Traveling 101: The Pros and Cons of Traveling Solo

Con #1: Not having a friend to take a picture of you with that gorgeous background/monument/building in the back.

       Solution: Invest in a very handy selfie stick or ask a stranger to snap a photo of you. I promise, they probably won’t steal your camera and you may just make a new friend.

Pro #1: You get to choose when, how, and what you get to see.

No more arguing about whether to se the Trevi Fountain first or go to the Spanish steps. Whether to walk or take the metro. It’s all in your hands now!

 Con #2: Cost. Whether it’s actually more expensive to travel with friends or less, no one can deny the feeling of your wallet being sqeezed to death when you see that bill.

     Solution: Plan ahead and budget, budget, budget. It’s absolutely possible to do tons of crazy, amazing things. You just have to be smart about it. Take that 34 hour bus ride rather than the expensive flight. Save on food, spend on experience.

Pro #2 The personal growth

I remember the first time I traveled by myself.  I had chosen to stay in Ireland, just under two weeks. I was forced to navigate a city by myself, seek out people when I wanted company, and walk into a pub and enjoy being alone. Nothing was there to stop me except myself. I emergered from the experience, not ony refreshed from an amazing holiday, but more confident, daring, and happy with enjoy the prospect of me, myself, and I.

Con #3: Vulnerability

This is both physical and emotional.  I can’t deny the little feel of nervousness when walking alone in a new city, laden with bags. You’re definitely more of a target than when you’re traveling in a group. But also, it can get frustrating having to repeatedly explain to people why I’m traveling solo. “No, I’m not with a boyfriend” “Yeah, my friends are back in such-and-such city””Naw, there’s too much adventure for me to get lonely!”

        Solution: Try to arrive in a new city in daylight. You’re less likely to get robbed that way. And practice makes perfect.  The more you travel alone, the more comfortable you become with yourself and not having buddies around you to experience something new.

Pro #3: Way easier to meet new friends

Your friends from home turned travel-buddies have become your security blanket. You won’t spend half the effort to meet people when you have someone right there beside you.  But the whole point of traveling is to get out of your comfort zone! And being alone forces you to be more sociable if you want to have some human interaction.

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Night at the Pagoda

Sunday morning at the Buddhist ceremony

Sunday morning at the Buddhist ceremony

Saturday night I found myself driving in the rain with friends to a pagoda right outside the city center of Hanoi.  We arrived around 7:50, just minutes before the evening meditation service began. The temple was pitch black, so I was hardly able to take in any of the visuals, but there was a definite sense of enormousness.  The way our bare feet echoed as we walked through empty hallways and up wooden steps gave a sense of a really big, complex space.

We entered a carpeted room with a huge golden Buddha sitting in front of us against the wall.  Following our Vietnamese friend’s lead, we proceeded to bow and then press our hands and heads to the floor, repeating the movement another two times.  The action couldn’t help but remind me of the kowtow I studied in college during an East Asian studies course.

The room was split with the monks standing to the right side and the nuns on the left. Both wearing plain grey robes and shaved heads.  Yet I couldn’t help but notice the difference in energy between the groups.  The men wandered about silently, a solemness emitting from their area. Whereas the women bustled with a quiet energy, chatting with cheerfulness. They were immediately curious of the two foreigners who had decided to join them, teasing me about my hair and decision to wear restrictive jeans rather than looser clothing. The nuns were extremely generous with their help, assisting with placing our cushions and showing us the proper half-lotus position and placement of our hands.

And then the gong rang. It was like a light had been switched on and the energy, the ambiance of the room completely changed. Now, I’m not one to blatantly speak about my spiritual choices in public, as I believe religion, spirituality, and practices to be deeply private. But I will say that I am spiritual.  And the feeling I received as their voices raised up in a beautiful chant and song was rather electric. I do not follow the Buddhist path, but to be able to experience the reverence, discipline, and faith of people who devoted their lives to it, was an honor.  I was truly moved and happy to follow all their motions, attempting to hum along to the melodies sung.

And then came the meditation portion. I have tried it before and failed as my mind is often too busy to focus. Unfortunately, the same problem occurred here.  But I am proud that I was able to withstand the leg cramping, itching, and sitting completely still in silence for an hour. But I’m not going to lie, it was a struggle.

Bedtime was at 9:30 as there was a 3 AM meditation in the morning that lasted 3 hours….We didn’t even try to make that.  But the next morning, my friends and I, the head monk of the pagoda, and a few of his followers, headed out to Hanoi to conduct a ceremony. It consisted of chanting and releasing animals into the wild to be free.  People literally bought snails by the kilos and caged birds, in order to free them for the ceremony.

Birds

Woman releasing little birds after the ceremony

Snail release

Women releasing snails into the lake

Head monk

Head Buddhist monk of the pagoda preparing for the ceremony

Summary: a very educational, spiritual weekend with friends 🙂

Black Hair Care in Vietnam

Let’s just get down to the nitty gritty, shall we? If you are a woman with natural, afro-textured hair deciding to move to Vietnam, you are screwed. That’s right, I said it. SCREWED. I remember weeks before moving out here, I searched the internet high and low for signs of hair care that could work for me and there was nada, zilch, nothing. But I figured, there must be SOME black people in Hanoi, surely they have some insider tips or hidden nooks and crannies to get your hair needs met. Ya know, someone’s aunt’s best friend who has an apartment and does corn rows on the side…..

Well, within my first few days of arriving in Hanoi, I saw a black woman who turned out to be American, jogging down the street with a friend. By the way they moved around with confidence, I could tell they lived in the city rather than just being tourists.Immediately, I raced across the street to stop her and say, “Excuse me, I know this is kind of crazy, but can you tell me where you get your hair done in Hanoi?”

And she literally laughed in my face. “Girl, I do my own hair. You are not going to find anything in Hanoi to help you out. Good luck!” And with that, she was back to jogging down the street as I stood there shell-shocked, feeling the intense form of panic start to overwhelm me.

What the hell was I going to do with my hair?! I imagined that by the time I left this country, my hair was either going to be a seriously damaged rats nest or I was going to shave it all off in frustration.

Well six months later from that moment, I am glad to say that I have not shaved my head. And though my hair is perhaps not in as beautiful condition as it is when I’m in North America, I have to say it’s doing pretty damn well. Here are the key’s to my success:  

A Vietnamese conditioner with a lot of slip. Sure, they store has brands I recognize like Dove and Pantene, but that doesn’t make them safe for my hair. I decided to experiement a bit and ended up with this one. No, I do not know what’s in it. All I know is that it’s cheap, has slip, and doesn’t seem to damage my hair.

Rejoice, the conditioner  buy at Dabaco, the local grocery store.

Rejoice, the conditioner bought at Dabaco, the local grocery store.

Olive oil. A staple for lots of naturals. I prefer coconut oil, but it’s been a little difficult to find lately, so olive oil it is.

Also bought at Dabaco

Also bought at Dabaco

My Home staples. I sacrified a lot of luggage space and weight to carry these babies to Bac Ninh and it was worth it. They’ve lasted me a long time and it’s nice to have products I trust with me to keep my hair tame. Products Trimming. I had a bit of a melt-down a few months in to my move after my hair was giving me tons of trouble. My ends were horrendous and made my hair care regimen a nightmare. Had my friend help me trim all those bad-boy split ends and my hair felt sooooo much better.

Pre-Trim

Looking slightly miserable during my trimming session

Pic after we trimmed my hair

Pic after we trimmed my hair

Something else I’ve tried is yarn braids.  In Vietnamese, “Len” means yarn and there’s a shop on Din Liet Street in the Old Quarter of Hanoi that I visited and it has a good selection. Just make sure the yarn says 100% acrylic. Feel free to ask me any questions!

Follow me on Instagram @cheekyy_voyageuse

Winter Holiday in Laos

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I had to work on Christmas Day at my school. But don’t feel too bad for me, because I’ve taken a week off to enjoy what the neighboring country of Laos has to offer, specifically the capital, Vientiane! I’m holed up at Sihome Backpackers Hostel, not too far from the city center.

The journey to get here consisted of a 25-hour bus ride from Hanoi to Vientiane on a sleeper bus that looked straight out of the double deckers in London. While 25 hours may sound brutal, it was actually the most comfortable bus ride of my life. The only inconvenience was that there was no bathroom, so using the restroom on the side of the road was the rule of the day. Hint: no matter where you travel in Southeast Asia, be sure to always pack toilet paper.

In terms of getting out of Vietnam and into Laos, the visa work was a breeze. 20,000 dong to get stamped out, $2 to get stamped into Laos, plus $35 for the American visa fee (for some reason, Canadians were $42…). Be sure to have passport photos with you to attach to the paper work.

 

Colorful tuk-tuks to be found everywhere in the city

Colorful tuk-tuks to be found everywhere in the city

80 degree weather, cafes, the Mekong River, and tons of monuments make for a leisurely stay in this somewhat quiet city. I stopped a local to ask what interesting things there were to see, and he replied, ” This is Vientiane. There’s nothing interesting to see!”

But in fact, there’s plenty. Like the Si Saket Temple and Museum, which features over 6,000 little Buddhas placed in the walls and delicate paintings on the inside of the temple, which is currently in restoration (be sure to take off your shoes).

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The Patuxai, which reminds me of the Arc du Triomph in Paris. For 3,000 kip ($3) you can climb to the top and have a great view of part of the city.

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And several stupas and wats littered all over the city. I’m off to check out Buddha Park and am due for a 4 hour ride to the beautiful region of Vang Vien tomorrow. Wish me luck!

“What Do You Want?”

Lately, I’ve been feeling stuck. Caught in the negativity of my mind that comes from a feeling of stagnation.

Part of it stems from Vietnam’s slower pace of life. And part of it derives from a lack of satisfaction with my current employment. All my life, I’ve had a plan and have moved quickly to the next stage: Kindergarden to Grade School to High School to College to…….then what?…..Suddenly, I have no concrete plan, I’m just floating along. And while floating is usually not altogether unpleasant, I now watch as people swim on by with a purpose, while I’m still trying to find mine. So, all in all, I’ve been treading dreariness and frustration, lately.

Then the other day, my Australian friend asked me, “Well, what do you want?”

We’ve all been asked this question a million times over. What do you want? A milkshake or fries? A Honda or a Toyota? To stay or to go? But it was the way that he said it that made it feel so different, philosophical even. Beyond the materialistic things and getting to the question of what are you, as a person, looking for?  What sustains you, or do you not even know?

So now, I have to ask the question, What do I want? It would be easy to say the everyday stuff: a good job, no more student loans, a nice car, my own apartment. But even if those were what I actually wanted, how do I go about getting there?

My lovely Australian friend unknowingly zapped me into a new frame of mind, as I try to find what I want. And if what I’m doing isn’t giving me or helping me achieve that, why in the world am I doing it?

It seems like another blog post filled with more questions than answers, but sometimes, that’s just what I need. So I ask you again, What do YOU want?

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Life is a highway….and I can handle a few potholes

Have Curls, Will Travel Has Been Nominated for a Liebster Award!

After spending the weekend in Hanoi, imagine my surprise and delight at finding a new comment in my About page from another fellow blogger –nominating me for the Liebster Award! A shout out and an enormous thank you goes to The Mindful Expat who nominated me. Shee is an American psychologist and a fantastic writer that really has a way of making her reader think as she tell us about her life and challenges of moving to Lyon (France) to follow her French engineer love….after two and a half years apart! If you love France and some self discovery, you should definitely check her blog out. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Liebster Award, it was developed to recognize promising blogs with fewer than 200 followers, while also marketing the discovery of new blogs. In a kind of pay-it-forward system, I then get to nominate 11 other bloggers. Thanks again to The Mindful Expat for thinking of Have Curls, Will Travel! Here are the Liebster Award “rules” (copied from The Mindful Exapt’s post):

  • Thank the person who nominated you for a Liebster Award and link their blog to your post.
  • Answer the 11 questions they’ve asked you.
  • Nominate 11 bloggers who have 200 followers or fewer for the award.
  • Ask 11 questions to your nominees.
  • Let your nominees know you nominated them once you’ve posted about your Liebster Award.
  • Add the Liebster Award badge to your blog!

Here are my answers to her questions:

  1. What inspired you to start your blog? (And, if it’s not totally obvious, how did you come up with the name for your blog?) When I took the job to move to Vietnam, I immediately started researching about life there, food, and the expat community. What I could not find, was a single thing about being Black in Vietnam, including things like hair products, cultural reactions, and whether there were people like me over in Hanoi or not. So I decided to create my blog as a resource for women of color who want to go to Vietnam and need a little information or support. And then, it just kind of took off for more interesting thoughts and encounters! As for my blog’s name, my afro-like hair is something that everyone defines me by and since I’m traveling, I figured, why not put the two together.
  2. Do real people in your life know about your blog (and read it), or do you keep it anonymous? Yes, my blog is linked up to my Facebook, so friends and family do know about it, but I still tend to keep my real name out of posts.
  3. If someone were making a movie of your life, what actor/actress would you want to have play you? Even though she looks nothing like me, I’d have to pick Judy Dench, just because I think she’s a fabulous actor
  4. What genre would best characterize your movie? A self-discovery movie, à la Eat, Pray, Love…but even better.
  5. What’s one item on your bucket list that you hope to accomplish in the next few years? Either to go shark cage diving or to visit my mother’s homeland, Trinidad.
  6. If you came back in another life as an (non-human) animal, which one would you want to be? I would be a type of cat. Not sure whether domestic or wild, but that would be a pretty good life, I would think.
  7. What languages can you speak? I speak French, and basic Korean and Spanish
  8. What’s your favorite food that you discovered as an adult? Escargot!
  9. Name one thing you’re grateful for. My family. They are my everything.
  10. Name one great book you’ve read (relatively recently) that you’d like to recommend to others (i.e.: me). I’ve just re-read The God of Small Things, and it still blows my mind
  11. Do you listen to podcasts? If so, tell us one of your favorites.  Unfortunately, I do not, but maybe I should!

And here are my nominees!

Where the Robert Meets the Road — A brilliant blog of a retired school teacher, now traveling with his wife in an upgraded RV, exploring the good Ole US of A.

WesterGirlEasternBoy—A Texan-native who followed her South Korean boyfriend to Korea. There wasn’t a happy ending, but now she’s thriving in Korea, sharing knowledge of culture and awesome K-dramas

SunsetChasingNomad—A nomad traveling the world, checking things off her extensive bucket list, one item at a time. Her pictures are just an added treat.

Unequivocaly Awkward—A self described vagabond, with a great sense of humor, detailing a journey through L.A.’s streets.

Shanna Writes. She’s 21. She writes beautiful poetry.

The Backpack Manifesto —In 2013, the quit her job and hit the road. She wants to see it all, and along the way, give her readers these gems of ramblings, musings, and snip pits of her adventures.

30 Before I’m 30 —About a girl name Jenna who’s trying to complete 30 amazing things before she turns 30.

Truly, Madly, Italy—Helen of England married an Italian. “Since then she has been blogging her attempts to hide her Britishness and make-like-an-Italian!”

Finally, here are my questions for the Nominees, should they wish to participate in the Liebster Award:

  1. What inspired you to start your blog?
  2. Who, What, or Where does your inspiration come from?
  3. Books or Movies?
  4. What did you want to be when you were a child?
  5. What is your favorite social media?
  6. What would the current soundtrack of your life be?
  7. Favorite dessert?
  8. What is success?
  9. Do you speak any other languages?
  10. If you came back in another life as an (non-human) animal, which one would you want to be?
  11. What was your favorite class in high school?

Thanks again to The Mindful Expat for nominating me! And to all my nominees — keep writing and rock on! (And to my readers, check them out!) Liebster award

Traveling 101: Six Safety Tips for Traveling Abroad Solo

People who travel alone can understand the freedom, the anxiety, and personal growth that comes from the experience. I myself love solo trips as it gives a chance for “me time” and increases my independence. Still, traveling alone, no matter your gender, still comes with a few risks. Here are some tips!

1. Know where your embassy is—This is a strange first tip, but it’s a valuable suggestion I assure you. From lost passports to the collapse of your host country’s government, knowing where your embassy is will be useful. I’m lucky because Hanoi is the city right next door, so I’ve been able to locate both the American and Canadian embassies. However, if you’re far away from your host country’s capital (where most embassies are located), I suggest keeping a card with the embassy’s phone number, address, and website in your wallet.

2. Don’t constantly carry your passport around—Instead, carry colored copies and leave the passport locked up in your hotel room safe or some place else secure. While traveling overseas, a friend of mine experienced being stopped by the local police in the middle of the street. They ordered him to hand over his passport I.D. and then refused to return it until he paid them a ridiculous sum of money. The lesson: if you don’t have your actual passport on you, it won’t be stolen nor will you have to lie to authorities when you tell them “Sorry, I only have copies. I left my passport in my hotel.”

3. Pack Plan B or some other morning after pill— If you have unprotected sex (or if you are the victim of assault), the country you are in may not provide the morning after pill at pharmacies or hospitals. So pack it, just in case. (Remember, the morning after pill is not an abortion pill. It prevents pregnancy from happening. It does not terminate one if you are already pregnant)

4. Get your shots—Do your research and figure out what diseases, insects, and generally nasty things you can catch while abroad. I guarantee cruising around the jungle in Laos is going to be a pretty cool adventure, but catching Japanese Encephalitis is not.

5. Use common sense—Or in the great words of a close friend “just don’t be stupid”. I’m sure many of you have watched Liam Neeson’s Taken (2008), a story about a former spy’s teenage daughter being kidnapped after traveling to Paris with a friend. The whole crazy situation would have been avoided if the daughter had not given up the fact that, yes they were two American girls traveling by themselves in the city of lights. And yes they’d love to share a cab with the a random good-looking man so he knows the exact address and room number of their hotel. Common sense: Don’t give out unnecessary information do people that you do not know well. In fact, lie if you have to “Oh, I’m actually meeting my parents at the museum, but thanks for offering to walk me home.”

6. Be reasonable of the risks—The world is huge, but that doesn’t mean all of it is necessarily more dangerous than where we live. With more guns than people in the United States, I’m more likely to get shot or hurt within its borders than when trekking through the mountains of Southeast Asia. Just because it’s foreign and different doesn’t mean it’s more dangerous.

Happy Traveling!

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Traveling 101: How To Deal With A Crappy Traveling Partner

Sometimes when you’re traveling, whether in a group or with one other individual, you realize you’ve ended up with a CTP: a Crappy Traveling Partner

Definition: Someone who is slowly degrading your travel experience because of their personality, habits, or behavior. Levels of intensity do vary.

Here are some tips on how to survive:

1. Don’t feed the troll—This means don’t say something that you know is going to ignite an argument/spat between you. Save your breath and your sanity and just ignore it. Plow along on your journey and enjoy the scenery….Oh, look! A butterfly!

2. Gently confront them about the habit that irks you—-No need to start a battle. Just when you see them doing it, gently say “hey, that thing you’re doing really makes me uncomfortable/grosses me out/makes me feel like I’m about to puke any minute.  Could you maybe curb the habit?”

3. If you’re traveling in a group, rotate babysitting duty—I once was stuck in a car for seven hours with a drunkard. Now, this guy is a close friend and a hilarious human being. But one too many drinks takes him from drunk and hilarious to belligerent and frustrating very quickly.  I placed myself as the main babysitter to keep him from annoying the rest of the group.  But when things got to be too much for me, I’d pass on the torch to someone else.  That way we’d all be equally miserable!

* If it’s just you and the CTP, split up for half the day, doing your own things and meet later for dinner. That way, you both get a breather from one another.

4. Ditch Them—sometimes a CTP turns into a really horrible, demonic entity that is making you stressed and miserable. If you ever get to that point (which I have not….yet), it’s time to pack your backpack and say “Listen, I’m going to Rome.  Why don’t you go on over to Barcelona, and we’ll meet up in, let’s say…..three months.  Ciao!!!”

Weekend Getaway to Ba Be

This is the view I woke up to early Saturday morning.

Ba Be  Friends and I decided to take a 5 hour drive up north to the lakes of Ba Be, a national park. Well, actually, it was more like 7 hours, as our taxi driver was really slow and one of our friends was horribly, horribly car sick the entire way.  But we made it there safely and ended up staying in a bamboo house home stay, right off the lake, enjoying the rural area.

Renting a boat for the day, our captain lead us to a beautiful waterfall site, then to a great spot for swimming.  The water was a blue-green lagoon color, but it was clean and cool.

BoatSwimmingThat night was spent grilling chicken and beef, traditional Vietnamese barbecue style, and drinking faux Sangria.

The next morning we went for a light hike, literally through the jungle, and stumbled upon the biggest cave I have ever seen in my life (Na Phoong Cave). We listened to the sound of thousands of bats. At the very back of the cave as a shrine housing three Buddhas: two made of gold and one stone carved and very worn; probably hundreds of years old.

CaveThat afternoon, we ended up adopting an adorable, orange tabby kitten named Sage. Another 5 hours in the car and we were back home in Bac Ninh.

Expat or Immigrant?

We all know what a tourist is. Deriving from the Greek word tornos meaning circle, a tourist is someone taking a tour of a place or country, a visitor, a temporary presence that will soon be circling back to home.

When you hear the word “Expat” (Expatriate), what comes to mind? Probably the same image that I think of: wealthy, educated, and usually a non-minority coming from a developed country like France or Australia.

Now, what about the word “Immigrant”? Coming from the States, the word immigrant has come to have a negative connotation. Politics on both side of the subject struggle with the issues of economy, education, and legislation. Thus, the stereotype associated is usually a minority, coming from a non-affluent background, hoping for a better life. (As of 2013, Asians have the highest level of immigration to the U.S.)

Two completely different images, isn’t it? I wonder why they persist….Interestingly, when I’m in Vietnam meeting people, Australians, Brits, and those from France that have lived here for 5 to 20 years, still refer to themselves as an expat rather than an immigrant.

As to the breakdown of the words, I think perhaps Expat has a kind of temporary connotation. There exists an underlying suggestion that this person can return home whenever they like and probably will. The word immigrant has a more weighty sense of permanence, that they consider the new host country their home.

What are your thoughts on these words?

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