Once more, I stared at the flight confirmation window on my laptop, confirming that I did indeed just book a flight to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic — all by myself. Ay dios míoooo.
Trying to salvage the situation and quell the waves of anxiety that kept overcoming me, I repeatedly reassured myself that I could always ask a friend to buy a ticket and join me. But, I wanted to do this. I have been traveling a lot lately, especially taking short international weekend trips, and solo travel had been on my bucket list for several months now. After reading, "Why Every Woman Should Travel Alone At Least Once In Her Life", I decided that this was my chance.
The question was: where would I begin?
Just like our readers, I also turn to xoNecole for life, career, and travel advice and decided to do a little digging. Luckily enough, I found a fewdope articles about solo travel that I used to plan every stage of my first solo trip.
Lydia Lee (@hello_lydia)
Like Zaniah suggests in this article, research and schedule drafting were extremely important to me in the beginning stages of my trip planning. So much seems out of your control while solo traveling like making new friends, finding your way around, and ensuring your safety.
Proactive planning is your greatest chance at regaining some of this control. The week before my trip, I sat down for over an hour and drafted an in-depth schedule detailing every single day of my trip and what I intended to do. Friday: pool and spa day, Saturday: walking tour, Sunday: beach trip, etc. Although my planned schedule would ultimately do a complete 180° upon arrival, I felt 100% more comfortable with my plans and was able to begin budgeting and booking tours in advance.
Pro Tip: Safety > Penny Pinching
When it came to booking a place to stay, upon reading this article, I also decided to prioritize staying in a reputable hotel with a concierge and security team. I'm usually the first person to book a cheap Airbnb to save money, but since I was traveling alone, I did not want to leave anything to chance. I even prescheduled taxi service to pick me up from the airport since my flight arrived while it was still dark outside.
No precaution is too great – it's better to over-prepare and tone it down rather than feel like you did not do enough and be left in compromised situations.
Although I did not end up booking my trip to any locations on Jovania's compilation of bucket list destinations, I started my search with the 10 cities and countries she recommended. Should I visit Barcelona, Milan, or Montreal? Where could I take a quick trip and get the most bang for my buck?
After reading 10 Places You Can Travel To & Get Warm This Winter, I knew that I definitely wanted to go somewhere tropical. I spent about a week researching San Nicolas, Aruba and San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, as both are known to be international locations that are relatively female solo traveler friendly.
Upon doing some research, I decided that I wanted to be in the Caribbean so I could take a direct flight from New York. I also knew that I wanted to visit a Spanish-speaking country, so Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic quickly jumped to the top of my list. After a ridiculously cheap direct flight to Santo Domingo, DR popped up on my Skyscanner app ($240!), I knew that my fate was sealed.
Char's article was where my solo travel fantasies all began. At the beginning of her article, she touches on the freedom of solo traveling, and she couldn't have been more accurate.
Solo traveling feels a little rebellious and selfish in the best way. You have complete say over where you do and don't go, when and who you interact with, how much of the bed you take up and when to leave it… You can take the time to self-reflect or completely immerse yourself in new projects. The choice is yours.
I spent so much energy worrying about what could go wrong as I was originally planning out my trip, but all of my fears were silenced as soon as I had the chance to stop, reflect, and fully embrace the experience – the independence was almost intoxicating. I don't think I have ever felt more free.
Lydia Lee (@hello_lydia)
Everyone jokes about the almost satirical self-reflective component of solo traveling, but my personal rendition of the #eatpraylove experience totally caught me off-guard. I went out of my way to make time every day to spend uninterrupted time by myself either by the pool, or during breakfast in the hotel sky lounge to simply reflect. No work, no companions, just me.
On my first day of self-reflection, I found myself reflecting on my goals, progress, and challenges over the past few months in the most kind, self-forgiving manner that I could ever remember. I'm incredibly hard on myself, and for the first time, I felt that I could truly "see" all of the progress I was making. I felt comfortable with the steps I was taking to achieve them. I felt genuinely proud of myself for some of my recent achievements. And, especially proud that I felt brave enough to take this solo trip.
After my second day of self-reflection, I found myself going much deeper. Almost three years after my grandfather's death, I finally grieved. I let thoughts of him fill my mind and allowed myself to feel the pain. This emotional vulnerability then let me feel the pain of past heartbreak and other disappointments that I told myself didn't matter. This emotional detox was way overdue, but much needed.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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This article is in partnership with Meta Elevate.
If you’ve been on the internet at all within the past decade, chances are the names Hey Fran Hey and Shameless Maya (aka Maya Washington) have come across your screen. These content creators have touched every platform on the web, spreading joy to help women everywhere live their best lives. From Fran’s healing natural remedies to Maya’s words of wisdom, both of these content creators have built a loyal following by sharing honest, useful, and vulnerable content. But in search of a life that lends to more creativity, freedom, and space, these digital mavens have moved from their bustling big cities (New York City and Los Angeles respectively) to more remote locations, taking their popular digital brands with them.
Content Creators Hey Fran Hey and Maya Washington Talk "Embracing The Pivot"www.youtube.com
In partnership with Meta Elevate — an online learning platform that provides Black, Hispanic, and Latinx-owned businesses access to 1:1 mentoring, digital skills training, and community — xoNecole teamed up with Franscheska Medina and Maya Washington on IG live recently for a candid conversation about how they’ve embraced the pivot by changing their surroundings to ultimately bring out the best in themselves and their work. Fran, a New York City native, moved from the Big Apple to Portland, Oregon a year ago. Feeling overstimulated by the hustle and bustle of city life, Fran headed to the Pacific Northwest in search of a more easeful life.
Her cross-country move is the backdrop for her new campaign with Meta Elevate— a perfectly-timed commercial that shows how you can level up from wherever you land with the support of free resources like Meta Elevate. Similarly, Maya packed up her life in Los Angeles and moved to Sweden, where she now resides with her husband and adorable daughter. Maya’s life is much more rural and farm-like than it had been in California, but she is thriving in this peaceful new setting while finding her groove as a new mom.
While Maya is steadily building and growing her digital brand as a self-proclaimed “mom coming out of early retirement,” Fran is redefining her own professional grind. “It’s been a year since I moved from New York City to Portland, Oregon,” says Fran. “I think the season I’m in is figuring out how to stay successful while also slowing down.” A slower-paced life has unlocked so many creative possibilities and opportunities for these ladies, and our conversation with them is a well-needed reminder that your success is not tied to your location…especially with the internet at your fingertips. Tapping into a community like Meta Elevate can help Black, Hispanic, and Latinx entrepreneurs and content creators stay connected to like minds and educated on new digital skills and tools that can help scale their businesses.
During a beautiful moment in the conversation, Fran gives Maya her flowers for being an innovator in the digital space. Back when “influencing” was in its infancy and creators were just trying to find their way, Fran says Maya was way ahead of her time. “I give Maya credit for being one of the pioneers in the digital space,” Fran said. “Maya is a one-person machine, and I always tell her she really changed the game on what ads, campaigns, and videos, in general, should look like.”
When asked what advice she’d give content creators, Maya says the key is having faith even when you don’t see the results just yet. “It’s so easy to look at what is, despite you pouring your heart into this thing that may not be giving you the returns that you thought,” she says. “Still operate from a place of love and authenticity. Have faith and do the work. A lot of people are positive thinkers, but that’s the thinking part. You also have to put your faith into work and do the work.”
Fran ultimately encourages content creators and budding entrepreneurs to take full advantage of Meta Elevate’s vast offerings to educate themselves on how to build and grow their businesses online. “It took me ten years to get to the point where I’m making ads at this level,” she says. “I didn’t have those resources in 2010. I love the partnership with Meta Elevate because they’re providing these resources for free. I just think of the people that wouldn’t be able to afford that education and information otherwise. So to amplify a company like this just feels right.”
Watch the full conversation with the link above, and join the Meta Elevate community to connect with fellow businesses and creatives that are #OnTheRiseTogether.
Featured image courtesy of Shameless Maya and Hey Fran Hey
Have you ever wondered if real love is like a romance novel? For Kai, 50, and Hicham, 46, Bouhmad, it is. Kai, who is an adventurer at heart, meets a stranger who believes she would be a great match for his friend, who happens to be Hicham. They connected on Facebook and, after a few exchanges, decided to meet, and while they had a great first date and continued dating shortly after, adventure was calling, and Kai decided to break it off.
However, six years later, another stranger would bring them together, and they reconnected. We can agree that at this point, they were meant to be, and in ten short months, they got married on Valentine’s Day.
Sounds like something out of a novel, right? xoNecole had the opportunity to chat with the lovely couple about their wedding, reconnecting, and having a second chance at love.
Photo courtesy of Kai and Hicham Bouhmad
Kai and Hicham on Meeting for the First Time
Kai and Hicham got married on February 14, 2023, in Honolulu, Hawaii in an intimate ceremony, and plan on having a reception in Morocco, Hicham’s home country, later on. One of their wedding guests was the person responsible for their union, Hicham’s friend Karim. Kai reflected on that day when they met.
“I was at a party, and a guy walked in and was like, what’s going on in here? And I was like, well, this is a salon party for the salon that just opened, and they had free food and stuff, and I was like do you want some food?” Kai shares.
When they began talking, Kareem brought up Hicham. “He was like, 'I have a friend that I want to introduce you to if you’re single,' and I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds cool.’ So, he was like, 'Well, I’m gonna send you his Facebook information. If you guys can talk on Facebook and see how you guys like each other.' So, that was six years ago, and we talked, and we got along pretty well, and then we started dating.”
Kai and Hicham Describe Their First Date
Because both of them are into the arts, they decided to go to the movies on their first date. At that time, Loving was in theaters, and according to Kai, she knew when she saw him that she wanted to marry him. “I just had that feeling,” she reveals.
Hicham also recalls their “wonderful” date that extended after the movies at a nearby restaurant. “It was a wonderful moment when we made eye contact,” he says.
Photo courtesy of Kai and Hicham Bouhmad
Their Breakup and Reconnection
While Kai saw Hicham as her husband, she wasn’t ready to settle down, but Hicham was. So, they decided to go their separate ways, and Kai began traveling the world. But little did she know that six years later, she would see him again. This time, Kai was visiting an art gallery that had just opened up and began talking to the art gallery owner.
“She [art gallery owner] said, ‘I’m having an art opening, the studio just opened, and we’re having a party next week, and you should come, and my boyfriend has a lot of friends, maybe I’ll introduce you to some of his friends,’ and I was like ‘Oh, okay,’ Kai recalls.
“And at this time, I had already booked my ticket to go to Morocco to explore by myself, solo travel. So I said, 'Oh yeah, this will be fun.' This was in April, and my trip to Morocco was just in August. So, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll come to your little party, I’m there.’ I’m talking, and then she said 'Oh, my boyfriend is here, and here’s one of his friends.' One of his friends was Hicham.”
This happened on April 23, 2022, and they have been together ever since.
When Hicham reappeared in her life, Kai knew she was now ready to settle down. “I honestly got tired of doing stuff by myself. I was tired, everything I have to do by myself, and I just got tired of that,” Kai explains. “I just felt like I really wanted a partner who’s really supportive and generous and kind, and I really wanted a partner that was by my side.
One of the ways that Hicham convinced Kai to give him another shot was when he wore a cactus shirt to her house, which showed the journalist how much he paid attention to her. “I love cactuses ‘cause it reminds me of the desert. It’s bohemian, I love desert cactuses. When he showed up with a cactus shirt on, I just could not resist,” she says. “That sounds cheesy and cliche and might sound silly, but it just symbolized that he knows me deeply and what I love and paid attention to stuff I care about even though it was silly. That meant a lot.”
Not long after, Hicham knew it was time to pop the question. “Kai gave me [an] indication that she was ready, and so that’s how that all happened.” He continues, “dropping hints, and she was pretty much ready, and I proposed to her.”
Kai admits that they planned their engagement together, including ring shopping, engagement photos, etc.
Photo courtesy of Kai and Hicham Bouhmad
Advice on Finding Love Again
This is both Kai’s and Hicham’s second marriages, and they gave advice on finding love the second time around. They both share the same sentiment about being open and optimistic. Both come from different cultural backgrounds and while that alone could have held them back from pursuing one another, they were open to love.
“Get out of your comfort zone and don’t limit yourself and don’t fear to fail because from failure you learn to build yourself up,” Hicham says.
And at the end of the day, it’s important to establish a friendship first. “Another [piece of] advice, just make sure you like the person,” Kai says, “and that’s really important because you have to make sure even if you have a disagreement or arguments, at the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, do I like this person? And just make sure you really like them.”
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Feature image courtesy of Kai and Hicham Bouhmad