Taking a Different Look at Travel

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I’ve gotten bad about posting on my blog. But here’s my reason, or excuse. I’ve been on the road from May through June nonstop. This summer, I’ve been resting.

When I told friends and colleagues that I wanted to stay around much of summer (except for maybe quick trips), I explained that I wished to make these months about catching up on life in general. My bedroom floor is littered with papers, tote bags and souvenirs. Along with much needed housekeeping, I haven’t seen the people I love or I’m close to in a while. I missed them; I hope they’ve missed me too. And there are work assignments.

I’ve also tried digging my toes back into dating. One nice man asked me to re-connect with him when I got home from a work trip to South Africa, but he chose not to respond to my texts and calls. Another guy caught my attention, but it didn’t work out either.

Now, after recharging, I’m getting ready to get back to traveling with a fresh perspective. Here’s what I’ve learned as a traveler while being home after being on the road for a while.

More Checking In with People

It’s funny; I was away for my May birthday and I didn’t get a call from family. The reason: They didn’t know where I was. When I was with them for Memorial Day Weekend, I was pretty much falling asleep around them. I wasn’t a good houseguest. Going forward, I’m going to be better about staying in touch via phone, Facebook, IM and Skype.

Taking Things Slower

Have you heard of the term “slow travel”? It hasn’t been used for a while but it usually means spending more time in a particular location than trying to rush to see everything. On my trips, I’m a go-go-go person. So much that I run here and here, eat this quick, drink that fast. For work, I try to get to as many places as I can but I’m going to take my time in doing so. And try to avoid bring over-scheduled.

But Still Taking More Chances

In May, I went on a work trip to South Africa that focused on the centenary of Nelson Mandela. It was not only my first time to South Africa, but also my first time on the continent itself. The experience made me want to pursue more “firsts” abroad or experiences I never thought about or wasn’t interested in before.

Bringing a Plus One

Now and then, I might have the chance to bring somebody along with me on a trip. I hope to do this more in the future. Although I have no qualms about exploring places on my own, I’m finding that I’d like to bring someone else along – a BFF, relative or anyone I know who’s up for going.

Have your views changed on travel overtime? Let me know.

Hangzhou MetroCard Contest

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Some lucky New York City commuters will soon have the chance to trade their city subway rides for free rides on the metro in Hangzhou, China!

Here’s a little something I’ve gotten from my email bag. To help promote this city to American visitors, Hangzhou Tourism Commission is holding a contest with the change to win round-trip flights for two between New York City and Hangzhou.

To further publicize this contest, the commission has branded 20,000 NYC MetroCards, which will be sold at 42nd Street–Grand Central Terminal and Fulton Street – World Trade Center subway stations.

To register for the contest, visit www.hzgoldenticket.com. The first 100 people to register will have the opportunity to receive a “golden ticket” by mail. The “golden ticket” provides them two free NYC subway rides but can also be exchanged for a Hangzhou MetroCard good for free rides on the subway in Hangzhou. The contest ends midnight May 31, 2018.

 

A Staycation at the Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan

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Last month, I was invited as a media guest to have a staycation in Midtown Manhattan, at the recently opened Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan. For about four days, I stayed at the property and joined their staff and other media pros for some sightseeing during the day and excursions at night.

Staying in Midtown Manhattan

Most visitors and locals to New York City probably think of Midtown Manhattan as mainly a district for getting to and from Grand Central Terminal or even Penn Station. Or that it is the area for reaching attractions such as the New York Public Library, Times Square, Bryant Park, Empire State Building, and Macy’s. However, take note: there are hotspots where commuters unwind after a hard day’s work or head for lunch or dinner that offer another taste of what’s around here.

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The view from my room at Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan.

Now back to the hotel. Based at East 37th Street and Sixth Avenue (or the Avenue of the Americas),The Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan is based in the Garment District, a section of Midtown. It’s within a hearty walking distance or a quick ride share to other venues.

This 39-story hotel has amenities for starting off your day and even for lingering around.

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Near reception, unwind with a cocktail at “The Heist.”

In total, it has 310 studio suites and king rooms; mine reminded of staying in a common NYC apartment. Beginning on the 22ndfloor, city view rooms face north and south; there are also Sky Studio suites with private terraces. My room had a nice window facing view of the Empire State building, with a nice king-sized bed and a divider between my bed and a couch. There was also a seated desk, a micro/fridge combo, coffee maker and a good size bathroom with shower. The room décor is a nod to the nearby Fashion District with a stylish wall print.

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Come warmer weather, The Skylawn Bar & Social Space will be buzzing.

Away from my room, the lobby has a centerpiece resembling a light cascading waterfall. To the side, there’s a private lounge space called “The Jewel Box” because of its velvety plush seating area. Near the reception desk, “The Heist” serves up cocktails inspired by famous jewelry heists within its lobby bar space; its restaurant serves Italian cuisine. The cocktail menu was handcrafted by Allen Katz, a leading distilled spirit expert.

While the lounge area is more of an intimate space, The Skylawn Bar & Social Space is the place to be during warm weather. It’s an outdoor deck oasis, neighboring brick buildings and being spacious with chairs and greenery. It’s connected to an interior walkthrough which makes you feel like you’ve set foot in a Brooklyn bar, with a selection of New York produced beers and spirits.

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Get your morning fuel from the Embassy Lounge, with a complimentary breakfast.

Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan also holds a fitness center and fourth-floor lounge space with a daily reception for complimentary drinks and small bites. The Embassy Lounge serves complimentary breakfast with buffet setups and a made-to-order eggs station. It overall can get a bit crowded during busy times — it’s best to use the touch-screen to order and avoid long lines — but the spread is good.

As for what to do in Midtown Manhattan, here are some suggestions:

National Geographic Encounter: Ocean Odyssey

Within Times Square, this visually impressive exhibit immerses visitors into deep waters throughout the globe with amazing technology such as a friendly encounter with a virtual sea lion. See their website for tickets and schedules. (226 W 44th St.)

Keens Steakhouse

In business since 1885, this classic New York chophouse keeps this NYC culinary heritage alive and well. Note the wooden pipes atop the ceiling and see famous pipe holders in a display case at the front door. (72 W 36th St.)

THE RIDE NYC

Hop onboard a coach bus with a skylight ceiling to listen to two guides throw down some NYC trivia and witty banter while passing by the Chrysler Building, Times Square and other sights. (42nd Street and 8th Avenue)

Empellón

At this trendy Mexican restaurant, dine on fanciful yet filling dishes and creative margaritas; start off with the guacamole with seven salsas and begin spicy from the left or mild from the right. (510 Madison Ave.)

The Rag Trader and Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store

The street-level The Rag Trader is a restaurant/piano cocktail bar with various small and large plate servings, while the subterranean Bo Peep Cocktail & Highball Store is reminiscent of a 1920s cocktail lounge; its name comes from once being the location for a manufacturing company. (70 West 36th St.)

The Campbell

In Grand Central Terminal, this old-fashioned, ornate cocktail bar re-invigorates the longtime Campbell Apartment bar with a swank setting in honor this one-time apartment of financier John Campbell. (15 Vanderbilt Ave.)

Editor’s note: I was a guest of the Embassy Suites by Hilton New York – Midtown Manhattan, but this piece is solely based upon my opinion and experience.

Visiting Montgomery, Alabama

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Inside Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church

Montgomery, Alabama has been getting news attention lately for the opening of two new buildings that symbolize serious components of U.S. history.

On April 26, 2018, The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is a visually moving monument built in remembrance of over 4,000 African American men, women and children who were victims of lynching. The memorial also has a fellow new structure opening on the same day, called The Legacy Museum: from Enslavement to Mass Incarceration. This facility focuses on the impact of slavery and racial injustice.

I got to visit Montgomery the previous December, while these new places were still under construction. On my trip, I learned that the city has been the location for significant milestones in America. Montgomery also has some other surprises, too. It’s home to cultural institutions, famous icons, and a food scene that has embraced its diverse residents. Here is what I saw and did.

From Civil War to Civil Rights Movement

Two parallel opposite events have happened in Montgomery. Over two centuries ago, the city was where officials from Southern states met to voice their opinions at the State Capital building about succeeding from the Northern ones, in what would eventually spark the Civil War. The decide for succession took place here, with word apparently sent from Montgomery to South Carolina’s Fort Sumter; it would lead to the shot that started the war.

Moving forward to a new century, Montgomery would be a major witness to social change. It would be where two significant figures in the Civil Rights Movement emerged. Rosa Parks committed her act of social defiance of getting arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat. At that very bus stop location, the Rosa Parks Museum at Troy University commemorates her act that would spark the Montgomery Bus Boycott. See a visual re-enactment of that moment along with exhibits of photos and artifacts relating to Parks’ arrest and the subsequent bus boycott.

The Rev. Dr. Martin King Jr. also has strong ties to Montgomery. Go on a tour of Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, a still active parish and National Historic Landmark where King served as its pastor from 1954 to 1960. The tour includes a visit to King’s office, where he conveyed plans for the boycott, along with the church’s interior. Also, visit the Dexter Parsonage Museum, formerly the residence of the church’s pastors but in particular reflecting the years when King and his family lived here.

Inside a former Greyhound bus station, the Freedom Rides Museum chronicles the 1961 Freedom Riders’ journey by bus through the South and their encounters with mob violence along the way.

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Where the Fitzgeralds once lived

Cultural Finds

Two Montgomery residents are honored at their respective museums. The Hank Williams Museum honors the late singer/songwriter with displays of his stage wardrobe, TV footage, private photos, instruments, and even the Cadillac he passed away in. Then pay your respects to Williams and his wife, Audrey, at their graves in Oakwood Annex Cemetery, a half-hour drive from the museum.

The Fitzgerald Museum was once a home for F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and their daughter, “Scottie.” Zelda, a Montgomery native, gets her due here for her accomplishments; her paintings, family photos, and writing are on display, along with her husband’s works. It’s nice, too, because Zelda is often known for her illness, but this museum overshadows this aspect by showing the work that she’s done.

One might not associate Shakespeare with Montgomery right away, but, yes, his plays are the thing here. As a performance venue, the Alabama Shakespeare Festival not only presents works by the Bard but also stages classics, musicals, and children’s productions.

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Central is best known for its fett soux fries.

 

A Dining Enclave

Montgomery’s restaurant scene is as varied as its locations and a diner’s interest. You can go upscale casual or low key but fully stuffed.

Have biscuits as your morning meal at Cahawba House with their “build your own breakfast” menu featuring this floury food and a number of add-ons. Inside a former warehouse, Central offers fine New American cuisine fusing traditional Southern cooking with multicultural influences.  On the menu, look out for fett soux fries, a delicious smoked and fried pork belly that glazed with South Carolina barbecue sauce and served with a peach chutney.

Derk’s Filet & Vine dishes out deli-style servings of Southern fixings with ample table seating. Started by a Greek immigrant over a century ago, Chris’ Hot Dogs remains a family-run eatery liked for its hot dogs and chicken sandwiches. Nowadays, Montgomery has a Korean population, so head to places such as Ginza Japanese & Korean Cuisine, noted for its ramen and barbecue.

 

Visit Virginia Beach Pop Up Travel Agency

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The tourism board, Visit Virginia Beach, has “set up shop” in Brooklyn with a pop up escape the room attraction that brings attendees inside a past-meets-present travel agency in Williamsburg at 135 Kent Ave. On April 22 and 23, 2018, visitors can come to the agency and discover more about Virginia Beach by playing the game. Their visit to the agency will end at the store’s back room speakeasy, with Virginia Beach inspired food and drink. Reservations are required. To book, visit this link.

 

See How Your Hotel Soap Can Help Someone Else

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From the e-mail bag: Recently, Delta Hotels by Marriott announced a new amenity partnership with Soapbox Soaps, a bath product company that promotes a buy-one-give-one business model around the world.

According to a media release, Delta Hotels and Soapbox will provide an estimated 1.4 million bars of soap to communities in need across the globe this year. As part of their business relationship, each amenity kit will include a unique “Hope Code.” Delta Hotels guests can enter the Hope Code found on their individual in-room amenities on Soapbox’s website, to see where that particular kit’s contribution will be allocated.

I’ve also been told that this amenity partnership will give customers another opportunity to see how it apparently will work. Marriott Rewards, the points program for Marriott, will be offering a cause-related experience in India next November with Delta Hotels and Soapbox charitable partner, Sundara. One Marriott Rewards member and a guest will be selected to see how Delta and Soapbox’s contributions will aid in Mumbai’s neighboring villages. They will be said to witness the launching of hygiene stations and facilitating soap recycling demonstrations. More information can be found here.

Granted, most travelers I know often bring unwrapped bars home and donate a collection of them to charities or directly to those who could use them most. If nothing else, we could always keep this practice going while staying at a Delta hotel.

 

 

5 Female Travel Experts You Should Know

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Credit: Jessie on a Journey/Facebook

With March being Women’s History Month and having an International Women’s Day, I wanted to write a post about how women have been really making strides in the travel industry. Travel is becoming more inclusive because of people – in particular women – taking initiatives and creating their own paths toward obtaining their goals. They’re not only seeing the world; they’re leading by example.

Over time, I’ve been meeting or following female travel bloggers, writers, vloggers and overall experts. They go beyond the cookie cutter mold of a single look, status, background, shape or age.

Here are five of them that I follow and consider to be my friends.

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Credit: Jessie on a Journey/Facebook

Jessie Festa

I have to say that I’ve been writing for Jessie’s two websites (her solo travel blog, Jessie on a Journey, and her responsible tourism e-zine, Epicure & Culture) for a few years now. Outside of working for her, I like to keep up on her adventures as a solo traveler, tour guide and blogger. What I like about Jessie is that her writing makes us feel like we’re coming along with her but she tells us about the good, bad and ugly that can happen on a trip. She also doesn’t shy away from sharing some mistakes she’s made or humorous events that she’s encountered (like odd fellows on the subway). Speaking of sharing, Jessie gives out a ton of tips on everything from starting a blog to avoiding pickpockets for good.

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Credit: Oneika Raymond

Oneika Raymond

Describing herself as a “bona fide travel junkie,” Oneika gets you just as excited about exploring as she is. And she’s a busy lady. Along with her blog, “Oneika the Traveller,” this gal not only is an in-house travel expert for CTV Canada’s news program “Your Morning,” but also hosts two Travel Channel digital series, “Big City, Little Budget” and “One Bag and You’re Out.” Along with her continuous energy and enthusiasm, Oneika focuses on inspiring females and people of color to see the world. If she can do it, we can too! She really is like your travel BFF, as on her blog and web shows, she talks about how to dress within certain locations or staying in shape.

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Credit: Kelly Lewis

Kelly Lewis

I met Kelly through the Women’s Travel Fest, a weekend event she co-puts on every year. You’ll find your sisterhood at this event, which features talks and workshops given by noteworthy female travel experts and entrepreneurs. Kelly builds community in other ways. She’s the founder and CEO of Go! Girl Guides, a guidebook series specifically for women. For a previous travel article, Kelly told me that she started Go! Girl Guides out of her frustration in finding a void of information for female travelers. Her company creates guides to dispense advice on women’s health and safety overseas, along with tips on a destination’s lodging ops, culture and food. One thing, among others, Kelly pointed out, “If it’s impossible to find tampons, we tell you. If a bus station is sketchy at night, we tell you.” Her latest venture: Damesly, a women’s tour operator.

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Credit: Women’s Travel Fest

Vicki Winters

Vicki told me that she can be all over the place but it’s for good reason. She’s a travel agent, brand ambassador and actress/model who lives life on her terms. She’s also a fun storyteller. Follow her on her Instagram (She’s @mybigfatmouth on there and Twitter) and you’ll see her venturing around New York City on her bike or two feet. While it’s easy for New Yorkers to pass by their surroundings without a second thought, Vicki engages in what’s happening around her. She’s not hesitant to go out on her own or talk to people. Also, she knows her stuff with social media. Vicki’s given teaching demos for travel clients and at conferences. Ignore the stereotype that only certain ages do social media; Vicki totally surpasses that notion.

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Anne Howard, with her husband, Mike Howard. Credit: HoneyTrek

Anne Howard

Anne is different from the others I’ve mentioned because she’s part of a twosome. I mean, she works and travels with her husband, Mike, constantly. As in being on a honeymoon since January 2012. Together, the Howards brand themselves as “HoneyTrek,” as travel influencers and advisors with the goal of having the world’s longest honeymoon. Anne handles much of their writing on their blog (Mike’s the photo taker) but together they do speaking engagements and, for National Geographic, co-authored a couple’s adventure book. I also chose Anne because she shows that a solid partner can join her on life’s journey. Granted these two probably have their share of ups and downs but I can tell by being around them that they know how to work together as a team – as travelers and husband and wife.

 

Is there someone you follow? Let me know in the comments below.