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!


Before she was Amira Unplugged, rapper, singer, and a Becoming a Popstar contestant on MTV, she was Amira Daughtery, a twenty-five year-old Georgian, with aspirations of becoming a lawyer. “I thought my career path was going to lead me to law because that’s the way I thought I would help people,” Amira tells xoNecole. “[But] I always came back to music.”

A music lover since childhood, Amira grew up in an artistic household where passion for music was emphasized. “My dad has always been my huge inspiration for music because he’s a musician himself and is so passionate about the history of music.” Amira’s also dealt with deafness in one ear since she was a toddler, a condition which she says only makes her more “intentional” about the music she makes, to ensure that what she hears inside her head can translate the way she wants it to for audiences.

“The loss of hearing means a person can’t experience music in the conventional way,” she says. “I’ve always responded to bigger, bolder anthemic songs because I can feel them [the vibrations] in my body, and I want to be sure my music does this for deaf/HOH people and everyone.”

A Black woman wearing a black hijab and black and gold dress stands in between two men who are both wearing black pants and colorful jackets and necklaces

Amira Unplugged and other contestants on Becoming a Popstar

Amira Unplugged / MTV

In order to lift people’s spirits at the beginning of the pandemic, Amira began posting videos on TikTok of herself singing and using sign language so her music could reach her deaf fans as well. She was surprised by how quickly she was able to amass a large audience. It was through her videos that she caught the attention of a talent scout for MTV’s new music competition show for rising TikTok singers, Becoming a Popstar. After a three-month process, Amira was one of those picked to be a contestant on the show.

Becoming a Popstar, as Amira describes, is different from other music competition shows we’ve all come to know over the years. “Well, first of all, it’s all original music. There’s not a single cover,” she says. “We have to write these songs in like a day or two and then meet with our producers, meet with our directors. Every week, we are producing a full project for people to vote on and decide if they’d listen to it on the radio.”

To make sure her deaf/HOH audiences can feel her songs, she makes sure to “add more bass, guitar, and violin in unique patterns.” She also incorporates “higher pitch sounds with like chimes, bells, and piccolo,” because, she says, they’re easier to feel. “But it’s less about the kind of instrument and more about how I arrange the pattern of the song. Everything I do is to create an atmosphere, a sensation, to make my music a multi-sensory experience.”

She says that working alongside the judges–pop stars Joe Jonas and Becky G, and choreographer Sean Bankhead – has helped expand her artistry. “Joe was really more about the vocal quality and the timber and Becky was really about the passion of [the song] and being convinced this was something you believed in,” she says. “And what was really great about [our choreographer] Sean is that obviously he’s a choreographer to the stars – Lil Nas X, Normani – but he didn’t only focus on choreo, he focused on stage presence, he focused on the overall message of the song. And I think all those critiques week to week helped us hone in on what we wanted to be saying with our next song.”

As her star rises, it’s been both her Muslim faith and her friends, whom she calls “The Glasses Gang” (“because none of us can see!”), that continue to ground her. “The Muslim and the Muslima community have really gone hard [supporting me] and all these people have come together and I truly appreciate them,” Amira says. “I have just been flooded with DMs and emails and texts from [young muslim kids] people who have just been so inspired,” she says. “People who have said they have never seen anything like this, that I embody a lot of the style that they wanted to see and that the message hit them, which is really the most important thing to me.”

A Black woman wears a long, salmon pink hijab, black outfit and pink boots, smiling down at the camera with her arm outstretched to it.

Amira Unplugged

Amira Unplugged / MTV

Throughout the show’s production, she was able to continue to uphold her faith practices with the help of the crew, such as making sure her food was halal, having time to pray, dressing modestly, and working with female choreographers. “If people can accept this, can learn, and can grow, and bring more people into the fold of this industry, then I’m making a real difference,” she says.

Though she didn’t win the competition, this is only the beginning for Amira. Whether it’s on Becoming a Popstar or her videos online, Amira has made it clear she has no plans on going anywhere but up. “I’m so excited that I’ve gotten this opportunity because this is really, truly what I think I’m meant to do.”

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