I Traveled To 6 Countries In 16 Days

Life & Travel

I once read a quote that said, 'I always wondered why birds can stay in the same place when they can fly anywhere on earth. Then I ask myself the same question.' That quote alone made me want to travel and see the world, and not only share my experiences as a traveler, but also share those of others who have explored different cities and cultures.

Michelle A. Smith @Theshiftstarter, a frequent traveler who took a 16 day, 6 country trip by herself. This is her story.

Hello, My name is Michelle from Brooklyn, NY. In my 33 years of life, I have already visited 6 continents, 32 countries and 104 cities. My most memorable travel story was last year when I decided to not wait for a travel companion or friends, picked up and decided to take a 16 Thai Royaltyday, 6 country trip by myself. I started in Moscow, Russia to Singapore to Bali, Indonesia, to Thailand to Hong Kong and ended in Dubai.

The thought of traveling by myself was terrifying, much less actually doing it. As a black female from the city, I stuck out like a sore thumb, especially in Russia where they stared at me as if I was an alien from outer space. However, I decided before I started this journey, that I was going to be open, courageous, embrace change and be still enough to absorb the experience. My trip went from me being "the cheese that stood alone" to "the life of the party." I had dinner with Balinese children for Christmas, dressed in Royal Thai garb for New Years, scuba dived in Kho Phi Phi Islands and rode on camels in the desert of Dubai.

There are a few things that made this thee most memorable trip:

1. You learn so much about yourself being alone. What you think are your weaknesses actually evolve into your strengths.

2. Your navigation and memory skills are sharpened because you have no one to depend on to help you find your way (I watched the movie "Taken" several times.)

3. You wake up on your own time, make your own plans and never have to worry about someone's opinion on what you should/not do.

4. Your 'cultural awareness' bucket starts to overflow, making you eager to learn different languages, try new foods and different ways of life.

5. People gravitate to you because they are just in "AWE" that you are brave enough to roll solo in a foreign country. You meet people from all walks of life and make new friendships and connections.

Once I returned home, I was proud of myself for conquering another fear. I encourage others, if you are going to get to the next level in life, to move out of your own way, get out of your comfort zone and DO.IT.AFRAID.

Here are some tips I have for people who are interested in traveling to the countries I visited:

1) As an avid traveler the key to getting the most bang for your buck is to find airlines and flights with multiple and long layovers. That allows you to leave the airport and tour a country you may not necessarily want to stay at.

2) Moscow, Russia - You need a visa to leave the airport. Unfortunately, due to the weather, my flight was delayed coming in so I didn't have enough time to leave, tour, and get back in time for my connecting flight. I learned the hard way that this culture is not very warm and friendly. If you look different they will stare. Don't expect small talk or/and English translation while you wait either. I spent 3 hours there and couldn't wait to board my flight to Singapore and put such an unfriendly experience behind me. This is not a "tourist friendly" country.fish manicure

3) Singapore - The Singapore airport gives a free 3 or 5 hour tour from the airport to the river with a cruise around the city. My phone died before I got on the boat...no pics captured. Singapore is what I describe as the Mr. Clean version of New York. The entire city is spotless. While it was a pleasure to visit, I didn't absorb the culture.

4) Bali, Indonesia - I arrived here on Christmas Eve. This country is like one big, outdoor spa. Depending on your interests and tastes, there are certain parts of the country, like Ubud,  dedicated to yoga and meditation (where they shot the movie Eat, Pray, Love). Then there are parts like Nusa Dua for rest, relaxation and beaches, where you get $10 full body massages for 2 hours! Bali is also big on the fish manicure and pedicure! I didn't last more than 1 min! After 4 days here you definitely leave with clear mind and your body feels rejuvenate.


5. Thailand - I brought in New Years in Bangkok and while I am a New York City gal, this city was a little too gritty for me. The one thing to know about Bangkok is that food is prepared outside on the street. The inner OCD in me was very skeptical at first because my thoughts were, "Where is the food being cleaned and prepared?" However,  ironically, there are very few cases where people actually get sick from eating the street food.

If you grab a hotel along the Sukhumvit, you will be right in the middle of everything,

Krabi, Thailand 2

including Bangkok's very immaculate train stations. Take the river ferry and visit 'The Grand Palace' in Wat Pho, where you will see the largest reclining Buddha. Remember, this is a temple and very sacred to the Buddhist religion, so arms and legs have to be covered to even enter the gates. On your way back, be sure to get off the river boat and visit the Lubua Hotel. Their rooftop is AMAZING and it's also where the scene was shot for the "Hangover 2" (on those infamous steps overlooking Bangkok).

I also flew to a small island called 'Krabi'  and rented a room in a small guesthouse. Krabi is similar to Phuket, a small beach town. There I took a catamaran to go scuba diving in the Kho Phi Phi islands. For anyone who is a certified scuba diver, the reef here is AMAZING! I saw my first large octopus ever, no sharks siting though. Also, in Thailand, elephants are considered sacred animals. Here you will get a chance to ride one, which was so cool!


6. Hong Kong - I had a 15 hour layover in Hong Kong, so I stored my luggage in an airport locker, grabbed a train map, bought a train ticket, converted some money and grand palace, reclining buddhaheaded into the city. The cool thing about Hong Kong, much like Singapore, is that mostly everyone speaks English. It is a metropolis with lots of ex-pats who are there to work. I didn't notice much fog but the city was buzzing. 'Lan Kwai Fong' is similar to midtown Manhattan, lots of bars, restaurants and music blasting into the streets. A great place to meet people and have China's largest jello shot! I partied at a club here, until the wee hours of the morning, then hopped in a cab and went back to the airport to catch my flight to Dubai.


7. Dubai - I LOVE Emirates Airline. I flew them to Dubai and South Africa before, so I knew what to expect on my 2nd visit here. Emirates put me up in a hotel since my flight back home wasn't for another 23 hours. I went to the travel desk and booked a desert trek for 8 hours. There was ATV riding, camel riding, then a dinner and show right in the middle of the desert. What caught me off guard was how cold the desert gets at night, so always look at temperatures and don't assume warm places don't get cold.

Dubai Camel and ATV (2)

My stats are:

16 days

6 countries

7 cities

9 flights

68 hours of flying time

4 country visas

6 currency conversions

3 language translations

1 helluva jet lag to recover from

...this trip was so worth it and I would do it over in a heartbeat!

If you have any questions or comments regarding the different cities or Michelle's travel experience, feel free to drop them in the comments!


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.


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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