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Florence Italy

ITALIA

So from Monaco, we traveled by taxi back to Nice, where we flew from Cote D’Azur Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. We had a 3 hour lay-over then off to Firenze-Peretola Airport in Florence. Italy was a totally different scene than Monaco especially with the sheer number of tourists around. Though it wasn’t peak tourist season, Florence was extremely busy with people everywhere. The overall city isn’t as clean as Monaco, however there is still a great vibe to the area with tons of things to do. From museums to churches, fine dining to Apertivos; there is literally something for everyone. We stayed at Hotel Ambasciatori Firenze and though it wasn’t The Fairmont, it was a nice quaint boutique hotel. I will say though, if you are in need of an iron you will have to call ahead and they’ll bring it to your room as they only have a few in the whole hotel.

We took advantage of the Apertivos that they had at numerous bars throughout the city. Simply buy a drink and you’ll get access to either small snacks or a buffet of food and you can eat as much as you desire. Prices vary from 10-15 euros but can get up to 25+ euros for fancier locales.

After a few days in Florence, we were off to Venice. We traveled by train from Florence Santa Maria Novella to Venice S Lucia station. It was only a day trip to Venice but I will say I enjoyed Florence more. To move around you have to take the Venice Water Taxis so make sure you buy a day pass at the train station. From there we took a Gondola Ride with Alba Travel which was quite enjoyable as our gondolier sang as we toured through the canals in Venice. After that we walked around the city, grabbed a bite to eat (pizza & pasta) and headed back.

After traveling back to Florence we made sure to visit the Giotto’s Bell Tower, Basilica of Santa Croce, San Lorenzo Market, Piazza della Republica, Pitti Palace, Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, Uffizi Gallery and the Galleria dell’ Accademia where the famous Michelangelo’s statue of David is housed. Later we had dinner at SESTO on Arno Florence which is on the 6th floor of The Westin Excelsior Florence. The food, atmosphere, service and VIEWS (at sunset) of the city and Arno river were all AMAZING. This was by far the best meal of our trip to Europe, but bring your wallet though, because it isn’t cheap by any means.

The next day we took a trip to Cinque Terra and had a day tour of the area. The tour including transportation via a coach bus, tour escorts, train tickets, boat rides and lunch (which wasn’t that great in my opinion). I’d advise you to decline the option of having lunch included in your tour so that you can eat at any restaurant you choose and not have to deal with fixed/limited menu. Make sure you bring comfortable shoes because there is a lot of walking involved. You visit small towns and a few beaches. By the end of the tour we were exhausted and most people slept on the 2+ hour coach bus back to Florence.

If you love shopping, Florence has that for you and more. From market places to luxury designer shops, you have access to just about any designer imaginable. If you want to try and save some money, The Mall Firenze is an outlet mall with luxury designer boutiques (we didn’t get a chance to visit) or you can opt to visit the high concentration of designer shops along Via de’ Tornabuoni or Via degli Strozzi. These are upscale shopping districts where you can find fashion house like Gucci and Ferragamo. Speaking of Gucci, make sure to visit Gucci Garden (see more detailed info below) and ask for Rezarta Collaku (you can find her on Facebook). Krystal became very fond of her and they still keep in touch to this day via Facebook and WhatsApp.

Hope you enjoy the pics below and it makes you want to travel to Italy. My wife and I enjoyed our 10 days abroad and are looking forward to the next trip…whenever that will be. If you need help planning your next trip, reach out to Tammy Davis of Fortitude Travel. She was extremely helpful and the Trip Plans app came in handy while abroad. Enjoy…

CHARLES DE GAULLE AIRPORT

Layover life…before making our way to Florence.



BASILICA OF SANTA CROCE



FLORENCE SANTA MARIA TRAIN STATION

Taking the train from Florence to Venice.




VENICE








PIZZA, PASTA & WINE

wine is cheaper than water at most places…






FLORENCE MUSEUMS

Galleria dell’ Accademia


















GELATOS EVERYWHERE…

tasty and helps you beat the heat



CINQUE TERRA















VIEWS

From SESTO on Arno Florence


GUCCI GARDEN

Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci in Florence in 1921 and now operates over 250 stores worldwide. In the historic heart of Italy, you will find Gucci Garden which is a museum-retail concept store with pieces you cannot find anywhere else in the world. It is located inside the 14th century Palazzo della Mercanzia and overlooks Piazza della Signoria. There is an exhibition area which includes rooms dedicated to vintage and modern pieces but entry into the museum will cost you 8 euro per person.
















GUCCI OSTERIA

Open to the public in January of 2018, Gucci Osteria is the fashion house’s attempt to enter into the culinary scene. This 50 seat restaurant is inside Gucci Garden and the Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michelle tapped Massimo Bottura of the famous Osteria Francescana to oversee the restaurant. They serve Italian classics and it isn’t insanely priced as main dishes range from 20-30 euros (and I must admit were quite tasty but portion sizes rather small).










How to travel without breaking the bank (Part 2 via air)

If you prefer to fly, I also have some other tools that might help you save money.

A. Google flights

When I want to travel right away, but don’t really know where to go, I like to use google flight’s “Explore Map”. All you have to do is select dates, and it quickly maps out prices of flights to destinations around the globe.

B. Skyscanner

SkyScanner is a free website in which you can enter destination, dates, and preference filters (time of the day, airline, 1, 2 or nonstop…) and it will literally scan all available flights for you.

Moreover, you can sign up for alerts and the website will send you emails every day with price increases or drops on your flights. It helps you have a better idea on when to book your flight(s) for the best price.


C. Keep your parking and entertainment cost down

These last few tips are valid for traveling both by air and by plane.

1. Groupon for parking. I usually purchase airport parking a few days/ minutes before flying because it is most likely cheaper than airport rates.

2. Groupon for food. Try to avoid paying full price for food by using online coupons or ask your waiter for specials.

3. Taxes when shopping. If you are a shopaholic, try to ask around for the tax rate before shopping. Tax rates vary from state to state and sometimes it is better to wait until you get back home to purchase a certain item, but if tax is cheaper you should probably go ahead get it then.

I hope these tips help you save a few bucks and enable you to travel even more. If you have some money tips of yours you would like to share, please use the comment box.

How to travel without breaking the bank (Part 1 via road)

I travel a lot and everyone always asks me how I do it. I will be sharing the tools I use when planning my trips in two blog posts. Part 1 will cover the tools I use when traveling via road, and then Part 2 will list the tools I use when traveling via air.

A. Keep your transportation costs down

  1. RentalCars.com: This broker enables you to get rentals cars for cheaper than if you booked directly from Enterprise, Hertz, or else. For example, I rented a car at LAX airport in Los Angeles for 4 full days and I only paid $85.55! Just make sure you return the car at the same location you picked it up from to avoid the crazy one – way charge.
  2. TravelMath.com: Ahead of the trip, I like to visit this website to have an idea of my total travel times (including time differences), and also an estimated cost of gas. I really like their map feature. It allows me to see what other cities are on the way that I would want to explore. This is pretty much how we decided we would stop in Detroit, Michigan on our way to Toronto from Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH.
  3. Gas Buddy: Once on the road, you should try to get the best deals on gas and that is when gas buddy comes into play. You can either use the app or the website, and it will let you know where to find nearby gas stations with the cheapest gas. We spent less than $150 in gas driving from Bowling Green, KY, to Columbus, OH, to Detroit, MI, to Toronto in Canada, to Niagara Falls, to Cleveland, OH, and back to Glasgow, KY.

B. Keep your accommodation costs down

  1. AirBnB: I know it seems like a challenge once you think you will be sleeping at some stranger’s house, but just think of it as spending the night at your extended family’s house. The host provides you with a place to lay your head after a long day of travel in exchange for some money. If you are lucky, you may even get an entire apartment to yourself for an incredibly low price. Jamaine and I spent a night in Toronto for $30 and we had high-speed internet, cable TV, a bathroom, and even a kitchen we did not get to use.
  2. Priceline Express Deals: This comes in handy when you need a hotel at the last minute. Hotels would rather rent you a room for cheap than not renting it at all. So, if you need a last minute room, get on it, select the area and star rating of the hotel you would like to stay in, and let the magic numbers appear. You will not know the name of the hotel until you finish booking. I usually pick 3 stars or above because you know it will be a decent hotel. My line sister and I used express deal when we drove down to New Orleans after Thanksgiving dinner in 2014. The hotel was really nice! Too bad it was sold out for the following night and we had to go somewhere else.

Come back in a few days for part 2 of my tips on how to travel without breaking the bank!

Island-hopping: Barbados & Trinidad

Last Thanksgiving, Hubster and I went to the Caribbean for a whole week! We island hopped between Barbados & Trinidad, and it was so beautiful that I took tons of pictures. Enjoy!

Barbados

Trinidad

I would like to take a second to thank each and everyone for supporting the relaunch of my online store France MKB Afroprint ! I do not get paid to travel, so everytime you purchase something from my online store please know that you are a special part of my next travel journey. I am so thankful for you all!

Live Life Fully,

France MKB

10 Ways to Explore Lisbon in 48 Hours

When one hears Portugal, one immediately thinks of Lisbon (known as Lisboa by the Portuguese). This makes sense considering that it is the capital of Portugal. Lisbon was the last place I visited in Portugal on my 10 day tour. However, as a result of having explored more of Portugal’s unknown cities (which have more of a rustic charm), I was not necessarily wowed away by Lisbon as I expected to be. However, it is definitely a nice city to visit as there is a clear juxtaposition of modern and rustic that is worth exploring.

Here are 10 ways that you can explore Lisbon in 48 Hours.

1) Take Tram 28

Tram 28 is a great way to explore Portugal because you will pass by many of the historical sites in the old Alfama district. For example, you will see the gorgeous Estrela Basilica as well as hilltop views of the water.

TIP: Try to catch the tram closer to end time of its route.



Europe
Portugal
10 Ways to Explore Lisbon in 48 Hours
May 4, 2018

When one hears Portugal, one immediately thinks of Lisbon (known as Lisboa by the Portuguese). This makes sense considering that it is the capital of Portugal. Lisbon was the last place I visited in Portugal on my 10 day tour. However, as a result of having explored more of Portugal’s unknown cities (which have more of a rustic charm), I was not necessarily wowed away by Lisbon as I expected to be. However, it is definitely a nice city to visit as there is a clear juxtaposition of modern and rustic that is worth exploring.

Here are 10 ways that you can explore Lisbon in 48 Hours.

1) Take Tram 28

Tram 28 is a great way to explore Portugal because you will pass by many of the historical sites in the old Alfama district. For example, you will see the gorgeous Estrela Basilica as well as hilltop views of the water.

TIP: Try to catch the tram closer to end time of its route.

My boyfriend and I caught the tram at Square Martim Moniz, where it starts. There were many tourists like myself waiting for the trolley around 6 PM on a Saturday. However, the line was so long that we had to leave. The next day, came back at around 8:00 PM -8:30 PM (mind you, the tram apparently stops running at 9 PM). Although there was still a line, it was not as long and moved more quickly. We waited approximately 15-20 minutes this time.

TIP: Try to get a seat on the tram, especially where you can get a good look of the window!



During our second attempt, we actually let people go in front of us so we could ensure a seat. Best thing ever! For one thing, the tram gets really crowded. Secondly, because of all the hills, you will want to be seated as otherwise, it will be a bumpy ride. Trust me, we learned the hard way coming back! However, we did get a scenic view during the rides!

Other Major Key Alerts:

a) The tram route goes up some really high hills, which means it must also come down some big hills! Since the Alfama city is a Moorish city, the streets are truly a maze. There are moments where the street is so narrow that people have to go against a wall to let the tram pass.

b) You need to pay for the tram separately for each direction. When we arrived at the last stop, we literally had to get off the tram, get online and then hop back on after the tram inched a few feet forward to then pay a new fare.

2) Walk Around the Meandering Streets

Lisbon has lots of winding streets and alleys; making it easy to get lost. That is part of the fun, right!?! You will find lots of hidden treasures: restaurants, bars, cafes, cute tiles and unique architecture. Literally, you never know what you will find when you turn an alley!

3) Watch a Fado show

As I stated in my other blog post, 14 Reasons Why Portugal Deserves Its Own Trip, a Fado show is a unique experience. You will find tons of places in Lisbon that specifically feature live bands playing the traditional Portuguese music. I was able to catch one that served a full three course meal. It was interesting to see many white Brazilian tourists at the restaurant of the Fado show.

4) Visit Belem Tower Torre de Belem

I did not even know this existed until my tour dropped us at the site. It was simply breathtaking to see this castle-like tower in the middle of the water. Actually, it was built on a small island in the Tagus River near the Lisbon shore, which is now connected by a wooden platform. You can see a fusion of influences – from Moorish to Goth to Romanesque. Apparently, this was constructed in the 16th century and explorers such as Vasco da Gama would have seen this as their last sight of Portugal when they

drifted into the Atlantic Ocean.

In the vicinity, I had the opportunity to witness the changing of the guards, shown here.

5) Hop on a Cable Car: Telecabine Lisboa

Most people know that Lisbon has a few trams but did you know it also has cable car/gondolas as well. You can catch it either near the Oceanarium or near the old Vasco da Gama tower, now the My Riad hotel. We caught a taxi to take us near the Oceanarium, however it could not get too close to it so we had to take a 10 minute walk to find it. However, along the way we were able to see lots of restaurants and bars in an area that looked very modern. From up top, you can get major views of the ocean.

6) Chill in the Bairro Alto

This is probably the most well-known and touristic district of Lisbon, and with good reason. The area is packed with endless restaurants, cafes, and nightlife. You do not see it get lively until the early evening, at the earliest. Interestingly, during the beginning of the twentieth century, many artists and journalists would gather here in the evenings and now almost everyone is gathered at night! You will find many waiters standing in front of restaurants trying to lure you to check out their menu. It is worth at least walking through to experience the nightly liveliness!

7) Visit Praça do Comércio

From many angles, you can see the main square, known as Praça do Comércio. Formerly known as the Terreiro do Paço (Palace Square), it was the site of the sixteenth-century Ribeira Palace, which stood there until the 1755 earthquake destroyed it. The palace was one of the most impressive buildings in the country.

Once the square was reconstructed, it became known as the Praça do Comércio, for its new function: merchants sold goods from the colonies and there were people funding expeditions to unknown lands.

Currently, you will find lots of restaurants in the vicinity as well as a view of the river. The square is massive, distinguishable by the yellow symmetrical buildings.

8) Check out the Age of Explorers Statue/Padrão dos Descobrimentos

I have mixed feelings about these statues from a colonization standpoint (read my related posted, Black Tourist in Portugal: Uncovering Colonization History), but nonetheless, it is worth checking out because of its massive size. These 50m high statues were constructed to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Henry the Navigator’s death, who was considered one of Portugal’s greatest sailors. Translated as “Monument to the Discoveries,” the statues were erected along the Tagus River where ships departed to explore, trade, and let’s not forget colonize India and the Orient!

The biggest monument represents a sailing ship with statues on both sides. The main statue is of Prince Henry the Navigator leading 33 figures on both sides of the monument, depicting the history of the Discoveries. In the front of the monument, there is a huge sword. It is worth waking around it several times to capture the details! From a distance you will see a bridge that looks very similar to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, USA.

9) Visit the Sé de Lisboa Cathedral

Similar to the Belem Tower, you can notice the fusion influence of Gothic and Moorish. The gothic cathedral was constructed on the site of a significant mosque, in order to reflect the dominance of the Christian Crusades over the North African Moors. The inside has areas decked out with gold, making it simply an awestruck experience!

10) Explore more notable smaller cities nearby

Lisbon is very close to other cities such as Sintra, Cascais and Nazaré. Sintra is well known for its medieval castles with Moorish influence. Looking for the beach life and amazing seafood? Check out Cascais and Nazare! I will have information on things to do in those cities in a future blog post.

14 Reasons Why Portugal Deserves Its Own Trip

Has Portugal ever been on your travel bucket list? If not, you are not alone! The reality is that the majority of people travel to Portugal either as a layover or as a joint trip with Spain and/or Morocco. Portugal, in many ways is Spain’s little brother (or sister, depending on your preference) because it is literally 5 times smaller.

For a long time, I only wanted to go to Portugal if I was also heading to Spain, hitting two birds with one stone. However, as I looked for tours, I found that most would spend several days in Spain, but then quickly brushed over Portugal. For example, an 11 day tour would only spend 2 days in Spain.

However, I was able to take part in a 10 day tour with my boyfriend, which was the best decision and reinforced why I like to explore a country in depth. That is just my personal preference — do not fight me on that!

During this expansive 10 day tour, I gained a greater appreciation for Portugal. Here are fourteen reasons why I think Portugal is worthy of its own trip:

1. Millennium Long History

Did you know that Portugal has existed since the 12th century (1123), while Spain since the 16th century? Most people either do not know or fail to remember that Portugal used to be one of the most powerful countries in the world! During the Age of Exploration, its empire spread out to South America, Africa, and India. As a result of its ancient history, there is much to discover through historical monuments, which feels like an infinite number of castles and Catholic churches galore. There is an intertwined history of other religions as well. Portugal has a deep colonizer history that is evident throughout parts of the country, but I will save that for another post!

2. Mouthwatering dessert

Pastel de nata, anyone? I still think about the number of pastéis de natas I indulged in over the course of my trip. You can find this dessert at nearly every food spot you go to. You CANNOT leave Portugal without having had several of these flaky, custard tarts. Otherwise, did you really explore Portugal?



3. Wine lover’s dream

When I say that wine is served with EVERYTHING, I really mean it. I cannot think of a meal where wine was not served. It is the “water of Portugal.” One place we visited actually had a wine dispenser! There are two major wines that are must haves in Portugal: porto wine and vinho verde (green wine), which is actually a “young wine” and has a smooth, sparkling feel. Porto wine is now one of my favorite wines: it is a sweet dessert wine that is either red or white from the Porto/Douro Valley region. If you have the chance, check out the winery where you can see how it is produced, taste some samples, and purchase delicious wine for a fairly cheap price!




4. Fresh Seafood cooked in so many ways

I had heard that Portugal had great seafood, which makes sense for a coastline country. However, I did not know to what extent seafood was an integral part of its culture. In fact, Portugal consumes the 3rd largest amount of fish after Japan and Iceland. The national food is codfish (bacalhau). Oddly enough, though, it has to be imported from Norway and Iceland. You will come to like codfish because it is prepared in so many ways and integrated into so many meals. However, the best seafood dish I had in Portugal was grilled salmon (ironically)!



5. Rooftop views for days.

I don’t know about you, but breathtaking rooftops put me in a daze. Portugal is filled with orange rooftops, whether you are looking down from your airplane window, looking down from the balcony of the most prestigious university in Portugal (Coimbra University) or of a castle staircase. Despite the same views, it never gets old.



Have you ever wondered why they are all orange looking? The roofs are actually a Roman styled roof made from clay terra-cotta titles. The color is a result of baked clay (terra-cotta actually means “baked earth”) that is rich in iron-oxide (same as rust).

6. Stepping into medieval fairytale.

I was unaware of the amount of medieval vibes Portugal gives off. I was aware that Sintra was filled with castles, thanks to Instagram. However, that medieval fairytale was extended to many other cities as well. In fact, some of these castles are built on major hilltops, such as the Bom Jesus do Monto (Good Jesus of the Mount), located right outside the city of Braga.

Other cities with ultimate medieval vibes include Óbidos (a little town that is encircled by medieval wall), Guimarães (considered to be the birthplace of Portugal) and Tomar, where we happened to come across a medieval festival (Festa Templar).




A major reason for the extensive number of castles in Portugal is that it served as a military defense for the Romans and the Moors, the prior rulers of Portugal. The Romans, who ruled and colonized the land that is present-day Portugal for more than four centuries, built forts with high walls and towers to defend their people. The Moors, who invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the year 711, brought stonework and fortified gates to the peninsula.

7. Amazing climate. It’s more lit, literally…

Portugal is a to-go-to travel spot because of its Mediterranean climate, which is hugely influenced by how close the country is to the Atlantic Ocean. The Mediterranean breeze leads to pleasant summers and mild winters. For example, in Lisbon, the hottest month is July, with an average temperature of 74°F (24°C) and the coolest is January at 52°F. I was in Portugal in July and it felt like springtime in New York City. To add to the amazing climate, Portugal apparently also experiences one of the longest hours of sunshine in Europe. Trust me, you will need your shades!

8. Fado music

I did not know what Fado music was until I visited Lisbon. On any given night, you can find tons of tiny restaurants and cafes with live Fado singers pouring their hearts out. Fado, which literally means “fate” or “destiny” is Lisbon’s melancholic version of the blues. Although I did not understand a word, I was in feels due to the instruments, singers’ voices, and acting styles that go into a Fado performance.

9. Opportunity to Visit “The Beauty and the Beast Library”

This was one of the unexpected highlights of my trip. I had no clue that the Baroque “Joanina” Library of the University of Coimbra was the direct inspiration for the set designed for the recent remake of “Beauty and the Beast.” Unfortunately, guests were strictly forbidden from taking pictures. However, I was able to find pictures of the comparison online. The pictures do not do it justice!



10. Very authentic

Despite getting a flood of tourists in recent years, it does not feel like it. There are so many calm and peaceful towns that have remained relatively unexplored. Part of Portugal’s charm is the authentic, rustic restaurants that you find in many hidden alleys.

11. Catholic Haven

If you are a Catholic, you would have a field day! You will frequently find a Catholic church decked out in enormous amounts of gold. However, most of the churches you see are either in the main square or a hilltop, showing the traditional importance of churches. Interestingly, although 81% of the population is Catholic, only about 19% attend Mass and regularly receive the sacraments.

In addition to the enormous presence of churches, Catholics are drawn to the city of Fatima due to the legend of the 1917 apparition of Our Lady to three shepherd children in this small village. According to Catholic stories, Our Lady appeared 6 times to the three children and warned them of several world tribulations, some of which have come true. There is a massive rosary and cross erected in her honor along with other structures. Many Catholics come to this city as a pilgrimage, which I was able to witness.

12. Meandering Streets

When one sees photos of Portugal, one always sees twisting cobblestone streets. It is very easy to get lost, as I got lost several times myself. That is part of the beauty and charm of the country!

If you are not interested in climbing uphill on streets with loose cobblestones, experience Portugal through the scenic route: the Tram. Warning: Make sure that you have a strong hold on the handle as it can be a very bumpy ride due to the fact that it travels up, down, and around cobblestone streets. However, the experience is well worth it!

13. Tile decor

I fell in love with the intricate details of the Portuguese tiles. Whether it was in front of a cafe or the wall of a church, the details never ceased to amaze me. Portugal is famous for its glazed, ceramic tiles known as azulejos (referring to the blue color of many tiles) and is actually an integral part of Portugal’s history, dating back to the 13th century with the invasion of the Moors. The word azulejo actually stems from Arabic roots, meaning ‘small polished stone’. Over the last few centuries, the use of these tiles skyrocketed and is now used for interior and exterior decorating in public buildings, private homes, restaurants, and even railway stations.



14. A hidden industry: cork production

You probably assume that cork is only used for wine bottles. Think again! In Portugal, you will find tons of products made of cork, whether it is a handbag, a bracelet, or some slippers. You will even find a fully decked out dress! Portugal loves its cork because it is a renewable resource that is used for tons of products. It is fire resistant, flexible, recyclable, biodegradable and one of the best insulators. During bus rides, we would pass acres of trees used to produce cork. Although it takes a long time to harvest and is an expensive process, Portugal produces 53% of the world’s cork. Who knew!

#TravelHappy The Mobile Passport App!

“FORGET YO LINE SUCKA!”

I literally scream this as I run towards the screening agent at the exit of customs (internally of course cause.. I’m not that crazy) If you ever get the chance to witness it, it’s more of a smirk and a skip as I saunter past the people in line towards FREEDOM!!

I have discovered one of travels greatest gifts. The ‘Mobile Passport App’ aka the poor man’s Global Entry.

For those of you who are unaware. Entering back into the country requires a stop through customs. Customs comes with a line out of this world. Normally you turn a corner and are met with hundreds of people in a slow moving line waiting to get in front of a kiosk to take their picture, answer a few questions about not being a smuggler or what not and then get into the next line of a few hundred people so that an agent can check your passport, make sure you didn’t admit to being a smuggler and what not and then allow you clearance back into America.

Usually, the only way to prevent this post travel headache is by purchasing Global Entry. This is a separate program than TSA Pre✓. TSA Pre✓ provides expedited security screening benefits for flights departing from U.S. Airports. Global Entry provides the TSA Pre✓ benefit plus expedited US customs screening for international air travelers when entering the United States. TSA Pre✓ costs $85 and Global Entry costs $100 for a five year membership.

Now that we’ve gotten the official business out the way let’s get back to FREE!! The app is simple. You download it (obvi), take a picture of your face and scan your passport. When you land back here in the U.S. (this is for US travelers) open it and simply click through the answers. The app creates a QR code (one of those black and white squares) and BAM!! DAS IT!!

You will hear many announcements stating that you MAY NOT have your phone out in customs. Disregard this. Seriously it’s cool. Trust me. Trust me! As you walk through customs do NOT follow the long line of people w sad, this is gonna take forever faces. Stay to the side. Keep your phone opened and positioned so that customs agents can see the screen. They will direct you past EVERYBODY AND EVERYTHING!! I am getting chill bumps writing this! It’s such a great feeling!

YOU CAN SKIP THEM ALLLL!!

Welcome to America, Americans with ease!

#StarringCourtny

Fat Girl Travel Tips

Some of you may have never noticed this about me, and I completely understand because my awesomeness is overwhelming but.. I’m fat! Save your ‘what the health’ comments because all it does is make me want bacon and then YOU become part of the problem. This post isn’t about weight, this is me helping out my fellow frequent travelers who take up a little more space.

Or a lot more space… what-evs.

There are a few key things that I have learned throughout my travels. Whether you are starting out new or established here are a few things that I believe will help you.

1.) Everyone can see you’re fat. Stop sucking it in and be comfortable in your space.. ALL OF IT.

When I first started flying I’d often go between Dallas and Kansas. Short haul flights usually belong to older planes and older planes mean smaller spaces and shorter seat belts. I would use my blankee, yes I travel with a blankee, over my lap to give the impression that I had my seat belt on or something else that would trick the attendants eyes away from the belt so I didn’t have to face the embarrassment of admitting that it didn’t fit.

This was completely unnecessary. If you find yourself on a flight where the seatbelt is too short ASK FOR A SEAT BELT EXTENDER! The flight attendants have this ninja move where they slightly lean in your direction and all of a sudden there is an extender in your hand and no one is the wiser.

Honestly, I request an extender even when I don’t need it because regulations state that it simply has to be around you and if in the glorious moment that I am allowed a row to myself I lift all the arms, add the extender, make it super loose and lay across my row!

(P.S. If you want to avoid requesting an extender, you can buy your own on Amazon just don’t use it in the emergency exit row. That’s against the rules)

2.) If you can’t do it – don’t do it and WHO CARES.

Like seriously if there is something that you cant do – DONT do it and don’t worry about it. My skinny friends are always trying to convince me that I can do things when the sign obviously lists my weight as one being too heavy. Don’t feel like you are letting anyone down. You are simply letting your life UP! Ain’t nobody trying to die cause the zip line broke or the breeze from the water slide picked my big butt up like a jet and next thing you know I land on the concrete. #HardPass

I have traveled the world and there are a billion things that I can and HAVE done and there will be a billion more cause I will do them, within my #weight limits, okay!

3.) People are gonna stare.. bask in it!

If you are one of my fellow fluffy women and you haven’t come to the realization that you are a preferred choice then please travel abroad. In Jamaica I was set to be kidnapped, In South Africa I received many proposals one even came with a ring.

THIS GUY LEGIT WENT TO A NEARBY STORE AND BOUGHT A RING BEFORE COMING TO SAY HELLO TO ME!

In Thailand where the vision of beauty is as white and small as possible, I was inundated with you are so big.. and brown… and BEAUTIFUL. They were so amazed that I was the complete opposite of what they considered beautiful yet.. was so beautiful to them.

You know me – just out crushing beauty standards!

You will be the center of attention. With great power comes great responsibility. Use it well.

4.) You are physically stronger than you think.

I ballroom dance so I got a little stamina but I am definitely not your gym role model. In pole class I can get up once but that second is a no go cause this core strength is yet waiting to manifest. That being true I have done many things on vacation that have superseded my normal standards and all it took was for me to try! Take the hike, scale the mountain and that cute guy at the bottom of a rope has a pulley system and he is strong so – trust him. You’re in good hands. (then get his number)

5.) GET NAKED

I know you weren’t expecting that but.. Getting naked has been one of the most freeing things that I have ever done. The human body is weird.. and when you are in a room full of naked women and men (tee hee) you can fully see that nobody, and I mean nobody has the body that we are ‘supposed’ to want to achieve. It’s quite funny really. Butts and boobs and thighs and acne oh my! Getting naked opens up a space where personality wins and you find out cool things like being ‘brown all over’ as I get so graciously reminded every time I release this greatness.

#MyLifeIsLikeAMovie

Its an awesome world out there just waiting for you to own it. I pray you do!

-StarringCourtny

Oh snap! Bangkok, Thailand!

Close your eyes with me. ( I know, I know, you’re reading so not literally) Now… Close your eyes with me. Picture large rusted buildings. See the colorful Broadway type signs. Imagine tall polls wrapped haphazardly with hundreds of electrical wires. Now look at the street. It’s dirty. Newspapers and magazines everywhere. You can’t take a step without walking past a sleeping doggy and the cars… The cars are everywhere, vans and taxis and Toyota style vehicles w weird names.. THAT ONE HAS LIGHTS AND Music and there are tons of tourists stuck in the back… Where there aren’t cars there are scooters. Watch them as they dart through carrying business women, children and look an entire family. WATCH OUT! There’s no stop sign anywhere! You have to be careful. Let’s go into 7 eleven and grab some dim sum and watermelon flavored milk to relax.

Could you see all of that. Ladies and gentlemen I introduce you to Bangkok Thailand.
Arriving to the city was like no other I’ve seen. These were people with someplace to go! They were all bright faced and loud. Laughs rang through the airport and I knew I was in for a great time!

First things first THERE IS UBERRRR! So we swapped a friends SIM card out for better phone service on her end and began our adventure. (Thanks to T-Mobile for never making that an issue for me)

We stayed at A ONE BOUTIQUE HOTEL – near the hospital. It was important to say that for the location. You found this place down a long dark street… We call them alleys. Bangkok was full of them. Alley upon alley of darkness, doggies and people!

After a quick thought about a nap, we dressed and headed out. We learned that we could get a driver for 1500 baht (40 bucks) and he’d stay with us the whole day. By stay we mean drop us off at a touristy trap. The trap then slides him some schmoney for bringing us before he dips away and pick us up when we were ready.

This is where we first experienced the beauty of haggling! The price was 1500 per person and I don’t remember what we paid but it was less than that! We hopped into a long canoe type boat with an engine and navigated through canals lined w… huts..

Yes, guys! We were at the famed floating market!

When something caught our eyes the driver would pull up. The people at the huts had poles so when we caught their eyes they’d hook on to us and pull us in!
There were hats and scarves and Gucci bags! Shoes and paintings and more! Fight me here but… I’m pretty sure we could’ve gotten most if this on the WISH app… Maybe from these same people but this was a way more fun way of acquiring things that we didn’t need. We became pretty good at the haggle and more aggressive with our NO’s. At one point we even teamed up. A male traveler w us acted as my husbaaaaaand so if they offered me 2500 baht he’d say “you can pay no more than 1000” and he wouldn’t budge any higher and you know what… Every time it worked!

There is a small section I called the food court. They had Mango and sticky rice. Let’s stop there… THE MANGOS WERE FROM GOD! The insides were dark and the strings were almost nonexistent. The flavor was sweet and texture was smooth. As a Mango connoisseur I can tell you that these were the best I’ve tasted throughout the world!

Back to food. Mango and sticky rice was good but spoiler alert!! Sticky rice is basically rice and condensed sweetened milk which as a Midwestern woman I already enjoy! STILL adding the Mango was delicious! We ate fried pork and also coconut ice cream with ‘stuff’ on top all from the assorted boats that floated past us. We’d say “that please” and they’d stop and serve us.. In hindsight I wonder where any of those utensils and pans were being cleaned and what actually is the ‘stuff’ on top…

#ButDidYouDie

We visited a temple with sitting buddah maybe… #FunFact buddah is not just the fat man in the nail shop! He comes in many forms, standing, sitting, laughing etc. and each of them represent a different type of blessing!

Now let’s talk about the mall! MBK Mall is one of their larger ones… You say mall.. I say flea market but with everything you wanted! Our first stop was fish pedicures!

Yummy Yummy yummy those fish had foot in the tummy! I can’t explain the feeling. You definitely could feel the nibble. Sometimes it overwhelmed you like a tickle. We giggled made some friends from Romania as the fish made the tops of our feet smooth as… They already were! Lol! Still.. You have to do this. And don’t feel rushed. These things are everywhere. You WON’T miss out!

We explored the mall and found many cool finds like a personal karaoke mic – machine and a dessert that tasted like smores. Sorry that’s the best I got to explain because there were no interpreters! It looked like tacos and cheese and tasted like… Smores!

Also what is the fascination with hot dogs! They call them sausages. You know what didn’t go in my mouth.. These hot dog sausages lol! I was able to subside my hunger with a quick stop at Burger King where I got a curry bowl, yup CURRY BOWL! Thailand is pretty delicious!

Death at the Grand Canyon?

Enjoying this beautiful day!
Standing on top of the world!
God's creation, so beautiful
Look how tiny those people are...amazing
My crew, enjoying the scenery with me

I visited the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas, Nevada through GC Tours. It’s a bus tour that picks you up from your hotel, takes you to the Hoover Dam, Route 66, and allows for three hours at the Grand Canyon. I chose the South Rim tour and only paid $75 which included breakfast and lunch! Much recommended for an affordable trip to see the Grand Canyon from Las Vegas.

It was a beautiful Sunday, my friends and I were enjoying the amazing views and loving the experience of being at the Grand Canyon. I visited two years ago with my family, but it was the first time for my friends. Though I’ve seen it before, it still blew me away…

Then another view blew me away…one of two men, which I thought were on a death wish jumping to the very end of a rock that was several feet away from solid ground! What in the world were they thinking?! Myself and several other witnesses were in shock as we saw the first guy go over and his friend following behind him! Some people had to leave, they didn’t want to watch someone die in front of their faces! The guys didn’t have on any protective harnesses or even work out clothes and shoes! Of course they took their “fun photos” for their friend who was far enough away to be safe, then made their attempt back on solid ground. Myself and others definitely said some prayers for them and cried out “No, don’t do it!” several times in agony as we saw them struggle back to solid ground. The second guy had a tough time getting over and was even hanging for dear life!

Check out the YouTube video here or see Part 1 below

Check out the YouTube video here or see Part 2 below

Thank goodness they were both able to get back on solid ground and we all breathed a sigh of relief. I was still a bit shaky afterwards and when I saw the first guy coming my way I expressed to him how insane I thought that was. He said he saw two women go to the edge of the main cliff to look over the edge to attempt to do it, but changed their minds. He figured, if they thought about doing it, then he knew he could do it. SMH, macho men. I believe he said he and his friend were in the Marines so they are used to stuff like this. I said, “You guys were on a death wish.”

Just another day in the life of Enchantment Travels. Stay tuned for more posts to come!