While I am far from happy with the state of American race relations, specifically when it comes to the injustice system, at least I know it. No, I’m not an attorney and I never formally studied the law past certain elective courses that touched on certain legal subjects. What I am, however, is a citizen of my country who knows that, though black men and women are often disenfranchised when it comes to the court system, there are rights we are supposed to have and, if those rights are violated, we can appeal for quite some time (unless, of course, we are murdered by the police, which is also a very real possibility in America).
I digress. I am writing this because, as a learned black man who travels internationally frequently with his black wife, I do my best to keep up with stories across the world. I subscribe to an array of publications from Blavity to Valet Magazine to the New York Times and, in keeping up with articles, both domestic and international, I’ve read about American citizens who have been detained/imprisoned abroad. While it doesn’t happen frequently enough to hit national headlines (unless the offender is one of the Ball boys), Americans are often detained for doing stupid things. And, though I do believe in law and order, I know that 1) punishment should be doled out in an unbiased manner and 2) the punishment should match the crime. But, in some nations, that’s just not the case. Take the case of Wendell Brown, for example. Wendell is a black man whose only crime was defending himself against a Chinese citizen by shoving him. There is a video that completely supports this statement. Now, he is serving a four-year sentence in a Chinese prison. President Trump and his staff have refused to come to this American citizen’s aid. Click here to read more.
As the saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Have fun, but do so with an awareness that the person who hits you may possess rights that you don’t. Because laws are dynamic, it is impossible to know every law in every nation that you want to visit but know that ignorance of the law is not a defense in most cases. Stay smart. Stay safe.
Make staying safe a priority.
No, I’m not quoting D4L (or maybe I am, but not intentionally). But anyway, I have had quite a few people tell me they wish they could travel internationally and, while I cannot assume where anyone is financially, I know some of them well enough to not have to assume. I know for a fact that some of my friends and family earn in the same ballpark, if not upwards of what I make. And, while having a dual income home helps a ton, traveling, both domestically and internationally, can be done without that added advantage.
Now, I’m not advocating anyone jump off the deep end and do what Desirée and I are doing yet. Two months overseas as full time working adults can be difficult (her), if not outright impossible (me). Being that Desirée is in school and works at a university, she was able to take this “learning experience” while returning to a her position at the conclusion of the summer. I, however, was unable to and, luckily, our decision to take this trip coincided with recruiters from two institutions reaching out to me with positions to consider. So, I resigned without the certainty that I would return to NC with a job but with an idea that I am in a good position to get one.
I’m not advocating that you do that. But I’m not saying don’t. Do what’s best for you, taking full responsibility over whatever comes. Panos , our Airbnb host in Athens, posted on Instagram today saying, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do!” Since high school, I’ve seen my great-grandma, father, and a few childhood friends die. None of them ever left the country and, even though that’s not everyone’s “thing,” it’s mine and I’m going to do it when I can.
Ok, I’m way way WAY off track. Time to hop back on. *rewind… fast forward… Yeah, stop right there*
Now, I’m not advocating anyone jump off the deep end and do what Desirée and I are doing yet but you can do it on a smaller scale sooner than later and it can be done affordably. You’ll see that I don’t use the word cheap because I don’t like cheap things. I like nice things that have a high sticker price and a low out of pocket cost. Change your word choice and you can change your life.
Putting first things first, you must have your passport. Get it yesterday. You don’t want to have the perfect opportunity fall in your lap and you can’t take it because you could have prepared but haven’t. (Wow! That’s a lesson in general life but apply it to this and I’ll probably circle back around to it on another post later.) It’ll cost you $110. Get it now so you don’t incur additional fees.
Secondly, you have to fly. It’s not the early 1900s and the Titanic isn’t an option (nor would you want it be, hindsight being 20/20 the way it is). Now, this is probably going to be the heaviest expense you incur and it’s going to feel that way because you have to pay it at once. We’re fortunate enough to have an awesome credit card with benefits that help us offset airfare costs but it still can be a pretty penny (and has been on past trips). But, if you plan properly and read about best times to purchase flights, you can save a few coins.
Next up, you have to find out where you’re staying. I’m all for Airbnb. Click this link if you’ve never signed up for an account before and get a $40 credit towards your first stay. Mind you, depending on where you are, that $40 could be a couple nights. Prime example: Last night we had a redeye flight that landed at 5 AM and needed somewhere to crash before our actual reservation began. Realizing we had nowhere to stay upon landing, I hopped on Airbnb.com yesterday and snagged us a nice 1BR apartment for $19/night and, even though we only needed it for 7 hours, that’s still a rate MUCH cheaper than any hotel I’ve ever stayed in *Has flashback to the $35/night roach motel Xiaoxia and I once stayed in because we were too tired to drive*.
True, the cost of living in Thailand is MUCH lower than in the U.S. but that worked out to our advantage. Which brings me to my next point…
The cost of living is so low in some places that you can seriously leave your Airbnb at 8AM, eat three full meals, take a tour or two, have some drinks, and get back home around 3AM having spent under $50. Tonight, in Phuket, I ate fresh lobster at a restaurant on the beach paired with two sides and a glass of chardonnay for ฿494 ($15). I’m willing to bet I couldn’t get that meal with that view anywhere at home for under $60. That’s a nice meal. Just walking through town eating at random places in Thailand, I’m looking at spending ฿90 ($2.73) for lunch or dinner. Or, let’s look at last week in Bangkok, when we ended up at this swanky rooftop bar 47 stories up. There weren’t too many buildings higher than this one in this district of Bangkok so, compare that to an experience in the States and you’re looking at upwards of $13/drink, and that is a conservative cost. I specifically remember going to the Signature Lounge in Chicago and not seeing a drink under $20 on the menu. You’re paying for the view. Well, in Bangkok, that view plus a drink will cost you ฿30 ($8).
Now, you’ll want to experience some stuff too, right? You can eat and drink at home. So you tour a Turkish castle ₺28 ($10) and take a private paddle boat ride through a floating market ฿400 ($12). You haggle with the sales people and come away with a few quality souvenirs to take home to family and friends, spending another ฿400 but that’s a steal in USD.
Alright, we’re going to break this down on the low end using some of the numbers I just gave you and a couple imaginary (but realistic) ones because no one knows what flight prices will be like in six months. Let’s estimate 9 days out of the country, with about two of those days being spent in the air, equaling 7 on the ground.
Roundtrip flight w/ meals included: $850
Airbnb for 7 nights at $35/night since you want to ball out: $205
Two regular meals/day: $19.11
One $10 baller meal/day: $70
Four nights on the town with 3 drinks each: $96
Five cultural experiences avg. $10: $50
Souvenirs for five people: $15
Stories you can tell your kids: Priceless
You just spent under $1,500 on your first time out of the country. And over half of that was on a fictitious flight price. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Well, while I think it is certainly a privilege to be able to do this, let’s break down what that looks like on a weekly basis: $1,500 is really $30/week. If you cut off cable, you’re halfway there. If you cut off cable + cut back heavily on eating out, you’re definitely there. And I’m not asking you to make sacrifices that I wouldn’t make; We moved from a pretty nice apartment on a nice side of town to a place I was less than impressed with so we could cut back on costs and afford to do this.
If you want to do it, I believe you can figure it out. The blueprint is right here.
Make figuring out a way a priority.
The phrase “living out of a suitcase” doesn’t mean you actually have to live out of a suitcase. As a fairly frequent traveler, when I’m staying anywhere for more than two nights, I really settle in. I unpack my Incase Tracto Duffle, place my clothes in drawers, and set up a workspace with my laptop, camera, and accessories. I really make myself at home. I usually bring a decent portable speaker and toss a few snacks in the fridge for late work nights.
Whether we’re talking about an Airbnb or a hotel (the former being my preference), I’m all about being comfortable. No, it’s not home, but, day by day in domestic locations and many international ones, I’m paying more per night than I would for rent so what I’m not going to do is act like I’m a guest.
How do you like to travel? Are you a suitcase rummager or a organize it in a drawer/closet kind of person? Let me know in the comments.
Make traveling comfortably a priority.
I will preface this post by saying that this problem is first-world in nature and an indication of the privilege many Americans have.
Desirée and I have a 9-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey. Yes, you read that right. Nine hours. #NoTypo.
We can’t We’re not leaving the airport because, to purchase a Turkish visa, you must pay 30 USD per person and we weren’t down for that. What really sucks about this layover is that there’s no way for us to connect to the internet for free. As a matter of fact, I’ve spent about 8 USD trying to connect over the first four hours ($7 on some subpar ice cream from a shop that provides “free” wifi and $1 on an “unlimited 24 hour web connection” that didn’t let me get any further than Google.com). The major problem is that, in order to connect to (what I assume is) the best internet in the airport, you need to be able to receive an SMS text message. Because we don’t have phone service here (Verizon’s international plans were just too expensive for all that), we couldn’t get the code necessary to purchase service.
But, per usual, I came prepared. Though I’ve never been to any international airport in the world that doesn’t have complimentary internet (and I’m sure I’ve been to at least 35 international airports over the past decade and a half since wifi use began norming), I knew that, on this trip, I wouldn’t always have internet connection. Therefore, while I was packing, I made sure to toss in a couple paperback books that I wanted to finish over these two months (ended up downloading the books that I packed to save on weight but you get the gist). Additionally, before leaving the United States, I snagged a few films that I had purchased on Amazon Prime and the iTunes Store. And, because I have a Spotify Premium account, I made sure to save all my favorite playlists and albums to the phone. When I got tired of being inspired by literature, cinema, and music, I’ve proceeded to write, both here on The Reader and continue working on my book. And, lastly, once all that has been done, I spend time looking through and editing photographs because, on a trip like this, there are always photos I can be touching up.
The moral of the story is you don’t need to have an link to the World Wide Web to get the most out of a layover at the airport. All these things (books, film, music, and writing) require no sustained internet connection as long as you plan ahead. But that’s enough for today; time to get back to this awesome book.
Make preparing for the worst a priority.