Exploring the Globe with Bronx Native Alicia Barnes
By Alicia Barnes
My first concept of travel came from TV. I remember watching an episode of Full House where the whole family left their charming home in the burbs of San Francisco to enjoy adventures in Hawaii. I remember thinking “how cool, but I don’t think I’ll ever go on a family vacation.” Cut to me as a 28-year-old who now keeps a blog of her travels and has also written for the Huffpost Travel section.
Travel was always something I strived for but something that seemed very unlikely. My dad made efforts to take my siblings and I on trips to Florida, but coming from an untraditional family in the Bronx projects, airplane trips to Hawaii were as rare as a unicorn. Fast forward to the summer when I was 16. My dad was tired of us only seeing the Bronx and took my younger sister and I to meet some of his family in London. He wanted us to see where he grew up and expand our minds beyond our neighborhood. That trip affected me. Not only did it intro me to my London roots, but it gave me a new perspective on what was possible for me, a regular ole person (or regular degular if you’re a Cardi B fan), when it came to travel.
The next big adventure I went on was during my junior year in college. After seeing London and realizing I could actually travel, I made it my mission to do a study abroad program. Studying French, I decided to go to Paris as I thought this would be the ideal place to live for six months. I could continue to develop my language skills while also exploring nearby European cities for cheap. Was I scared to go to a foreign country on my own? Yes. But I wanted to experience new places and I didn’t want to hold myself back because of fear.
What was I afraid of? At the time, I was scared of feeling alone or being looked at as “other.” I came from a poor black American family in the Bronx and never in my wildest dreams did I think I could be one of those blonde hair blue-eyed wealthy girls on holiday. Or that I would ever hear first-hand accounts of travels in Paris from anyone in my family. I wasn’t the stereotypical traveler or at least, I didn’t fit the bill of what the media told me made up a world-traveler.
But in Paris, I met people I had never been exposed to before, both in my study abroad program and in the city. People remarked on how unique they felt I was for traveling around Europe “even though I was from the Bronx” while others made assumptions about my background based on how I looked and how I spoke. This experience gave me a new perspective on race and how others saw me in their country. It wasn’t always negative but I did start to feel like a rare find whenever I sat in a café or in an airport lounge and noticed the ratio of African-American families to white families was quite low.
Coming back from Paris to NYC, I was a bit shell-shocked at how different things felt. I missed the old architecture and the vibe of the city, and made a promise to myself to keep traveling even beyond college. My uncles and cousins met this notion with great skepticism, warning me to stop traveling so much before I ended up meeting a girl like Amanda Knox or getting abducted like in the movie Taken or even meeting a terrorist face to face. Yes, they said these things to me to put the fear of god in my head and keep me away from travel. Why did they do this? I think it was because they weren’t well-traveled or had any interest in it so they decided to protect me in any way they could. But I brushed them off. Call me stubborn!
My next move? After getting my bachelor’s degree, I went to work in the world of public relations where I saved every dime and only spent on essentials. If I didn’t need it, my extra money would go to savings (this tactic would prove so useful for my travel urges a few years down the line). During my third year of working, the travel bug started rearing its head again. I kept trying to plan group trips with friends or family to satiate my need to explore, but the trips kept falling through. Either the time I wanted to travel didn’t work with someone else’s schedule or they just didn’t have the money. That left me waiting with baited breath for someone to get back to me only to ultimately say they couldn’t go. I was always disappointed and I got tired of feeling that way.
Fed up, I made up my mind to test the waters and travel by myself. I booked a trip to London solo. I did stay with my sister but I traveled to Dublin by myself and realized that I could walk in a strange city on my own without getting accosted. It was a relief and another realization, I could travel without friends or a program. I then made plans for future trips to Cancun followed by Stockholm, Amsterdam, Malta, Mallorca and more.
How did I do it? As I said before, one reason travel felt so unattainable was because it seemed like I could never afford to do. In my young mind, it was written off as something rich people do but that is totally false. How I managed it was staying mindful (watching my coins) and always looking out for a deal.
I never balled out too hard when I was working. I saved my money and had a tight budget. I paid my bills on time but cut corners where I could. Never withdrew money from banks or ATMs that charged extra fees. I always packed my lunch. I always took the subway even when I was out late and desperately wanted to be in my bed. Never purchased morning coffees or other things people did on their way to work. And I never spent money on random shopping sprees or designer labels. I didn’t need it and I was perfectly happy with my clothes or doing free activities. I did splurge on brunch or dinner from time to time but the key was moderation. That, and getting rid of any unnecessary cost.
Another thing I did, I looked for deals on flights and accommodation. Sites I used as resources were Hipmunk, Skyscanner and even Expedia. I also looked on HostelWorld and Airbnb for lodging as opposed to paying premium rates for a four-star hotel (because why pay for a hotel you’ll barely be in). I’d always try to book these things in advance because the earlier book, the more likely you’ll find a better price. And if you don’t see a good price, set price alerts for trips you’re thinking about and pick a less popular time of year to visit a place (not only does it make it cheaper, you won’t have so many tourists around you).
When I arrived at my destination, I also made sure to be a bit picky where I grabbed my meals. I steered clear of big restaurants in the main square of a city or looked up places in advance on Tripadvisor, Google Maps or other travel blogs. Almost all pricey tourist traps can be found near a main square or right next to a famous church or museum. They just know tourists will visit those locations and so, build restaurants conveniently nearby with a premium fixed price. One last thing, I traveled with converted cash to keep track of how much I should spend (because I did have a travel budget) and I never used a bank that wasn’t an affiliate bank (in order to keep my withdrawal fees low). How do you check that? Just look online on your banking website and they will provide you with a list of low cost or free banks to use in your network
With all of my experiences and love of creating and capturing content, I decided to keep a blog, Alicia Wanders Around. On my blog, I post my travels to share what I’ve learned, offer recommendations and share some general life musings. I got sick of seeing the same Instagram girl who never looked like me or made me feel like I could do any of the things she was doing. My blog has become a way for me to share my travels and give an honest, unfiltered look at traveling solo (or with friends) from a black female perspective.
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