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5 Reasons To Choose Living Like A Local Over Resort Life When You Travel

Life & Travel

It's easy to catch a major case of FOMO when following that stream of amazingly glamorous IG photos with #TravelGoals in the captions. Well-edited, eye-catching, fantasy-enticing imagery will have you booking your next trip to a beautiful resort in Greece, Jamaica, Iceland, or Brazil so you can recreate those same memories for yourself.


If you can make that luxury trek, go for it. I've enjoyed more than a few. Business trips and family vacations have spoiled me over the years, and though the flights may have been coach or business class, the accommodations were always four- or five-star. I'd not even fathomed otherwise---until this past May.

How did I---a bou-ghetto, hell-no-to-a-motel, hate-bugs-and-germs, compliments-to-the-chef kind of girl---end up in a small coastal town in Jamaica, walking barefoot through grass that chickens just tread in, sipping goat-head soup, washing my own laundry in a bucket of pipe water, and taking showers in an outhouse?

God led me on the 30-day adventure of a lifetime, to a place called Savanna-la-mar, AKA Sav, where I got to consult, write, and learn more about life in Jamaica beyond the cruise ports. My lodging was a beautiful compound that included rustic one-room cabins, free Wifi, and a communal way of life, where everyone---except for the owner----pretty much shared resources. (He and his wife lived in the larger main house with a staff and the usual luxuries.)

I welcomed the experience because my spirit needed to be reinvigorated after dealing with the challenges of rebounding from a few business and financial failures. I wanted something off the beaten path, where I could be raw and real and surround myself with people who could care less about what makeup I was wearing, how many clients I had, or what wig I was wearing. I'm so glad I did, because after the life-changing experience, I now favor a vacation off the beaten path over a frou-frou resort stay any day.

Here are 5 damn good reasons why:

I learned soul-stirring, transformative lessons about overcoming fears and anxiety.

There's something about being butt-naked in an outdoor shower among tree frogs, mosquitos, and stray dogs that will test your courage and inner strength. I was slightly a germaphobe, and I'm truly not a fan of bugs or animals. Each day, I was forced to let go of my inhibitions. (Hey, in 90-degree weather, showers are not something you want to skip due to a few fears.) My host took me to Venture River in Westmoreland, where many of the locals bathe and swim, and after while, I no longer even noticed or cared about the outdoor elements. I developed a free-thinking attitude that still helps me in facing issues of anxiety and fear in my personal and professional life.

I learned how to stretch a dollar and have fun without breaking the bank.

I once loved spending a pretty penny on an excursion, 3-course buffet, or Ledo-deck party, but, after becoming a freelancer and budding entrepreneur, I really could no longer afford these experiences. My network and loved ones chipped in to help me with the travel expenses not covered by my host for this trip, and to honor that, I made sure to buy groceries and seek free options for leisure. My host took me to beautiful free-access beaches like Negril Beach Park, where we could take fresh $2 sweet cocoabread and delicious saltfish we bought back in Sav from a seller affectionately called CocoaMan, and stop for $3 Red Stripes at local mom-and-pop shops, many owned by women. (One of my favorites was located on Archer Lane in a nearby town in Negril called Red Ground, and I loved that we were supporting women entrepreneurs.)

Bourbon Beach has free live entertainment and an amazing ambiance at night, and the water is clear, cool, and inviting. My host would cook authentic brown-stew chicken or my favorite curry shrimp with white rice on an outdoor stove, and we'd share meals under the moonlight with the sound of music coming from another local hangout I loved, the Uniqek Car Wash, Bar & Grill. That spot has plenty of Jamaica's finest white rum for a good price, a fun karaoke night where the locals are like family, and a chill vibe. We bought fresh loaves of hard-dough bread from Hammond's Pastry Place and enjoyed fruit, herbs, and veggies picked straight from trees or sold by local farmers, so there were few fears of additives in what I was eating.

I learned important lessons on discipline and flexibility.

I've had the pleasure of having a laundry machine and dryer within walking distance or in the homes I've lived in, so washing jeans, sheets and party dresses by hand can be humbling. There were monsoon-like rains and flooding for the first two weeks I was in Sav, so if I waited too long to wash my laundry, it might not get done or the clothes might get soaked and I'd have to wait another day to wear a favorite pair of shorts. I'd have to wake early to catch tea or breakfast being served, and I had to time my writing and meetings around weather delays and be prepared for power outages. When you are forced to improvise (or you lose work due to not being prepared,) you quickly learn how to take more initiative and rise earlier to get important things done.

​I had the freedom to be rawly me without feeling pressure to be refined or well-behaved.

I don't know about you, but I've never been able to skinny dip in a body of water at a resort before. I've always presented an image that I felt matched the five-star status and vibe of a resort. In Sav, I could walk around braless and wear beat-down shorts and my natural curly 'fro without feeling like I was out of place or out of order. I could be barefoot, listen to the latest reggae and dancehall tunes, watch a bike show, and support black- and women-owned businesses with ease. I could relate with everyday people who may not have the degrees, the big houses, and the high-powered positions people I'm used to vacationing with have, but could be the most welcoming, genuine, giving, and authentic people to be around. They had stories that empowered and inspired me, defying odds with a smile, tenacity, and determination to enjoy the simple things in life.

I could connect spiritually with myself and God, and the creative juices were on steroids.

At a resort, there's a lot of noise: the activities, the cocktails, the tourists. In Sav, I'd listen to the croaking of the tree frogs, or sit silently during a storm that caused the power to go off. My mind could connect with God in a way that wasn't possible for me during other travel experiences. Sometimes the AC would go out, and I'd be forced to focus on everything but the heat. I began writing poetry---something I hadn't done in 20 years---and I gained inspiration from being forced to be quiet, forced to look at the bigger picture, forced to endure and embrace things I had not before. As cliche as it may sound, I began to connect with the person I was before the deadlines, the pressures of career climbs, and the anxiety that can come with adulting. I could tap into the child in me---someone who was hopeful, fearless, and optimistic; someone who didn't fear bugs, being barefoot, or being naked.

I can't wait for my next adventure off the beaten path. I now love challenging myself and pushing my boundaries. Savannah-la-Mar has a special place in my heart that no five-star resort experience could compete with.

I'd encourage any woman who is trying to find freedom, authentic connection and spiritual growth to seek out travel experiences that force her out of her comfort zone and challenge her norms. Doing so saved my life and sparked a renewed self that I'm proud to continue nurturing. I was able to get back to the authentic Janell, rawly accepting who I am and embracing the journey to who I am to become.

Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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