St. Croix Is the Caribbean Island Where Celebrities Go…and You Can Too!

CheapOAir Miles Away. July 2019.

The island of St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands is a quick escape for those looking for beach, sun, and anonymity. At first glance, the former volcanic island may look like a quiet town with neglected neighborhoods and abandoned buildings (mainly due to frequent hurricanes and closing of the Hovensa oil refinery). But as you drive past the flatlands into the two main cities of Christiansted and Frederiksted, the scenery changes to colorful Danish-style buildings, narrow cobblestone streets, art galleries, and fine boutiques selling handmade jewelry and duty-free products.

Continue reading on CheapOAir Miles Away.

Planning Your First Trip to Mexico? Your Guide to Mexico City and its Surroundings

For Cuisine Noir. July 2019.

From white sand beaches and Pacific blue waters in the west and ancient Mayan ruins in the east to traditional cuisine and tequila distilleries in the south, Mexico has a variety of landscapes and experiences to offer. However, it can be hard to decide where to begin and how to navigate this Spanish-speaking neighbor, and you will likely have to plan a few trips to see it all.

Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is the largest metropolis in the country and often overlooked by tourists. Originally built by the Aztecs in 1325 A.D., it is the oldest capital in the Americas and one of the best places to learn about the country’s history, culture and food, while still having a big-city feel. There is a range of accommodations and more than 100 museums, art galleries, award-winning restaurants and performing art venues to choose from.

Most major airlines fly directly to Mexico City’s Juarez International airport, which receives thousands of business travelers each day. There’s no visa needed to enter Mexico (for visits up to 6 months) but you need to carry your passport.

Due to its high altitude, Mexico City enjoys pleasant summers and mild winters. Note that Mexico City sits about 7,382 feet above sea level, so you may want to drink plenty of water and avoid alcohol as you get acclimatized. Remember to bring a sweater even in the summer months.

Mexican City Skyline
Pictured: Mexican City Skyline | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal
Stay in Fashionable Neighborhoods

It’s best to stay in one of the centrally located areas accessible by walking or taxi, to avoid traffic during peak hours.

La Condesa, with its largest city square, Zocalo, is lively from dawn to dusk. The streets are crowded with old-fashioned organ players, street vendors selling tacos and elotes (Mexican grilled corn) and businessmen and women chatting in bars after work. Local Mexicans also gather at Zocalo to eat dinner, listen to live music and dance the night away.

The Colonia Roma neighborhood was built by wealthy Mexicans who traveled to Europe in the 1800s. Here you will find French-inspired buildings, European cafes, bistros and gelato shops. Even if you are not staying in Roma, make sure to go for a visit or take a guided walking tour.

Savor One of the Biggest Art Scenes in the World

Art lovers can easily spend a week visiting more than150 museums dedicated to pre-Columbian, colonial and contemporary arts. The Anthropology and History Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Modern Art Museum, the San Ildefonso Museum and the Templo Mayor Museum, are some of the most popular ones. A must stop is at Frida Kahlo’s private home, Casa Azul, where you can see some of her paintings and personal belongings.

Enjoy Live Music and Dance

Watch a colorful Mexican folklore ballet at the Tiffany-designed stained glass Palacio De Bellas Artes, or head to Plaza Garibaldi, known for its mariachi musicians. It is hard to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have live music in Mexico City.

Take a Day Trip Outside the City

There are many historic and natural sites within driving distance of Mexico City that make for perfect day trips.

Canals of Xochimilco in Mexico City
Pictured: Canals of Xochimilco | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Escape to the colorful towns of Puebla and Cholula, known for their beautiful Baroque-style old churches, busy craft markets and traditional restaurants.

You will find many Mexican families renting party boats, or trajineras, meandering through the canals of Xochimilco with food and music on board. This “Venice of Mexico,” a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, is about an hour’s drive from Mexico City. You can access it via taxi (about $20 round trip) if you want to avoid booking through a tour company.

Continue to Charming Colonial Towns

While there’s plenty to do in Mexico City, it is also a gateway to smaller towns in Mexico, where you can extend your stay.

Take a flight (1 hour) or road trip (6 hours) from Mexico City to Guadalajara, where you can hop on the Jose Cuervo Express, also known as the “tequila train.” This two-hour journey takes you through picturesque agave fields to the “Magic Town” of Tequila, also the birthplace of the spirit, where you can visit distilleries and enjoy tequila-based cocktails. Stay at luxurious hotel Solar de Las Animas, overlooking the main square for rooftop views of the town. You can watch traditional music and dance every evening as you smell the aroma of roasting agave molasses.

Jose Cuervo Express Train in Mexico City
Pictured: Jose Cuervo Express Train | Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Puerto Vallarta is a popular resort destination on the Pacific west coast. It is known for its white sand beaches, artsy neighborhoods, water sports and nightlife. From Guadalajara, take a flight (50 mins) or drive five hours to Puerto Vallarta, once named as The Friendliest City in the World.” It is a popular destination with domestic as well as international tourists.

Whether you choose to go to Mexico City for a week or a weekend, you will find that the city and the surrounding areas offer a wide variety of attractions for all interests.

~ Written for & published by Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved. 

Priscilla Russell – One of the First Black Women Air Traffic Controllers

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2019.

When we get on an airplane, we may acknowledge the flight attendants and the pilot, but very rarely do we think about the crew on the ground that enables a fleet of planes to crisscross the globe. Priscilla Russell is the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) to work as a frontline manager. In her recent novel, “In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” Russell gives a firsthand account of what it takes to work in air traffic control while inspiring other women of color to pursue careers in aviation.

“When I started, the only thing I knew about the FAA was that president Ronald Raegan had fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981and banned them from federal service for life. Though it struck as breaking news as one of the most important events in late 21st century U.S. labor history, it also ended up changing the landscape of Air Traffic Control (ATC) as we know it. Because of the workers strike, there was mass recruiting, and for the first time, minorities and women were encouraged to apply,” recalls Russell. The compensation package offering of a $50,000 annual salary (which was a lot in the 1980s), made it a pretty attractive career choice to this Black teen who had grown up in a large, low-income family in Birmingham, Ala.

High Demands
Retired Air Traffic Controller Priscilla Russell
Photo credit: Priscilla Russell

In her book, Russell describes the high-pressure job of an air traffic controller. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies.

“It was only when I went to work that I found out there was so much more than towers and planes involved.” Russell discovered this during her grueling exams and vigorous trainings that spanned two and a half years. There is a lot of information to learn in a short time, and senior officials weren’t very confident of her abilities. “They didn’t bother to learn my name thinking I won’t be there too long,” she recalls.

Russell had a steep learning curve to become a certified professional controller (CPC).

One needs to be good at math, 3-D imagination, cognition, problem-solving, taking standardized tests and thinking on your feet. “Believe it or not I made a lot of bad choices and my journeys is a testament that it doesn’t matter where you are in life, you can still turn your life around and achieve whatever you want,” says Russell.

Diversity in the Control Room

At the time, there was not much ethnic or gender diversity, and moving up the career ladder was rather difficult. When Russell arrived at ARTCC in Hampton, Ga., which is the busiest control center in the world, there had been only one Black female in training to be certified. Russell was the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta ARTCC selected as a front-line manager in 1994.

At 55, Russell is retired after working at the Federal Aviation Administration for more than 32 years and lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with her husband. She spends most of her time writing and spending time with her grandchildren.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” is the first of a two-part series. In this book, Russell talks about how she set her mind to join the FAA academy as a young adult, overcame her drug addiction and worked tirelessly in her classes to become fully certified. She is working on her next book which she plans to release in December 2019, where she addresses her experiences with sexual harassment and on-the-job discrimination.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer” is available on Amazon.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Best Airports in the World for Long Layovers

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2019.

There’s a popular saying that “it is the journey that counts, not the destination.” But if the journey involves sitting still like a robot, squashed in the middle row of an airplane, listening to crying babies for 8-10 hours, you probably want to just close your eyes and get to the destination right away. Add to that, long layovers at unfamiliar airports when you are already jetlagged don’t make for pleasant travels either.

Thankfully, there are some airports around the world that somewhat ease the pain. From movie theaters to museums, these airports might make you wish you had a few more hours on the ground.

Holland Boulevard, Schiphol Lounge 2
Pictured: Holland Boulevard, Schiphol Lounge 2

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport | Schiphol, Netherlands

With colorful tulips, cheese shops, bakeries and ceramic stores, the Holland Boulevard at Amsterdam airport makes you feel like you are walking on one of the streets in Europe. To pass time, there’s Rijksmuseum, a casino, a library, a quiet room to pray, meditate or do yoga and a Kid’s Forest for young travelers to run around.

Don’t spend money on lounge access as there are lots of comfortable couches, bean bags and exercise bikes that charge as you pedal that are available for free.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport | Atlanta, Georgia

The busiest airport in the world may seem overwhelming at first, but is actually quite easy to navigate using the ATL SkyTrain that runs through a 4,700-acre complex. You can taste local flavors without having to leave Atlanta at one the many eateries offering choices from classic soul food and craft beer, to handmade pralines and rich slices of pound cake. Order the fried chicken skins with Hotlanta sauce at Ludacris’ Chicken+Beer, fried crawfish at Jekyll Island Seafood Company or a chili dog President Obamacouldn’t refuse at The Varsity.

There’s also a Martin Luther King Jr. exhibit featuring photographs and artifacts, including a suit King wore when he met with President Lyndon Johnson.

Hamad International Airport | Doha, Qatar

Doha has some of the most luxurious lounges in the world, so take full advantage of them. Arabic architecture, upscale dining and private bedrooms are just starters. Work out those sitting muscles with access to a full-sized swimming pool, fitness center and squash courts — at the airport.

The duty-free shops at Doha sell 24-karat gold jewelry, designer fashion and limited-edition fragrances and cosmetics. Make sure to also grab great tasting saffron chai and decorated baklava from one of the gift shops.

Movie theater at Changi Airport in Singapore
Pictured: Movie theater at Changi Airport | Photo credit: Changi Airport Group

Changi Airport | Singapore

It’s easy to kill a few hours transiting through Singapore. This airport has a rooftop pool, a two-story butterfly garden, a 4-foot slide, more than 200 restaurants and two movie theaters. Take a plunge in the Balinese-style swimming pool and whirlpool, or take a free city tour of Singapore if you have five or more hours to spare. There are also lots of choices for designer shopping and good quality food at the airport. Their latest addition is the world largest indoor waterfall.

Incheon International Airport | Seoul, South Korea

Pamper yourself with airport spas offering relaxing massages, play a 72-hole round of golf or try your luck at the casino. You will be able to indulge in Korean culture by just walking around Seoul’s modern and clean airport. There are free cultural performances, painting and origami classes going on for transiting passengers to entertain themselves.

Winter Market at the Munich Airport
Pictured: Winter Market at the Munich Airport

Munich Airport | Munich, Germany

If you can’t afford to make a trip to the Christmas markets in Europe, you can still get a glimpse of the festivities at Munich Airport. From late November to January, the airport transforms into a German village with food and craft stores, a carousel, and an ice skating rink.

Haneda Airport | Tokyo, Japan

You will probably think you have walked into a mall rather than an airport at Haneda, one of the two airports serving Tokyo. Shops, restaurants, cultural activities and spas, as well as a flight observation deck and flight simulators span a few stories of the airport building.

Tokyo Haneda is also one of the most family-friendly airports with entire areas dedicated to toy stores and gaming arcades.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

How You Can Experience Alaska’s Unbelievable Wildlife in Just a Week!

CheapOAir Miles Away. June 2019.

If you want to experience an Arctic safari, you don’t need to travel very far, spend thousands of dollars, or freeze yourself in subzero temperatures. So many wild Alaska attractions are easily accessible in the summer, and the abundance of cheap flight deals just make it that much easier to get to the state without breaking the bank. You also don’t need a lot of time; you’re guaranteed to see plenty of animals in just a week if you carefully plan your trip and go with an informed guide.

Continue reading on CheapOAir

Your Guide to Visiting the Island of Malta

Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2019.

If you have watched Gladiator, Game of Thrones or Troy, you will recognize the towering fortresses, medieval cities, rustic villages and rocky formations that make up the dramatic backdrops. A popular filming destination, Malta is an island country located in the Mediterranean between Europe and North Africa. Fishing boats on turquoise-blue waters, dry countryside landscapes, ornate palazzos, colorful balconies and Maltese Baroque architecture feel like a mix of Italy and Morocco.

Malta
Photo credit: Sucheta Rawal

Being at the crossroads of ancient trading routes, Malta has a rich history influenced by the Greeks, Romans, Normans, French, British, Arabs and Phoenicians.

Although Malta is a popular port of call for cruisers and day trippers from southern Italy, it is best to spend a few days soaking in the scenic rolling hills, isolated beaches, ancient towns and friendly locals.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Malta is via Europe. Connect through Rome with a low-cost flight directly to Malta. Alternatively, combine a visit with Sicily, the Italian island known for its delicious cuisine, picturesque countryside and an active volcano. A ferry from Pozzallo arrives in Malta in less than 2 hours.

The people are friendly and everyone speaks English very well with Maltese (which sounds like Arabic) and Italian spoken widely on the island.

Getting Around

Although Malta has several islands, only three of them are inhabited. The airport is located on the main island, Malta, which is the point of arrival for most travelers. There are many resorts and boutique hotels on the island of Gozo, but Comino is mostly a nature reserve.

The easiest way to see the small country is by renting a car and driving. Be careful of narrow streets and traffic jams in the city centers. Public buses are budget-friendly and well networked.

Lodging 

The luxurious 5-star Phoenicia Hotel has guestrooms commanding glorious views of the Grand Harbor, cathedral and city. Maltese tiled floors, crystal chandeliers and lush gardens make this an ideal place to get a glimpse of the royalty that made Malta home. The Phoenicia has hosted a number of distinguished guests, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Jeffrey Hunter, Gérard Depardieu, Joaquin Phoenix and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

To be in the midst of activities, stay at Domus Zamittello, a restored 17th-century palazzo, located at the beginning of the bustling Republic Street inside the cultural capital city of Valletta. Grab a drink at the rooftop balcony overlooking an outdoor theater and watch the vibrant streets from the 16thcentury.

Dining

There is a wide range of culinary options in Malta, from family-run bakeries and food markets to upscale restaurants, and they are a lot less expensive than mainland Europe. Maltese cuisine, like it’s culture, draws on influences from the Mediterranean. Must-try dishes include Gozitan cheeselet, pastizzi, ftira sandwiches, stewed rabbit, and prinjolata. Meals are complemented by locally made wine, cheese, bread and olives.

Farm meal with wine in Malta
Photo credit: Suchata Rawal
Things To Do

With hiking spots, beaches, museums, cathedrals, cafes and festivals, Malta offers something for every kind of traveler. Must-see attractions include the UNESCO World Heritage sites —Hypogeum and the megalithic temples — that are some of the oldest in the world.

The ancient capital of Mdina, with its sandstone and marble buildings, is a delight for admirers of Arabic architecture.

One can easily spend an entire day in the current capital of Valletta, a World Heritage Site, soaking in the scenery from the Upper Barrakka Gardens, admiring the works of local artists at National Museum of Fine Arts, or simply strolling through the narrow streets filled with cafes and shops.

St John’s Co-Cathedral, built by the Order of St. John in the 16th century, is one of the finest examples of high Baroque architecture in the world, also located in Valletta.

A cruise to the Blue Lagoon or a small boat to the Blue Grotto is a relaxing way to spend the day. Enjoy some quiet time on the sandy beaches and swim in the clear blue waters.

Maltese people love to celebrate and villages often compete to see who has the biggest merrymaking. There are patron saint feasts held practically year-round with fireworks, music, parades and food.

With 300 days of sunshine and mild Mediterranean climate, you can visit Malta any time of the year. It’s location, history and mix of cultures make it a unique and exciting travel destination.

To plan your trip to Malta, visit www.mta.com.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. June 2019.

The Wonder of Western Australia: A Guide to Perth and the Surrounding Area

CheapOAir Miles Away. May 2019.

Most travelers to Australia may have overlooked Perth, the fourth largest city in the country and the capital of Western Australia (WA). The large modern city, which you can get to via plenty of cheap flight deals, has a good mix of urban and natural vibes and is known for its sporting events, trendy restaurants, pristine beaches, national parks, and wine country.

Continue reading on Miles Away…

What is Your Travel Style?

Khabar Magazine. May 2019.

As I checked into a charming Italian villa converted into a boutique hotel, nestled on top of a hill on the Amalfi Coast, I wondered how I would spend two summer days in this romantic location by myself. I stood on the purple-bougainvillea-wrapped white balcony of my room, with a glass of champagne in my hand, staring at the blue waters and rocky beaches of Positano, feeling at peace with myself. In that moment, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone or go anywhere. I just stayed at the hotel—reading, writing, eating, and soaking in the views for the rest of my trip.

Travel teaches you that being alone doesn’t make you “lonely” and you can enjoy your own company, as much as the company of others.

Until my late twenties, I had never been on a vacation without my parents or my spouse. One day I told my husband that I would be going to Dubai to visit my sister-in-law, and he was shocked. I had not even traveled to India by myself until that point.

The reason I started traveling without my family was mainly because of conflicting schedules. I wanted to travel more, but my husband’s corporate job only allotted a couple of weeks of vacation a year. I had a strong desire to see the world, a flexible schedule, and the resources to make it a reality.

Since then, I have traveled solo and also with friends, apprentices, and groups—to parts of the world I didn’t even know existed. On lone adventures, I hiked through the forests of Japan, slept in yurts in the Gobi Desert, and listened to lions roar from a camp in the Masai Mara.

On the other hand, I have also slept in a house with two dozen volunteer travelers in Morocco, and sailed in the Galapagos on a private yacht with 20 colleagues, who soon became friends.

When people ask me if they should take a trip alone or with a group, to book a package tour or go with the flow, my response is usually, “It depends!”

Depending on the destination, duration, budget, and your personality, you may prefer one travel style over the other. I personally feel all of them can be rewarding as long as you set expectations beforehand and have a flexible attitude.

05_19_Travel_SamarMisra.jpg

(Left) Samar Misra, the solo traveler.

Samar Misra, a graduate student at Alabama A&M University, frequently travels alone. His last trip spanned over two months, taking him to UAE, India, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, and Singapore. “It allows me more flexibility and freedom to travel alone. I am not chained to certain activities that my family and friends may like,” he says. On his last trip to Rishikesh, Misra, on an impulse, decided to join a group of extreme adventurers and jump off a rock into the river (with a life jacket on), something his family would not have done or approved of.

Mishra grew up in a household where most family vacations would involve visiting relatives in India and traveling around the country in large organized groups. “There is value in family vacations, too. I have vivid memories of my cousins, uncles, and aunts going to the Taj Mahal. We still reflect on and laugh at incidents from that trip!”

Mishra usually books his trips himself through various websites, apps, and with the assistance of friends. “I have a basic idea of where I am going, and may book some of the flights, but the rest I fill in as I go,” says Mishra. He enjoys wandering around neighborhoods and seeing how the locals live, something he wouldn’t be able to do with a restricted itinerary.

Travel also makes us more resourceful. As a vegan, Mumbai native Lakshmi Jagad prefers to rent a home through AirBnB so she has access to a kitchen. “It is sometimes difficult to find restaurants that cater to us, and we like to keep expenses low, so we cook at least a few meals while traveling,” says Jagad referring to vacations she took to Guatemala, Morocco, Greece, Peru, and Canada, with her husband.

While traveling with a tour group, it is more difficult to exercise dietary constraints, but more travel agents nowadays accommodate dairy free, gluten free, vegan, and vegetarian requests if you let them know ahead of time. “We went to the Isle of Skye in Scotland with a group and booked the trip through a local agency. We told them we are vegan and it wasn’t an issue at all!” Jagad assures.

Tour operators can also help with communicating cultural differences that you may not be able to deal with on your own. “For example, you may go to Vietnam and ask for a vegetarian dish but realize their version of vegetarian includes seafood and eggs,” Mishra adds.

Speaking for myself, when I was traveling through Japan for ten days, staying at ryokans (traditional Japanese inns) in the countryside, it would have been almost impossible to figure out cultural norms on my own. It was only through my tour guide (who spoke fluent Japanese and English), that I discovered you had to take your shoes off before entering the hotel, put on robes called yukata in the correct fashion, bathe in anonsen (community bath house), and follow certain dining etiquettes. Given that no one at the inns spoke a word of English, I wouldn’t have been able to check in to my room or order food without a hired guide.

05_19_Travel_GauravBhatia.jpg

Gaurav Bhatia (right) likes to travel alone and connect with locals.

Atlanta-based ESL teacher, Gaurav Bhatia, has discovered another way to travel—he goes alone on self-planned trips where he’s always surrounded by locals. Bhatia communicates with native Spanish speakers he finds through italki.com (a video-chat language platform) to practice his language skills. “I remember the first night I was in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, I was treated to a Christmas dinner by my host and her family, and I instantly felt at home,” Bhatia recalls about his last trip.

The language exchange program allows travelers to meet locals, have one-on-one conversations and stay at people’s homes for little to no cost. Bhatia only books his flight and boarding, unless a local host offers a place to stay. Then it’s up to his new friends to show him around their city. These loosely planned vacations allow Bhatia to have chance encounters and deep conversations with strangers, learning about their country, beliefs, and way of life. He has been to Costa Rica, Mexico, Colombia, and Guatemala to visit his language partners and often spends his entire time with them.

When traveling alone, we are often forced to strike up conversations with strangers. I have found myself befriending people at airports, restaurants, hotels, tours, taxis, etc. whom I normally wouldn’t have noticed, had I been busy talking to a companion. It seems people also feel more comfortable talking to you when they see you are alone, and often go out of their way to help you.

While walking through the busy streets of Istanbul without a map or smart phone, I often got lost and asked strangers for direction. To my surprise, most people didn’t just tell me where to go, they would walk me to my destination, chatting along the way. On one such instance, I randomly met a newspaper publisher whom I keep in touch with till date. The next day, I joined my group for a ten-day tour of Turkey and did not experience any such random interactions with strangers, though I also didn’t lose my way again!

Tour companies and operators offer value and convenience for those who don’t want to spend a lot of time shopping for deals and booking each aspect of the trip individually. Although Divya Pahwa, travel agent at New Delhi-based Explorers Travel Boutique, who focuses exclusively on group travel, says, “Many South Asian clients will speak to one or more travel agents first to compare costs and then book directly online themselves.”

Many South Asians are using websites such as AirBnB, MakeMyTrip, Goibibo, and Yatra to book hotel, air, and sightseeing packages.

I knew Russia was not a place I wanted to visit on my own, because of logistics, language barriers, and safety, so I decided to book a group trip that focuses on volunteer vacationing. The company arranged to pick me up from the airport in Moscow and had made reservations for a comfortable stay at an apartment in Yaroslavl with four other women, where we had healthy and delicious home cooked Russian meals. During the day, we would be escorted by an English-speaking guide to meet other women, visit orthodox churches, tour the city, and never had to worry about the planning aspect. On the one evening that the five of us decided to go out for dinner on our own (without the tour company or guide), we struggled to find the right bus and order at the restaurant as the menus were only in Russian and the waitress didn’t speak a word of English!

Some people prefer package tours with a little flexibility. During our 2-week Mediterranean cruise, my husband and I declined all the shore tours offered by the cruise line. Instead, as soon as our megaship docked at the port, we leisurely walked for miles savoring the smells and sights of the city. As a couple with common interests, we decided to skip the long lines to enter historic sites and museums. Instead, we opted to stroll through gardens and markets, taking long afternoon breaks at outdoor cafes, as one does in Europe. Though all our meals were included onboard, we wanted to experience authentic local flavors. We would find a small neighborhood bakery in Marseille serving warm flaky croissants, the best gelato corner in Cinque Terre, and mouthwatering and cheap seafood paella with Spanish wine in Vigo.

In Morocco, I stayed at a house with 20 other travelers from around the world, who had signed up for an organized volunteer vacation. We had a set itinerary, home-cooked meals, and some sightseeing activities included in the package. Yet, they had also provided for free time to the volunteers over the weekend. Talking casually over breakfast, some of us decided to rent a van and travel from Rabat to Merzouga, a small town in the Sahara Desert near the Algerian border, where we camped under the star-studded African desert sky. It was a long exhausting drive into wilderness, not something I would have done alone. But my new companions gave me the confidence which led to one of the most memorable trips of my life!

05_19_Travel_SouthAfrica.jpg

(Left) The author and her husband on a road trip in South Africa.

Most recently, we rented a car in South Africa for a 10-day vacation. My husband drove on the left side of the road, along the winding scenic roads of the Western Cape, as I navigated from the passenger seat. It allowed us to plan each day as it came, stopping at different cities, as and when we wished. Though we had a basic outline of what we wanted to see, our plans never worked out the way we thought. We took a detourto visit a wild cat sanctuary which pushed us back 3 hours, met up with a friend at the beach cancelling the rest of the evening, and turned a Sunday brunch into an all-day event at a vineyard.

Whether you are thinking about traveling alone or with family and friends, doing it yourself or hiring a travel agent, there are pros and cons to each. Traveling in a group is more affordable, structured and brings joy in sharing, while traveling solo offers more flexibility, honest interactions, and can be personally empowering. One needs to experience all forms of travel for they teach us something different about ourselves and our interactions with the world.

~ Written for & published by Khabar Magazine May 2019 print edition. All rights reserved.

You Can Snow Ski, Sleep in a Houseboat, and Play at the Highest Golf Course in the World in the ‘Switzerland of India’

Travel+Leisure. April 2019.

Snow covered mountains, lush green valleys full of wildflowers, and cozy wood cabins aptly stamp Kashmir as the “The Switzerland of India.” Jammu and Kashmir — India’s northernmost state — is a popular destination among Indian travelers and slowly being discovered by the rest of the world because of its rich culture and captivating scenery changing with every season.

Continue reading on Travel+Leisure website.