly the number of African Americans with a passport is still relatively low.
How to get a passport
At this point you’re probably wondering how you can you get your first passport. You can do as I did and attend one of the many acceptance events in your area. Find one near you by clicking on the link.
You can also visit a local passport agency or an authorized acceptance center. Do not use a third party service that charges you extra fees for applying for your passport.
Appropriate passport photo. Follow the guidelines carefully.
Passport applications for children under 16 have special requirements. Visit travel.state.gov for more information.
How much does it cost?
I recommend only getting the passport book. I ordered both the card and book but the passport book is the only document that allows me to travel anywhere in the world. It should cost you $145.00 and it is worth the investment because it doesn’t expire for 10 years. You could think of it as spending $14.50 each year to have full access to the world.
When and how did you get your first passport? Share your passport story in the comments section. Remember to like, share, and subscribe for more travel related content.
It is a known fact that people travel from across the country to indulge in the rich flavors and colorful culture associated with New Orleans. While I may be biased since my maternal side of the family is from the Bayou State, few will argue that Louisiana has amazingly good food. Most people focus on the food found in the tourist-friendly city of New Orleans so when my family and I visited New Orleans a few years ago a friend of mine who was living there at the time suggested that we eat at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. Willie Mae’s has received prestigious awards and it has been featured on the Travel Channel and in other popular publications. There was a line that snaked out the door so we figured we were in for a treat.
The chicken was crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside. It came out piping hot right from the fryer coated in a thick batter similar to a fast food chicken place we had in California called Pioneer Chicken. The flavor was less than memorable and the side orders were nothing to write home about. It is definitely is an overstatement in my opinion to call it the best friend chicken in New Orleans. I will say that it was a pretty decent meal that satisfied our rumbling bellies and gave us enough energy to prowl the steamy streets of NOLA.
The majority of my family is from Baton Rouge so we ate at a few places around the Capital City including Parrain’s , TJ’s Ribs, and Piccadilly. The last choice was my eldest aunt’s choice which conjured up a bit of nostalgia since her younger brother, my now deceased uncle, also loved to eat at Piccadilly.
If I had to choose a favorite place where we ate during our trip it would without a doubt be a small unassuming family run restaurant in Zachary, Louisiana called Martha’s Bistro. Bay-bee! When I tell you that food came out fresh, hot, and delicious I am not lying! It was as if someone from our family had cooked the food for us personally. Everything was perfectly seasoned and cooked with love. The red beans and rice were rich and creamy with the right amount of kick, the chicken was pan fried to perfection, and the hot water corn bread was deliciously buttery with a crispy outside and soft warm inside. Everything was prepared to order so when you visit you should expect to have a bit of a wait, but trust me when I tell you that the food will be worth the wait. If you are ever in the area hankering for the best fried chicken in Louisiana, I highly recommend that you make your way down the highway to Martha’s Bistro in Zachary, Louisiana. Bon Appetit!
Where have you had the best fried chicken? Share you favorite place in the comments section. Be sure to like and subscribe!
Editor’s Note: This was posted prior to the worldwide Covid-19 crisis. Look for an updated post that includes information about changes to Cuba’s currency.
Myth: “I thought that we were banned from visiting Cuba.”
Reality: No, we are not banned from visiting Cuba. While Americans face tighter travel restrictions, we are not banned from Cuba. The question seems to repeatedly come up on the travel groups that I am a member of on Facebook, “Can I still travel to Cuba?” The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Yes, you can still travel to Cuba! I know it may seem a bit confusing so let me break it down for you.
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What changed? Since the 1960s the United States has imposed a trade embargo on Cuba. While former President Obama was in office he attempted to ease some of the restrictions and mend the frosty relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Now that a new administration is in office, the restrictions are being put back into place. In May of 2019 the State Department announced, “going forward, the United States will prohibit US travelers from going to Cuba under the previous ‘group people-to-people educational’ travel authorization. In addition, the United States will no longer permit visits to Cuba via passenger and recreational vessels, including cruise ships and yachts, and private and corporate aircraft.”
Then in October of 2019 commercial airlines were banned from flying into airport outside of Havana.
How do these changes impact me? To put it simply, all cruises and non-commercial aircraft and vessels will not be allowed entry into Cuba. You can still fly into Havana, Cuba from the US on a commercial airline as of the date of this post. I’ll repeat that. You can still fly into Havana, Cuba on airlines like Southwest and JetBlue directly from the United States of America. There are 12 categories of authorized travel on the visa application. The 12 categories of authorized travel to Cuba are: family visits; official business of the U.S. government, foreign governments, and certain intergovernmental organizations; journalistic activity; professional research and professional meetings; educational activities; religious activities; public performances, clinics, workshops, athletic and other competitions, and exhibitions; support for the Cuban people; humanitarian projects; activities of private foundations or research or educational institutes; exportation, importation, or transmission of information or informational materials; and certain authorized export transactions.
What do I put as my reason for visiting? Out of the 12 categories most people check off support for the Cuban people. This is the most broad category and simply means that you will support local businesses such as casa particulares, paladares, and tours offered by local tour guides. If you were to stay in a government run hotel you would be in violation of your visa. You can find a list of the government run businesses that you should avoid on the State Department’s website (last updated April 2019).
What do I need in order to go? All you need to fly to Cuba is a valid passport with at least 2 blank pages, a travel visa, and your airline ticket.
Is it true that I can’t use American money or credit cards in Cuba?
Yes and no. The Government of Cuba charges a 10 percent fee for all U.S. dollar cash conversions. You will definitely not be able to use ATMs or credit cards in Cuba so bring a lot of cash. Bring what you think you will need and then an extra hundred or two just to be safe. Prices in Cuba are reasonable, but not cheap. As for using cash in Cuba, some larger vendors, Airbnb hosts, and taxi drivers will accept the US. dollar. I’ve even heard that banks in Cuba can change your money, but you will have to stand in very long lines and you will be charged the 10 percent government fee. I strongly recommend that you change your money over to Euros before you arrive in Cuba. There are 3 different ways you can do this.
The best way in my opinion is to request it from your bank. The caveat is that you must put in the request well in advance. My bank told me that it needed between 10 and 14 days advance notice. The second and third options are what I did. You can exchange money at one of the airport exchange booths but you will pay high fees to do so. An alternative is to use cambios or local exchanges in your city to change over money as well. Finally, you can use the ATMs at the airport and request the money in Euros. I would say that this is probably the easiest way to get Euros. Once you arrive in Cuba you can get money from the exchange window at the airport which is what I had to do in order to catch a taxi, or you can exchange it at a hotel in Havana. I suggest just changing as much as you think you will need at one time so you aren’t constantly worried about having enough money every day.
How do I get what I need?
In order to travel to Cuba you definitely need to have a passport. I explained how to get one here. Next, you will need to request a travel visa. I flew on Southwest Airlines and there was a section during the ticket purchasing process when I had the option to request and pay for a travel visa using Cuba Travel Services. It looks a bit sketchy but it is legit. Depending on your airline the average cost for a travel visa can range anywhere from $50-75, but I have heard of people who paid more and less. You can read more about getting your visa here. I expected to receive the visa when I checked in for the first leg of my flight, however I did not get the visa until I checked in for the second leg of my flight from Ft. Lauderdale to Havana. I filled it out in front of the airline agents and they stamped it as valid. You cannot make any mistakes or you will need to buy a new visa so take your time and leave enough time between your flights to complete your paperwork correctly. You can always relax in an airport lounge if necessary. Finally, you will need medical insurance but it will be included in the cost of your airline ticket so that will be one less thing you will need to worry about.
I heard that I can’t stay in a hotel or resort in Cuba.
You can stay in hotels, however there are certain hotels that are restricted because they are government owned or affiliated. You can find an updated list on the US State Department’s website if you simply must stay in a hotel. Just be aware that hotels in Havana are not always up to the typical multi-star standards that some Americans are used to. Cuba is still a struggling country with a lot of aging infrastructure due to the ongoing embargo. There are some very fancy hotels in Havana if you are willing to pay for them and Cuba is also currently undergoing a revitalization of sorts where foreign entities are coming in to build new hotels. Check Booking.com to see if you can find a suitable hotel. Tripadvisor is another great resource. Most Americans stay in an Airbnb or casa particular in order to meet the visa requirement of support for the Cuban people because the money goes directly to a Cuban family. It is also a great way to get immersed in the culture and live like the locals. Most casa particulares offer a breakfast of bread, fruit and eggs for $5 CUC. It includes delicious Cuban coffee (pick up some at the duty free shop to bring back) and fresh squeezed juice. Also remember to tip the staff daily. Whatever you decide to do remember that you need to keep all of your receipts for your daily activities transactions for at least 5 years.
My final word of advice is to always register with the US State Department before traveling outside of the country. There have been instances where natural disasters or civil unrest have stranded Americans in other countries and you never know when it is going to happen. My motto is better safe than stranded.
I will be sharing more of Cuban adventures in upcoming posts so be sure to like, comment, and share! If you have been to Cuba what advice would you add? Share it in the comments section.
Strolling through the streets of Havana you’ll quickly realize there are no fast food restaurants. That is because just about everything in Cuba is tightly regulated, including food. What you will see are small shops that have a limited number of specific foods. Bread is one of the foods that is rationed in Cuba. However, due to a shortage of flour in the country, some Cubans prefer to buy the more flavorful bread baked by private bakeries. You will see shops like these all over Havana with shelves lined with loaves of bread or pan in Spanish.
If you have been following the news, you already know that Cubans are facing a food shortage due to restrictions becoming even tighter. Pork is the most widely consumed meat in Cuba, with chicken following behind. However meats are also sold in limited quantities and rations have been reduced.
There are hole in the wall food stands all over Havana selling what can be described as Cuban sandwiches, but they are not the Cuban sandwiches that come to mind when you think of a typical Cuban sandwich. Most Cuban sandwiches in Cuba are pretty basic consisting only of a bread roll, sliced meat (likely pork), and a condiment (usually mayonnaise). You can find the pan con jamon y mayonesa sold on just about every corner in Old Havana. Another quick and easy street food that you will find all over Havana is pizza. While I didn’t try the pizza on this trip I will definitely make it point to try it the next time I visit Cuba.
Have you been to Cuba? What was your favorite street food? Remember to like, subscribe, and share!