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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.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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