How to say a NICE NO to trip invitations

Have you been getting trip invitations from friends and family, but are still on the fence about venturing far from home? Yes, I know it’s 2022. We have vaccines and boosters now, but we are still not completely out of the woods yet, so the should-I-pick-up-and-go dilemma is still alive and well for some us. I just try not to get stressed about it, and neither should you. Those conversations can be extremely awkward, but there are ways to say a polite and firm no without coming off as boring, flaky, or judgmental.

Avoid sending mixed signals

If you shy away from conflict, you might find yourself saying yes to things more than you mean to. Don’t do that.  Never say yes or maybe if you know for sure you won’t go. It can mess up other people’s plans, affect their pockets, and create deep rifts in your relationships.  Remember, a flaky reputation is hard to repair, and trust is hard to regain once you’ve lost it.

Keep things positive and upbeat

One of the best ways to handle a hard no is to begin and end the conversation on a positive note. Before issuing a decline, tell your family member/friend you’re happy to hear from them and you’re thrilled they thought of inviting you. For bonus points, end with an upbeat line like “I’m so going to miss hanging out with you” too. The most important thing to avoid is using words and phrases like “irresponsible” or  “ how could you?”. Put that in the same category as any others that can be interpreted as conjuring up “gloom and doom.”  After all, pounding someone over the head with all CDC guidelines they are already aware of after their minds are made up won’t change a thing.

Respond from your perspective and avoid making “you statements

Another great way to diffuse potential conflict is to use “I” statements to explain your decision.  Whereas “you” statements can sound argumentative or judgmental, centering your decision on how you feel will help you steer clear of critiquing theirs. Travel shaming was not a good look in 2020, and it still isn’t in 2022. You can’t know everything that’s going on with everyone in your circle, so please extend grace. Use lines like this instead.

  • I’m still a bit too nervous to travel right now, but I totally understand your desire to get away.
  • I 100% wish I was as comfortable as you are to travel right now, but I honestly just need some more time.
  • I’m so sorry, but I still have anxiety about being in an airport or on a crowed flight.  I wouldn’t want my personal fears to put a constant damper on your fun and spoil the trip.
  • I love you and I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m just not there yet, Sorry!

Don’t lie

While it might seem easier to make up an excuse about why you can’t go, the truth is, hurriedly made-up plans or clever cop outs could backfire on you in the long run. First, you’ll have to remember what you said, and secondly, if they are super flexible and keep proposing new dates or times, what then? You’ll have to lie, and then lie again.

Help your friends/family to plan!

One of the simplest ways of to take the sting out of a no and still show you care, is to help. If you know your friends’ likes and dislikes, help them to search for accommodations or flights, cool Instagram locations or make itinerary suggestions.


33 Great trip activities you can do with your family and friends

raid trip activity packet for the entire family

Psssst… guess what? I did a thing!

With the help and support of my loving exasperated at my many rounds of edits family, I hunkered down for a few months earlier this year and created JURNEAZEE [pronounced Jurn – easy], my first-ever digital product.

It’s a boredom-buster combination of 33 great trip activities you can do with your family and friends. The full activity pack includes coloring pages, crossword puzzles, word-finds, scrambled words and bingo cards to keep everyone engaged and entertained at home or on long trips.

Why now?

With more people than ever traveling by car and many others choosing to stay home due to safety concerns during a global pandemic, it’s timely.

What does it do?

Jurneazee makes journeys easy by taking the stress out of long trips and transporting users on a virtual expedition around the world.

How does it do that?

The trip activities highlight interesting tidbits about multiple destinations and point out special nuggets on signature events, cool places of interest, local lingo and food. Jurneazee not only relieves boredom – it appeals to the culturally curious traveler inspires wanderlust as well.

Where can you find it?

Right here on my brand new My Travel Stamps SHOP!

For only $16 (less than 50 cents per page), the Jurneazee Trip Activity Packet includes:
 – 5 coloring pages
 – 5 crossword puzzles
 – 5 bingo cards
 – 8 scrambled word puzzle sets (7 words in each category)
 – 10 word-finds
 – Answer sheets

Plus, persons have the option to buy the complete packet or individual sections.

When can you get it?

Now, just in time for the holidays.

The Ultimate Caribbean Christmas Playlist

If you’re a Caribbean national who couldn’t make it home this Christmas, or are an intrepid traveler of the region who is stuck in snow wishing you were lounging sun-kissed under a palm tree right now, grab a pen. This playlist is for you!

I am 100% positive it will invoke whimsical memories of sun, sand and sea, because I polled some of my closest Facebook friends to find out their favorite Yuletide songs. Their recommendations are below in no particular order:

The Great John L – Green Christmas (Virgin Islands)

Joseph Niles  – Have A Merry Christmas (Barbados)

Daisy Voisin – Alegria Alegria (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Stephanie Hava – The Christmas Collection including Mary Did You Know ( Jamaica)

Hector Lavoe y Willie Colon – Aires de Navidad (Puerto Rico)

San Jose  – Se Va El Caiman (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child (Euro-Caribbean)

Alston Becket Cyrus – Calypso Noel (Saint Vincent)

Carlene Davis – Santa Claus Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto (Jamaica)

Bindley Benjamin – Santa Looking For A Wife (Trinidad)

Baron – Caminante (Trinidad and Tobago parang)

Dean Fraser – Frosty The Snowman (Jamaica)

Home T 4 – Rock it for Christmas (Jamaica)

Jacob Miller & Ray I – Natty Christmas, Full Album (Jamaica)

Rikki Jai – Neighbour Neighbour (Trinidad and Tobago)

Byron Lee & The Dragonaires – Christmas Soca Party Medley (Jamaica)

Lord Kitchener – Drink Ah Rum (Trinidad and Tobago)

Susan Macio – Trini Christmas Is The Best (Trinidad and Tobago)

So head over to YouTube or iTunes and listen to these soothing, rhythmic sounds of the islands while you sip ponche de crème, ginger beer or sorrel. Of course, I also expect you to be eating heaping servings of two or more of the region’s traditional holiday menu items. That’d be mouthwatering delicacies like baked ham, crab and callaloo, curried goat, roasted chicken, jug-jug, gungo rice and peas, black cake, cassava pone, pastelles, and much more.

Caribbean Christmas music

Let’s talk about racism, profiling and travel

I think I was eight or nine when the n-word first invaded my world. It crashed through the walls of my childhood utopia with the speed and precision reminiscent of an experienced tradesman wielding a powerful sledgehammer, and the visceral blow swept through me like a raging fire capable of bending steel and collapsing metal.

The incident scorched my soul badly, but thankfully, I did not implode.

Musing about life. (Photo courtesy of Tina Foster Photography.)

It was my second international trip, and my younger sister and I were on a family vacation at our uncle’s house in a middle-income subdivision in Winter Haven, Florida. One afternoon, as we played with a boy in a neighborhood park, he suddenly darted from behind a tree, pulled up abruptly, and pointed to a dark smudge somewhere between the side of his shin and ankle.

“You see that dark spot right there?” he asked nonchalantly.

Mildly annoyed, yet curious about what triggered this disruption in our enjoyable game of hide and seek, we nodded our heads blandly.

“That’s you, you black ni_ _ a”, he spat, literally and figuratively.

Having grown up in the Caribbean, it took a few seconds for the racial slur to sink in.  At first, my sister and I simply looked at each other stunned.  We then looked closely at the boy to ensure it was the same kid we’d been happily playing with for at least half an hour.

I can’t remember if it was me or my sis who quickly pointed to a white spot on one of our shirts and returned verbal volley.

“Well, you see that white spot right here?  That’s you, you white pork.” 

(Yikes! Like, how lame is that? Yes, we really said that.)

In retrospect, it certainly wasn’t the most eloquent or polished response. However, bear in mind that we were children, and in a kid’s innocent world, drastic times called for drastic measures. Up to that point, all our favorite cartoons had taught us to stand up to bullies, so we knew we had to get a word in before we hightailed it out of that park and into the arms of our doting parents. Dusk was fast approaching, and as naïve as we were at that age, instinct told us it was time to get the heck out of dodge.

Fast forward to years later, and I belatedly realized that was my very first face-to-face experience with racism. I enjoy visiting new destinations, and quite honestly, most of my encounters in foreign lands have been good ones. Until now, I have only shared the high points, but given the overt resurgence of racial tensions worldwide, I would be painting an unrealistic picture if I didn’t also admit there are occasional downsides to traveling as a person of color, or with travel documents that don’t include a First World passport.

Have incidents related to your race or country of national origin ever negatively impacted your travel experience? If you have a story to share, I’d love to hear about it. I’m also curious to know what were the coping mechanisms you used to get through the experience.

Sadly, this is 2017, yet the question is still blaringly relevant. Over the years, I’ve found myself in not-so-great situations in Argentina, Florida, Italy, and on a flight to South Africa. But here’s the moral of the story: None of the negative rhetoric has affected my insatiable desire to see the world.  I’ll share some of the valuable lessons that I’ve learned from those experiences in a follow-up post soon. Stay tuned.

My 10 favorite Instagram feeds for travel inspiration in 2016

Historic fish house in Pine Island Sound, Florida

I don’t know about you, but the ‘Gram has quickly become one of my top sources for travel inspiration – especially in 2016. While travel magazines, blogs, crowdsourcing websites (like TripAdvisor) and travel shows are still high on my priority list for trip planning, I find myself drawn to Instagram because of it’s high-impact visuals, user-generated content, and its ability to provide me with real-time views.Historic fish house in Pine Island Sound, Florida

People post as they roam in a beautiful yet authentic way, usually without the over processed look of professionally commissioned photography.  Some ‘Grammers simply post out-of-this-world shots, while others excel at describing the scene so well that you feel you were there with them at the exact time they snapped the photo. And a select few just seem to exude an inner glow, regardless of their location. Whether the photo has great angles or lighting  – or not, they’re clearly having so much fun that you couldn’t care less if it’s not postcard-perfect. You just wanna be where they are anyway!

These were my fave most stalked Instagram accounts in 2016, in no particular order.

1. @truthslinger

An artist who was born and raised in Machakos, Mutua Matheka masterfully uses his lens to help paint the wide array of colors of Kenya – and the continent of Africa – one frame at a time. He shoots his selected subjects from unique perspectives, and words fail me when I try to describe the end results. They most fitting and succinct adjective is DOPE. 


Other than being a drop-dead gorgeous Scot who will leave you constantly drooling for more of his special brand of eye candy, Jeremy is the founder and CEO of Beautiful Destinations, which, at close to eight million followers, is one of Instagram’s most popular travel accounts. This is his personal feed, and it gives you insight into the world of a blossoming entrepreneur who appears to be a very eligible (and hot), globetrotting bachelor.

3. @TheWorldUpCloser

I came across this account shortly after I launched my blog two years ago, and I have watched Shea Powell’s following grow from 600+ to 52K+ in what seems like very little time. Based in my home country of Jamaica, she’s been able to travel to many far-flung locations despite having considerably less visa-free access than other bloggers at her level. (That’s our inbred island girl go-getter spirit at work!) While purposefully pursuing her dreams, she’s also managed to capture the imagination of people from all over the world with her arresting images.

To live. To love. To learn. To dream. To explore. To inspire.

A post shared by Shea Powell (@theworldupcloser) on


Florida native Alyssa Ramos’ feed is so fairytale like and dreamy, she puts the ‘inspire’ in the word inspiration. Known for her blonde bombshell good looks, relentless work ethic, and her affinity for selfies taken with Go Pro cameras, Alyssa’s account takes you on a whimsical journey from Bolivia to Signapore to Bali, and everywhere you can think of in between.


British-born and Dubai-based Phil Sykes doesn’t have a travel-focused account per se, but prepare to be WOWed when he and his family set off for their frequent adventures, or when he ventures off alone. His landscape shots often leave you breathless, and his portraits are evolving into ones worthy of photo journalism assignments from Time magazine, National Geographic Traveler, and others. I mean seriously, if he keeps his game on fleek like this, he’ll soon find himself on a trajectory to snapping photos for the best of the best.

6. @Travelnoir

The number of travel sites dedicated to showcasing the Black Travel Movement is growing, but with 325K followers and counting, Travel Noire is, to date, the IG gold standard. It’s main audience consists of young black millennials with some cash to burn and a penchant to see the world (not Gen Xers like me who refuse to roll over and play dead even though many travel brands already act like we are.). The more exotic the place, the more featured it is. Think Santorini, Greece; Marrakesh, Morocco; Capri, Italy, and many more.

Higher heights. @gentetiquette // Montserrat, Spain. #travelnoire #montserrat

A post shared by Travel Noire (@travelnoire) on

7. @jackson.groves

Other than providing you with an unwavering supply of striking imagery, Jackson has the uncanny ability to make dealing with a nomadic lifestyle look super laid back and easy. This  Aussie reminds you of the guy next door who used to climb trees and run the neighborhood ragged with you as a child. Sometimes I feel like ‘he’s a friend in my head’, as the irrepressible Wendy Williams of U.S. talk show fame would say.

8. @minoritynomad

I like Erik Prince’s feed not so much for the artistry of it, but more for the fact that he travels to destinations other people tend to overlook. By doing so, he doesn’t post the ‘same ole’ stuff. Let’s be honest, how many pictures of the Eiffel Tower or Christ The Redeemer Statue can you see before you start rolling your eyes? At 92 countries and counting, this former aerospace engineer (US Air Force) is living MY dream.

9. @tararielle

This Brooklyn-based resident is my go-to source when I need a tasteful burst of color in my day. I’m not exactly sure how she does it, but Tara always seems to see the hues and tones in her backgrounds that other people miss. Her photos are so vibrant, they literally pop. It’s no wonder her IG influencer status is growing. Side note: I’m willing to bet that her “monogrammed” straw hat is as much a rising internet sensation as she is.

"Color can do anything that black-and-white can." —Vincenti Minnelli

A post shared by Tara Donaldson (@tararielle) on

10. @glographics

Gloria Atanmo is a newly-minted author, a regular contributor to many online publications, and a blogger, but for me, her biggest claim to fame is her mega-watt personality. I’ve never met the lady in person, but her pictures, videos, and vivid descriptions are always presented in such a bubbly, effervescent manner that they scream FUN. Believe me, her feed is a reliable picker upper on those ‘oh, shucks that did NOT just happen’ days.

So, that’s my 2016 list. Which ‘Grammers get your scroll-worthy vote?


Bonus mention:


My newest discovery is from Greece, and Dominic’s signature style is to use silhouettes to tell his swoon-worthy stories. Regrettably, he rarely geotags his locations, but his way of looking at a scene makes you dream of escaping to his magical places nonetheless.


Cartagena’s legend of Santa Clara

T E N steps.

10 narrow yet sturdy steps protected by a barred gate that goes up to waist level and an area bordered by rectangular-shaped glass. That is all that separates a sunny and vibrant present from a mysterious and brooding past in the small coastal town of Cartagena.  The past is defined by the legend of Santa Clara and the palpable present is proliferated with stylish bar patrons sipping boozy cocktails just above an empty tomb.  

The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.
The entrance to famous crypt inside the Hotel Sofitel Santa Clara.

Persons acted as if this UNESCO-protected burial site was just another fixture in the very well-appointed room. For me, three words came to mind. Mind-blowing. Weird. Creepy.

The unexpected juxtaposition of a crypt under a bar made my heart race a little and my flesh break out in goosebumps as I cautiously descended the stairs to see into the vault. Given my propensity for travel mishaps, I decided then and there that  it was decidedly not the time to inadvertently trip and enter flat on my face or butt.

Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?
Lone book inside the crypt. Tell me, would you sign it?

Yes, you are piecing the puzzle together correctly! There is a crypt that doubles as an exhibition piece within a high-end Sofitel luxury hotel in Colombia. I have never seen anything like it on any of my travels before. When you visit Cartagena, go have a drink in their Bar El Torro or just pop inside like I did for a quick look around. The locals or your tour guide will gladly share the fanciful story of the girl that was buried there.

There are writings on the wall from previous centuries
There are writings on the wall from previous centuries

The legend, as written by Colombian Nobel-prize winner Gabriel García Márquez, is about a 12-year-old child called Servia who had long, unbridled copper hair. Born with her umbilical cord around her neck, her entrance into the world wasn’t easy and she went through life plagued with difficulty. Servia grew up with slaves, then later contracted rabies after being bitten by a disease-filled dog. In an effort to heal her, she was sent to the convent of Santa Clara to be taken care of by nuns, who, in their well-intended but misguided efforts  at finding suitable remedies finally resorted to exorcism, which is believed led to her death. 

Uuniforms ostaff members of El Bar El Torro
Doesn’t he look like he has no arms in this shot? Even the uniforms of the staff members are a little spooky!

Before her passing, it is said that a priest befriended her and used to sneak out of a leper’s hospital regularly to see her.  When they met, legend has it that they ate and recited poetry together, although they were never sexually involved. Oddly, when Servia died Father Cayetano wasn’t around. The story ends with the incredible notion that her red hair continued to grow after her death.

All this BEFORE you even take one drink!

Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance
Exterior shot of the Hotel Sofitel near the Bar entrance

It’s no wonder the hotel attracts pampered guests and speculative and curious visitors from all around the globe.


Check back soon for more posts about my trip to Colombia.

Dune bashing and belly dancing in Dubai

Dubai is a hotbed of first-class entertainment venues and tourist attractions but surprisingly, the activity I enjoyed most during my stay was a Desert Safari tour. It included dune bashing, camel rides, dinner in a Bedouin-style camp, henna hand painting and belly dancing. If you plan to visit, you should try it.

Let the dune bashing begin!
Let the dune bashing adventure begin!

What is dune bashing?

Dune bashing means driving at increasing and decreasing speeds over sand dunes. As the surface of the sand keeps shifting, it takes a special skill and a special type of car to navigate the terrain – usually a sports utility vehicle (SUV). Expect a stop to let the air out of your tyres (tires) as reducing the pressure gives the vehicle more traction against the moving sand.

What to expect

The experience starts with pick-up at your hotel or home stay, followed by a 45 minute to an hour-long drive out of the city. As we left the outline of a built-to-impress metropolitan area behind us, the emerging desert landscape in its unapologetic sparseness acted like a soothing balm to my, at that point, over-stimulated soul.

Camels spotted on the ride out of the city
Camels spotted on the ride out of the city (Photo contributed)

There were no city noises to obscure my hearing and no towering buildings to block my view. If you are lucky, you may even spot a few camels or other wildlife along the way.

Desert Wildlife
Desert Wildlife (Photo contributed)

The dune bashing part of the trip was a bumpy and thrilling ride that lasted about an hour. We reveled in the slipping and sliding, the exhilarating skidding, and 360-degree spinning of the vehicle. All of that was punctuated by sporadic seat-gripping and different decibels of screaming and shouting. And sand, lots and lots of sand! We had a jolly good time.

The vehicles travelled in convoy and stuck close together as they performed their stunts. As a result, we were not just caught up with what was happening in our SUV, we also were observing the antics of the people in the other vehicles as well.

Dubai Sand dunes (Photo contributed)
Dubai Sand dunes (Photo contributed)

Tip: Try to secure the front passenger seat or a window for the best views!

What to wear

Dress comfortably, because inevitably the sand gets into everything. I recommend a hat or a scarf to cover your hair, and long pants and a light shirt or t-shirt. I wore sneakers and socks in an effort to cover my feet but the sand got into them anyway, so I could very well have worn sandals.

For persons who wear contact lenses, I suggest wearing shades as well because small grains of sand get into your eyes very easily when you are outside the vehicle. With no running water nearby, eye-drops alone won’t be enough to clear them.

Desert Sunset
Desert Sunset

After the drive, you are allowed to exit the vehicle, walk around and take pictures. The evening drives are timed to end just before sunset so be ready to capture some pretty cool shots then.

Dinner and belly dancing

The evening ended with a trip to a Bedouin-style camp. The Middle Eastern-influenced dinner menu included a variety of meats and salads with some desserts.

Stooping by the well
Stooping by a well

Dinner set-up
Dinner set-up

Optional camel riding, henna painting, shisha smoking and belly dancing rounded out the evening’s activities.

Henna hand painting
Henna hand painting

Belly dancer
Belly dancer (Photo contributed)

At the end of the dinner and belly dancing show, the lights were turned off for about five minutes to allow us to enjoy the magnificence of the star-filled sky..


Plan for the AED 360.00 price range but please check various tour sites for the most up-to-date information. I did my tour with Arabian Adventures and the adult rate is a little cheaper in the summer months, from June 1- August 31st. But bear in mind you will be in the desert and it is at its hottest temperatures at that time of year.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!


Editor’s Notes:

No one who visits Dubai can deny that it is a visually impressive city. It boasts an ever-evolving skyline, soaring skyscrapers, superlative service and a surefire sexiness that comes with being younger and better-looking than many of its regional peers.

Impressive Dubai skyline
Impressive Dubai skyline

Oil rich reserves discovered in the mid-60s proved to be the catalyst that led to the demise of the tradtional Bedouin lifestyle. Before the boom, settlements were built around a main creek and camels were the main means of transportation.

It is nothing like that today.

The country is now a thriving metropolis designed to convey opulence; a tangible reminder of its status as a premier international financial center and an important business hub in the Middle East. There are swanky hotels, glitzy shopping centres (centers) and copious amounts of steel, glass, marble and gold almost at every corner.

Posing by an elaborate fish tank in a hotel lobby
Posing by an elaborate fish tank in a hotel lobby

Expatriates seeking employment or upward mobility are drawn to it and visitor arrival figures prove tourists can’t get enough of it – unless they are a little pesky like me. In spite of being impressed by the vision and drive behind its public systems and dramatic physical transformation; I didn’t – just couldn’t – warm up to it.

My biggest takeaway was an inescapable sense of the superficial. But admittedly, not everybody seeks authenticity in their destination experience; sometimes escape is all you need. Dubai provides that in heaping servings. I liken it to a grownup version of Disney World, or an adult land of “anything is possible” make-believe.

Lunch break
Workers on a lunch break

There are fake islands and fake snow, and elaborate food sometimes flown in on flights more long-haul than the ones the restaurant patrons themselves had to use to get there. Most of all, there were not-so-positive things that lurked beneath the glossy surface.

I could not ignore the stories I heard of the vicious cycle of pretentiousness that drives some work permit holders into debt because they are hopelessly trying to keep up with the status quo. Neither could I avoid hearing the whispers of unfair treatment of the labourers (laborers) who often are tricked into building the city on broken promises and shattered dreams.

Roadside musings
Roadside musings

It was a lot to take in, so by day two of my four-day trip, I desperately craved something real.

Thankfully, I got a taste of how non-showy life used to be when I went dune bashing in the desert and watched some belly dancing in a camp that same evening. Who would believe that I finally got my Zen in the most unmodern context possible? Yet, I did. My Dubai moment came when I sat cross-legged on a low, quilted cushion; and relished a tasty yet traditional meal.

Have you visited Dubai? What did you think?