Le’Dia helped show me the light when it came to utilizing travel as a means of self-care. Several years ago, she and I, along with a group of friends took a trip for her birthday to Puerto Rico, then another the year after to Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Needless to say, I’ve been traveling ever since.
Le’Dia has a knack for finding the best places, gathering a great group of people, and compiling a top-notch itinerary for her trips. She’s been to numerous countries and knows all the tips and tricks for getting the most out of traveling the world–without always breaking the bank. So, I decided to get some insight from her for those who want to travel, but don’t know where to get started.
Here’s Face Time with Le’Dia J. Smith:
Hey girl, hey! I like to begin these by asking who you are. In your own words, who is Le’Dia?!
I am a ball of energy that gravitates towards people and things that help me vibrate higher. I am an HR professional by trade alongside being a resume editing guru, travel + experience curator, Howard alumna, tutor, ticket scalper, I’ll-play-any-game-to-win competitor, and a beloved daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, and favorite friend.
Great, now what is it that you do?!
I’m a University Programs and Diversity Manager at McDonald’s Corporation in downtown Chicago. In simple terms, I travel around to colleges and universities during the fall and spring seasons to recruit top talent for internships and full-time roles – leading efforts at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Diversity recruiting at all levels of the organization was recently added to my responsibilities to make sure we’re always hiring the best, and this has led me to attend more conferences and marketing activations where we can tie in our employer brand with the consumer brand. It’s fun and a lot of work, but the additional travels help me see more of the world for free.
You were the first person to help me step outside of my comfort zone when it came to travel, and I’m so grateful! What made you interested in travel? Was it a person, a situation, or did you always have that innate desire?
Since childhood, my parents always planned family vacations for us to take each summer, which resulted in traveling became a part of my core identity. Trips included a handful of visits to Disney World, road trips to visit family in St. Louis, New York, and Texas, long drives to drop my brother off at school in blazing Louisiana, my oldest brother’s wedding in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and the list goes on.
I remember wanting to own an RV or van so that I can travel around with family and friends and explore new parts of the world together. When my dad passed away before my junior year of high school, it gave me a wakeup call that I should always live fully, just like he did and would want me to. This resulted in my strong desire to travel with friends when I got a part-time job in college, and we always planned local trips to New York City and Virginia during the school year and eventful spring and summer break adventures. My first spring break trip to Miami was with you our freshmen year, and that kept my excitement going!
How many countries have you been to so far?
24! There are countless countries that I have visited 2 or 3 times because they’ve stolen my heart and that of my friends (Colombia, Netherlands, France, UK, Toronto, Dominican Republic, Jamaica), so it sometimes feels like I’ve traveled to more places.
How do you go about selecting where you’d like to travel?
I am usually inspired by an event occurring or after seeing someone’s experience via Instagram or a blog. For example, I absolutely love music festivals and my friends and I are planning to attend the ultimate festival Tomorrowland in Belgium, Germany. I also look forward to experiencing carnival and Trinidad and Tobago and Holi, a celebration of colors, in India so that I can welcome spring and throw powdered paint on other people.
Because of you, I’m a google doc queen when I plan out my trips. What’s your planning process when gearing up for a trip?
I use everything to get itineraries and budgets in line! From Google Docs and Excel spreadsheets to a custom-itinerary form I’ve created in Word and dozens of open tabs in my browser, I want to be sure I am creating experiences that are well-designed and organized. I tend to send detailed emails to other attendees to ensure that 1) we are all aligned on plans and costs, and 2) everyone’s trip goal has been accomplished.
Travel can definitely be pricey, so what are some of your insider tips on ways to make it more accessible? And so that you have money for your life once you return?
Be flexible and consistent, and try to plan ahead. Within flexibility, you can grab many last-minute glitch deals if you have cash (or open credit) and a flexible work schedule. In addition, there are some locations that are more desirable to visit during the off-peak season when there are not as many visitors and cheaper rates, such as Thailand, Greece, and Australia. With consistency, that sometimes means checking flights at different times throughout the week to determine if there has been a price adjustment. There are great websites that allow you to track flights and their pricing activity, such as Google Flights and Hopper, and I tend to consistently check those even before I receive the alert.
There are many ways that you can save money while traveling depending on your budget and comfort level, and it’s always recommended to have a plan in advance rather than showing up and paying unimaginable last-minute rates. Depending on your budget, instead of a luxury hotel, you can opt for a boutique or dorm-style hostel or even a private or shared Airbnb. If you are able to pack lightly and aren’t a picky flier, you can book a Basic Economy flight and save more than $100 on luggage and advance seat selections. With this option, I tend to purchase a seat heading there (or check-in at the last minute so I’m not stuck with a back-row seat).
What makes a good travel buddy? You travel with a few different friends, but your group usually features some of the same folks–how do you ensure you’re traveling with like-minded people who will help you make the most of the experience?
Whew! This is quite the topic that I am always thinking about when inviting others to join an adventure. A good travel buddy is someone who welcomes new experiences, communicates well, and lives in the moment. I usually state my intentions for the trip and that’s shown through the itinerary (relaxation, exploration, education, etc.) and I ask to align with theirs. If they want to incorporate something into the itinerary or have a better suggestion, I’d welcome their candid communication so that we can make adjustments and ideally both leave the experience feeling whole. If they want to stay in most of the day to lounge or catch up on sleep, they wouldn’t be someone who I’d enjoy traveling with, and I would identify that upfront.
I know my friends extremely well and understand how they will behave once they get into new or uncomfortable experiences, and I trust that they would invite someone on the trip whose energy would align with the group’s. I can’t imagine having a group member who freaks out when something has been canceled, has a poor attitude that could ruin everyone’s day, treats strangers less than kind-heartedly, or wants to be on their phone during the entire trip. To assist with the group dynamics, I recommend setting up a group chat or in-person get together with as many of the group members are possible to initiate the good vibes and get everyone excited about traveling together.
As a Black woman, what are some things you’d suggest keeping in mind when traveling to other countries? I know every place is different, but what are some things that have helped you along the way?
Research, research, research. There may likely be a blog or community group that another Black woman has leveraged to document and share her experiences, and this can help you determine whether or not you should explore a location or neighborhoods to avoid. You should also look into organized group activities so that you can still get a local experience while being surrounded by verified locals and other visitors.
Other than that, plan your travel with highly rated vendors and always be aware of your surroundings. Look for welcoming people to assist you if you’re lost and be confident that you are welcomed. Our intuition is pretty strong as women, so ensure that you always leverage that.
What are some of your favorite travel resources/websites? i.e. Kayak, Airfordable, Scott’s Cheap Flights, etc…
Google Flights, Secret Flying, and Skyscanner are my go-to resources. I also use HotelTonight and Priceline when booking last-minute travel to snag the best deals. I am also a member of a GroupMe where local and national flight deals are posted every hour. You can never have too many resources to use, so continue to dig in.
Anything else you’d like to add?
There’s no better time than now. There has been an influx of travel by Black and other people of color, and this movement is gaining more and more momentum. It’s invigorating, and you deserve to widen your perspective and become a more well-rounded individual.
Be fearless and welcome opportunities to immerse yourself into new cultures. If you can’t find a travel buddy or friend group, explore on your own. There are many resources that solo travelers have used to determine which locations are the most friendly for solo trips, and I’ve landed upon many website and blogs where they have shared their experiences.
The future holds a lot of uncertainties, and if you’re capable of traveling now (or a well-planned trip in the future), do it. Your future self will thank you and you’ll look back and be grateful for the things that you actually accomplished.