Social media has become a haven to make money, and the travel game is no exception. More often than ever, I'm seeing more and more people who are acting as travel agents—planning and arranging group trips for strangers with absolutely no experience or knowledge about everything the job entails. The initial post or advertisement might look inviting---or you may even be loosely familiar with the organizers of the trip---but it's important to make sure that before you hand over your coins to someone with the expectation of flying to another part of the world, you're clear about what you're getting into.
I recently had someone close to me tell me about a Medellin, Colombia trip from hell with one of these "social media travel agents". They apparently threw local parties in her city and even organized a few domestic trips. So when they posted a flyer on Facebook to travel to the popular South American city, she was excited to go.
The price for the room was $550 with a $100 deposit requested in July to travel Memorial Day weekend of the following year. She paid her deposit but received no receipt or details about the trip upon payment. She says she figured she'd be patient since the last time she traveled with them, the details were released a few months prior to departure. January came around and she still had no info about living arrangements. She and other people in the group reached out to the organizers for months with no response.
Then things got down to the wire. Before she knew it, it was one month before it was time to leave and she still knew nothing about the hotel, excursions, or where the heck these people who'd taken her money had gone.
She says a week before the trip, they finally received Google spreadsheets detailing where they'd be staying but WITHOUT AN ADDRESS. They were left to figure that out on their own. Then, she arrived in Colombia where things got progressively worse. Four mansions were booked for 80 people—one of which was uninhabitable and bug infested. The rooms for the group were first come, first serve, and when she got to hers, it was about the size of a small walk-in closet ...WITH NO BATHROOM! All of the available beds ran out and one guy had to sleep on the couch in the living area.
She and the rest of the group finally heard from the organizers after being dodged for months. The correspondence wasn't to provide an explanation for the catastrophe. It was to let them know that they owed money for the airport shuttle. She was left with no choice but to pack up her stuff and check into the nearest affordable hotel.
The following day, she ran into one of the trip's organizers who completely gaslighted her and pretended to be unaware that there were any issues at all. She cut her losses and made the most of the rest of the trip, but needless to say, the experience was a wake-up call to be cautious when booking with a so-called "travel group or agency".
To help avoid situations like these, Joni Rials, founder of Seek and Sip Travel, has some tips on what to look out for and how to protect yourself:
Research the Agency Before Booking
"Nowadays, it's a little difficult to find out if an agency is reputable. You can check with the Better Business Bureau, but they are a privately owned business where consumers can report and post positive and negative business interactions," she says. "Many times, you just have to balance the positive with the negative interactions. I would suggest Google searching the agency you plan to book with to see if they have any pending lawsuits with the state. Also, reach out to people you may know, ask about their previous experiences and look online for reviews."
Get Travel Insurance and a Good Credit Card
"When you purchase travel insurance, reach out and ask if that particular travel agency is on the 'do not book list'. All insurance companies have those lists. If you're a frequent traveler, consider purchasing a bi-annual policy. It gives you all of the same benefits that you'd get with a single policy except your limits are higher. Also, having a good travel credit card can be a lifesaver in instances like this. Many good travel cards cover expenses if you call and explain that you've arrived at your destination, didn't receive what you paid for, and were forced to make other arrangements. You can also call your bank and tell them the issue, file a claim, and receive your money back."
Look into Their Presence Online & Always Get Proof of Payment
"After you've paid for your trip, you should always receive a confirmation email from the agency that details the entire trip including the destination, the hotel with the address, the kind of room you paid for, the length of your stay, etc. If you never receive a receipt for what you paid for, consider it a red flag! Also, do not ever Cash App or Zelle anyone when paying for a trip. You basically just gave someone cash to run off with."
"Take a look at the company's social media profile and website before booking with them. Ask yourself how it makes you feel. What are the quality of their posts? Do they seem like a well-thought-out brand? Obviously, if they haven't put in the effort to update their posts or their website in six months to a year, this might be an indication that they also won't put much effort into making sure they plan quality trips for their clients."
If Things Go Bad, Know How to Build a Case
"Not only should you be aware of how your insurance and credit card work, but if you get into a situation where you end up booking with a shady agency, it is important to know how to build a case. When you're on a group trip and everyone is disgruntled, try and get statements from people. This way you have proof to corroborate your story and it doesn't turn into a 'my word vs. theirs' situation. Take plenty of photos of your living arrangements, chat up the front desk attendant or manager at your new hotel and see what they have to say about the seedy hotel you had to check out of. The more evidence you have, the stronger your claim.
"Finally, you'd be surprised at how many people book trips without getting the full names and emergency contact numbers of the people doing the planning. Don't be naive! Find out who you're booking with before handing over your money."
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Tiffany D. Smith is a TV journalist by day and food and travel influencer by night from Chicago, IL. Since being bitten by the travel bug a few years ago, she uses her blog TheLoveofFoodandTravel.com to encourage people to release their fears, step out of their comfort zones, and explore new places and great food. When Tiffany isn't working in live TV or blogging, she enjoys kickboxing, watching 70's shows, and spending time with friends and family. Keep up with her @loveoffoodandtravel on IG.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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Have you ever been in a relationship with someone and felt so deeply connected to them? Everything about the relationship was intense – good or bad? Then you might be in a part of a soul tie.
The concept of a soul tie binds individuals on a level beyond a relationship's physical and emotional aspects; it’s more than a mere connection. You can form a soul tie with anyone – lover, friend, colleague, etc.- but we are discussing romantic partners for this article. Think of you and your partner as an intensely burning flame. The flame can burn passionately to light the relationship’s way or chaotically burn everything in its path. Either way, it leaves an indelible mark on the souls involved.
A soul tie should not be confused with the term “soulmate.” The main difference is that a soul tie can be positive or negative, while a soulmate is a mutual, harmonious connection. Unlike a soul tie, a soulmate relationship is generally characterized by mutual understanding, support, and shared values.
However, the more we learn about soul ties, the more it becomes evident that they are not monolithic; they vary in nature and intensity. As someone who has experienced a negative soul tie, it is crucial to discern whether they contribute positively to personal growth or hinder you from flourishing.
If Your Soul Tie Is Positive
A positive soul tie creates a deep and affirming connection between individuals. One key indicator of a positive soul tie is effective communication. If you’re experiencing a positive soul tie, a shared understanding fosters open and honest dialogue, contributing to a sense of connection and support.
Mutual growth is another hallmark of a positive soul tie. When individuals in a relationship encourage each other's personal development and evolution, it signifies a positive and uplifting connection. This mutual support leads to an environment where both parties can thrive individually and together, contributing to the overall health of the soul tie.
Emotional security is a crucial element in identifying a positive soul tie. In such connections, individuals feel a deep sense of trust and comfort with each other. This emotional security forms a stable foundation for the relationship, allowing both parties to express vulnerability and foster a strong, positive bond. These three indicators—effective communication, mutual growth, and emotional security—underscore the positivity inherent in a healthy and affirming soul tie.
If Your Soul Tie Is Negative
A negative soul tie manifests as a detrimental and draining connection between individuals. One clear sign of a negative soul tie is the presence of emotional turmoilwithin the relationship. When the connection becomes a source of constant distress, causing emotional upheaval and hindering personal development, it indicates a negative soul tie.
Codependency is another red flag for a negative soul tie. In such connections, individuals may become overly reliant on each other, impeding their ability to thrive independently. Codependency often leads to unhealthy dependencies and can result in a toxic dynamic that hinders both individuals' growth and well-being.
A lack of effective communication is a third indicator of a negative soul tie. When there is a breakdown in communication, misunderstandings and unresolved issues can fester, contributing to a strained and unhealthy connection. In negative soul ties, the absence of open and honest dialogue can perpetuate a cycle of negativity and prevent the resolution of underlying issues. These three indicators—emotional turmoil, codependency, and poor communication—point to the negativity associated with an unhealthy soul tie.
Putting Out The Fires And Breaking Your Soul Tie
Unfortunately, my deep, intense connection only caused destruction. And despite the obvious red flags, it took a minute before I broke the connection. Why? Because I was addicted to the relationship, we both were. But it is possible to break a soul tie if and when you are ready because if you are not, pretending you are when you are not is a waste of your time.
Breaking a soul tie requires intentional and purposeful actions. Establishing clear and firm boundaries is a fundamental step in severing the connection. By limiting contact and emotional engagement with the person involved, individuals can gradually weaken the tie and create space for personal growth.
Seeking professional support is another effective strategy to break a soul tie. Guidance from therapists or counselors provides valuable insights and coping strategies. Professional assistance can help individuals navigate the emotional challenges associated with breaking a soul tie, offering a structured and supportive environment for healing.
Redirecting energy toward personal growth is important in breaking free from a soul tie. Engaging in activities that promote individual well-being and create a sense of independence allows individuals to refocus their attention on their own growth and development. This redirection of energy is essential for breaking the emotional bonds of a soul tie and moving towards a healthier, more fulfilling life.
The last step I advise everyone to go through is the mourning period. My partner and I did our song and dance for years before I walked away. And I would be lying if I didn’t say that I mourned our relationship while I healed.
Recognizing the presence and nature of a soul tie in your relationship is crucial to understanding its impact on your well-being. Whether positive or negative, the intensity of a soul tie can shape the course of your personal growth and happiness. Breaking free from a negative soul tie demands intentional efforts, from setting clear boundaries to seeking professional support. Redirecting energy toward personal growth and allowing oneself a necessary mourning period are vital steps toward healing and liberation from the intricate ties that bind.
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