Yes, This Is Africa Too

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Let’s face it. If you rely on Western media to teach you about Africa you’ll walk away thinking the entire continent is just one big clusterf*ck of HIV, Ebola, poverty, war, famine, and lions…lots and lots of lions. And while Africa has its challenges, it’s also a place of vast wealth, immense resources, fast growing economies, diverse cultures, and AH-MA-ZING experiences.

My brief and wondrous trip to Johannesburg, South Africa only scratched at the surface of the dopeness of the continent, but it opened my eyes in a way that many people just don’t get to see.

So let’s clear up something right quick, okay?

Africa is NOT a country

It’s a GIGANTIC continent made up of 53+ countries, over a billion people, and way too many languages to count. It’s also home to 6 of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world, so while your cousins may be wondering if it’s safe to hop a plane to the Motherland, the rest of the world is busy investing. Get you a piece!

And another thing…

Don’t be scared

The amount of people who asked me if I was nervous or worried about going to South Africa because….Ebola (!), or crime…was astounding. And for the record…I wasn’t!

Listen Linda, it’s important to stay safe when you’re traveling, but heading to several parts of Africa isn’t any more dangerous than walking down the block in many major U.S. cities (as a matter of fact, many U.S. cities are more violent). Just like when you travel to Latin America, the Caribbean, or Europe, basic common sense stuff applies. Don’t flash your cash, don’t troll dodgy areas alone, and don’t be the stupid tourists who just trusts ANYBODY, ok? Ok.

Now…on to the part you been waiting for….pictures!

The view of downtown Joburg from the Nelson Mandela bridge.

The view of downtown Joburg from the Nelson Mandela bridge.

Johannesburg was BEAUTIFUL! It’s a major metropolitan area full of shopping centers, universities, museums, and several up-and-coming neighborhoods. If you want to see the stereotypical “shanty towns” (uh…why?) you might be able to find a few shacks here and there, but the city is overwhelmingly modern and growing quickly with African immigrants pouring in from all over the continent. As my Uber driver told me, “South Africa is the breadbasket of Africa.”

The Gautrain

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The Gautrain is a billion-dollar high speed train that connects Pretoria to Johannesburg, and includes a stop at the international airport. I took the train from my hotel near Sandton (an upper middle class suburb) to Braamfontein to go on a bus tour and the whole trip took about 10 minutes and was VERY smooth.

Soweto

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Soweto is the spiritual, political, and cultural home of Black Johannesburg. Soweto is also a big tourists draw because Nelson Mandela’s former homes is there, as is the Hector Pieterson Museum, which is a MUST SEE to learn more about the uprisings in Soweto during the 1970s that ultimately led to the end of Apartheid.

Braamfontein

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Braamfontein is home to a bustling arts district as well as the University of the Witwatersrand, the Johannesburg theater, and Constitution Hill.

Maboneng Precinct

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Maboneng is a privately developed neighborhood on the east side of Joburg, it’s home to tons of trendy restaurants, bars, shops, hotels, and loft apartments. If you’re looking for hipsters, you can probably find them there.

Alright, alright….there are lions…

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I didn’t have time to go on safari while in Joburg, but there’s amazing place about 45-minutes outside of the city called Lion Park. It’s a great place to see some BEAUTIFUL lions (and cheetahs, African wild dogs, and a giraffe) if you’re short on time but still want to bask in nature.

I only had four days in Johannesburg, but was wonderful! The city was DOPE and I absolutely cannot wait to return. This trip was not only my first to South Africa, but the continent as a whole, and it certainly won’t be my last. I’m already trying to figure out how to take Le Kid next year for a longer stay so we can really experience what Joburg–and South Africa–is all about.

Have you been to Johannesburg? What was your favorite part of the city?

I’m Going to South Africa!

Johannesburg

Johannesburg skyline via tourist-destinations.com

It’s finally happening. Last year, I talked about wanting to go to Nairobi, Kenya, but things didn’t pan out. But as the old folks say, everything happens for a reason because in two day–TWO DAYS–I’m leaving for my first trip to Johannesburg, South Africa.

Like most things in my life, the opportunity to go to Johannesburg just sorta happened. A friend hit me up back in August and suggested I pitch an idea to present at Social Media Week in Johannesburg, and what do you know? It was accepted. So I’ll not only be making my first trip to South Africa, and the African continent in general, but I’ll also be teaching a class!

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Kinda dope, right?

Although I’ll be gone over a week, my time in Jozi will only be about 5 days. It’ll take me about 30 hours to get there–2 flights + a 5hr. delay–and sadly, I won’t have time to go on safari or visit to Cape Town. Still, please believe I’m going to make the most of my (extremely) short trip.

If you want to follow along with me in real time on my journey (aka on Twitter & Instagram), follow the hashtags #BDinJozi & #BDinJoburg (I kinda dig both) while I’m in Johannesburg.

On a side–and awesome–note, I’ll also be making a weekend stop in London on my way home from South Africa, so keep an eye out for #BDinLNDN & #TILtour tweets (TIL = Turn It Loose, my novel set partly in London) because I’m going to hit up some of my character’s main haunts, plus see a few things I missed the last time.

Although I’m dreading the long flights, I’m super excited about my upcoming trip. I’m going into it with very few expectations, a wide open schedule, and the knowledge that all I want to do (and will do) is have FUN.

Come back here to see how it all turns out.

5 Books That Let You Travel from the Comfort of Your Couch

Travel books

Let’s face it. Traveling can be expensive. No matter how many deals, travel hacks, and coupons you rack up, sometimes you just can’t afford to take the trip that you want.

I should know. I’d love to hop on a plane and head to a number of far-flung destinations, but at the moment, that’s just not possible (unless I go into some serious debt). So in lieu of pulling out my Visa card, I reach for my library card instead.

Books are amazing. They can teach us about a multitude of things—how to make money (so we can travel), getting out of debt (so we can travel), starting a business (so we can travel), being a better lover (so we can have more fun while we travel)—but they can also transport us around the word in an instant. I mean, that’s what I look for in a book. In addition to a compelling story, I almost always choose books that are set in a different location than where I live.

So without further adieu, here are 5 books that will help you travel around the world without leaving your couch.

#1 Passing Love

Passing Love follows Nicole-Marie Handy as she explores the streets of Paris to uncover a family secret. Although she’s always been drawn to all things French since finding a little blue English-French dictionary among her parent’s things, she decides to finally go to France once her relationship with her longtime (married) beau fizzles out. Passing Love takes readers through the alleyways, museums, clubs, and little known sections of the City of Lights (buy it here).

# 2 Americanah

Americanah is a love story that stretches from the collegial streets of Princeton, NJ and trendy lofts of New York, to parlors in London and sprawling estates in Lagos, Nigeria.  The book follows Ifemelu and Obinze as they both struggle to adjust to their new lives in their respective countries. And while they both ultimately achieve success, their paths are completely different, painfully difficult, and extremely enthralling. Americanah will not only make at you look at the immigrant experience differently, but it’ll have you researching flights to Lagos (buy it here).

# 3 She’s Gone

Kweme Dawes’ novel She’s Gone is another love story that is fraught with explorations of class, mental illness, and colorism. It traces the unlikely relationship between Keisha, a Columbia University researcher, and Kofi, the Jamaican front man of a reggae band. The story begins in South Carolina and quickly moves to Jamaica as Kofi and Keisha try to make their unconventional relationship work (buy it here).

#4 Ghana Must Go

Ghana Must Go begins with the death of Kweku, the patriarch of a sprawling, high-achieving, dysfunctional clan, and follows as his brood struggles to deal with his death, and their own rifts. Much like her mentor Toni Morrison’s work, newcomer Taiye Selasi’s novel moves through time and space to transport readers from Accra to Lagos to London to New York and back (buy it here).

#5 Another Country

In my eyes, James Baldwin can do no wrong. Like, at all. In Another Country Baldwin delivers a complicated novel that expertly deals with racism, sex, drugs, art and interracial coupling in the 1970s. Primarily set in Greenwich Village, Another Country follows its characters through the streets of Harlem, jazz joints in Manhattan, and the villas of France (buy it here).

Bonus: Turn It Loose

After she gets fired from her job at the L.A. Weekly, Jaylah Baldwin has to decide whether she’ll try to get a new, lower paying writing gig or if she’ll do something crazy and buy a ticket to London. She chooses the latter and gets way more than she bargained for. Ok, so this one qualifies as “shameless self promotion,” but my first novella Turn It Loose transports readers from Los Angeles to the neighborhoods, pubs, and dance halls of London (buy it here).

Do you read to travel from your couch? Share your favorite books in the comments section below! 

*This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission from Amazon if you make a purchase using the provided book links.

7 Travelers of Color Who Will Inspire You to Hit the Road

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Buzzfeed recently released an article profiling 11 people who have ditched their ho hum lives to travel the world. And while their stories are all awesome (like Ying Tey who was inspired to hit the road after her mother died), their list looks decidedly…pale.

Not one Black or Latino nomad made the list, which struck many of my Facebook friends (several of whom are avid travelers) as strange. I mean, how hard would it have been to profile the Nomadness crew, which boasts over 6,000 multicultural travelers? Or, you know, Google?

But because I’m pretty used to NOT waiting for the world to recognize the accomplishments of those who look like me I decided to put together my own list.

So here are 7 travels of color who will inspire you to hit the road:

Oneika Raymond – Oneika the Traveler

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I’m not sure where Oneika HASN’T been (seriously), but the list HAS to be terribly short. Her blog, Oneika the Traveler, is FULL of travel stories and tips on how to see the world. I had the pleasure of meeting Oneika when I visited London and she was one of the nicest, most welcoming people I’ve ever met—and it shows in her writing. She’s been profiled in the Huffington Post and National Geographic and has filed stories for American Airlines’ Black Atlas and other outlets. If you’re thinking about taking a trip mosey on over to her blog to see if she’s been there first.

Evita Turquoise Robinson – Nomadness Travel Tribe

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Nearly 3 years ago Evita Robinson decided to create the Nomadness Travel Tribe, a Facebook group of wily voyagers from all over the globe, and united them together for one cause: To see the world. Since organizing the tribe, Evita has led trips to Panama, India, Spain, the Dominican Republic, Bali, and across the US in the hopes of inspiring other young people of color to get a passport and see the world. What are you waiting for?

Greg Gross – I’m Black & I Travel

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Need help planning for a trip? Want to know when’s the best time to buy your plane ticket or what to expect from the TSA? Greg Gross has you covered! His site, I’m Black and I Travel keeps would-be adventurers up to date on EVERYTHING they need to know before they head out.

Heather Greenwood Davis – Globe Trotting Mama

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Think having a family means you can’t travel the world? Psh! Heather Greenwood and her family decided to pull their two kids out of school for a year, sell their things, and embark on a trip of a lifetime. National Geographic named them as Travelers of the Year (2013), and the Davis family certainly deserves it. In their year as nomads, they visited 29 countries and documented it all on the awesome blog, Globe Trotting Mama.

Carol Cain – Girl Gone Travel

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Carol is another mother who proves that traveling with a family is not only possible, it can also be pretty easy (and fun!). Carol started blogging in 2008 under the moniker, NYCity Mama, but soon realized that her love of travel was calling her to explore (and write about) more than just the 5 boroughs. Carol and her family—three sons + her hubby—regularly head out on weekend jaunts, summer road trips, and international excursions, and she documents all of their awesome adventures on her site, Girl Gone Travel. 

Bayyina Black – The Planet Blaster

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Need more than pictures to get you interested in seeing the world? Bayyina has you covered. Through her blog and YouTube channel, Bayyina offers tips, tricks, and hacks for those itching to put some stamps in their passport. Be get ready: Bayyina is a fireball, full of spunk and heart. After watching her vids you’ll want to book a trip now. Like, RIGHT NOW!

Nneka – Afros y Paella

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Ok, so technically this isn’t a travel blog per se; Nneka isn’t hopping on a plane every weekend to check out a hot new destination. But as the tagline of her blog Afros y Paella explains, it’s “an African woman’s Spanish journey through food, culture and spirit.” Nneka is currently teaching English in Spain, but what makes her blog so dope is her writing—brilliant, honest, and lush. If she doesn’t make you want to jump on a plane and visit Spain ASAP, I’m not sure what will. In the meantime, get you a big ol’ bowl of Afros y Paella.

Do you love to travel? Who is your favorite travel blogger of color?

The Side of Africa You NEVER See

Awesome photo of Nairobi via Afritorial.com

I belong to a slew of Facebook groups, a few of which are travel related. One group, Rare Customs, is planning a trip to Kenya early next year, and like a woman struck by a sudden and permanent case of wanderlust, I WANT TO GO.

Like…badly.

*long heavy sigh*

Truth is, I want to go everywhere. But after looking for something completely different, I ran across the blog Afritorial, and what did I see? A post about why folks need to go to Nairobi. Kismet? Maybe. But now I’ve got the itch and Africa is on my mind.

When it comes to the “dark continent” (insert a mean eye roll right there) you always hear about its wildlife, or see pictures of Western travelers going to shanty towns to be “down” with the people. But we rarely see Africa…ANY part of it…as a bustling, modern metropolis.

Cape Town, South Africa – via National Geographic

What we see is always war and starving babies and desolate landscapes and machetes. Or something.

Why is that?

Why is there often ONE story coming out of the whole of Africa as if it’s one big country (which, hello, it is not)?

Harare, Zimbabwe

If you want to see a “different” face of Africa you’ve got to do more than just Google “Africa”. Typically search engines will only point you toward stereotypical depictions of the continent.

But Africa is so much more than that, and I know this without even getting close to its shores.

Thank God for bloggers. And for sites like the cheeky Africa is a Country, or Afritorial, or Ms. Afropolitan, or AfriPop or any number of others that share the often overlooked parts of the Motherland.

And thank God for Africans who tell their own stories like only they can (peace to Danai Gurira whose commitment to telling African stories came through as soon as I met her).

I hope the wider world eventually catches up and is able to see what Africa is really all about. But in the meantime, I need to hustle up my coins and head to Kenya in January so I can see it for myself.

Want to put $5 on it? Donate here!

Yes, You Can Road Trip Alone

The view of the CA desert outside my window.

The view of the CA desert outside my window.

When most people think of road trips, they usually invision a Griswold-style family vacation where the whole family piles into the car and annoys each other for what seems like an eternity before finally reaching their destination.

While this has been a rite of passage for many families, it has also turned many folks off to the idea of road tripping. Thankfully, you have alternatives.

Back in 2009, I drove the California coast with my then-5-year-old, my parents, and my little brother. I think I was feeling a bit nostalgic and just a little unsure of my ability to pull off such a trip on my own, so we had our own little Griswold-esque vacay. Although we had fun, I definitely got annoyed by my dad’s constant driving tips, and having to censor my language (and music!) with my mom in tow.

Recently, I decided to try something different. In honor of my 33rd birthday, I hit the road for an eight-hour, 500 mile jaunt to Arizona….alone.

Leaving Los Angeles...

Leaving Los Angeles…

And it was GREAT.

Thankfully, the drive from Los Angeles to Arizona is pretty straight forward: you hop on the I-10 and keep driving until you need to get off. That’s literally how it went.

I left L.A. at about 10 am, and after stopping three times to stretch my legs, get gas, and grab a sandwich, I got to Tucson a little after 6 pm.

How did I manage to stay sane for 8 long hours on the road?

Here are my tips for pulling off the perfect solo road trip:

1) Be patient: If you start any trip already annoyed, in a hurry, or on edge, it will be a looooong ride. Before I left I made a commitment to keep my cool, no matter what. Bad drivers? No problem. Traffic? I could deal with it. Random delays? I got this. If you keep your cool while on the road you’ll not only be happier, but I promise you’ll reach your destination sooner as well.

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2) Always have a GPS or smartphone: I’m not sure where I’d be without my Samsung Galaxy smartphone. It not only helped me navigate to my resort, but it also helped me locate restaurants, local attractions, and movie times while I was away. If you don’t have a standalone GPS, make sure you have a smartphone (or tablet) that can help you get where you want to go. It’s a lifesaver!

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3) Have TONS of music: There is nothing more annoying (and more boring) than trying to find  local radio stations while on your road trip. And depending on where you are–which may be in the middle of nowhere–you might not be able to pick up a signal at all. Before hitting the road be sure you have all of your favorite music, audiobooks, or podcasts on hand. Luckily, I have  XM radio in my SUV, so I can pretty much listen to my favorite stations anywhere. And when I got tired of that, I switched to my phone to listen to albums I already downloaded.

Sunset at the Loews Ventana Canyon.

Sunset at the Loews Ventana Canyon resort.

4) Keep the plan very minimal: Part of the fun of a road trip is being able to decide what you want to do on the fly. If you plan out a jillion activities in advance, your vacation will feel like a job. If you MUST plan, pick a few attractions you know you really want to see and leave the rest up to how you’re feeling that day.

Do you love taking road trips? In the comments section, share your tips for pulling off a good one! 

24 Hours In Savannah, Georgia

Savannah’s historic city hall

I’m channeling my inner Anthony Bourdain and doing my version of “The Layover.” If you’re not hip to the show, the premis is Bourdain spends 48-hours or less in one city and tries to experience it to the fullest.

Well, today I’m bringing you my layover in Savannah, Georgia.

A few weeks ago, I participated in a press trip with Harley-Davidson to caravan with a group of riders from Atlanta, Georgia to Daytona Beach, Florida.

Despite not being on a bike since I learned to ride last summer, I happily accepted the challenge to ride a hog over 600 miles to one of the biggest motorcycling events of the year–Daytona Bike Week.

When I started out in Atlanta, I was nervous but excited. Despite the 30-degree temps (and my complete lack of riding experience), I was insanely hopeful that I’d be able to safely navigate my bike (a beautiful 2013 midnight blue Softail Slim) to Savannah safely.

2013 Harley Softail Slim

The controls of my borrowed Harley Softailslim.

And I did…

….for an hour.

Then the gravity of the situation kicked in, and I decided to do the prudent thing and ride in the van to Savannah.

Luckily, my decision to ride in the vehicle instead of on the bike meant I had a little more time to poke around Savannah than my compadres who rode into the city a few hours later. #Winning

While I could have stayed in the hotel (the magnificent Bohemian Hotel on the Savannah Riverfront) to catch up on a little sleep, I headed outside to explore.

Downtown Savannah is filled with old school charm: cobblestone streets, lush trees, and tons of sculptures marking the city’s storied history.

Savannah’s tree-lined streets

And because of the Bohemian Hotel’s awesome location (right on the river), I was steps away from all of it.

My first stop was to check out the World War II memorial on the river walk.

World War II Memorial Savanna, GA

After taking in the view of the river, I headed over to one of the best known candy shops in the South and had THE most delicious pralines–ever–from River Street Sweets.

River Street SweetsHigh off of sugar, I decided to explore Downtown Savannah and take in the artwork which is scattered throughout the neighborhood.

Revolutionary War memorial in Savannah

Revolutionary War memorial in Savannah honoring Haitian soldiers who fought for America’s freedom.

While we were stopping through, the city was gearing up for its annual St. Patrick’s Day Festival, in which nearly 1 million people flood into the city to have a funky good time.

After our whole group surfaced, we headed over to Aligator Soul for a late dinner. While we weren’t too sure of the adventurous menu which consisted of rabbit, squab, turtle, fried green tomatoes, and of course, aligator, dinner turned out to be WONDERFUL. My sausage-stuffed squab was delicious, and the aligator appetizers were a surprising hit!

aligator soulUnfortunately, my trip to Savannah was super short. While I got a glimpse of the city that boasts so much Southern charm, it wasn’t nearly enough.

Early the next morning we headed back to the river walk so filmmaker F. Gary Gray could shoot his Harley-Davidson spot (and sport the famed Freedom Jacket), and we could continue our journey to Daytona.

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F. Gary Gray rocking the Harley-Davidson Freedom Jacket

Although I’d never thought of visiting Savannah, Georgia before, it’s definitely a place I’d love to return to again (and especially the Bohemian Hotel–too cute).

Have you ever been to Savannah, Georgia? Leave me a comment and let me know your  favorite part of the city! 

What’s On Your Travel Wish List?

My passport has been feeling very neglected lately. It’s been 5 months since I pulled it out and got another stamp in the Bahamas, and since then I’ve been itching to hit the road again.

After my epic trip to London and Paris last December, I made a list of places I wanted to go this year, and unfortunately that hasn’t quite materialized yet. Instead of traveling, I’ve been steadily racking up bylines (which, will hopefully lead to more travel), but come 2013 I definitely MUST add more stamps to my passport.

So where would I like to go?

Costa Rica

I’m not sure why, but I’ve been wanting to go to Costa Rica for years. Perhaps it’s the potential to travel through the rain forest, or maybe it’s just because all of the picture I’ve seen look downright beautiful, but I really, really want to go to Costa Rica.

Paris

Sure, I’ve already been to Paris, but it was for a mere 12 hours. After reading ‘Passing Love,’ I realized that my magical day trip to the City of Lights didn’t even begin to scratch the surface. I want to wander the city for days, or weeks, eating pastries and working on my French.

Africa

I know Africa is not one, big ol’ country, but I haven’t quite decided which of Africa’s 50+ nations I want to visit first. South Africa is all the rage these days. Tanzania is a draw for its beaches and safaris. Ghana with its history and “Door of No Return.” I want to see the Africa other folks merely dream of and never knew existed.

That’s it for now, although my ideal list is a whole lot longer.

How about you? What’s on your 2013 travel wish list?

On Wanderlust & Travel Withdrawals

Sacré-Coeur, Paris – Taken during my trip last December.

After starting out with a bang and aiming to document all of my adventures in and around Los Angeles, I haven’t written in this space in quite some time. It’s not because I’ve been holed up in the house, slaving away on that unfinished book (I wish that was it), and it’s not because I haven’t gone anywhere around the city all summer. So what gives?

While I’ve been hanging out in and around L.A. for the past three months, my lack of travel travel, you know the kind where you board a plane and go somewhere AMAZING, has been giving me the blues.

After going on some very life changing trips (*whispers* London, I miss you) within the last year, my traveling has stalled, and I have yet to go…anywhere…all summer. I’m thoroughly annoyed and going through massive withdrawals.

ParisRecently, I stumbled on Jacqueline Luckett’s latest novel, Passing Love, and it has once again stoked the travel bug.

The novel follows Nicole-Marie Handy, a 57-year-old woman whose life is a list of “dittos.” Despite wanting more, Nicole is unmarried, a dutiful daughter to aging parents, a worker bee, and is involved in a long-time affair with one of her bosses who dangles a hasty marriage proposal in front of her to keep her stuck in a rut. After the death of her closes friend, she decides to cash in her vacation days and head to Paris for a month.

I’m not quite halfway through the book, but I love it already. The way Luckett describes Paris make me soooooooo very jealous. I wish I had scribbled more details in my journal about the streets and the people during my brief, but wondrous, trip to the City of Lights instead of just wandering aimlessly down les boulevards.

Reading Passing Love not only makes me miss Paris, but traveling in general. I miss that indescribable feeling when you first step off of the plane and you are so full of emotions you don’t know whether to laugh or burst into tears. I miss not knowing where to go first, but knowing that I have to go…somewhere. I miss it all. And I need to hit the road again.

Before this year is over, I’m going somewhere, anywhere. I’m desperate to make it happen.

How do you deal with wanderlust and travel withdrawals? 

Paris, In 90 Seconds

Tour paris

I must have lost my mind, or had a serious lapse in judgement, because I recently signed up for a Facebook group challenging its participants to make 30 Videos in 30 Days.

Although I love the video medium and would really, really like to make a documentary film one day, I’ve been making all sorts of excuses to not get started. Now, I have an excuse!

This week was the first of the challenge, and I’ve stayed faithful making a video every, single day. So far I made a commercial offering my services as a writing coach, and I shared a little advice on how to overcome the blahs and break out of a funk.

Today, I was fresh out of ideas and decided to put together a quick 90 second tour of Paris (like I did for London) using some of the pics from my trip.

Check it out!

Oh…and to keep tabs on my 30 Videos in 30 Days challenge, subscribe to my YouTube channel!

Abiento!