In addition to helping you keep your social life intact and keeping you in the loop of what’s hot, Miami Soul introduces our feature series that highlights things of interest to the black community beyond the social life i.e. people, lifestyle, and travel.
A travel connoisseur, jet setter, and all around dapper man, Glenn Harris has always been on the cusp of what’s hot around the world. Since his days in the Miami social scene marketing to affluent travelers through his Miami Escapes and Caribbean Escapes coffee table book to now living in Dubai, Glenn’s newest platform, Arabia Escapes, allows you to customize and book your entire luxury travel experience to various countries in the Gulf region. He is the ultimate expert in how to get the best cultural experiences around the world and he shares his tips for doing so.
What do you think are misperceptions that Americans have of the Middle East?
The media has really created a misperception about the Middle East as a land of overly repressive religious zealots, and it is far from that. It is a rich, respectful, and tolerant culture that accepts and welcomes foreigners particularly since the people who live in this region are from all parts of the world. Also, the women are far from repressed, and their traditional dress code follows the customs of their culture.
What do you think Americans can appreciate the most when traveling to these countries?
Americans need to travel outside of our borders for a truly enlightening experience that will prove that we have more in common. We are the least internationally exposed people and are geographically and experientially far from the rest of the world. Many Americans also don’t have a passport, which is why Vegas and Orlando are very successful destinations. We tend to travel mainly within the U.S. and become ignorant of the rest of the world, which can lead to misperceptions, close mindedness, prejudice, and racism.
In contrast, most Europeans speak four languages, and their borders are so close to other countries that it forces them to interact with other cultures and travel a lot.
Of all the Middle Eastern countries to visit, which is your favorite for cultural attractions, things to see and do, and the experience?
Dubai is very similar to Miami in terms of the big over the top events, expats from around the world, clubbing and the nightlife, the beach scene, etc. Dubai is really a true international city, and on any given day you’ll hear Chinese, French, German, Dutch, and of course Arabic and English and not just Spanish.
Of the entire region, I really love Oman, and it reminds me of the small Caribbean island Nevis where my family is from. The people are extremely helpful and friendly, it’s not very big and it’s easy to get around, and the people look a lot like the people in Nevis. The culture is also very rich and with absolutely breathtaking views of mountains that are so sharp and high that they appear to touch the sky.
What’s the best cultural experience that black people should seek when traveling internationally?
After doing the typical sightseeing and predictable travel experiences, make sure you do something authentic and uniquely special to the destination that gives you an up close experience with the locals. That is where growth and enlightenment comes from. Go on an overnight camping trip, sit and talk to the real local people at an event, reach out and get out of the comfort zone of the hotel. It’s safe in most of the region, but always be smart and cautious.
Black people are all over the world – there is a black German Mayor, you have black people in China, and especially in the Middle East where Africa is so close, you will see someone that looks just like you and doesn’t speak a word of English. Yemen and Omani people look very similar to African-Americans. It’s a great learning experience to be around these people. I would recommend that African-Americans first travel to the Caribbean, then to Africa, then to the Middle East, and then Europe and pick the destination that they are most interested in seeing and learning about the people.
Having lived in Miami and now living in Dubai among other American expats, what has been the best lesson, experience, or eye opener for you?
This region is impressive. Dubai is the fastest growing city in the world, and the wealth from the oil has allowed for unlimited growth with the ability to do whatever one can dream. And they’ve done just that. From the man made island of the Palm to the world’s tallest building the Burj Khalifah, Dubai seeks to be the best at what ever it sets out to do. Other areas such as Oman, Qatar, Jordan, and Lebanon all have their own distinct and rich culture, history, and landmarks, and are a delight to enjoy. I would recommend a trip to the region with four days in Dubai followed by four days in either Oman or Jordan.
What is your advice for people who want to travel more but not sure how to budget for it or how to get around not always having a travel companion?
You don’t always have to spend a lot of money to travel well. If you don’t have a big budget then get a lower price hotel away from the popular tourist areas and arrange your time so you are only there to sleep. There are also groups that travel together and coordinate together organized trips for groups of 5-10 people.
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