Name: Melissa M. Valle
City/Country: New York, NY/ USA (Currently living in Cartagena, Colombia)
Occupation: Sociology Ph.D. candidate at Columbia University
Passport Stamps: Jordan, Egypt, Nigeria, Benin, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Mexico, El Caribe! (Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Curaçao, Aruba, Bahamas), Canada, England, Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands
1. My best travel memory so far: I remember being on the porch of a beach cabana in Cotonou, Benin on my first trip to the Motherland with a group of people that I literally didn’t know a few weeks prior (one of whom made my heart go pitty-pat), drinking beer, telling jokes, laughing like crazy and thinking “I don’t even know how I got here but it is friggin’ awesome that I am!”
2. Favorite Hotel & Why: I tend to do host-family or apartments when I travel so I don’t really have any great recs for hotels. But generally, if I do hotel/hostel it I look for some place clean, well-located, responsibly priced and safe. I really take to heart what people write in reviews on Trip Advisor and Hostel World. Great resources.
3. My must-haves on any flight are: I used to “sleep” on how good those neck pillows were but now I see how well you can actually sleep on those neck pillows. They’ll change your flight life. Definitely gotta have something to read and something to write with. And for the last few years I’ve been making sure to pack some snacks. I refuse to pay $10 for Pringles and I stay hungry up there.
4. When I’m on the road, I absolutely hate: This is going to sound ridiculous since I tend to keep it tropical, but mosquitoes are still the bane of my existence. My Brazilian host mom was the first one to call out my sweet blood. But when I’m not tripping off my #firstworldproblems I’m pained by the poverty I see when I’m on the move. I’m often face-to-face with some hard-core deprivation that tends to make me angry at the world.
Additionally, one of the greatest challenges I have when I’m abroad is dealing with people who have markedly different social and political views than I do. I can get caught up in my own circle of like-minded, what I’d call “progressive”, thinkers but then when I travel I’m reminded how folks’ views on race, gender, class, sexuality etc. can differ from my own. And sometimes I meet people I think are true douchebags and can get into some pretty strong debates with them that frustrate me.
5. My dream destination or vacation: It would be cool to take a true vacation (no writing, no projects) to Tahiti with a boo thang! Lol. And I’m really plotting on a way to get to South Africa because I’d just love to visit there. And I’ve yet to make my way to East Asia so that’s gotta be on the horizon too. I’ve still got so much world to see!
6. The three things I can’t travel without: 1) A Water filter of some kind (Bobble, Brita, etc.) 2) Cameras 3) Natural hair products
7. Top lesson learned while traveling: That whatever you think is “normal” can be immediately shattered when you step out of the confines of your comfortable space. We will make 1000 excuses (yes, some of which are super valid) for why someone else is able to go to a place we’ve longed to see. But if we want to experience the world beyond our immediate surroundings you can find a way to make it happen. I understand that when it comes to traveling often times baby steps are necessary. It ain’t for the faint of heart. But once you get beyond your comfort zone something that can enliven you awaits. I have been enriched by my travels, by the different characters I’ve met, the stories I’ve heard, and the nature I’ve seen. And now I’m thinking more about how to encourage and support others to take their own Carmen San Diego voyages.
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