Hello, fellow traveler! Aloha, konnichiwa, namaste, nǐ hǎo, guten tag, salve, annyeonghaseyo, hola, and all the rest!
My parents are both from Trinidad and Tobago, a wonderful, crazy, fantastic, full-of-life island in the Caribbean/West Indies. They moved to Washington, DC for schooling, and met there, and married. Metropolitan DC is where I grew up. I currently live in Tennessee, USA, but would love to travel again.
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Most of my childhood was spent traveling between my parents' homeland and the States, and around the states to visit various family members. That is, when we were not in school. I know a fair bit about Trinidad, and of course about the States as well. I have also visited Venice, Italy, various parts of Greece, Acapulco and various parts of Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.
I predominately speak English, a little bit of Italian and Japanese, and I know American Sign Language. I also know bits and pieces of the following languages:
- Russian (Church Slavonic)
- Mandarin Chinese (I think.)
Please note, I will not be able to hold any form of conversation in these languages.
One day, I hope to travel around the world. Here are some of the places I'd like to go:
Tips and Tricks
General Travel Tips
- Know the place you're going to. Seems obvious. Do a little research. What areas are dangerous? What can you expect from the countrymen?
- Speak the Native Language. Take a crash-course if you have to, or make sure to have a translator with you. One who's not skeezy or willing to lose you in a crowd. Knowing the basics (think: "I'm learning to speak insertLanguage, can you help me?" and "Where is (this hotel / the bathroom / etc)?") will help tremendously.
- Being familiar with your destination can help reduce costs. This goes hand in hand with the above, and I'll explain why. Foriegners are often charged 1.5x-3x as much as natives for the same services. When I was a kid, when we visited Trinidad, if we were to take a maxi-taxi, the usual fare was around 6 TT. That is only if my brothers and I didn't speak. The moment we spoke the maxi-taxi fare became 20.00 TT. Why? Because although we looked like natives, we didn't have an accent. If we didn't have an accent, we weren't native. If we're not native, we're here for a trip, a visit, some tourism. That means we have money to burn. Sometimes it's obvious if you're a foreigner, so you can't help it much. On the other hand, in some places (see: France) the natives are more willing to help if you speak their native language. If you ask for something in a language they don't speak, when you're in their country... well, why bother to help you, if you couldn't even learn the national language? Sure, they speak English, too, but why didn't you learn their language?
- Always Pack an Overnight Kit into your carry-on luggage. Has the airport ever lost your luggage? No? Lucky you, it's a nightmare. Always pack an overnight kit (toothbrush, toothpaste, change of underwear, brush or comb, medicine, shower-cap, make-up/cologne if necessary) into your carry-on. That way, if your luggage misses the flight, you have something to go off of for a day, while your luggage catches up to you. Yes, the hotel will have these to sell to you. They will also charge you 3-5x as much for these items as you would have paid at home.
- Going to the Beach? Baby Oil will help take sand off of you without much hassle.
- Wet/muddy shoes during travel? wrap your shoes in your shower-cap to avoid getting mud on or dampening your clean clothes.
- Any walking at all? Sneakers. Not "tennis shoes", not crocs, not flip-flops, not sandals, and definitely not those cute high-heels you've been dying to try out. Good old-fashioned sneakers. Buy a pair if you have to. Once you start walking, you could get lost, need directions, find yourself in a back-alley bar, with no idea how to get back to the hotel. Your 15 minute stroll just turned into two-and-a-half hours trying to find your way back. Seriously, if you have to walk, wear sneakers.
- If it sounds strange, try it. You'll never know until you try. And there's got to be some reason that the locals like it. Right?
- Use the metro-rail, and it's faster and smarter to go ahead and invest in one of the Metro SmarTrip Cards if you are staying in the Metro DC area for any extended length of time (5 days or longer).
- Do not go to Anacostia.
- It is cheaper to find a hotel in Metro DC than DC itself. Northern VA (where I grew up) has an extensive bus system which can take you to the Metro stops; DC also has a metro bus system. The extra 45 minutes by bus/metro-train is worth it, compared to the hassle and danger of getting a hotel in the middle of DC. I would suggest a hotel in Springfield, VA, Vienna/Fairfax, VA, or Silver Springs, MD.
- There is very little available parking in DC, as it is a metropolitan area. See bullet 3.
- Plan for multiple days to visit the Smithsonians. There is a lot to see. If your kids are hesitant about going to a learning place, take them to this website for convincing. ;D
- Visit during Carnival, but plan a year ahead! Seriously. The rates for hotels double and triple during that time, as we know that we will have visitors from around the world. It is entirely worth it. If you're going to go into the streets, however, you will see bumping and grinding.
- Try the local food - Yes, the street stands. They look sketch, but you won't get the full experience if you don't try the food.
- Visit the Savannah. It's the heart of Port of Spain.
- Visit Tobago. And if you don't plan at least a week there, you will be left needing more. I suggest staying at the Kariwak.
- Learn your way to the large areas. Venice is literally a maze. Corridor atop corridor, side streets that lead everywhere. The first thing you want to do is get a map, and go to the large places. Namely San Marco Square. It's arguably the biggest and definitely the most known square in all of Venice. If you can make your way there and back without getting lost, you'll be golden. Why? See the next point.
- Despite what it says on the main page, Get Lost. Seriously. There's no danger in Venice. There's your standard pickpocket, so make sure your valuables are secured, and there are con artists, so don't buy a Prada purse from a guy who's sitting on the ground. (The city was cracking down on that, when I last visited). Other than that, Venice is one of the safest cities in the world, and the Venezians pride on that. So, grab a coat, your best sneakers, and go wander the streets. You will find places, stores, shops, and cafes you would have never seen otherwise. You can always ask directions (provided you learned the language, like I told you to) back to San Marco.
- Street vendors will provide the cheapest food. (1-3 euro for a meal)
- Gelato. I don't care if you're there in the middle of January during a blizzard (I was). Get gelato. If you've never had Gelato, you are missing out. And if you don't have some while you're there, you've missed out on one of the most delicous things you'll ever put in your mouth.
- See the mask factory, Ca' Macana. They make masks, but they also make Venetian lace and do Venetian Glass-blowing. Also, don't buy Venetian Lace and Glass online. The vast majority are fraudulent.
- Visit the Rialto Bridge. And visit it multiple times. You'll find that wares change day-by-day.
- If you do not like alcohol, do not try "Sambuca". It's a clear, sweet-smelling, but potent alcohol that can be found across Europe. I've watched a grown man get absolutely drunk off of a couple of sips of this stuff. Apparently, the aftertaste is extremely harsh, and can be comparable to "Moonshine" in the states.
- Athens is wonderful if you're a history buff, and interesting otherwise. However, I wouldn't spend more than 3-5 days in Athens. Athens is your standard metropolis, with some ancient history and historical sites mixed in.
- Make Paros your hub. We were supposed to tour the Cyclades, staying 1-2 days at each locatoin, but we arrived at Paros first. We cancelled the rest of our trip. I'm not kidding. Instead of touring the Cyclades, we stayed in Paros, and took day-visits surrounding islands, with a day of beach, relaxation, and crepes inbetween.
- Try Saganaki.
- If you don't like alcohol, don't try "Greek Water". It's the watered down version of the last point on Venice Tips, which only makes the aftertaste last longer.
- The Dominican Republic is a Third-World country, and can be extremely dangerous. If you are going to stay at a resort, stay within the resort's bounds. That said, the resorts can be very fun. I stayed at an all-inclusive called the Gran Ventana
- Try the local food, but bring a bottle of Pepto just in case.
- Do not drink the local water. Water bottles only.
- For a day visit, if you go to the marketplace: do not hint that you have money, and do not give it away to the children. I'm very serious about this. They are adorable, and very sad, yes, but they are con artists. Do not give them money. You will wind up with 6 of them trailing you for the next few miles.
- I stayed at an resort called The Grand Mayan. This place is gorgeous. However, you may need to get a guide to help you out on the town. We used R. Sebastian Hernandez (email@example.com), and I highly recommend him. He was fun, caring, and truly wanted us to see the sights and experience Mexico as it was.
- Visit Taxco, and bring your wallet. But keep a close eye on it.
Favorite Destinations (Thus Far)
- Trinidad and Tobago - Specifically Tobago, especially if you're looking for rest and rejuvination.
- Venice, Italy - All of it.
- Paros and AntiParos, Greece - I highly suggest the Kalypso Hotel, in Parikia.