Travelbug: Nerdy in the USA

I know that I promised non-blog content but if you can’t use your personal corner of the internet to share your many many travel pics and tips, what’s the point? It’s my non-blog (also the people have asked and I like the people).

Pre-trip & planning

I literally have a trilogy of posts covering the fact that I’m a giant nerd so we’ll just skip over that part. My friend and travel partner Caolan and I met and bonded in University over our mutual love of Harry Potter (and how thoroughly I would own him if it came down to a quiz). We joked in a corridor a year ago about seeing the Wizarding world together and over the course of December 2018/January 2019 we settled on the dates, details and a savings plan.

1. Location: Orlando Florida Universal resort is the home of the Wizarding World (which is actually just a tiny theme park within a theme park) and we figured while we’re there reliving our childhoods, we should see Disney Land because duh!

We added New York because 2 days isn’t a trip and if you’re already in the same country, you’ve got to see it! It’s a bucket list item (and I didn’t know June was sale season), the sales are lit so this should factor in if shopping is your jam. Bear in mind it was the icing on the cake.

2. We chose June/July despite it being peak holiday season because a) it gave us enough time to save b) it was peri-Pride and c) we were booking far enough in advanced to ensure leave and early flight bonuses. Also: Summer!

3. Accommodation: Disney and Universal are direct “rivals” and have their theme parks occupying opposite ends of the Florida ‘amusement belt’. Both offer accommodation and incentives to stay on site. Disney does this well because the longer you stay, the cheaper (and more benefits such as early access etc. ) it is which is great if you’re on a family trip. Universal gave us early access to the Wizarding World both literally and logistically so we knew chose one of their resorts (Cabana Bay, which was lovely and included a free bus service to the park) to be our Florida home. We just Uber-ed to Disney, which BTW is a city within a city and there are several parks to choose from. We picked the Magic Kingdom for the traditional experience though I’ve heard excellent things about Epcot, particularly for adults. We extensively researched hotels and packages, particularly for New York and found The James Nomad in NYC ourselves and gave it to our travel agent.


It’s humid (which was surprisingly excellent for my skin) but you get used to it quickly. There’s a brashness to the people (and food) that I didn’t enjoy but once inside the parks there’s an almost scary veneer of niceness (it rings false but the kids are happy so it gets the job done). I heard Trump was doing a rally while we there but it was best not to dwell on him and the America he’s created. Be warned: sauce on burgers is not thing. I was shook, but its not like I went for a culinary experience so it’s OK I guess.


Our early access pass (an hour) was shared with hundreds of people (turns out it was a comparatively tiny group) so we made a beeline for Hogsmeade village when we got in. The Wizarding World is split between the two universal parks connected by the Hogwarts express so you need a park-to-park ticket to ride it. Do it. In both directions.

It was MAGICAL. The attention to detail, the branding (water=gillywater) the castle, the music playing Everywhere. I was an emotional wreck every time we walked into Hogsmeade. Every single time. And if you get an interactive wand there are cute spells you can use all over the place.

The rides are cute and I recommend going into the castle when it starts to get busy. It’s the only time a long queue is ideal. It let’s you take the Castle in slowly.

Diagoney alley was cool but Hogsmeade has my heart. There’s even some London (see Grimmsikd place and the Knight bus) outside King’s Cross Station. Honestly it’s a dream.

It rained a lot on and off (it seemed par for the course, just get a rain thingy and keep it pushing). The rest of the Universal theme park was impressive as well even if we couldn’t ride the very cool looking coasters (rain) we did a lot of indoor rides. Everyone from Dr Seuss to NBC staples, Shrek to The Transformers, Betty boop, jurassic Park and Spiderman were there . Its a weird jumble.Disney

The Magic Kingdom is beautiful and tests your self control. Disney has perfected capitalism. Despite this, I was unexpectedly moved. While we were riding the ferry in, a little freckled girl in pigtails was asking her grandmother questions only a child could ask and it set the tone for the day.

It’s Mickey and Minnie’s 90th birthday year so they they’re dressed differently in celebration. All the big guys have their spots: the princesses are in their castles/lands, Mickey and Minnie are right in front, Donald and Goofy are at the circus and so on and so forth. Don’t miss the parade (around noon) and get yourself a map and some water (sunscreen never hurt). The rides are a good way to pass time but there’s plenty to see either way.

I’d recommend souvenir window shopping on your way in and actually buying stuff on your way out (we did ours just before the firework display which I truly feared wouldn’t happen on account of the late afternoon rain). I didn’t know I cared about Disney so much. I really didn’t but I now have a Mickey doll the cutest Minnie mug (it’s huge!) and I cried when I met them so there you have it.


I got really lucky and found myself in Central Park the day I was wearing this.

A rough itenerary

Day 1: Orientation, Times Square and Central Park and Park Avenue and Rockefeller centre.

Day 2: Staten Island, world trade centre/financial district (with unexpected Hamilton overtones), unexpected shopping, Chelsea Market and Broadway. We cancelled our plans to club because, yoh, exhaustion.

Day 3: (Saturday): spilt. Brooklyn, The highline (excellent place for a DMC or first date BTW), Brooklyn again but together, for the concert then Christopher Street for some dancing (with an unexpected touch of poignancy).

Day 4: the Harbour House for (free) kayaking because the sun had finally made a definitive appearance, the Met then home via Central Park and the Upper East Side.

Initial Planning:

This moved around a lot but we hit the spots.

Times Square is super cool but I maintain you only need to see it once (and briefly). We spent day one getting our bearings, tentatively trying out the subway and seeing how plausible our paper plans were.

Central Park is incredible (and humongous)! We entered it at 3 different spots (each felt different) during our stay and barely saw the measure of it. I enjoyed the Forced Nature spread throughout the city: the high line was a real highlight. Its a converted subway line that crosses city blocks and has the coolest art and architecture.

Broadway is more a concept than a place. Every show has its own theatre along the road Broadway. The Broadway lotteries seem legit and if you have time in the city, go for it but I’d recommend going in prepared to pay for a ticket and big shots like the Lion King and Hamilton were waaaaay outside our budget (a cheap Hamilton ticket was $347, I’ll leave the conversion to you: almost R6k). Just do it. We watched Beetle Juice. I wasn’t excited and don’t remember caring for the movie but I can honestly say that it was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life.

The architecture was a win.We went to the Chelsea Market (which I’d happily revisit) and Caolan had tea in Tribeca after he’d completed his day of shopping and was waiting for me to get back from Brooklyn (where I was mural hunting).

I recommend you walk the bridge then subway back. It’s a lovely idiosyncrasy and view. I developed a small obsession with fresh fruit while there not because it was particularly good (it wasn’t) but because it felt so rare and scarce and I wasn’t in the mood to be malnourished. If I ever go back I’ll make a weekend of it (Brooklyn) because I didn’t get to see the brewery or botanical gardens and art. While walking through the neighbourhood in search of Biggie’s mural, I befriended a violinist standing outside a gallery (he even invited me to his concert later, which I didn’t attend), a stereotypically tough little girl spat past me and I felt like I was seeing behind the tourist curtain which I loved. It was the first time I saw a boom box in the subway the entire trip. We returned later that evening for a Summer concert which was A VIBE.

Nerdy note

I only saw Queens on our way back to JFK International Airport but I could practically see Peter Parker emerging from one of the houses and the same goes for Miles (Morales) in Brooklyn. The Spidermen were my first window into NYC and they really do their Boroughs justice (lol, literally)!


I took steps to look and feel great from the inside out starting with my nails and face (I usually don’t do much for either). I also brought some backup for energy and my feet. I used the foot mask before boarding from our connecting flight from England (in both directions).

I also (wisely) chose to watch If Beale Street could Talk and The Hate U Give on the plane ride back home. I’d missed both on the big screen but thought it best not to dwell too long on the realities facing America as a Black woman and Indian man coming in hot from South Africa. It’ll just cause you unnecessary stress. I didn’t realise this until our one interaction with the NYPD (which was brief and uneventful) when I felt my heart racing the entire time. Say what you want about SAPS but I rarely fear for my life around them. We even had a serious conversation on whether or not Caolan should shave his beard beforehand (he did).

Research is your friend. Between travel blogs, Pinterest, Google, tripsdvisor, trivago (and friends) and lovely platforms such as CultureApp, you can get the measure of a place and helpful tips, tricks and ideas.

A word on travel agents: we found ours through our initial search when there was a Disney/New York package which we then tailored because we found our own hotels and chose to stay at a Universal resort instead. For touristy and first time big international trips I prefer a little bit of structure (eg. Contiki for Italy) because there are a lot of logistical pitfalls and things you don’t think about which I’d rather have handled by someone else. Also the flight prices were unbeatable. We had a bit of an unpleasant experience towards the end but it had more to do with out specific agent than the process itself (which was otherwise hassle free and lovely). She neglected to tell us about the room tax at the hotel in NYC ($30/NIGHT!) and that we’d have to change airports between our connecting flights in England when we’d already finished saving and had already converted our money to dollars. Just a heads up would’ve been nice.

It took about 5 months of serious saving to afford the whole trip and the 6th month for spending money. Going through an agent proved most useful here because we just had to come up with a deposit to seal key deals (especially flights) and kept paying as much of the balance as we could as we went.

Travel Tips

Visa: Get your visa at least 6-8 weeks in advanced at the latest. The money leaves your account on application which is also when you get your choice of available interview dates. Once your interview has happened the process is pretty swift but leave room for rejection and a late interview date. Mine was soon after I applied but I’ve heard that’s not the case for everyone. The website tells you the bare minimum documents to bring but bear in mind they want proof that you don’t plan to stay there (imagine) so bring more than what they ask for: proof of employment, an itenerary if you have one and bank statements. Also, the USA visa photo is super specific (it’s not just an ID photo) so get that done at a shop that does it specifically. Also, be prepared and concise (where, what, when) for your interview. I had zero troubles but again, people have been rejected for small things.

Pre-spending: We bought our non-daily spending items beforehand. Eg. The New York sightseeing pass (which I highly recommend): it’s freeing and all those $15-30 entrance fees to attractions will add up and eat into your daily budget as well as our (Hella pricey) universal resort and Disney land park tickets. Again it’s cheaper if you stay longer because as I said: Disney has perfected capitalism.

Subway: I also recommend an unlimited subway pass (we got the 7 day one). It’s the best way to travel and feel involved and there are very few places the subway can’t take you. We never once used a cab (they’re expensive or so I hear #CantRelate). They’re clamping down on double swiping so you can’t share a subway pass but it let’s you get lost, change your mind or be spontaneous when you’re tired of walking (and you still walk A LOT ). After our second day we were cool. Get a map on your phone (it’s just a zoomable picture really) and most of the Google map directions to locations involve a subway option. You just need to know which direction (uptown: Bronx, downtown: Brooklyn) you’re going. Also ask around. New Yorkers aren’t the friendliest people but we never struggled to get help when we asked for directions re: the subway. Express trains are the subway Rookie Achilles heel but I’ll let you learn that yourself 😂.

Pick your battles: There’s a lot to see and you probably won’t hit all of them so have a realistic and short list of non-negotiables. It’s very freeing. Less headless chicken dashing around and its nice when you’ve accepted what you won’t see. Be flexible. We had a loose daily itenerary which we only wrote on the plane trip there. We moved stuff around a lot but we hit our non negotiables. It rained a lot so we had to keep postponing the kayaking. Also, the Staten island ferry is free and cool and an excellent (though not particularly photographic) way to see Lady Liberty.

Travel with a buddy: we compared our list of non-negotiables and left room for splitting up. We had the conversations beforehand and downloaded find-my-friend apps (which we tested) and used the free WiFi all over the city (particularly the subway) to check in with each other at pre-arranged checkin times whenever we did split up. We only split on our 3rd day when we were both comfortable enough with the city and subway to do so with confidence. I was also travelling with a weak photographer (sorry buddy, you’ve improved dramatically but the early version was OK at best) so I went in with a small gallery of poses on my phone (from Pinterest mostly) to show him what we aiming for fit a shot. Direction. The longer we were together the less he needed the guidance.Comfortable shoes: for the parks particularly, don’t waste your time with anything that isn’t a sneaker. I wore my On Call Nikes and still needed some foot rescue at the end of the day. I had corn protectors and and am grateful I didn’t leave my Zambuck and analgesia behind.

Hope this helps! I certainly enjoyed it. In the interest of staying in my lane, here are some of my favourite black girl travel bloggers:

Just Rioba:

Lerato Masenya:

Fav Black Instagram travel accounts:





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