Snapshots: San Francisco

View of Alcatraz in sunset

I started November by attending my first writer’s conference in Marin County, CA. As the event was only 20 miles ( or a half hour by ferry) to San Francisco , I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity. So after … Continue reading

Halloween Series #3: Salem, Massachusetts

Every Halloween enthusiast dreams of visiting Salem. Despite the dark history of hangings and witchcraft accusations, the tiny town offers a host of museums, reenactments, and memorials that attracts scores of people year round. Of course, the number of visitors … Continue reading

Halloween Series #2:Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia,PA

Many people know Eastern State Penitentiary is a former maximum-security prison where the likes of Al  Capone were once imprisoned. A lesser known fact is that every year during the Halloween season, the prison turns into the haunted attraction called Terror Behind the Walls, complete with bloody zombies,psychedelic hallways, and menacing, glossy-eyed guards.

Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

The frights start before you enter. Pale guards with slashed faces usher you through the lines, often yelling or lunging at the distracted for scares. After you sign a waiver and pose for zombie pictures, you’re given the option to intensify the experience wearing by an interactive necklace ( a glow stick) that allows the costumed actors to grab you, separate you from your group, or even drag you into secret, scarier tunnels. You’ll  have to make your way through six attractions– like the infirmary, the cells, and the machine shops– all while dodging the various ghosts, creatures , and madmen that dart out of the shadows.

My favorite  parts of the evening included  walking down a dark hallway of cells while dead prisoners chased us from the other side of the bars and going through a 3D room splattered with neon colors. I also enjoyed the last attractions, where guests walk through a narrow hallways as a billowing black mass of air presses at them from both sides.

 Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Eastern State Penitentiary

Being a risk-taker, I chose the glow stick. I’m also a coward so I tended to grab my friend and run whenever I was being cornered and , thus, never got to experience the secret tunnels. I did witness several people emerging from these tunnels. One boy screamed, “You do not want to know what just happened!”. This, of course, made me wish I did know what just happened, so if you ever get the chance ,  take the opportunity to explore these secret passageways.

While it’s forbidden to take pictures while in the actual attraction, there’s a reception area outside that houses a few of the original cells and some display areas in route to the exit that make perfect photo ops.

 Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

 Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

 Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Visiting Room

 Cell room at Eastern State Penitentiary

Visiting Room

For more information on Eastern State Penitentiary,and the Terror Behind the Walls haunted , visit their easternstate.org.

Coupons for the attraction can be found at Lukoil gas stations.

 

Traveling with Afro: Tips, Tricks , and Avoiding Awkward Moments

My afro is my favorite part of my body and , no matter where I go, it always causes heads to turn. If I’m in certain places abroad, it’ll also cause a lot of unsolicited stares,questions, and even touching. And don’t even get me started on the trying to find the right products to keep the ‘fro presentable and healthy.

The Afro

The Afro

Luckily, I’ve developed an arsenal of tips and tricks  to care for my hair and deal with the awkward moments abroad.

First , the tips:

Tip #5: If you can’t find it in the supermarket, pack it.

Many of my must-have hair products double as cooking ingredients. Because I know I’ll be able to find them in most markets I never worry about packing things like olive oil or mayonnaise for long trips.

Things that are a bit harder to find and always go in my luggage are Shea butter, castor oil, and shampoo and conditioner specifically made for my hair type.

Tip #4: Utilize travel size containers for short trips

If I’ll only be away for a short amount of time, I don’t worry about finding all of my usual products. I’ll pick out two or three that I can’t live without  and  squeeze them into a travel-sized container.

Tip #3: Wear Protective Styles

I always wear my hair in twists or braids because it’s easier to manage. Instead of waking up early every  morning to detangle the inevitable night-time knots, moisturize, and style I just fluff out the twists, spray a bit of moisturizer, and I’m out the door.

Tip #2:  Wear “flat”styles to avoid TSA searches 

For whatever reason, the TSA is very unforgiving when it comes to puffy,big hair like mine. Even when I braided it or scooped into a bun , I was still ended up with a pair of gloves shifting through my curls. However, on my last trip through an airport, I pulled my twists into a low pony tail and then gathered all the loose hair into one braid. I went through security uninterrupted. I think the key to avoiding awkward hair pat downs is to style it in as flat a way as possible. Think french braids,corn rolls, etc.

And speaking of awkward hair moments…

I’ve definitely experienced a few.

*Near Cordoba,Spain I was encircled by a group of women who took turns tugging at my twists.

*In a checkout line in Korea, I handed the cashier money and she responded by reaching up and , again, pulling my hair. ( as a side note, why must everyone pull?)

*While waiting in line for the bathroom on a flight, I felt someone massaging my scalp from behind. I turned around and asked the tiny Asian woman doing the massaging to stop but she only gave me a thumbs up before continuing as soon as I turned back around.

When traveling , I’m so focused on experiencing different cultures and people that I forget that I’m just as new and interesting to others. This was probably the biggest shock for me when I moved to Asia;people would gasp, follow me, and pull their cars over to take pictures at red lights .It took me a while to realize that in certain places, people who look like me – with dark skin and kinky,big hair – aren’t an everyday sight.I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the staring but one thing I have become quite comfortable with is saying “No” when people touch my hair.

The first few times the hair-touching accidents happened, I was afraid to do more than walk away. I didn’t want to come off as the “Rude American” or “Angry Black Woman”. Then I realized that if I was going to do the solo travel thing, I would have to get used to protecting my property. And that includes my body, and by extension, the hair.

So my #1 tip to anyone traveling with afro is to never be afraid to say STOP or NO if someone if touching you without permission. It may only be hair but it’s still yours.

 

Have you had any awkward hair moments while traveling? Share them in the comments!

 

 

 

 

3 Dumb A** Travel Mistakes I Continue to Make

I’ve just returned from my first trip to the West. I loved the heat and palm trees ( two things we just don’t have on the East Coast) but now that I’m back in the comfort of my bed, I can’t help thinking about how I could have made the trip better. Though I’ve been traveling for nearly two years and returned from my first solo trip overseas alive and with all my belongings, I still make mistakes…sometimes expensive ones.

Here’s some of the most recent travel mistakes I regret the most

Mistake #1:  Taking Emergency Cabs

photo credit:gettyimages.com

photo credit:gettyimages.com

Back in April, I was in Amsterdam. For a reason I don’t remember, I didn’t buy the round-trip train ticket from the airport to Central Station. Fast forward three days and I found myself at the station at  4 in the morning surrounded by closed customer service desks and with an American credit card that wouldn’t work in the  automated ticket booth. Because I also read my boarding pass wrong, I thought I had an hour to make my flight. Long story short, I ended up taking a 70 dollar cab ride to the airport.

A round trip ticket would have on caused me 16 US dollars.

I made a similar mistake leaving Vegas yesterday.

I had already scheduled a shuttle to take me to the airport and as my hotel was all the way at the other end of the strip, I caught a taxi to get me there in time. The driver, who only paused his phone conversation to ask me where I was going, drove halfway there before I told him the meter wasn’t running. He wanted me to pay him the “normal ” fare but I wasn’t using cash and just paid what the meter said.

I was too busy averting his death stare to check the seat as I normally do and I was at the airport before I realized I didn’t have my passport. It must have fallen out of my bag when I was searching for my wallet. After calling the cab company , the driver brought me my passport but , of course, the meter was about 15 dollars higher than it should have been. He had added the “normal” fare from before.

The cost of using my passport for a domestic trip and then leaving it in a questionable taxi? 50 US dollars.

Mistake #2:  Relying on ATMs

photocredit:gettyimages.com

photocredit:gettyimages.com

I was so excited to start traveling within the States because I figured it would be much cheaper. I made my budget and celebrated when I didn’t have to allot for exchange rates and conversion fees. What I should have thought about , was the fact that I’d be splitting taxis and checks and giving tips for ever service imaginable. The result was a handful of trips to the ATM and more than a handful of fees.

Mistake #3: Not Planning with Co-Travelers

photo credit: gettyimages.com

photo credit: gettyimages.com

When I’m solo, I don’t do much beforehand except for looking up directions. I have the whole day to do whatever I want, whenever I want and rarely leave a place without crossing the most important things off my to-do list. When you travel with others, as I did in Vegas , you not only have to take others’ interest into account but also their sleeping/eating/bathroom schedules, budget, and other eccentricities. Looking back, I feel like we only did a few of the things we planned on doing. Things I though would only take a few hours turned into half-day activities.

Next time, I’ll definitely sit down with co-travelers and have a solid plan before departure.

So, to my future self: take out cash before leaving, do not carry your passport on a domestic trip, and have a plan when traveling with others. And for the love of everything good in life, do whatever it takes to avoid taxis to the airport.

What are some of your travel mishaps …and how did you recover?