Humor Travel Life
Even though almost all my travel adventures involve seeing the world on my own as an adult and the friends I meet along the way, there’s something to be said about a good old-fashioned trip with the family. After all, that’s how I developed the travel bug in the first place. Despite being back in Michigan for a little while, life can get crazy busy and having the chance to actually spend some time quality time with my parents can still feel few and far in-between. As a television producer, time off is about as rare as an Olsen Twins sighting, so when you can take it, you TAKE IT.
We used my 3-day Memorial Day weekend to take a short trip. The question though, was where to go. We were down to the wire trying to figure out something cool when it was my mom who suggested Toronto. I hadn’t been to Toronto since I was a little kid, which equates to not remembering much of it at all. It was the perfect idea. It’d be like discovering the city again. Plus, it still counts as international travel too, so there you go. My folks, who are enjoying trips all over Europe and Mexico in their retirement, are well-versed in booking Airbnb, so they set it all up while I was just counted the days to the mini-vacation.
The pre-Memorial Day Friday rolled around and my folks swung by my apartment and away we went. Because of my crazy work schedule, I happily volunteered to nap in the back seat. It was just like the old days - except for instead of being a kid tuckered out from playtime, I was an adult tuckered out from an overall lack of sleep. Life, am I right?
Anyway, after a few “Are we there yets?” we finally made it to our Airbnb in Toronto that evening. We took it easy that night so we could hit the ground running the next day bright and early.
Saturday morning was the start of our big day to really explore the city. We had some suggestions and used those as a reference for places to check out. Now, let me tell you something, navigation is always an adventure, but perhaps even more so when you’re with your folks. To be honest, I’m not sure what we spent more time doing: seeing the sights or trying to figure out how to get there. Oy vey. Either way it felt so good to be back in an actual city again. You think you’d never miss a subway after living in LA and New York, but you’d be surprised how much you do. God bless decent public transportation. Michigan, step it up.
Eventually we made our way near St. Lawrence Market, which was recommended to us. The surrounding neighborhood kind of reminded me of Soho in New York, with some similar architecture in parts. Before heading to the market though, we stopped to grab some coffee. As we sat there trying to map out our day, a super-friendly local guy (who clearly could spot these confused Americans a mile away) must have overheard our conversation and proceeded to give us some great tips on things to do. Canadians really are as friendly as you’d think.
As I began to wonder if universal healthcare truly was the key to friendliness, it was time to go St. Lawrence Market. Basically, it’s an indoor market inside a building that is, according to my research, over 100-years old. It’s a pretty cool space actually. Inside though, it was super busy, so if tight crowds aren’t your thing, you’ll probably just want to appreciate it from the outside.
All in all, it’s a spot worth checking out and grabbing a bite to eat, but it’s not a place you’ll need to spend a long time at.
After St. Lawrence Market, we headed over to the Distillery District. The aesthetic here is brick roads and old-school brick buildings. It’s a neat place to walk around and maybe even grab a drink but like the St. Lawrence Market, you won’t need a ton of time to explore.
Our final stop of the day was the Kensington Market, which was actually my favorite place on the trip. This felt more like a neighborhood really than a confined market space like St. Lawrence. It has much more of an eclectic, artistic vibe to it, which might be why I gravitated toward this place more. Unfortunately, shortly after we arrived, so did a thunderstorm and downpour of rain. We got cover inside a local bar, where we ended up meeting some fellow Americans in town from Buffalo, New York. Shout out to William and Leola. They were really cool. That’s what of the best parts of travel for me: those unexpected, awesome people you meet along the way.
Stay tuned for Part II in Niagara Falls, including our attempt at recreating a famous movie moment.
Coffee shops in Grand Rapids are popping up more quickly than ever. With all kinds of new places around town, it's hard to keep up with what Grand Rapids coffee shops there are to check out, so two of the city's top entrepreneurs and creatives joined forces to make it a whole lot easier. Nicole Kosheba (@nico_sheba) and Santiago Gomez (@santiagoproperties) are the authors behind the digital guide book Espresso the Love, which breaks down all of Grand Rapids' best coffee spots. Read on to find out more about Nicole and Santiago, their new book, and what they love most about Grand Rapids, Michigan.
How long have you called Grand Rapids home?
Nicole: Roughly 20 years
Santiago: 25 years, 10 months and 2 days
What inspired you to write Espresso the Love?
Nicole: We're both coffee lovers who love exploring our quickly growing city. In the book's introduction, we mention that there was a day where we were looking for a "hidden gem"
coffee shop - something we hadn't yet discovered. That moment sparked the idea and the rest is history!
Santiago: Like Nicole mentioned, that day we were searching for a "hidden gem" that we hadn't yet discovered really started the conversation and ideas flowed from there.
Do you focus solely on locally-owned coffee shops?
I love that it breaks it down by neighborhood, which makes it easy to read. How do the coffee shops between Grand Rapids neighborhoods differ?
Nicole: I'm not sure that the neighborhoods necessarily encompass coffee shops with a similar vibe, but, there are certain coffee shops that are long known neighborhood staples for example; Sparrows on Wealthy, Common Ground on the East end of Fulton, The Bitter End on the West end of Fulton.
Santiago: I'd say we brought the neighborhood aspect into play more as a way of making it easier to read like you mentioned. People tend to go to coffee shops that are near where they live, so breaking it down by neighborhood just seemed logical.
Right now, this is available in digital, which is great if you’re on the go. Do you guys plan to publish a printed version as well?
Nicole: We have certainly looked into it! :-)
Santiago: Stay tuned ;-)
What do you love most about Grand Rapids?
Nicole: I love that Grand Rapids is a growing city and that we get to be a part of it's growth. I also love the cleanliness. Whenever we travel we always include some city exploration - we've been to some really great places, yet time and time again, we come back to Grand Rapids and it always feels good to be back; the air is clean, the streets and sidewalks are busy, but clean. It's great. All large cities eventually encounter challenges with trash and dirtiness, I hope that as GR continues to grow we as a community will continue to find ways to maintain the beauty that is here.
Santiago: I love the small town community feel, yet it's still big enough to have a variety of really excellent restaurants, breweries, and of course, coffee shops.
Grand Rapids has grown so much in the last decade. What’s the biggest change you’ve noticed?
Nicole: There are so many new restaurants and shops popping up that we can't keep track. On top of that, I've notice a significant amount of increased traffic everywhere we go.
Santiago: All of the neighborhoods, including the ones that some may have once considered to be less desirable, are becoming vibrant and thriving.
Do you think you’ll release other types of guides for Grand Rapids?
Nicole: Perhaps! We haven't ruled it out! :)
Santiago: Stay tuned ;-)
Last but not least, do you have a personal favorite coffee shop feature in the book?
Nicole: Aaahhh the question that everyone asks! :-) Honestly, I have my favorites, but the whole coffee experience is so nuanced and subjective that it wouldn't be fair for me to promote any one over the others. I keep telling people that that is up to them to decide, and I encourage readers to do the same- go visit some of these shops and determine what you like best :-)
Santiago: It's hard to pick a favorite!!
When asked the question “What is your favorite food?”, I’ll answer “Mexican” probably even before you finish saying the word ‘food’. I love travel and trying new dishes from all cultures and places around the world, but when it comes to what I’ve loved most, it’s definitely Mexican food.
That being said, I’m a bit of a snob when it comes what I deem ‘good’ Mexican food. Having lived in Puerto Vallarta and visiting Mexico over 20 years, I've been exposed to some of the best Mexican food one could imagine. Delicious tacos, quesadillas, mole, ceviche, fresh fruit, shrimp - you get the point. It was incredible! Therefore, when I go out for Mexican food now, I’m looking for as close to authentic as possible.
The good news is that people living in or visiting West Michigan actually have a really great place to go, and let’s face it, when it comes to the best Mexican food in Grand Rapids, go authentic or go home.
Tacos el Cuñado is a small, local restaurant at the corner of Burton and Towner on the southwest side of Grand Rapids. It can get a little confusing since there are multiple venues with this same name. I couldn’t tell you if all the locations are owned by the same people or it’s just a coincidence they share the same name, but the venue I’m sharing with you is definitely where it’s at. Plus, it's more of a hidden gem, and if you're looking for something that not everyone else already knows about, then consider this your insider Grand Rapids travel tip.
Immediately upon walking in, I felt like I was back in Puerto Vallarta grabbing a meal – well, minus the palm trees, warm weather, and ocean – but other than that it felt familiar!
You can order items à la carte or a full plate of food. Tacos run for only $2.50 and honestly, just a couple tacos and you’re full. I ordered one shrimp taco and one fish taco. If you’re going to be authentic, you’ve got to order it with cilantro. They serve the dishes with pieces of lime as well, so be sure to squeeze some lime juice onto your taco as well. If you haven’t tried that yet, trust me you will love it! It adds some great flavor.
I enjoyed those two tacos with the delight of kid on Christmas morning, occasionally distracted by the Latin sports announcer yelling “Goal!” from a nearby television set.
Last but not least, you MUST top off your meal by ordering horchata to drink. This is a traditional Mexican drink made out of rice, milk, vanilla, and cinnamon. It’s one of my favorites!
You can bet I’ll be back at Tacos el Cuñado again. One trip just isn’t enough and I’m so in the mood for some ceviche now...
You’d think growing up a mere 3 hours from Chicago, I would have experienced a St. Patrick’s Day there already, but no. Shortly after I was old enough to even have a Guinness, I was packing my bags for Los Angeles. So, upon returning to the Midwest I made it a point to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago, which is notorious for going all-out for the annual Irish holiday. Even though I handle alcohol about as good as Aunt Becky’s kids handle college admissions, I still like to get in on the spirit of the day.
The plan was to spend the weekend in Chicago. I’d leave Friday morning and come back Sunday. I’ll admit, the Midwest is still catching up with the whole public transit thing, so routes aren’t always as convenient or as frequent as say New York, but thankfully I was able avoid taking a car.
I caught a bus from Grand Rapids to Kalamazoo and then a train from Kalamazoo to Chicago. I bought my ticket through Amtrak, so technically the bus was part of that booking. You just need to transfer onto an actual train once you reach Kalamazoo. Don’t ask me why.
The Kalamazoo train station is an interesting place full of characters. To be honest, it had me feeling like I was back in LA all over again. A word of caution: I’d definitely avoid the Kalamazoo train station at night.
The train for Chicago finally arrived. The only warning the conductor issued was to avoid the back car due to the noise factor. It was then that it hit me: I was on a train full of people going to the Big Ten game, to party, or both. It was like an Irish Spring Break.
I arrived in Chicago safe and sound and puke-free. I was staying with a good friend of mine who’s a local, so it was perfect. Since I was so tuckered out, we kept it low-key on Friday, and then I would hit the ground running on Saturday.
Saturday morning, our first stop was the to see Chicago’s famous green river, but not before grabbing some coffee first. I clocked this in at exactly 8:15 am. There was a line outside…of a bar…at 8:15 in the morning. If you had any doubt about Chicago taking St. Paddy’s Day seriously, reference that tidbit.
Okay, back to the river. Every year the city dyes the Chicago River green in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, so naturally, everyone is trying to get a good look at it. Thankfully, other onlookers were pretty cool about sharing the space. I mean, how long do you need to look at a green river? It’s not changing colors anytime soon.
After that, we grabbed brunch at Beatrix downtown, just a block over from Michigan Ave. It’s a cool, kind of swanky place that’s great for a nice brunch spot. If you’re into the healthy food options, you’ll want to go here. I haven’t seen avocado toast on a menu since Los Angeles. I wanted to be adventurous though and try something new, so I went with the rainbow toast. It sounded fun and I had never heard of it before. Good news: it was delicious too. Basically, this toast comes cut into three sections. They all have ricotta cheese and each section is topped with a different colored fruit, hence the whole ‘rainbow toast’ name. You get one with strawberries, one with pineapple, and the third one with blueberries and blackberries. I definitely recommend both the rainbow toast and the restaurant itself. The best thing about this place is that considering the prime location and the good food, the prices are super reasonable. My toast only cost about $5! Budget travelers for the win.
Following brunch, I was on my own until it was time to meet up with another friend later in the day. I had the afternoon to explore Chicago, and it was the perfect day to do it. We had sunny skies and it wasn’t too cold, which for Chicago is a blessing.
I walked along the coastline until I reached Navy Pier. Lake Michigan is not the first place I would think of to have turquoise blue water, but it was absolutely gorgeous that day with the sun shining.
Navy Pier was fun. It’s one of those tourist spots you kind of have to check out when you go here, but it has great views of the water. I walked along the pier, where I saw boats, a Ferris wheel, and even a 20-something’s Instagram photo shoot. Not sure what was most entertaining.
After the pier, I made my way back uptown to the Hancock Building. Now, this is one of those great Chicago spots where you can get a skyline view of the city. My plan was to head up to the building’s Signature Room and Lounge, grab a drink, and check out the view. Unfortunately, I soon discovered it was also the plan of a bunch of other people too. I wasn’t keen on the idea of waiting in a long line, so I figured I’d check out the view and head out. The good news is that there’s no cover, so you can just go up there and not worry about paying for a view. When I was up there though, I learned a travel tip that you’ll definitely want to remember when you head to Chicago: the best view in the entire venue is in the women’s bathroom. I kid you not. If there was ever a reprieve for the long bathroom lines women have had to deal with over the years than this was it. I even asked if the men’s room had the same view. Nope, just the women’s one.
After that, it was time to meet up with another friend of mine over in Wrigleyville. If you’re looking for the party area of Chicago, this is definitely it. The neighborhood was alive for St. Patrick’s Day with the smell of whiskey and the sound of frat boys trying to start fights with each other. There were pubs with lines out the door all along Clark Street. If you do find yourself on Clark Street, keep walking though, because eventually you’ll hit Wrigley Field where the Chicago Cubs play and that’s pretty awesome to see. We ended up going to a bar called Casey Moran’s. No cover but a terrible DJ.
Once Sunday rolled around it was time to head back home, but per usual, the adventures didn’t stop there. Once again, I had a stop-over at the Kalamazoo train station. This time I even had to report a woman smoking in the bathroom. Full disclosure, I slightly feared for my safety here and was never more excited to get on a crammed bus to Grand Rapids.
Upon arriving in Grand Rapids, I called a Lyft ride, where I was met with a driver who looked like a serial killer version of Wallace Shawn from The Princess Bride. After all, St. Paddy’s Day is anything but dull.
Paris! The city of lights, romance, and occasionally, a few rats. Hey, nothing’s perfect right? It truly is a magical place, and I would recommend it in a heartbeat. However, packing up and actually traveling to Paris takes some planning and saving. So, how about a budget-friendly alternative for a little French escape on a dreary winter day in the Midwest?
I recently came across Le Bon Macaron on Cherry Street in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This Parisian-inspired café is locally-owned here in Michigan, and although it has coffee and tea, its real draw is the macarons. This traditional French treat was one of my favorites to try in Paris, so naturally, I was thrilled to enjoy some once again.
The assortment of colors that macarons come in are just as fun too. I tried 3 flavors while I was there: Rose, Violet, and Salted Caramel. Hands down, my favorite was the Violet. If you have a tough time deciding though and want to take some for the road, you have the option to buy 6 for $12.
Make sure to get a seat right by the window, so you can people watch as you sip your cappuccino and enjoy your macaron. They’ve only been open for a few years, but it’s clear this a neighborhood favorite. There are several other locations too in East Lansing and Ann Arbor.
We’ll always have Paris, but in the meantime, we also have Le Bon Macaron.
If you head to Le Bon Macaron and have a macaron suggestion for me to try, leave a comment below letting me know which one.
Coming up later this month: Want to go to a real party? Join me for a St. Patrick's Day travel adventure in Chicago.
I am also a regular contributor for other travel sites as well. Check out some of my work for Tiplr and ARTRPRNR Magazine below.
Welcome to Brisbane: Everything to Know About Queensland's Capital City
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Los Angeles Off the Beaten Path
Moving to New York City
Mojito Mo'Problems: Why Grand Rapids' Newest Cuban Restaurant Will Become Your Latest Dining Addiction
The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan is growing every single day. What was now a sleepy downtown where some companies did business is now a popular place to live and hang out – just look at the overpriced high-rise apartments and lack of parking. All joking aside, I remember going downtown on a Sunday and you could swear the apocalypse had just arrived; There was no one around. Nowadays, there’s crowds spending time in the city all-year long.
With so much going on, that also means Grand Rapids is becoming a Midwest travel destination in the United States. Obviously, one of the most prevalent travel topics is food, and there’s plenty of old favorites and emerging new restaurants in Grand Rapids that travelers and locals alike can enjoy.
I’m a foodie and love to try new things, so when I heard about a brand-new Cuban restaurant on GR’s east side, I just had to check it out.
Danzon Cubano opened up just last year and is already bringing a unique flair to the Grand Rapids food scene that has usually been delegated to major cities like New York or Los Angeles. This restaurant not only brings its A-game to food and drinks, but more importantly, to entertainment! Their Facebook page is filled with all sorts of fun music and dance events. On Thursdays, there’s Salsa dance lessons, and on weekends you can catch live music performances. Coming up this month, Danzon Cubano is hosting two performances with the Afro-Caribbean and Salsa band Grupo Aye. If you’re curious about the entertainment, check out their Facebook page, which includes plenty of videos featuring entertainment that the restaurant puts on.
I had the opportunity to visit Danzon Cubano this past weekend, and while I didn’t catch any entertainment that night, I was able to try out some incredible food. My friend Julie and I split an appetizer, meal, and dessert, which is a great way to go. It’s just enough food and for young people on a budget, it’s a great way to save a little too.
I ordered a Cuba Libre to drink. I had never had one before, and since I’ve already tried a mojito, I figured let’s go with this one. It was really good!
For the appetizer we had the Tostones Rellenos - or stuffed plantain chips – with rice and beans. For dinner, we ordered the Churrasco al Danzon (Danzon Steak). It’s a Cuban style flank steak, served with rice and beans, maduros, and mojo. And then for dessert we ordered the Flan. It comes with a piece of Guayaba fruit to top it off. Perfect finish to a great meal.
The food was honestly some of the best I’ve ever had, but what I think sets this place apart is the addition of entertainment. It’s not just a restaurant or a nightclub, it’s a cool combination of both. It’s perfect for a girl’s night out, a date night, birthday party, everything. Feel free to dress up here too. Get in the spirit of going out and actually getting dressed up.
So, if you’re visiting Grand Rapids - or just live in GR and are looking for a new place to go out to - I would definitely recommend Danzon Cubano. You can be sure I'll be back again. ¡Salud!
All I Want For Christmas Is Deals: Your Guide To Shopping In Los Angeles This Holiday Season (and any time of the year!)
It's the weekend before Christmas and all through the house, everyone was stirring...because they gotta go Christmas shopping!
Have you gotten your shopping done yet? Don't worry, Humor Travel Life has you covered. Unfortunately, I'm not Santa and can't cover the entire world, so this post will focus on where to shop in Los Angeles. Technically, this blog post can apply all year 'round, so feel free to reference back anytime.
The first thing to know about Los Angeles is that it is rather annoyingly spread out, which means that shopping can greatly depend on where in LA you're located. The good news though, is that there is plenty of shopping almost everywhere in LA, so let's break it down by neighborhood.
If you're in...
The Grove /Farmer's Market
The Grove is also a major tourist spot, so be aware of that. It's a beautiful outdoor shopping destination and is one of those LA places where it also feels like people go to be "seen" - mainly because it's also a spot where you're more likely see a celebrity. As far as shopping goes, it really doesn't have a ton of stores to choose from and tends to cater to more expensive brands. However, there are stores like GAP and Barnes and Nobles there as well, so there is some budget variety. The coolest part of The Grove, however, is the farmer's market next door. This is a great spot to get locally-made gifts like popcorn and candies.
The Beverly Center
The Beverly Center is set up like a traditional mall. The good news is that it's not nearly as busy at The Grove and offers more shopping. It's got both the fancy brands and the budget-friendly brands. The worst thing about The Beverly Center is that it can be confusing to navigate but other than that it's a pretty good shopping experience.
Melrose Trading Post
This weekly event happens every Sunday from about 9AM-5PM in the parking lot of Fairfax High School. It's costs roughly $3 to get in, and it's a great local flea market in the heart of WeHo. This is a perfect LA spot to shop for original, unique gifts that you won't find in regular malls. Plus, you can venture over to the local stores along Melrose Avenue once you are done.
Hollywood & Highland
If you actually live in LA, you're less likely to do your shopping at Hollywood & Highland. The biggest reason being that it is also the epicenter of Hollywood tourism. Nevertheless, there are plenty of residents who actually live in Hollywood and might prefer to stay nearby. This mall features popular stories like American Eagle, Forever 21, and GAP. Fun fact: it's also connected next to the Kodak theater, which is the home of the Academy Awards ceremonies.
I'm no aficionado when it comes to shopping in Beverly Hills, but it's true that Rodeo Drive is the main street for shopping in this famous Los Angeles neighborhood. If you have the budget for it, this is where you'll find those designer brands.
Westfield Century City
Another confusing outdoor mall, but the Century City mall offers popular chains like H & M, Banana Republic, and an Apple Store.
3rd Street Promenade
You're probably sensing a theme that there's a lot of outdoor shopping in Los Angeles...and you would be correct. The 3rd Street Promenade is no exception. It's another popular tourist spot because Santa Monica is a top tourist destination in LA, so be aware of crowds. However, the shopping here is fantastic. Bonus points for being right off the ocean.
Burbank Town Center
Bubank is located in what's known as 'The Valley', which basically refers to the LA neighborhoods over the hill. It's a literal valley, go figure. The valley's not so bad really, and it seems to have more of a suburban feel to it. Don't be fooled by the suburban demeanor though - it's also where major movie studios like Universal, Warner Bros, and Disney are located. The Burbank Town Center is a traditional type of mall located in downtown Burbank, which is a cute neighborhood to hang out in. This mall is great for those regular chain stores we all know and love. There's also more shops outside the mall in the downtown center as well, including an Urban Outfitters.
Starting at the cross street with Laurel Canyon, you'll find stores located along the busy Ventura Blvd. Plenty of popular chains like Urban Outfitters, Banana Republic, and GAP offer clothing varieties, but there's also local spots to pick out more unique items as well.
Glendale Galleria/Americana at Brand
Technically, these are two different shopping centers, but since they are right across the street from each other, I'll combine the two. The Glendale Galleria is a massive indoor mall with plenty of great shopping. Just across the street is the Americana at Brand. It's an adorable outdoor shopping space designed just like The Grove (without the tourists).
My Top Pick:
When it comes to shopping in Los Angeles, my top pick is....the Glendale Galleria/Americana at Brand.
Ironically, I didn't go there often because I never lived in Glendale and that traffic through Los Feliz can be brutal. That being said, when I did visit, it was awesome. The fact that you have two very different malls right next to each other means that this shopping space offers more than the majority of LA shopping centers. Plus, the Galleria is HUGE. That mall seems to go on and on and has every store imaginable. I felt like the Galleria offered everything, and if it didn't, just hop across the street to the Americana.
Well, that marks the last Humor Travel Life post for 2018, but I'll be back in 2019 with plenty of great travel tips and funny stories.
Coming up in 2019: Ireland, Chicago, and much more! Stay tuned.
Thank you for stopping by the site to check out the final entry in the Humor Travel Life Diversity Series. I've been so happy to be able to share these amazing, inspiring travelers. This series has been about celebrating and featuring travelers of diverse backgrounds, and thank you again to my friends and fellow travelers who have been a part of this series.
Meet Kyle Jarrett!
1. Where is your home base?
Los Angeles, CA
2. What is the last trip you went on?
A 7-day Alaskan cruise aboard the Norwegian Pearl
3. What is your favorite place that you traveled to?
Spain. I had so many amazing experiences walking El Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and the people, food, history, and harrowing escapes will stick with me for as long as my human memory will allow.
4. Least favorite?
China. The history is extraordinary, but the air and water were filthy. Babies were pooping on the street through holes in their pants. People were not especially friendly. We were with a tour company, and they made sure we went to every tourist trap. Glad I went, but probably won't go back.
5. What was an important life lesson you learned while traveling?
Time abroad is precious. In some ways, the more you try to see in a limited time, the more you cheat yourself of the experience of a place. As I've started to slow down my travels, I've been grateful to have more time to enjoy the spaces I'm in, rather than constantly checking the clock to ensure I'll have time to see the next.
6. What would you like to see more of in the travel industry overall?
I would like to know more about cultures upfront. Manners, slang, traffic laws... So much of the travel industry is geared toward food and activities (because that's where the money comes from), but when I go to a place, I want to know how to relate to the people with whom I will be interacting. I wouldn't mind also knowing what preconceptions about Americans I'm walking into.
7. Where do you want to travel to next?
I'll be in Texas over Labor Day weekend. Never really "done Texas." I hear great things about Austin lately. Bat bridge, square dancing...
8. What is your craziest travel story?
The Route Napoleon is the first, mountainous leg of the Camino Frances portion of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. In summer, it is lovely, both scenic and challenging. In winter, you just don't take it because people die. Starting El Camino alone, I made sure to ask as many people as I could just out of St. Jean Pied-de-Port to guide me away from the Route Napoleon and keep me on the street route, because they split from each other just out of town.
So I went on my way as the sky got cloudy and rain began to sprinkle, until I came to the village of Huntto, which I recognized from my research of weather along the Route Napoleon. I was crestfallen to discover that I was now 10K up the Route Napoleon in early March with a storm brewing. My only options were to go back 10K and start afresh, or trudge along and try not to die.
As the rain intensified, a group of six French ladies appeared with their hiking sticks and day packs, heading over the Route Napoleon. With my two sentences worth of French, I asked them if I could go with them sur la montagne. They agreed, and though we could not communicate much, we did share a great deal of exclamations. "Ooh!" "La niege!" "Tres beau!" And so on. We trekked up high into the mountains, at times post-holing in the deep snow, looking down on the vultures circling beneath us. The ladies shared their lunch with me, as I had foolishly started walking on Sunday when the stores were closed and I had no food supplies. Not today, vultures!
We descended into Roncesvalles in late afternoon, and the ladies kissed me on each cheek, piled into their taxi, and headed back home. It was my first miracle of the Camino.
9. Can you explain what The Bill Beaver Project is?
The Bill Beaver Project started as a way to get over a boy and to get off Facebook. Originally, I just went out taking photos of my 20-year old stuffed beaver, until I discovered the California historical landmark system and decided to photograph Bill the Beaver in front of all 1,111 of them.
I completed that quest in 2016 and am working on quests to see all the national parks and monuments, and the 7 wonders of the world. Last year, I raised funds to replace a historical landmark plaque that had been destroyed, and I'm working on a second one (fundraising is the worst). At its core, the Bill Beaver Project is an excuse to learn more about the places I visit, and a chance to add some whimsy to my travel experiences.
10. What's your favorite part of the travel experience?
I love the experience of arriving a place I had heard about for years and finding that it was nothing like I expected. For instance, I had no idea of the size of Gettysburg, the sea of monuments stretching for miles, and where, in relation to the battlefield, the Address had been delivered. I'd never expected the Nebraska panhandle around Scotts Bluff to be so gorgeous in the spring time with the yucca blooming against ancient eroded monuments. The feeling of awe and dread setting aside the camera to watch the last 30 seconds of the 2017 solar eclipse... I prepare a lot, but it's the beautiful moments I hadn't planned for that make travel so addictive for me.
11. What do you wish the public understood more of when it comes to the travel experiences for people in the LGBTQ+ community?
LGBTQ+ travelers are as diverse as anyone else when it comes to traveling. Some like adventure, others want to be pampered, still others want to take in as much art and culture as possible. Some just travel to humor their significant other. Pretty standard mix.
12. Do you have any suggestions for ways that the travel industry can be more inclusive for LGBTQ+ travelers?
Show us, write about us, normalize us. But at the same time, don't just show two guys and a rainbow, or make a sex joke, and call it a day. LGBTQ+ travelers need to be seen enjoying their travel in as natural a way as their heterosexual counterparts.
Welcome and thank you for checking out the third entry in the Humor Travel Life Diversity Series. This series is about celebrating and featuring travelers of diverse backgrounds. Travel is about experiencing the world, and as we all know, our world is beautiful - and most importantly, diverse! I think it's important to acknowledge and celebrate that in the travel blogging industry. Thank you to my friends and fellow travelers who have agreed to be a part of this, and I look forward to celebrating you and your experiences as travelers.
Meet Steven Ma!
Steven Ma, pictured here with fellow teachers during his time teaching at a local high school in Kenya
1. Where is your home base?
2. Where have you traveled to so far?
Canada, Mexico, Panama, Dominican Republic, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Greece, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, China, Philippines, New Zealand, Vanuatu, Fiji.
Born in Vietnam.
3. I know that a lot of your travels have been with nonprofit work. What have those experiences been like and what was the work you were involved with?
I’ve been involved in a variety of nonprofit work, including construction, teaching, photography, and youth sports programs. On a personal level, they’ve been challenging and humbling. In most instances of volunteer work, it’s often in a developing country or in a community with high levels of poverty. There’s the physical discomfort of sometimes not having certain amenities that you’re used to - air conditioning, paved streets, running water - even if it’s only for a brief time. There’s the social dynamic of trying to interact with the community you’re trying to serve. And you have to wrestle with existential questions like, “Why was I born into privilege while they were born into poverty?” or “Am I even making a difference?”
It’s challenging, but it’s an experience that I believe everyone needs to have. It not only develops a much greater sense gratitude for you have, but can also ignite a greater sense of purpose for where you fit into the world.
4. How would you encourage people to travel more for volunteer and non-profit opportunities, rather than just vacationing?
I think a lot of people see travel as either vacationing or volunteering, but they’re not mutually exclusive. It’s really easy to do both. You can either volunteer formally through an organization that helps plan out your trip, and then takes you on a few days of sight-seeing. Or you can plan our your own vacation, then contact local organizations to see if they have volunteer opportunities. In many cases, there are an abundant amount of opportunities if you’re willing to look and nonprofits are more than happy to have your help, even if it’s for a few days or a few hours. I wrote another article that lists a few websites where you can connect with volunteer opportunities while traveling: https://intrinsicstyles.com/blog/volunteer-youre-traveling-abroad/
If you’re short on time, consider just asking for a tour of the nonprofit to learn more about it, then make a monetary donation.
5. What is your favorite place that you have traveled to?
My favorite place “naturally” is Fiji. The sunsets on the beach every evening were unbelievably picture perfect, and the rivers, jungles and waterfalls that you can tour are the epitome of exotic. In terms of cities, it’s Paris. I love the rich architecture on every street corner, the walkability of the city, and how you can see people everywhere just sitting, reading, drinking coffee, or napping.
6. Least favorite?
I would have to say China, at least in the major cities like Beijing or Shanghai. It’s very crowded and the air quality isn’t the greatest, as you can imagine.
7. Where would you like to travel to next?
I’ve always wanted to go South America, specifically Peru and Chile. Another region is Southeast Asia, like Thailand, Cambodia, or India.
8. In your opinion, what is the best part of travel?
The best part of travel is the human interaction. Getting to see the perspective of people on completely different worlds is eye-opening. You realize just how much your upbringing and culture have shaped your views, and hopefully, you’re open enough to realize that your perspective may not be the right one. But you also realize the common humanity of everyone. Wherever you go, you can always share a cup of coffee, jump in on a pickup game of soccer, or show each other pictures of our families. You realize there is so much more that connects all of us than separates us.
9. What is your biggest pet peeve, if you have one, when it comes to other travelers?
I hate when tourists trash a place. Visitors sometimes have this mentality that it’s the responsibility of the people who live their to pick up after them. When you travel, you’re visiting someone’s house - respect it. Just learn to throw your trash in a trash can.
10. Is there anything you'd like to see more of in the travel industry overall?
Traveling is mostly good for everyone. It grows economies and brings in revenue for communities. But it can also be harmful for the environment when natural habitats get stripped away for hotels, or for people when they get displaced or exploited. I’d like to see greater social responsibility from companies involved in the travel industry, but that has to come from travelers demanding it.
11. What is your biggest piece of advice to fellow travelers?
When you travel, go to learn. Read up on the history of the place you’re visiting. Go a few blocks away from the main touristy places and eat at small family restaurants. Have conversations with people who live there and learn about their lives.
Jill Zwarensteyn is a television producer, writer, and comedian who has been featured on Amazon, truTV, The New York Times, Matador Network, BUST Magazine, Tiplr, ARTRPRNR Magazine, YourTango, Thought Catalog, GoMad Nomad, Mashable, The Daily Mail UK, the Cannes Film Festival, LaughFest, Women's Lifestyle Magazine, and the Funny Women Festival LA. For more info visit: http://www.jillzwarensteyn.weebly.com