I'M GOING TO BALI.

Dayka Robinson blog I'm Going To Bali 2016

I've been keeping a little secret.

I'm going to Bali. In just a few weeks. 

B.A.L.I. 

For 2.5 weeks. (!!!)

A crazy deal popped up right after I returned from my Amtrak Adventure (like, that very day) and before I could talk myself out of it...I booked that mama. Part of me still can't believe I'm going but another part isn't surprised--I told many a person that I wanted to do Bali or Johannesburg in January of 2016 and....well you know how I feel about speaking things into existence. I planned my trip so that I'd be there during "Caka"--the 6 day Balinese New Year celebration. Nyepi Day, which falls on the 3rd day, is a day of total silence on the island from 6am to 6am the following day. No one is allowed on the streets, all shops are closed, the airports are completely shut down (arrivals & departures), no travel, no entertainment, no electricity & very minimal sound. It's a day of silence, fasting, self-reflection & dedication to God with the belief that the evil spirits will avoid the island if it's silent. I love experiencing places (and events) that are far from our US traditions and this sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime experience so I'm off to take part!

I haven't yet made any plans (housing or otherwise) so if you've ever been to Bali/anywhere in Indonesia I'd love to hear your suggestions--the countdown is on!!

22 DAYS.

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22.

Alone that number doesn't mean much but in context, it represents a huge milestone in my life, because it's the amount of vacation days I took this year. 

Yup. Twenty. Two. Days. Of. Vacation. (shut up!!!!)

And I'm talking for real vacation, not that stay at home thing. That's basically a whole month of vacation, doing, living & moving as I want to. And it may not seem like a big deal to you but here's what it means to me: that the girl who graduated college not knowing what she wanted to do, bounced around from job to job, decided to follow a curiosity for which there really wasn't a path, built her own business while often feeling around in the dark, hit some personal speed bumps, and questioned whether she was doing the right thing but kept showing up--on her own terms--anyhow, can create a life where she gets 22 days of vacation in one year, then I'm pretty sure that you can do it too. I promise we're not that different.

So in the spirit of honesty, I looked back at my 2015 post written as my 2016 self and you'll see that I specifically said I was doing more traveling AND going on more vacations this year so it's not like I didn't claim it. But even then, I didn't really believe that it was possible likethis, for me. Sure everyone talks about taking "real vacations" and where they would go if they could but the reality is, we Americans tend to use our vacation days for things like handling important personal business, sick days or intermittent 3-day weekends. Not for taking care of self. As the year started progressing and Istanbul became a possibility, I said over & over that I wanted to spend more time traveling and once I did, it seemed like everywhere I looked I was being shown how possible it was. I started receiving newsletters with flight deals and following sites like Travel Noire that ramped up my desire. You've already read the story but my ticket to Istanbul? I found that deal in the wee hours of the morning after checking one of those sites on a whim. Next thing you know, I was across the world having the time of my life for a fraction of what it could've cost me with a group. BAM.

But let me not make this post about the deals.What I want to share (and celebrate) is this milestone of mine in the context of what it means to be an entrepreneur, self-employed, and to have the luxury of almost one month of vacation. There were times in these past 5 years when I didn't know how I would make it financially. When I wasn't sure what I was doing in my business. When my house seemed more like an albatross around my neck than my perfect refuge from the world. When I was all panicky like, "OMG, am I ever gonna go on vacation again??". And then all of the sudden I look up and here's 2015, dangling weeks of vacation in my face like "Heyyyyy girl, c'mon...". And you know what? These vacation days were actually work days for me (stay with me here). Not in the rolling-my-eyes-cause-I-don't-wanna-do-this kinda work but the who-I-am-and-what-I-do-are-so-in-alignment-that-work-is-my-life way. Traveling has given me content (substance). It's allowed me to not only connect with fellow travelers & people I met along my journey, but to connect with my tribe (that's YOU) in a deeper way. To expand my life and encourage you to expand yours, too. And that's really the work I want to be doing.

Pardon my brag moment but I'm pretty damn proud of this!! It's a reminder that when all of the ups & downs are weighed, I've had a better life taking a chance on me than I ever had as a 9-5 employee. There are new dreams on the horizon now + new fires burning and it helps to be reminded that I've already done so much more on my own than I ever did chained to a standard office job. And you know what else? The things I most desire are truly desiring me--just not in the way or time that I think they should. I wrote that post in January and effectively forgot about it after the first quarter. But that international vacation & those passport stamps I mentioned?They were hunting me down even in my "forgetfulness". 

So I think I've got the hang of this thing now.

Next year I'm claiming more than double which may sound crazy to you but....watch it happen.

22 days in 2015.I'm geeked. 

AMERICA BY AMTRAK: MY CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR CROSS COUNTRY EXPERIENCE

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It takes a certain kind of person to want to travel cross country by train.

There are some places you'll go, people you'll meet and things you'll see that will awaken you to the fact that you're far from home (perspectives differ greatly across this country)...and yet remind you that this vast country IS your home. You'll get to ride through a million little Heartland towns--ones you'd probably miss if you routed yourself cross country in a car. But most importantly, there's all the time you'll have to simply relax. Be rocked to sleep by the train as it runs across the rails. Cozy up with a book you've been meaning to read. Watch a movie. Stretch your legs. And just be alone in your thoughts. In comfort. Huge reclining seats with elevated footrests (and I mean reclining, not like that 2 degree airplane recline). Window curtains for the sleepy hours. Comfy lounge chairs, end tables & dining tables in the Observation Car for the times when you wanna just hang out. Food on demand (for a fee). I mean, seriously--what's not to love about riding the rails??! Long distance train travel definitely isn't for the "I-wanna-hurry-up-and-get-there" crowd--riding Amtrak is all about creating a deliberate experience though new meeting people, engaging in wide-ranging conversations, and enjoying a slower/less hectic pace of travel. And if you're into that kinda thing, then I'm telling you--you need to book yourself a ticket in 2016.

Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015
Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015
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Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015 Colorado
Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015 Colorado

So first things first: Amtrak. My adventure was fantastic--everything I hoped it would be (except longer!)! I flew up to Washington D.C. the day prior to my departure and then traveled from DC to Chicago on the Capitol Limited (via Coach, since I couldn't justify paying an additional $300 for a 15 hour ride). I did some research before I left & learned that Amtrak runs the A/C year-round in each car so it can get chilly at night....and if there's one thing I really don't like it's being cold while I slumber, so I came prepared with a plush throw blanket + pillow packed in my carry on. It was by no means freezing, but I wouldn't have wanted to be without my goodies, either. :-) When I arrived in Chicago the next morning, I decided to make the most of of my 5.5 hour layover by checking my luggage & exploring the city. In DC I'd originally planned to visit the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture but didn't get the memo that the Grand Opening isn't until February 2016. As luck would have it, while reading Ebony on the plane ride over I ran across an ad for an exhibit on David Adjaye at the Art Institute of Chicago. David is actually the architect of the new Smithsonian museum (Adjaye Associates) so it made for a perfect plan--I'd make a beeline for the museum once I was settled and see as much as possible. I checked my luggage, did a quick walking tour of the city, then headed for the Art Institute when it opened.

Dayka Robinson, Art Institute of Chicago 2015
Dayka Robinson, Art Institute of Chicago 2015
Dayka Robinson David Adjaye Smithsonian National Museum African American History, Art Institute of Chicago 2015
Dayka Robinson David Adjaye Smithsonian National Museum African American History, Art Institute of Chicago 2015

(A model of the actual Smithsonian museum)

Dayka Robinson David Adjaye exhibit, Art Institute Chicago 12:2015
Dayka Robinson David Adjaye exhibit, Art Institute Chicago 12:2015

Seeing the notes, sketches, renderings & models of David's projects over the last 15 years was an incredibly in-depth way to learn about his work. I was bummed about missing the museum in DC but as a creative--having the opportunity to intimately explore the process of a fellow creative is priceless! And this unexpected experience is one of the things I love about traveling solo & leaving wiggle room in your plans--you can always find a way to take advantage of your layovers and get out to see something new! If you travel with an open mind, the journey will always lead to an adventure . I never would've known this much about his body of work had I missed the exhibit so it was definitely time well spent! I ended my Chicago tour with some deep dish pizza (not a fan!) and then Uber'd back to the station just in time for my next departure.

Amtrak California Zephyr Roomette 2015
Amtrak California Zephyr Roomette 2015

(Two seats facing each other that turn into a bed at night + an upper bunk for a second traveler, extra gear, etc. Your Amtrak attendant will make your bed every night around 8-9pm!)

Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015
Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015
Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015-2
Dayka Robinson Amtrak California Zephyr 2015-2

Once I boarded the California Zephyr in Chicago I settled into my Sleeper Car and was introduced to Al, my Sleeping Car Attendant, who provided service all the way to California. Traveling by train isn't the standard mode of travel anymore and I'm so glad I did it with my own room. Private quarters, separate bathrooms, showers, individual temperature controls,  breakfast, lunch & dinner in the dining car included (omg, I ate like they were forcing me to!), meal service in your room (if you so choose)--everything was covered. Going First Class isn't cheap but let me tell you, it's worth your pennies for the longer rides! I sat in my Roomette as the train pulled away from the station and seriously felt giddy (which is a word I rarely use). I felt like a boss for pulling this trip off, not because it was so "difficult" but because one day I decided to fulfill a dream of riding the train cross country & a few weeks later I booked myself a ticket and did it! Traveling to Istanbul opened my eyes to how much there is to experience in this world & how easy it is to make travel a priority and I promise--since I've awakened to that fact (and made a decision to GO!), opportunities are coming at every turn. The last few months have been hectic & filled with work and I'm learning that I don't function well with stress, so this trip was just the break that I needed. I loved sitting in the Observation Car late at night with my blanket, reading in the silence and lying in bed, watching Colorado fly by, felt like I was being transported back in time (Al would joke with me, "Are you gonna get up??" LMAO).  The people that I met (those whose names I remember!) each defined specific sections on my trip--Dr. Larry in Iowa, Danny from Chicago, Najla & Michael from San Francisco, Adam in Colorado, the ticket agent in Grand Junction. And you know what I talked about with these people? Deep stuff, like taking care of your money so your money takes care of you. Medical school. God. Religion. Marriage. Blended families. Amtrak. Politics. Freighthopping. Choosing not to have children. They all let me into their lives in intimate ways that you can only do with strangers and they're the kinda connections I live for.

Dayka Amtrak California Zephyr Observation Car
Dayka Amtrak California Zephyr Observation Car

When the train pulled into Reno I decided to jump off to surprise my BFF, stay the night and catch the next train out the following day. I ended the Zephyr in Sacramento (spent my layover at the California State Railroad Museum which was the perfect use of time) then rode a different train down to Fresno, where I grew up, for what was supposed to be a one night layover (more on that later). If I have any complaints about my trip it was that it wasn't long enough. I was constantly torn between hanging out in the Observation Car meeting people vs lying in bed & reading so an additional day on my trip would've been perfect. Would I do it again? Absolutely, except next time I'd go from New York to San Francisco, New Orleans to Montreal or San Diego to Vancouver. You can say I'm addicted, partly because I love the train and partly because this kind of travel just changes who you are. Once you've traveled somewhere new--especially when you're doing something that stretches you beyond your comfort zone--you can NEVER go back to being who you were when you left.  Completing this trip gave me the courage to book one of my dream trips....you're gonna die when you find out where I'm going next.

Until then, I took a few of my 67 videos (LOL) and made them into a little montage of my trip. Click below to see!

HOW I TRAVELED TO ISTANBUL & PARIS ON $2000

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8 days in Europe for around $2000??  It's absolutely possible and actually quite easy! My entire trip cost me under $2000 (I still have about 80 Euro in my wallet!) and is by far, one of the best investments I've ever made in myself. Here's what my trip actually cost:

Airfare $790. Istanbul accommodations $357. Culinary Tour $125. Paris Accommodations $150. Gifts $250. Entrance fees, books, jewelry, spices/teas/soaps, coat, personal                       items $270. Food $150. Transportation $139.Total $2231. (*yes it's over $2k but since the gifts weren't a necessity, this is doable for under $2k)

Here's what I did:

  1. Stayed flexible. I knew I wanted to go in August since I'd originally planned to go with the group around the same time, but I wasn't set on any dates. When searching for the best flight deals, the key is to be flexible. If you're tied to specific months/flight times, it might be better to bite the bullet and pay for a regular ticket because the chances of finding exactly what you want at a price you can handle may be slim. Staying open--and allowing your plans to change accordingly--will grant you access to the best deals.
  2. Istanbul Omer Hayyam 2015
  3. Used resources that were already available. There's really no need to reinvent the wheel because there are already TONS of sites across the web dedicated to travel deals--use them! My absolute favorite is Travel Noire through which I've found quite a few websites that can help you score a deal. One such site is The Flight Deal where I found my ticket at the beginning of July for my August departure. With taxes/fees plus the additional travel insurance I purchased (ALWAYS get travel insurance...don't skimp here!), my ticket came to $790 which is almost HALF OFF of what I'd found on my own. The ticket had been running around $1500 for months. The Flight Deal requires you to use ITA software matrix to get the codes for the best deals (you'll need to follow the directions as listed on The Flight Deal) but it's not that difficult & absolutely worth the time it takes to lock in the best deal. My ticket was booked through Priceline and I flew Delta which also allowed me to accumulate Skymiles for my trip, so my vacation is helping me earn a free ticket to go somewhere else, too. And sidetone: don't think you need to be 6 weeks out from departure to find a great deal--the earliest availability was actually for the end of July, but I couldn't make that itinerary work with my schedule.
  4. Istanbul Turkish Flavors Tour 2015 Dayka Robinson
  5. Booked my accommodations through Air BNB.I am OBSESSED with this site! I'd heard of it for years but didn't use it until my trip to NYC last year when I wanted to stay on my own in the city, versus with friends/family. I immediately fell in love. If you love staying in a place that feels a little more like home, having access to personal restaurant/tourist recommendations from your host, and living in a neighborhood that gives you a more intimate experience of your destination, then Air BNB is right for you. You can share a space, rent a room or an entire home--whatever your preference according to what you'd like to spend! I've used this service 3 times now and I only rent an entire home when I travel since I don't want to think about coming in/out with another person there. I also pick my accommodations according to the number of reviews a listing has & only book places with a MINIMUM of (10) 5 star reviews.  Depending on your destination, the accommodations can be incredibly inexpensive, too.  I found this place in Istanbul which was close to Taksim Square, Galata Bridge, the Old City & Istikal Street for only $47/night. Yup, you read that right--$47/night, and since Istanbul sees a ton of tourist traffic in August, that's actually the high season rate (rates go as low as $37). Was my budget limited to $50/night? No--but it's great to know that traveling on a smaller budget is totally possible to do here. I did look at a few more expensive places but when I realized it was possible to get a nice place at a much better rate, it just didn't make sense to pay $200/night for an apartment I'd spend little time in. Again, my intention is to invest in experiences. ;-) In the end, this studio apartment was absolutely the right choice for me. Onat, the host, had 85 stellar reviews for this apartment (and 510 in total!) from people all across the world which sealed the deal for me and after having stayed there, I'm so glad I did. He gave me exact directions to where I wanted to go. Told me about a few restaurants off the beaten path that locals loved.  As an added bonus, he owns a cafe right next door to the apartment so we spent a lot of time talking during my trip & became very good friends!  My tips for Air BNB? Book early if you can (I didn't, but it will ensure the best availability). Complete your profile and let the host know what's bringing you to their city (keep in mind that you're a stranger to them!). Take time to scour the reviews and if people say a place doesn't need air condition, pay attention to whether they're from the US or not, as standards of living vary across the world. Make sure your host has a 100% response rate. Look for hosts that go above & beyond (this depends on your needs but since I was traveling alone in a foreign country, I needed someone who was available 24/7. Onat was perfect!). Keep in mind that the neighborhoods may be very different than what you're used to back home but just because they're old doesn't mean they're dangerous.
  6. Grand Bazaar Istanbul 2015 Dayka Robinson
  7. Utilize Trip Advisor. Another site I live by, even when I travel in the States. I love sites with user reviews and for travel, this one is probably the best out there. I found Turkish Flavours, the company that led my culinary tour, through Trip Advisor and they did NOT disappoint--there's a reason they're # 1! If you're wanting to know about restaurants, top tourist sites, cruises, etc., definitely peruse Trip Advisor for the traveler tips/reviews of your destination. As I've previously mentioned, that $125 was some of the best money I've spent on a tour and really gave me a wider understanding of Turkish culture. I'd originally planned to do a tour of the historic sites but as the days went on I felt more comfortable navigating the city/transit system and decided to just tackle them on my own. Instead, I hired a taxi driver to drive me around the city for a little over an hour and we went into areas I never would've seen on my own, which cost me about $30 USD. Definitely worth the money.
  8. Consider the exchange rate. I didn't research it at all before I settled on a destination but part of the reason my trip was such a steal was because the USD to Turkish Lira (TL) exchange rate is awesome right now. $1 USD=2.8 TL, so as you can imagine, my money went far! Charlene, the Spelman woman that I met in Istanbul (see my Instagram post) said I kept cracking her up as we walked the Grand Bazaar because I kept whipping out my phone anytime someone started naming prices so I'd know how to negotiate. I kept having to remind myself, "150TL is only $53 USD Dayka--that's a deal!". So if you want to really stretch your trip, go somewhere where the USD will go far. For me, Turkey couldn't have been a better destination. The Euro in Paris is actually stronger than the USD so your money won't go quite as far there. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't go.
  9. Be intentional about what you really need. A key part of trip planning for me--or embarking on anything new that I really want--is to set my intentions about who I want to be/how I want to show up/what I want to do/how I want to feel in the midst of my experience. Since I'm in a phase where I'm currently decluttering my belongings and getting rid of a ton of stuff to really live with the things I love, I also made an intention about my vacation purchases as well. Did I see lots of cool things that I could've brought back a souvenirs? Most definitely. But I really don't need a miniature statue of the Hagia Sofia, post cards from the Blue Mosque or keychains that say "Istikal"....they aren't things I would ever display in my home so I kept asking myself, "How are you going to use that? Where are you going to put that?". Instead of wasting money on things I'd never use once I got home, I invested in things I love and actually would use like fresh spices & teas from the Spice Market, a lot of of beautiful Bronze jewelry, a few 100% olive oil soaps and some Pink Himalayan Salt Bars which I was introduced to on my trip. So being mindful about what you really need and how you want to remember your trip will drastically cut down on your expenses. Don't just buy something to bring it home so you can tell people you bought it in Turkey. You don't NEED to buy a pair of shoes in Paris.
  10. Dayka & Ayanna Paris 2015-5
  11. Use cash. I left the US with $300 dollars and used an ATM twice while in Turkey to get 1,000 TL  out each time ($357 USD) so I had a total of $1,014 during my trip. The only time I used my card while I was gone was at the ATM and to purchase tickets for the train in Paris. Other than that, cash was king. This helped me to keep a watchful eye on my expenditures and ensured that I always had sufficient cash on hand to hail a taxi in a moment's notice (I didn't notice any taxi's accepting debit cards). I used this money throughout Istanbul & Paris (though I did lose some money when I had to exchange the TL to Euros). In general, I think having cash just makes it easier to get around but then there's also this: at one very small, local kebob shop in Istanbul, I saw a British man going back & forth with the owners because his debit card had been overcharged and due to the language barrier, no one really understood each other. Because they couldn't get on the same page, he eventually just gave up and left but I wondered how often that happens when you try to use a debit card in a foreign country.  Had he used cash, he could've been sure of the total amount upfront & avoided this situation all together.
  12. Dayka Robinson Locks on Seine 2015
  13. Selected a flight with a stopover. So the Paris portion of my trip was actually a 24 hour stopover, but there was no extra fee for the extended layover--because of the flight I selected it was included in the original $790 fee. Taking advantage of this stopover gave me an opportunity to have a full day/night in a second European city (Paris, at that!) en route back to Atlanta. When you're selecting your flight, make sure you look at ALL of the flight options and try to get something with at least an 8 hour layover, which will give you time to leave the airport, do a bit of sightseeing, and get back through customs in time for your flight home. I found my 24 hour layover in one of the flights at the bottom of a very long list and I had I not looked at every singe option closely, I would've missed out on this "free" second location.  Since I would've paid $790 with or without the Paris stop, it was a no brainer and ended up being the perfect way to wrap up my trip. My Atlanta girlfriend took the train in from her London vacation and we had a delicious breakfast at a local cafe, peeked in the Luxembourg Gardens, saw the Eiffel tower, walked the Seine, saw the Louvre, took a 1 hour boat cruise, and ended our night eating Japanese food at one place and then sharing 5 (5!!) deserts at our original breakfast spot. We headed back to the room stuffed & exhausted, then the next morning I hopped a train back to CDG for my flight to Atlanta. I don't know if I could've done 24 hours in Paris better.

So now you see, $2000 is totally possible! I don't profess to be a solo travel expert but.....I sure hope to become one soon. If you're thinking about embarking on a trip of your own & need encouragement or simply want to know more details about my trip to Istanbul, please leave a comment below!

TIPS FOR TRAVELING SOLO INTERNATIONALLY LIKE A BAD ASS

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Embarking on a solo adventure clear across the world is one of the most exciting things you can do for your personal growth. It's okay to feel a little nervous but if you're thinking about booking a jaunt of your own, don't let fear keep you from sealing the deal! Part of the reason that I was able to successfully travel to Istanbul alone is because I made sure to take as many safety precautions as I could up front so I could travel with peace of mind (mostly). ;-) Fresh from my trip here are my tips on how to make the best of your solo international excursion and travel like the bad ass you are!

  1. Register with the US Embassy. I've traveled out of the country before and never done this prior to my trip to Istanbul because I was always traveling with a partner or meeting someone at my destination. Traveling alone, however, is another story and this tip is especially important if you're traveling alone. In the event of an emergency, registering with the US Embassy at your destination lets the officials know that a US citizen is in the country and helps them quickly & easily notify you/your family in the event of an emergency (natural disaster, etc.) through the STEP program (Smart Travel Enrollment Program). Sure, emergencies don't happen very often but when they do, it's good to know that someone knows where to find you ASAP. If you have any issues while you're traveling, always call the embassy. And make sure to check the current travel warnings for your destination city prior to departure.
  2. Always carry a written copy of the phone number and address number to where you are staying. Phones die. Break. Get lost/are stolen. Fall in the ocean while on a ferry boat. Think ahead and make sure you have directions with you in a safe place somewhere outside of your phone. This tip especially comes in handy when you're staying at an Air BNB versus a local hotel. This didn't occur to me until I was out in the street and taxi drivers wanted to know where I was staying--I couldn't just say the name of a hotel (because I wasn't staying there!) and I couldn't pronounce the long names of the streets nearest to where I was staying. Luckily, upon my arrival my host handed me a business card that had all of the information I needed to contact him. Each night that card was my lifeline to get home so I always made sure to have it in my purse at all times (write down the number/address to the Embassy as well!).
  3. If you get lost/need a taxi/need a translator, head to your nearest hotel. Most hotels cater to tourists so this is a great place to stop if you're out in the streets and need assistance--you'll almost always be sure to find someone who speaks English behind the front desk as well.  My first night in Istanbul I "randomly" met a front desk attendant standing outside of his hotel who mentioned that if I ever needed a taxi, I could come back and he would get one for me. Not 15 minutes later I found myself having a hard time getting taxi drivers to agree to take me to the address on the card, so I went back to that hotel and Mehmet walked me across the street to a taxi and told the driver where I needed to go (in much better Turkish than I ever could've managed). Due to his central location (& friendly nature) he quickly became an asset (and a friend!) throughout the duration my trip. Nothing is random, of course.
  4. Dayka Robinson Designs Marrakech Morocco Adventure 2016 Mosque
  5. Don't underestimate a smile. Especially when you're in a country where few people speak English. While in Turkey I encountered a lot of people who outright stared at me--blank, unemotional face and all. It made me super uncomfortable at first, then after a few days I started to think more about how MY face was looking to them. And I know that people were looking at me because I look different that what they're used to--from my brown skin, to my long braided hair, to the fact that I was traveling alone--and it occurred that they were looking at me because they were curious. Remember on Instagram when I mentioned being accosted by a group of moms to take pictures with their kids outside of Sultanahmet (Blue Mosque)? That all happened because I saw the young girls & their mom continuously staring at me. After I offered a smile (and pointed to my hair), the little girl nodded and a huge smile spread across her face. They didn't speak English at all but I was able to gather that they wanted to have their picture taken with me, so I obliged them. All because I broke the ice with a smile. It was interesting to see how many people appeared more welcoming after I smiled or gave a wave so don't underestimate the power of a smile. Be who you want to encounter. 
  6. Always carry a portable charger. Always. There is nothing worse than being out in the streets, in a foreign country, with a dying battery on your phone. It's a huge safety no-no and if you're using your phone as your camera--like I was--it's a total nightmare when your phone dies and you have no way to capture those once in a lifetime memories!  Even when you're in the US, a portable charger is a god-send when your phone gets low and you find yourself without a USB cord.  Let's face it--there's just need to be walking around with a dead phone these days....unless, of course, you want to.
  7. Istanbul Eminonu 2015 Dayka Robinson
  8. Learn a few basic words/phrases in the local language. This is something I should've done but didn't. Traveling to a country where I had zero experience with the local language (Turkish), it became apparent that failing to learn even the most basic phrases is actually a bit inconsiderate & rude. It doesn't help that there's often a perception of Americans that we travel with the expectation that everyone should know English wherever we are--which I witnessed with my own eyes. If I could even fix my lips to say I spoke a second language it would be Spanish--the pronunciation of which is much easier to me than Turkish--so I made an assumption that I could just learn the language on the go but that wasn't the case. Be a courteous traveler & teach yourself how to say a few words in the local language like hello, goodbye, good morning, thank you, and maybe even how to ask for help. Even if your pronunciation isn't 100%, the gesture will be appreciated & you'll find it incredibly handy as you navigate your travels. 
  9. Take advantage of the disconnect. By far, one of the unintended highlights of my trip was the fact that my phone only worked as long as I was connected to WiFi. This meant that when I was out during the day, I didn't have access to ANY social media so I couldn't peruse Facebook while my taxi driver drove me home, check Instagram as I rode the Metro through the city or text message my friends while I waited for my breakfast/lunch/dinner to arrive. And you know what happened when I didn't have my face in my phone every 15 seconds? I paid attention.And interacted with strangers.And met an incredible Spelman sister on a random street corner, all because I was being present. It gave me time to think about my next steps, reflect on my business and really absorb the culture of the city in an uninterrupted manner. One of the main points of vacationing by yourself is to be WITH yourself--not constantly checking in with everything that's going on back home (the place you're supposed to be taking break from). You're the best company you'll ever have, so take advantage of it as much as you can.
  10. Book a food tour.  One of the best ways to learn about a country/culture is through its food and if you can only book one tour on your trip, consider making it a food tour or cooking class. During my 5 hour tour with Turkish Flavours I tasted all kinds incredible local Turkish cuisine and was able to experience the city in a way I wouldn't have been able to on my own. A food tour is also a great way to see how the locals live as your guide will often take you through markets in neighborhoods filled with residents doing their everyday shopping. An added bonus? Because these markets are often off the beaten path it will translate into better deals for you! During my tour of the Asian side of Istanbul I scored a Pink Himalayan Salt Bar for $3TL which equals about $1.07 USD. 2 days later I bought the same bar from the Spice Market--a tourist area--for $10TL ($3.57 USD) which is still a deal but.....I'd much rather pay $1. Next time I return I'll know exactly where to go!
  11. Dayka Robinson Bali Woman Solo International Black Woman Travel Ubud Paradise Room 2016
  12. Bring a ring. If you're a woman traveling alone, consider bringing a faux wedding ring along for the journey. Even if it's a basic gold washer from the hardware store that can do double duty as a wedding band, buy it & carry it in your purse at all times. You don't have to wear it (or can take it off whenever you need) but it's ALWAYS good to have. I can't tell you how many people--especially men--wanted to know where my husband/friends were and if I was traveling alone. After awhile I just started telling people that I was meeting a friend at another location because it occurred to me that I could be unintentionally making myself a target. Most of the time it was just innocent inquisitive conversation but there a few conversations, particularly with 1 cab driver, that got my antenna up and had me thinking that a ring would be a great thing to have. Leave the feminist pride at home and, if someone asks and you feel uncomfortable/don't want their attention, tell them you are married. With kids. There are still a lot of places in the world where this means something, and it was my experience that the men would back off immediately.
  13. Use cash if you can. Swiping your card in foreign lands makes you much more susceptible to fraud while away so use cash whenever possible. Depending on the exchange rate, start out with about $300 USD you can exchange at the airport, then use a local ATM to take out cash as needed. Not only does dealing with cash help you keep track of your spending but if you bank with Chase (like I do) they'll refund all foreign transaction fees incurred at an ATM once you return stateside.  Keep in mind that they can't do this for POS (point of sale) transactions, as the fee is added into the charge, so in this case using cash can actually save you money. Not a Chase customer? It's worth a trip to your branch to find out if they'll extend this courtesy to you as well.
  14. Find a mall. Yup, I'm serious. It seems basic and very "American", but if you're like me and enjoy seeing how the locals live, the mall can be a great place to visit. You'll get a chance to tour the city en route to your destination, experience local architecture, see retail brands we probably don't have here in the US and it's always a safe bet for the days when your plans didn't turn out like you expected. Not to mention, malls are generally safe places for solo travelers.
  15. Take pictures. Of yourself, yes, but consider taking pictures for other people as well--I must've taken at least 40 pictures for strangers while I was in Istanbul. As I toured different areas I constantly saw couples alternating taking pictures of each other in front of special sites, entire families trying to fit in a picture on a selfie stick or even a few solo travelers who looked like they really wanted their picture taken but were afraid to ask. Were there language barriers? Absolutely. But one thing you'll find about offering to do something nice for others--no matter what language they speak, your kind gesture won't go unnoticed. Everyone was so grateful that I offered to take their picture (and took several at that!)...it felt good to know that such a small gesture on my part could help people memorialize a special moment/trip.
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  17. Give yourself permission to feel scared. Feeling scared is only a feeling (which doesn't make it true!) and it's only natural--you're in a new land where you don't speak the language with zero friends, navigating your way on your own. It's unrealistic to expect that you'll feel comfortable all of the time....plus, traveling alone inherently means you're bound to be a bit uncomfortable in the process so just lean in! Learning how to navigate on your own will give you a new level of self-confidence that just can't come any other way....and it will also make you mindful of how much we all tend to default to sticking to our comfort zones in our daily lives. Take this time to consciously stretch your limits & live a little! You'll never, EVER, regret spending money on an experience that honors the core of who you are. 

Happy Traveling! 

MY TRIP TO ISTANBUL...AND WHY I TRAVELED SOLO.

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Dayka Passport Istanbul
Dayka Passport Istanbul

My trip to Istanbul and Paris was life shifting--the kind of adventure that finds you going away as one person and in a matter of days, returning as another.

It's hard to put words to an experience that changes you so deeply because it's not about any one specific thing that's the cause of the shift.  Really it was me, being in this body, at this time in my life, meeting those people and having those experiences. I believe that we always get what we're ready for & what we need to help us evolve into greater beings. For me, this trip was a message and a symbol confirming, it's time to evolve. 

Istanbul view, Topkapi Palace 2015 Dayka Robinson
Istanbul view, Topkapi Palace 2015 Dayka Robinson
Istanbul Istikal St 2015
Istanbul Istikal St 2015

As the plane was descending back to Atlanta, I cried. Not because I was sad to return (coming home is always a joy for me), but because....I did it. I was officially returning from the trip that at one point, I wasn't sure I "could" go on or should invest in. Didn't know how it would happen. But like every big shift in my life, it began with an urging to "just go", without knowing the who, how or why. Fast forward a few months later and I know for sure that this is a life defining trip for me. It speaks a lot to where I am personally/professionally and to the shift that's currently happening in so many areas of my life. It seemed like once I pressed "confirm" on my order, a million tiny miracles happened in a matter of weeks that are swiftly moving me towards the new goals I've set for myself. So this trip ended up being the perfect marker to usher in this new phase of my life.

Istanbul Turkish Flavors tour 2015, Dayka Robinson
Istanbul Turkish Flavors tour 2015, Dayka Robinson
Istanbul Sultanahmet:Blue Mosque 2015 Dayka Robinson
Istanbul Sultanahmet:Blue Mosque 2015 Dayka Robinson

If you follow me on Instagram you know the story but here's the short of it--I'd originally planned to go to Istanbul with a group but in the midst of my planning, it occurred to me that I should go by myself. Mostly because I was having trouble justifying the cost of the group trip. And while I know I missed the benefit of some of the group experiences, I'm 1000% sure that going alone was indeed the right move for me--and that fact had nothing to do with the money (although I spent 1/3 of what it would've cost me). In the end, traveling alone required me to rely on skills that I wouldn't have had to use with a group because being in a foreign country--with a very different culture--where you don't speak the language (and not many people speak English) requires a great degree of resourcefulness & self-reliance. Are these skills I cultivate at home? Certainly. But keep in mind it's within the context of a country in which I was born, a city where I speak the language, a terrain I know like the back of my hand, a ton of local friends & family on speed dial if I get in a bind and a place where I have access to my own car at all times. I didn't have the benefit of a travel guide or a friend to accompany me--I had to get things figured out on my own. And I was also in a Muslim country as a single, Black, non-Muslim, American woman traveling alone and staying in an apartment in a local neighborhood (this is key). From everyone's reaction to me, it became clear that I was not the norm.

Istanbul Omer Hayyam 2015
Istanbul Omer Hayyam 2015
Durumzade Istanbul 2015 dayka Robinson
Durumzade Istanbul 2015 dayka Robinson

I opted not to get an international plan on my phone so the minute I touched down I turned the cellular data off so I wouldn't incur any unexpected charges. This meant that I the only time I could actually use my phone was when I was back in my apartment and connected to wireless. Outside of that, I was on my own. Lost?? I had to consult a map & figure it out the old school way (I hate pulling out maps when traveling--they scream "target" to me). Need to know how to say a certain word in Turkish? If I was lucky I could find someone who spoke English to translate, otherwise I had to make a note in my phone so I could Google it later.  I can't tell you how many times I had to order my meals by pointing to what I wanted & as someone who loves to ask a million questions about her food...it was quite a change! At the start of my trip I remember being embarrassed by having to continually point to things and feeling frustrated/helpless when I couldn't communicate my needs but then I remembered, "This is the point of this trip. If you wanted to feel comfortable & at ease, you could've gone to London but that's not what this destination was about."So I kept pressing on. One of the things to note about my trip is that I wasn't staying in a high-end hotel with a concierge at my fingertips. When I travel I like to get a feel for how the locals live so this means that I'm generally not right in the middle of tourist areas with hordes of English-speaking taxi drivers & "tourist-friendly" restaurants at my disposal. Instead, I like to stay in residential neighborhoods where real people are going about living their everyday lives. It's exciting...but as someone who definitely stood out in the neighborhood--it can also be a bit scary. I walked a lot. I visited the major, ancient historic sites. I ate at restaurants recommended & beloved by locals. I slept in & rested whenever I wanted to. I had a twice daily informal date with the owner of my apartment as he made me tea every morning before I left and then again when I returned. We talked for hours & hours. I listened to the Islamic call to prayer sound across the city 5 times a day & took that time to meditate on my own faith.  I signed up for an amazing culinary tour of Istanbul/Turkey that had me tasting everything from local spices to cow/goat/sheep cheese, Ayran (pronounced Eye-ran, a buttermilk-like yogurt drink that's a cultural favorite), stuffed muscles, lamb intestines, goat milk ice cream, lots Turkish delight (of course!),  Turkish hummus (more sesame than normal) and a TON of other tasty treats.Needless to say, I did & experienced a lot. 

 I wish I could tell you about every single incredible thing that happened while I was away, but some of it is still so hard to describe...and as transparent as I like to be, I honestly I feel like some of it is just for me because it was so personal. Instead, I'll just say that it was by far the best vacation of my life. As I like to do before I travel, I wrote out my intentions for my trip before I left and it's no big surprise that every single one of them was fulfilled. I only had 4 and they were: (1) to "totally & completely relax" by being in the moment and not thinking about work, (2) to pay attention--to the sounds, the smells (!!) & the tastes (3) to eat really good, expand my palette (lamb intestines!) and not eat Paleo and (4) to meet someone new (funny how much personal stuff you can share with a stranger). It was good to look at my list when I came home and see that I indeed accomplished everything I originally set out to do.

This trip renewed my confidence/trust in myself and reminded me that I can create ANYTHING I want. I believe that thoughts are creative (our lives mimic our thoughts) and this trip was a reminder of that--that asking "how" I would get to Turkey for all of those months was the wrong question. Instead, the only question I needed to ask myself was "Do you WANT to go to Turkey?" and once I acknowledged that I did, everything fell into place.  I ended my trip with an enormous sense of gratitude for the life that I live and I'm so relaxed, focused and genuinely excited about the coming months.  The renewed perspective alone was worth the investment.

Dayka & Charlene Istanbul Grand Bazaar 2015
Dayka & Charlene Istanbul Grand Bazaar 2015
Kaymak Namli IStanbul 2015 Dayka Robinson
Kaymak Namli IStanbul 2015 Dayka Robinson

So why Istanbul? I guess my thought was, "Why not??". It's geographically & culturally far away and isn't what most people think of as a single woman's vacation destination. I didn't want to relax on a beach, I wanted to DO something. The older I get the more I find myself interested in history and I knew my destination would have plenty to keep my attention. Istanbul captured my interest & I didn't want it to be a place I waited to see "until I had a man" so when the opportunity arose, I took it! Why did I travel alone?Because I really wanted to. I didn't even invite anyone else (lol). So much has happened over the last 3 (really, 10) years of my life that I wanted/needed this to be just for me. The fact that I was even ABLE to go is a sign of all that I've accomplished in building my business and transforming my life and I wanted to be able to reflect on all that good stuff alone. I think personal time is one of the most sacred & loving gifts we can give to ourselves. I didn't want to discuss where "we" should eat breakfast or what "we" should do today...I just wanted to "do me". Traveling with friends is great (did it on the Paris leg!) but I don't think it's any more important than traveling on your own. They're just 2 different experiences & the one that's right for you depends entirely on your needs. I love hanging out with friends but...I really love my alone time, too--I NEED that to recharge my batteries. So, while I was a bit nervous to venture into the unknown, I was also really excited. 3 years ago I would't have thought a trip like this was possible. And I definitely wouldn't have expected it to change my life. 

NEXT: 13 Tips on How to be a Bad-Ass International Solo Traveler.

TURNING DOWN A GOOD THING...FOR THE BEST THING.

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Recently I was extended an invitation to participate in a great professional opportunity but as I checked my calendar, I realized said opportunity would overlap with a really important event this summer--my trip to Istanbul. Now this business opportunity is cool. It's relatively high profile and would be a chance to further my career, expand my exposure, build my brand and do something creative & fun. But Istanbul??It's the trip of a lifetime.

Lately when I've faced decisions like this I ask myself 2 questions to help figure out my highest course of action--they serve as an inner compass and never steer me wrong:

"Will this decision take you closer to who you want to be? Will this decision take you closer to where you want to be?" 

As I weighed the decision--one that wouldn't have kept me entirely from the trip but definitely would've made it much less relaxing than I intended--the "right" answer quickly became clear: I needed to turn down the professional opportunity to devote my time & attention to the trip. Because in my heart, traveling to Istanbul is so much more than just a vacation. When I think about that trip, I think about how the experience will change me. About the new people I'll meet and all of the incredible ancient sites I'll see. About the spiritual experiences I'll have. And mostly, about the fact that that trip will take me closer to who I want to be--a woman focused on creating memories, having life changing experiences all across the world, and fully committed to the growth of mySELF.

Is my business important? No doubt. But my work is who I am, while my business is the vehicle through which I work...and there's a big difference between the two. I know that the best way to grow my business is to grow my self (that's no typo), and when realized this was the choice I was being called to make, the right answer immediately became apparent.

 Because sometimes you have to turn down a good thing....to experience the best thing.

THE INN AT SERENBE. MY MINI VACATION. AND A CHOCOLATE BURBON PECAN PIE (THAT WILL WANT TO MAKE YOU SLAP YOUR MOTHER).

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I had THE most incredible mini-vacation at the Inn at Serenbe last week. 
I was invited to visit The Inn at Serenbe as a guest of the community and had a chance to stay in the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams Atlanta Smart & Small Cottage which was...nothing short of amazing. Sometimes you don't realize how much you need to "turn off" until you get to a place where you can do just that and it occurs to you--"this is what I've been missing."
I first became aware of the Serenbe community about 4 years ago when I was working as a Design Assistant on TBS' Movie & A Makeover and we did an on-location shoot. I fell in love with the property (and the Nygren's incredible story) and secretly promised myself that when I was able, I'd purchase my second home within the gates of the community. The property is almost 1,000 acres and very time I think about that place, I just wanna close my eyes, tilt my head & lift my shoulders to my ears. 
I LOVE Serenbe. 
It's an incredibly idyllic self-sustaining organic community about 45 minutes south of Atlanta with organic farms, private residences (built to EarthCraft specifications), art galleries, a school, spa & gym, original shops, stables, a 20 room inn and some DELICIOUS restaurants (more on that later). As a guest of the Inn, it's like getting the best of a country vacation in a 21st century, sustainable community...and the unexpected bonus is that it's not too far from home. 
I brought a guest with me and we made sure to arrive right at check-in time so I could soak up ALL of my visit. So much has changed since the last time I really had a chance to visit the community. The first time I visited most of the residents were part-time and now it's just the opposite. The community is filled with a mix of young couples, new families and folks who have earned the right to do what they want (i.e., retirees). People are so friendly and community-oriented. EVERYONE waves when you drive/walk/bike by...and I do mean everyone. I'm one who loves to research before any kind of trip, so I knew there were options to horseback ride, have a spa day or rent bikes & tour the grounds or do absolutely nothing and just relax. Me being me, I wanted to sample everything! The community features two waterfalls, a labyrinth, lake and several miles of walking trails through the woods so once we got settled, we laced up our sneakers and got to walking. It helped that my phone died en route to Serenbe...I didn't have to worry about text messages or Instagram or Facebook or Words With Friends or my Anita Baker Pandora mix all day (although I did lose my camera for a bit!). Nothing to focus on but being unplugged and in the moment which was so nice for a change.

So we walked. And talked. And then picked up the bikes and rode around the property until my sleek hair turned into a baby afro and I was so tired (and apparently out of shape) that when I got back to the cottage I was dizzy and not feeling so well. And what's the antidote for a queasy stomach? 
Dinner at The Farmhouse 
(which is owned & operated by Marie Nygren one of Serenbe's founders) .
Dinner was so good that I ate it and totally forgot about snapping any photos to share. One of the things I love about The Farmhouse is that the menu changes every week so you're sure to experience something new each time you visit. And no, it wasn't Paleo but yes I did dessert, which was a slice of Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie with homemade Vanilla Bean ice cream. HELLO??!!!
It was soooooooooooooooooooooooo good. 
OMG.
We talked about that pie all night, and I don't even like pecans in my food. 
But that pie????
Ok--imagine what Willy Wonka's Scrumdidlyumptious bar would taste like in real life, then wrap your mind around the fact that that pie was most certainly its equivalent--delish! I raved about the pie so much that they were kind enough to share the recipe with me, so I could pass it along to you guys so I'm imploring you to make this pie over the holidays (or sooner!). Oh, and in advance? You're welcome.
The Farmhouse's Chocolate Burbon Pecan Pie
 Combine in a heavy sauce pan:
1 c. dark Karo syrup
3/4 c. of sugar
1/4 tsp. salt

Bring to a rolling boil stirring steadily, for two minutes.

Remove from heat and add:
3 tbsp. butter
In a separate bowl beat 3 eggs, then pour hot syrup mixture slowly into eggs, beating with a wire whisk.

Add:
1 c. toasted pecan pieces 
1/4 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c. bourbon
Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake for 45-50 minutes until filling is firm. 
Cool before cutting. 
Mini-vacations are truly the best of both worlds. 
You get a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of your everyday life but you're not going so far that you need additional days off to recuperate from your time on vacation.
If you're looking for the perfect low-key getaway, Serenbe should be a must-see on your list. For those of you in or close to Atlanta, don't feel like you have to stay the night to really experience all that Serenbe has to offer! It's the perfect place to spend the day, shop, visit the waterfall and then finish off with a delicious dinner. With the holidays just around the corner, I'm sure they'll have lots of fun events planned so get yourself down there...and tell them Dayka sent you. ;-)