Friday, April 22, 2011

Interview with the Infamous Marie

Some of my regular blog readers might recognize the name "Marie". She has been my partner in crime for a few of my trips abroad and is always a source of amusement and fun. I asked her if I could do an interview for this blog and, being the attention whore that she is, she quickly agreed.

1) What part of the U.S. are you from and what is the "swirling" scene like there?

I am from the deep South and I have seen a lot more interracial couples in the past five years than ever before. I think that taboo is really starting to lift and I couldn't be happier.

2) Why did you choose to go abroad?

Well, one of my first "real" jobs was for a travel agency, so traveling was inevitable really. But, I've always had a fascination with life on the other side of the pond. They just seem to live so differently from us and I couldn't wait to experience that firsthand.

3) In terms of interracial dating, which country do you think is the friendliest towards it, and why?

I would have to say England just because it's so widespread and few people seem to care, at least openly. You see mixed race children everywhere you look, so you know someone is swirling!

4) What have your experiences with swirling abroad been like? Did anything surprise you?

My experiences with swirling abroad have been great! When you're abroad, something great happens. You can enjoy your experiences for what they are, not for what you want them to be. My favorite trip so far was the one I took to England last year. I don't know what it was about me, maybe the fact that I had just broken up with a boyfriend but men were on me like gangbusters. I walked into my hotel and the handsome Englishman at the front desk looked at me and started stuttering. I thought he had a speech problem until I noticed his coworkers trying to suppress their laughter. His hands were shaking when he gave me my room key and I smiled knowingly as I switched my way to the elevator. That was a fun moment.

I also began a foolish and fantastic relationship with a bartender I met at a bar near the hotel. If you want to know about a city, befriend the bartenders. They know everything and then some. He took me to all of the lesser-known attractions of London. We even sneaked our way into a private party that turned into an orgy! Before your minds get carried away, we sneaked out really quickly. But not before we saw things that can never be unseen.

6) What's the weirdest thing that has ever happened to you abroad?

Well, that was actually with you Love. Love and I were on a train leaving Paris and had both fallen asleep, with her heavy head on my shoulder. I woke up first, and gently (note from Love- it was not gently!) tossed her head to the other side because I had to go the bathroom. When I was walking back to my seat, I noticed a well-dressed man kneeling in front of Love. At first I thought he was a train attendant telling her something, but then I noticed she was still asleep. He wasn't touching her, but he was staring at her with this crazy and psychotic look in his eyes. I still don't know what it was. He didn't look angry. He just looked focused. I started yelling at him to get away from Love and he slowly stood up, looked at me, and walked away. Like he wasn't in a rush at all. I told Love what happened and she started laughing like a deranged maniac, but I think that was just the sleep deprivation.

7) If money was no object, where would you make your home in the world and why?

Probably London, with Paris as a close second. London is a great place to be if only because you can get to everywhere in Europe from there. The culture, food, and atmosphere just can't be beat.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Tips for an Extended Trip Abroad

A poster named Simone e-mailed me looking for information about Amsterdam and traveling abroad for an extended period of time. I thought it would make a good post for everyone.

Amsterdam is a popular tourist destination for Americans. We share a common language, which means that culture shock will probably be at a minimum. This isn't to say we are the same, though. There are many differences that will baffle and amaze you. The most obvious is the legalization of marijuana. It's very important to note that marijuana is allowed only in certain cafes in Amsterdam. Sometimes, certain hotels will allow the use of the plant, but it's best to stick to the cafes. If I had to describe Amsterdam in one word it would be: tolerant. There is a relaxing vibe to the city that tends to affect you. It amazed me that so many different people could, for the most part, get along. Personally, I experienced no discrimination in Amsterdam.

Now, let's get down to the bone. Traveling abroad for an extended period is a tricky thing to do, at least at first. I will stick to the main things you might want to do. First, there is the subject of your current living arrangements. If you are in an apartment, think about subletting. If your lease allows it, it is a great way to ensure your apartment is kept in good shape, if you pick the right tenant. Make sure you put a clause in the tenant contract that ensures that if you have to come home quickly, for any reason, then the apartment will have to be vacated by the tenant within a reasonable period of time. If you live in a house, you can choose to rent it out as well. If you have the funds to do so you can always keep your apartment/house empty, and have a trusted friend or family member come by to check on it regularly. You can forward your mail to a PO Box or to a loved one's house. It's important to do this as well as stop your newspaper service, if you have it. You don't want your house/apartment to look as if no one is living in it.

The best tip I can give about making plans to travel abroad is to start early. When traveling, things will always go wrong. Always. If you are well prepared, then you can frequently overcome these obstacles. Try to book your flight at least four months in advance, six would be great if you can swing it. It's the classic demand/supply system. When there are plenty of seats available, the price is lower. The fewer seats available, the higher the price. I have found some amazing deals because I booked my flights early. Speaking of airlines, try to pack as lightly as you can. I know it might be tempting to try to take all of your favorite pieces, but fight the urge! Try to have a lot of "basic" pieces, meaning pieces that can be worn with a variety of outfits. Learn how to pack efficiently, so you won't be bogged down in a busy airport or foreign street.

Make sure your passport is up to date and with you while navigating through airports. I recommend putting your passport and ID in a plastic baggie in your zipped purse for easy access. Getting a safety pouch to put underneath your clothes is always a good idea. Keep it high on your stomach so that it can't be reached by an "accidental" touch. Always be alert. Pickpockets and criminals often target those that look distracted or preoccupied. Take close notice of your surroundings and the people around you, even if you are with a group.

The Internet is your friend when it comes to finding a place to stay for an extended period of time. There are websites dedicated to reviewing hotels, hostels, and even apartment buildings. Study these and see what other people have to say before you commit. If you're going to travel during the off season or have never stayed in the particular establishment, then I recommend making a short reservation, just to see if you like a place first. If you like the place or have been there before, it might be helpful to contact the owner of an establishment and see if there are any ways you can save money since you're going to be staying for an extended period of time. Once, I received an extra week free in a hotel in Canada because I talked to the manager and told her that I would her be staying at least three weeks.

Finally, have fun! Take a lot of pictures/video to commemorate your time. Make sure you savor the moments you have. The memories will be with you forever and you can reminisce about them forever.