Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Traveling Alone, Part Deux



About a year ago, I wrote a post about traveling alone. One option I didn’t discuss in much detail is taking an organized tour. At the time, I did not have any experience with this type of travel. A couple of months ago, I started getting buggy to go somewhere. I’m seven months pregnant, now, so my normal thoughts of SCUBA diving and skiing aren’t a possibility. Morocco has been on my list since I met a woman who was in the Peace Corps there, so I decided to look into it. Taking a tour made sense to me at this stage because, although Morocco is ranked well above the US in healthcare performance, I decided having a local advocate who spoke Arabic and French might be useful if I actually needed something.

I selected a 13 day Morocco Explorer trip through Peregrine Adventures. When I was in Zimbabwe in 2006, I met a travel agent, Tom Gehrels who works for Adventure Center based in Toronto, Canada. Tom has been in 97 countries, so he has good recommendations for travel adventures. He’s also very familiar with the tour companies with which they do business, so I knew I would get good suggestions based on what I shared with him about my interests, energy level, and physical limitations. I appreciate working with a professional who “practices what they preach”, so to speak! When I decided I would prefer not to handle the logistics on my own, I called him, explained my situation and asked for some ideas. After a few email exchanges, I selected the Peregrine trip because of the timing and budget, the accommodation of my inability to ride a camel for an hour in the desert, and the length of the trip -which seemed like it would allow enough time to really see the country.

I enjoyed a number of things about traveling like this. It was relaxing knowing that everything on the trip was scheduled and booked and I didn’t need to worry about any of the logistics. We went places I would not have gone, if I had planned the trip on my own (although we missed one place - that could’ve been added as an extension, we just decided against it). We were taken to some places to shop (I never felt pressured to buy and the guides do not get kickbacks) and I appreciated that the places we went were endorsed by the tour company so the products offered were good quality and fairly priced. If the Berber rug I bought hadn’t shown up, I would have had recourse. I learned things about the culture that I probably wouldn’t have learned planning my own itinerary. For example, the current King Mohammed VI changed many of the laws regarding women’s social and civic equality and there was opportunity to discuss that and how it has changed life with several Moroccans. I was also made aware of some of the challenges women still face in Morocco.

There are also tradeoffs traveling this way, too. Tours can be fast paced and sometimes you are in a new location every night. We had three nights in Fes and two in Marrakech. Overall, I didn’t mind moving around once I figured out how to keep my bags organized. Frequent relocation means that you won’t be doing much hanging around soaking up the sights, especially if there isn’t much free time built into the itinerary. Most of the restaurants were chosen for us. If you like to comb TripAdvisor looking for what other travelers like, that might be a bummer. In this case, I enjoyed the opportunity to have Berber pizza and eat in the home of a guide in Sefrou, which I would not have been able to do on my own. We were very fortunate and had a group of seven who really hit it off. If the group had been larger or there had been difficult personalities on the tour, it would’ve been more challenging.

I was not alone on this trip, but surprisingly, or possibly not, there were THREE single women in our group of seven, even though it was not a women’s trip. They ranged in age from 34 to 60 and came from New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The woman from the UK had more than a few of these trips under her belt. As a single woman, I think this type of trip is ideal, particularly if it’s your first foray into traveling alone. You will likely be connected with the group at the airport when you arrive and will be dropped off there at the end. There will be others with whom to socialize and someone to answer any questions or help address any issues you encounter.

For myself, I imagine I will be doing other trips like this at some point. While reading up on this tour, I learned that some of these companies offer similar tours for families. I mentioned that to our guide in Morocco and he was very complimentary and said they usually limit the amount of driving and search out activities that will entertain and engage children. Given my little man will likely be an only child, this seems like a great way for him to travel with other kids and maybe even make a friend overseas!


Here are a few things I recommend, if you are thinking about taking a trip like this:

·        Take note of the maximum number of travelers; We had seven on a trip that could’ve been 16; Our group collectively agreed that more than 10 or 12 would’ve been way too many

·        Look over the itinerary closely – how often are you moving around? If the trip is more than eight days, being in one hotel for a couple of nights here and there might make things a bit more relaxed

·        Inquire about the demographics of the expected group from the travel agency or tour provider - Is it usually all or mostly women? Are they in an age range that will support the level of activity you would like?

·        Find out if the comfort level is going to be to your liking – do you want posh hotels or a local experience?

·        What physical limitations and interests do you have? Using Tom has twice helped me identify a travel experience that was well matched to what I could and wanted to do and resulted in a travel experience with a like-minded group

·        What is your budget? Is there a single supplement? You may have an option to share a room with another single traveler. Take time to consider how that person’s habits and sleep schedule might affect your own.

Tom has a few additional things to consider:
 

  • Environmental sustainability record of the tour operator – Adventure Center offers ways for you to offset your carbon footprint
  • Are the tour leaders local or Westerners (locals being the preferred as they are much better informed about the local culture)
  • Start and end place of the tour - is it easy to get to from the nearest airport?; Are transfers included or can you book them as add-ons?; Think about that especially in relation to when you are arriving at the destination (late at night - book a transfer!)
  • What are the local attitudes towards women? (this can be a sensitive issue, sometimes on the verge of politically incorrect, but perhaps something you may want to address)
  • Dress code – for example in Muslim countries it’s often suggested and sometimes required that you cover your knees and shoulders, at least.

Happy Travels!
~Christine Zellers, LBDC CEO

 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

LBDC East Bay is Shining Their Member Spotlight

 
 
It has been too long since we shined a spotlight on one of our members! Gwen Brady from our East Bay, CA chapter has chosen to honor Donna Barnett as our most recent member spotlight.
 
Donna is happily married and enjoying the blessings of a long lasting friendship with the man she chose for her husband. Together they share four awesome children; a 25 year old daughter and three sons ages 23, 21 and 13.
 
Donna works in the marketing department of the University of CA, Davis Extension offering continuing and professional education. She is involved in outreach events, student supervision, direct mail, research and selecting merchandise for outreach events. 
  
While she considers San Francisco as her hometown, Donna was born in Owensboro, KY and moved to the Western Addition of California known as Fillmore at just 5 years old. Her hobbies include making arts and crafts whenever time permits.  She loves to make diaper cakes, and party favors among other pretty and crafty items. Donna says she has a strong interest in health and community involvement. “I am an active member of the Parent Teacher club at my son’s middle school where I serve on the board and I am passionate about our children and making sure they have access to a good education. My favorite things include traveling, dancing, hosting family gatherings, and going for long walks.” Sounds like Donna knows how to stay busy, but she still makes time for fun. She is looking forward to several upcoming vacations such as weekend trips to Vegas, Lake Tahoe and Pismo Beach. Her family is also planning their annual camping trip and a visit to NYC.
 
Donna joined the LBDC one year ago in order to step outside of her box! “I’m at a place in my life where I can let my hair down a bit without feeling like my home life is being neglected. I wanted to enjoy the company of quality women, outside of my comfortable and familiar circle”, she says.  “The thing I love most about LBDC is the many different personalities and events that I have access to.”
 
She likes having fun, maintaining a positive attitude and trying to be in the moment. Donna enjoys giving back to others, even if it means being a light to those I come in contact with.  “How I treat others is very important to me,” said Donna. Quote by May Angelou- “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
 
LBDC East Bay Director, Gwen Brady, had this to say: “Donna Barnett was one of the very first people that I told about LBDC.  She showed as much excitement as I did so I knew she was an example of the kind of women I wanted to be associated with.  Donna was in on the ground floor.  She helped me to get the word out about the club and has been gem ever since!  Donna is extremely reliable; she played an integral role in East Bay's launch party.  She immediately took the initiative to get things done.
 
Last year, Donna organized a bowling event!  She negotiated every aspect of the event and it was very, very successful. By popular demand, she organized another one in February.  It was SO popular, we had to reserve more lanes and open more RSVP spots.  It was one of our most well attended events thus far!!
 
She always has a happy, bubbly disposition.  She is one of those people that you KNOW you'll get a smile from without fail, every single time.  She's warm, thoughtful, outgoing, fun loving and beautiful...inside and out.  She is also an amazing mom! 
 
I'm ecstatic to see that she has renewed her membership and will be with us for another year! I am truly honored to have Donna as a member of the East Bay Chapter.”
 
 
We are all proud to have Donna as part of the Little Black Dress Club family. Thanks for supporting our organization, Donna!
 
~Shay Ashcraft
National Director
 
 

Friday, January 3, 2014

LBDC Has Arrived in Atlanta!


LBDC has just launched a new chapter in Atlanta!

LaTonya Hubbard and I had our first Meet & Greet for the Atlanta chapter and we are so excited!  The event was a luncheon @ Copeland's of New Orleans in Atlanta, GA and there were 9 of us in attendance. I opened the meeting with an introduction of myself and of LBDC, and then we all introduced ourselves and told why we joined this group. It was really interesting to learn the diversity of our group. We had a couple of ladies who were both originally from Brooklyn, NY, we met women with children and without, a few pet lovers and several ladies looking for new friendships and adventures. We played an ice breaker game where they had to unscramble words that were related to LBDC and Sherise Garland won the prize.


 
A detailed list of upcoming event ideas and suggestions were given and the ladies were especially excited about horseback riding, a glamping weekend in a cabin, spa days, movie nights and several others fun and out of the box ideas such as learning to ride a motorcycle and group swimming lessons.

LBDC Atlanta will be planning a bus trip to the Seabreeze Jazz Festival in Panama City Beach, FL April 24-27 and we would like to invite additional LBDC chapters to join us! Email mwrenn@lbdclub.com for more information.

We enjoyed talking and getting to know each other during our meet and greet, phone numbers were exchanged among members and bonding certainly took place.  LaTonya compared LBDC to the sisterhood found in a sorority, Brittany stated that she had never belonged to a sorority but she liked the bond she instantly felt from being a member. Several of the ladies commented on what a wonderful time we had and what a pleasure it was meeting everyone.

We can hardly wait for our next event!
 
Moni Wrenn and LaTonya Hubbard
LBDC Atlanta Directors


 

 

Friday, December 6, 2013

LBDC Is Better Than Ever!

The creative offices of LBDC have been busy the past couple of months, and we’ve got some exciting news to share with our members!
 
After several months of gathering feedback, suggestions and creative ideas from our Directors, members and trusted consultants, the Little Black Dress Club website has undergone a complete overhaul and is almost ready for its big debut!

From the dynamic new home page to the customizable chapter pages and the new event calendar, the new and improved LBDC site is sure to offer a more user friendly, interactive experience for our current members and Directors.

Why? The Little Black Dress Club was founded on the ideas of two women, but it grows on the ideas of many. Our Directors and members spoke up with ideas on a new and improved website and our leadership has worked hard to make it happen. User feedback indicated that our current site needed some major changes in functionality. We needed a home page that was as dynamic as our membership and we wanted site visitors to automatically see and feel the benefit of being part of the LBDC.

 
Here are just a few of the new and improved sections of our new site:

Navigation: With the LBDC website redesign, gone are the days of error messages, delayed page loading, or searching too many pages before finding what you are looking for. Users can expect clean content in easy to find sections, without all the background noise.
 
Content: Our Directors work hard to promote and manage their chapters. Why not show off their hard work while attracting new and potential members and sponsors? We will be showcasing bolder, more current photos from LBDC events and excursions, explaining all the benefits of membership while updating live feeds from our additional social media outlets and blog. These are just to name a few!
 
Segmentation: We have over a dozen active chapters with LBDC – Each chapter will have it’s own customizable page. Event calendars and registration will be clearly defined and easy for users to find what they are looking for.

Here are a few other new additions that you can expect:
 
Live news feeds: Live feeds from the LBDC blog and social media


 
Chapter Pages: A customizable page for each LBDC chapter
 


Video/Picture Sliders: Dynamic, current pictures and videos showcasing some of our most popular LBDC events and featuring some of the perks of membership 
 
The fun won’t stop there. We have lots in store for the new look of LBDC. Expect the first round of changes to happen in early 2014. The Leadership Team of the Little Black Dress Club has listened to what our members want and we aim to give it to you!
Have ideas, comments or other suggestions? Feel free to email us at info@lbdclub.com. We look forward to sharing the new website with you!


Cheers!


The Leadership Team, LBDC
Christine, Jen and Shay

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Hurricane Through NOLA

New Orleans is hands down, my favorite city on the planet.  I could write a book on the sights and sounds of the city but would only scratch the surface of this truly unique place.  The dynamic architecture, the music, the art, and the food…oh my goodness, the food is absolutely indescribable!   Believe me when I say, you have not lived until you have experienced a melt-in-your mouth beignet (French donut) served hot from CafĂ© du Monde.  Mmmm…what was I talking about again? Oh yeah!

After returning from a girls-only trip to New Orleans for the Essence Music Festival last July, I immediately booked a weekend for just the hubby and I for our 14th Wedding Anniversary.    Then wouldn’t you know it, the very next day I received a Facebook notification that The LittleBlack Dress Club Gulf Shores was launching.  Talk about fate!  I couldn’t email Shay fast enough to get the contact information for the director, TyraBrown.  After emailing back and forth, the plans were set to meet with Tyra upon my arrival.

Our second day in the Crescent City, Tyra chose to meet us with her husband at Mojito’s Rum Bar and Grill located in the Frenchmen area.  My husband and I arrived a bit early and were escorted to a very quaint patio with a trickling fountain, and down-home blues band on stage.  As we were absorbing the vibe, Tyra and her husband, Carl approached us.  Once hugs and handshakes were exchanged, we sat and talked for the next couple of hours about everything from careers to how our husbands swept us off our feet.  Of course the food did not disappoint, and I had an authentic hand-poured (not to be confused with one from a mix) Hurricane.  

Unfortunately, we had to cut our evening together short, due to a forty-five minute drive back to their home in Mississippi, and Tyra had to put on her “Event Planner hat” for an 8 am appointment in Baton Rouge.  We parted ways with more hugs and our newfound friends promised to visit us in Nashville. 

The evening was still young but unfortunately we aren’t. So after a stroll down Frenchman Street (a local’s hideaway) and watching the spectacle of Bourbon Street, we crawled to the bed of our hotel room, while the rest of the city cried out, “Let’s Get This Party Started!” 

 
~Bridget D. Flowers
LBDC Goodwill Ambassador and Nashville Charter Member

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

These Are Some of Our Favorite Things



This year marks the second time that the Nashville Chapter hosted a Favorite Things Brunch. With the success of the 2012 event, everyone was looking forward to this year's brunch on Saturday, September 7th at Darfons in Donelson.


Darfon's had a special brunch menu to choose from, in addition to their regular menu and wide selection of cocktails. The event had a large turn out of 21 ladies dressed in their Little Black Dresses and cute shoes (we can't forget the shoes)!


The idea behind the "Favorite Things" theme is that everyone brings a wrapped gift of their favorite thing, then we have a gift exchange using the same rules as Dirty Santa or White Elephant. At first, the ladies were incredibly nice to each other and not stealing anyone's gift, but there's always a few in every crowd who will break the mold and steal someone's treasure! It was all in good fun, and everyone left with new favorite things. A few of the gifts in the exchange were; Little Black Dress coffee mugs, a baking set, several wine-themed gifts, as well as several beauty product gifts.

 
In addition to the regular gift exchange, Shay and Amy each put together a basket loaded with their favorite things. Nancy and LaDonna were the lucky recipients of the loaded baskets.

A special shout out goes to one of Nashville's long-time members, LaDonna Gaines, who will be moving back to Birmingham to be closer to her family. We're all going to miss LaDonna and hope that she travels back to Nashville for as many events as she can attend.



~ Tonya Overstreet
Nashville Chapter Member, LBDC

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

LBDC Is Blowing Through The Gulf States

The Little Black Dress Club train continues its way around the US. Our latest chapter is in the Gulf States and being led by Tyra Brown. Read on to learn about Tyra and see all the fun she has in store for her new chapter.







I was on a mission for about a year to find a women's only social club that had a national presence.  After extensive research via Internet, word of mouth and through my travels I came across the Little Black Dress Club
 
The LBDC platform met the goals and mission I'd envision for a club. It offered a great foundation for women to connect and share common interest. After that massive gulf coast storm a lot of women, including myself, were so busy rebuilding and realigning our lives until we'd gotten used to the hamster wheel of going through our daily routine and put our social needs to the side. LBDC sparked my interest as a great way to have those girlfriend round tables, support network and add FUN back into our busy schedules.
 
I love the gulf coast because of its diversity. There's a wonderful blend of cultural that keeps me intrigued. It's very European in some areas and others just down home southern living at its best. Every woman needs a girlfriend. And I feel the LBDC in our Gulf States will become that hub to create long lasting friendships. 
 
Our goal is to have at least awesome events each month; one hosted in Louisiana and one in Mississippi. We want to make an impact in our community so our focus will be on volunteerism opportunities and community initiatives at least once per quarter. We will enjoy wine tastings, cooking classes, painting with a twist, cultural driven activities; especially a few of our famous festivals, as well as an annual international trip such as a cruise. 
 
As for me personally, I try to walk by faith and not by sight. Early in my career I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Jimmy Buffett's mother, Mary Loraine "Peets" Buffett, prior to her death.  I fell in love with her easy going attitude and more so her philosophy of life.
 
-Read often, including the classics.
-Accept everyone for who they are, not for what they do.
-Be well traveled.
-Learn to be a listener.
-Live by the sea.
-Listen to your spirit and find joy.
-Education, like money, doesn’t make you happy or successful, but it sure helps.
-Love and family are the best things.
 
I have so many favorite quotes from being an avid reader but my top pick is one by Mahatma Gandhi; “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”
 
The importance of enjoying life as if it’s your last moment and the equal importance of advancement in knowledge and growth in understanding is very powerful to me.
 
I enjoy traveling and indulging in the entire cultural experience especially the music, food and arts. Reading and painting is my go to when I cannot feed my travel bug.  I love to meet new people as it always opens up new adventures. 
 
I look forward to serving the Gulf Coast as their director and welcome feedback & suggestions from all. Make sure you follow us on our Facebook page by clicking here.
 
 
Here's to new lifelong friendship....Cheers!
 
~Tyra Brown
Gulf States Director, LBDC