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I Did Everything You’re NOT Supposed To Do On My First Solo Travel Adventure

I wanted an adventure! And, boy, did I have one.

Life & Travel

I looked back at the hotel, once, then twice, truly questioning if I was going to abandon all of the rules I had set for myself prior to leaving for my first solo trip. I had watched Taken, received countless lectures about the dangers of solo traveling as a young single woman, was fully aware that what I was about to do could backfire in my face, and yet, here I was throwing all of my self-preservation and home-training out of the window.

"Are you coming?" he asked, opening the car door for me.

"Sure!"

Let me preface this article by explaining that I'm typically not a reckless person nor do I advocate for intentionally putting yourself in harm's way, but an overwhelming amount of the research and "do's and dont's" I received prior to leaving for my trip seemed too stringent for this particular vacation. While most "rules" were grounded in ensuring my overall safety, I did not want to travel to a mainstream, touristy location. I did not want to solely interact with the guests in the hotel. I did not want to just stay by the pool the entire trip.

Whether I was going alone or taking others with me, I was going. I wanted an adventure! And, boy, did I have one. Here are 5 solo travel rules that I broke on my first trip to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, that ultimately led to me having one of my favorite vacations so far:

“Stay on the premises around the resort.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

The funniest part about this first rule is that I actually believed I was going to stay put all weekend. Prior to my trip, I had researched the hotel spa and all of the wonderful amenities on the grounds and pictured myself relaxing and winding down from all of the craziness that is New York City.

Fast-forward one hour into my trip, I had already met someone by the pool and we were making plans to explore the Colonial Zone of Santo Domingo.

To me, the best part about solo traveling is that you have total autonomy over your free time. No more waiting for your girls to get ready. No more skipping museums because your friends don't like history. No more sharing a messy hotel room with multiple people. If you want to socialize and explore with others you can, but if you want to rest and relax by yourself, no one is stopping you.

Tip: As great as the hotels and resorts are, don't be entirely against exploring the local areas. The true culture of a city you're visiting often is not fully realized when solely staying in the hotel. If you're nervous about exploring by yourself or going with someone you recently met, try scheduling a walking, bike, or bus tour on Viator.

“Don’t leave the hotel with people you don’t know.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

The #1 rule I seemed to receive from most people prior to embarking on my solo trip seemed to revolve around the very real dangers of sex trafficking and date rape.

While not to be taken lightly, I met a guy from Toronto who was around my age, was in the DR on business, had a car, and also wanted to explore – all within one hour of arriving at the hotel. Conventional wisdom should have led me to decline exploring a foreign country with someone I barely knew, but for better or worse, his vibe seemed genuine. I trusted him.

Throughout the time I was there, we went onto explore the colonial ruins of the Santo Domingo, went shopping in local markets, listened to local music performances, and later drove an hour away to take a day trip to the beach in Boca Chica. Had our time together gone sour or I actually ended up in a dangerous situation, perhaps I would feel differently about interacting with men I don't know. But, for this particular trip, it made the difference.

Tip: Trust your gut. If someone or something makes you uncomfortable, steer clear. But, if you happen to meet someone and the vibe seems right, and most importantly, you feel safe, don't entirely discount leaning in.

“Foreign cities are dangerous. Avoid interacting with the locals.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

Particularly in regard to Santo Domingo, I read a lot on the city and reputation before this vacation. My decision to travel to Santo Domingo was primarily cost driven – my flight was only $240! But, unlike other cities in Puerto Rico and Costa Rica, the travel reviews I read on a number of blogs were less than favorable, especially in regard to safety.

This just might be me, but I feel like every city is "dangerous" in certain areas. Whenever I tell people from my hometown that I live in Brooklyn, they ask if I feel safe since it's supposedly "dangerous". As with any urban metropolis, I often ask people who actually live in a respective city to tell me where to explore and which areas to avoid. Using suggestions from Dominican staff and visitors at the hotel, I then tailored my list of places to visit in Santo Domingo, and it turned out great.

Prior to my trip, I wasn't expecting to love the local culture as much as I did. My family is originally from Jamaica and I felt a surprisingly comparable vibe between parts of Santo Domingo, DR and Kingston and Spanish Town, JA where my parents are from. Like Kingston, a large majority of the city is black or of some variation of black descent, and I really felt like I belonged (when I wasn't speaking Spanglish of course). I would ask questions, try different types of foods, and attempt to start up conversations with a number of people I met throughout my trip. Their warmth and overall friendliness really made a huge impact on my experience. Honestly, it might have made the whole trip.

“Be wary of consuming local foods and drinks.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

Similar to the above point, local is not synonymous with unclean or unsafe.

I remember meeting a lady in the hotel who was complaining, going on and on, about how dirty she heard the fruits and vegetables were and how she only wanted to eat food prepared directly in front of her. While water purity can be an issue in some countries, I feel like it's a waste to travel thousands of miles away to a foreign country just to eat chicken nuggets and Cheerios.

I probably ate and drank my whole trip – fried fish on the beach, mangu and salami, papayas, guava, mangoes, rum punch, mojitos, piña coladas – you name it, I had it. And, it was glorious.

Tip: Don't be lame. Try new foods and drinks! If you have concerns about water purity and food sanitation, bottled water and beverages are easily accessible and avoid eating food that has been sitting out for a while.

“Try not to stand out.”

Courtesy of Lydia Lee

While my skin color may have allowed me to blend in most spaces, it was pretty apparent that I was a tourist (especially when taking pictures). But, I don't think being a tourist is inherently a bad thing.

I believe that there is a big difference between being a tourist who simply visits versus appreciates a new place. I have visited countries where tourists are blatantly rude and disrespectful, leaving trash everywhere and talking down to locals. I felt in my core that I loved where I was visiting, tried my best to speak their language, and projected positivity and appreciation overall.

This does not mean walking around naively, flashing money or behaving in ways to attract negative attention, but it does mean not being afraid to engage with those around you and to stand out.

Tip: Being street smart does not mean completely shutting yourself off from the local environment around you. If you feel it's appropriate, don't be afraid to take pictures or even ask someone to take pictures of you. Again, be aware and read the overall vibe, but don't let fear and misconceptions stop you from exploring the world.

Featured Image by Lydia Lee (@hello_lydia).

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Originally published on March 9, 2019

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
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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